Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hair-do geometry

Her hair-do looked as if it had been arrived at by ruler, compass, geometry and shellac.
     --From Marry Me, Carry Me

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Raven mother

I never was that excited about reproducing either, and must confess it appeared to me more of a hardship than a privilege, the price you were supposed to pay for mortality, as if you had run up a big bill with God before you were even born. I couldn't imagine having happy children, Mother always said she would feel sorry for them, I would feed them too much and keep them too bundled up. But anyway Egon and I decided we would be each other's baby, and he kept his part of the bargain but I didn't. To him, as to my books and to many other things in this world, I was a raven mother.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Medicine man versus the sickness

A disease to the Indians, Haze said, was like talking about a claim-jumper or a burglar, some crook that had got, instead of into your house or property, into your body. If you could see it, it would look like an actual person! No intelligence to speak of. So the right kind of soft soaping—prettier’n a speckled bird! beat the Dutch! ain’t you the finest!—compliments like that, that the medicine man could reel off to perfection, and the sickness would start to first peep out, and then—that would be the moment! Grab, pull, yank—No, you don’t, you jobbing dealer! And Haze said he felt foolish to say what he saw then, but he did see it! as plain as I see you, and it was a fight between old Duck Legs and something that looked like a man but had no substance, like a blue gauze of smoke. Powerful, though, it pounded, thumped and shook the medicine man till he was bleary-eyed and blood run down his face. But Duck Legs hung on and won. Then back into the forest he dragged whatever the thing was and drowned it in the river. And the dying patient reared up, cured.
     --From Variation West

Monday, October 28, 2013

How to find Mr. Harland's arm

It is amazing how heavy a human arm can be when not attached to the body. Tot buried it, wrapped in old calico, in the yard and when Mr. Harland got better and made ready to leave for the Montana gold fields, she took him out in the back yard and showed him its resting place. He thought of digging it up and taking it with him so as not to be lacking a part of himself on the day of Resurrection. But then he decided not to and keep a note on his person instead as to where it could be found when wanted.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A cruel surprise

Her story began with employment at age seventeen in the Mitigated Affliction Department of Hardman’s Emporium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A week later the floorwalker’s insane wife ran her out of the store with the sharp point of an unopened parasol. Life brought many cruel surprises . . .
     --From Variation West

Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Rampant youth"

Often I have wondered how I, “missing so much and so much,” made it through this far. It was bad enough anyway but during the years I wrote my books, such as they were, I might as well have been hit on the head and put into deep freeze. I remember how surprised I was when I took my niece and some other guests to the one concert by the Beatles in Oregon during their one and only tour of the nation. We took our seats early, and as all this rampant youth poured in, I couldn’t believe my eyes at their clothes and shoes and here were all these bales of hair grown while I was sleeping. Who were these people? Where had they come from? And so it has been.
     --From Ardyth's memoir New York on Five Dollars a Day

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wishing to be a Catholic

I have often wished I was a Catholic so I could go and confess all I have said here to a priest and have him tell me what to do to try to make amends. One time I even had a long conversation with a priest out at the Grotto. He said how lovely it would be if I joined the church, I would find the peace that passeth understanding, and he said I would be given a new name, too. Mary, he said. Well, that ended it for me. Mary. So here I stand unshriven and unabsolved.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cannibals and sugar beets

"She told me once she was proud to have Brother Johnson sit in her kitchen and drink a cup of cocoa like he does every week. Because he was even wrote up once in the Salt Lake Tribune!"
     "For what?"
     "Because when he was on his mission, he was nearly ready to be cooked and ate by cannibals. Or anyway that’s what he says when he gets up and bears his testimony. Only at the last minute he converted them. Also his sugar beet for three years running has took first prize at the Fair."
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Born in the deep dark Siuslaw woods

Tupso was happy enough to be born where she was in the deep dark Siuslaw forest. Trees there (smelling like cedar chests and Christmas Night and eucalyptus globulus) rose up off the forest floor and kept on going, some so big around that twelve little Indians holding hands couldn't reach around them or skip within their undergrowth of manzanita, salal, thimbleberries, ferns and rotting logs (asleep in lycopods and moss) that once were part of templed majesty. . . . I also started life in the Siuslaw woods, probably not fifty feet from the wickiup where Tupso was born. It was still a wilderness but the part down close to the Siuslaw, where you could look across the river and see the little town of Florence, Oregon, thought of itself as enough of an entity to have a name. And so it had one, the founder's two oldest children's names, Glen and Ada, put together to make GLENADA. I brought Glenada’s population up to 117 and if the Titanic had not gone down the very night I was born, taking up the whole front page and almost the whole next edition of the Florence Gazette, I am sure that fact would have been given prominence.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Aunt Myrtle speaks

Aunt Myrtle was a dignified woman, with high hips that started right up under her shoulder blades, tidy gray hair and a rather blank expression. She was said to be able to talk “in tongues,” a rare gift, but so far nobody had been able to interpret what she said. Since she could not interpret it, either, it was not known what she had been talking about. Nevertheless she was thought to have conveyed messages of urgency and importance, if only they could have been understood, and some wondered if she had not at one time or another foretold some national calamity which since had taken place.
     --From Up Home

Monday, October 21, 2013

"We won't know we ever lived"

We got a television. The west coast was slow in getting a line out here across the Rockies for some reason, so it was years before Oregonians were hooked up. After an evening with ours, he was absolutely stricken. "Our lives will have passed and we won't know we ever lived."
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A farm boy's fear

Of the busts, bubbies, udders, knockers, branched and flowering tits that were a part of the female of whatever species, he as a farm boy had been well aware from an early age, but except for clutching social handfuls of bosom from time to time, much as a nursing baby does, after he grew big enough to take girls out, or using them for a pillow on a picnic, he tried to steer as clear of them as of the abominable connection with domestic animals (especially the licentious she-goat) that could send an innocent boy to hell. Somehow synonymized in his rural mind were beasts and breasts . . .
     --From Variation West

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Novel Reader

Mrs. Orbit was the only woman Linnea ever knew who read books. Not only did she buy the paper-backed kind, but she actually went to the library and drew books out, two at a time and read them all through. The beds would not be made, the ironing close to mildew, the cold dishwater not thrown out the back door, the leftovers moldering in the pantry, but Mrs. Orbit had to get through those books to see how they turned out. The stove would not be blacked, the ashes showering down upon the hearth, the house cold, the children as free as birds, herself in a morning sack with an unkempt head of witch’s hair, but the books had to be read. For her neighbors Mrs. Orbit was that thing to be mysteriously whispered about, like the drinker or hermaphrodite, the Novel Reader. They pointed out her house to strangers: A Novel Reader lives in there.
     --From The Peaceable Kingdom

Friday, October 18, 2013

Make it stop!

Good grief, people were always making things, wonders, marvels and multi-purpose absurdities till they’re piled up to the sky! enough for a World’s Fair somewhere on feverish Earth, binary coded and artificially intelligenced every five minutes.  It really should stop for a while.
     --From Ardyth's memoir New York on Five Dollars a Day

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mormonee and Mericats

Captured as a child by wicked Goshutes, Loudhawk was taken north to Fort Lemhi on the Salmon River, sold as a slave to the Cheyennes and did not escape from them till he was grown. Back home again, he found himself neither Paiute nor Cheyenne but as strange to his whole tribe—and even his sick mother and the blue quamash—as a snake with legs. Everything had changed. The Mormonee had come into the land with spells and charms, pants, straw hats and hoes. Even great Chief Kanosh wore the pants, the hat, talked the talk, but would not touch the hoe. Chief Kanosh wanted a rifle and got a rifle. His warriors the same, and bullets too. To Loudhawk other strangers were called the Mericats. Mericats and Mormonee did not like each other though speaking both the same tongue, Mericat. So it was said at the Council Fire, where no room was made for Loudhawk. He must prove himself, he was told. Not in the old ways. Now he must go far away to Jondy Lee and get the pants, the hat and hoe, and learn to say in Mericat I want a job, I want to earn some money. He did all this and everything went as it should. With some of his wealth he bought a pony and started home, and on the way by means of an enchantment plucked a redbird off a bush (as though it had been a rose) for the daughter of Chief Kanosh. But she was gone when he rode in with it, wed in the canyonlands, and his mother was dead. He had proved himself. Chief Kanosh took his wealth. And now at the Council Fire Loudhawk had a place. He also had a voice but somehow did not raise it, even though the treaty puzzled him. The treaty said: Your people and my people shall band together against the Mericat. But Mormonee and Mericat were one tribe. Both “moving people.” How do you tell one from the other?  “Who’s on the Lord’s side, who?” the Indians heard the Mormonees sing as they rode painted and in their feathers like Indians themselves onto the cliffs to join them in battle. That’s how you tell, the Mormonees were on the Lord’s side. And the Mericats lay below in the Mountain Meadow . . .
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In a snit

It is easy to be in a snit with relatives. Many may be lintheads, and others possess a nerve one would hate to have in a tooth.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"The blade was sharp"

His hairline was beginning ever so slightly to recede, and if he had lived another twenty years, instead of just twelve days, he might have gone bald, or very near it, and that would have made him miserable. Anything would, that came and nibbled at his beauty, or dimmed it a little, like losing a tooth or waking up with a sty or having a vein cobweb across his cheek in a miniature confluence, a red raveling of fine threads. Tonight, the night of Good Friday, a few minutes past ten in the evening, April 14, 1865, nothing was wrong with his looks. He was twenty-six years old and as fresh as a daisy when for the last time he came out of Peter Taltavul's saloon into the wet spring night and walked up the brightly lit cobblestone street. It was only a few steps to the door of the theater, and when he pushed it open and went in there wasn't a spot or a stain, a mildew, a wrinkle, a shadow, to mar him. He had on elegant riding boots with slender steel spurs that gave him a courier's consecrated yet debonair look, a black broadcloth frock coat, tight trousers, fine linen shirt, checkered necktie, brocade vest and soft slouch hat.
     He was an actor named John Wilkes Booth and he was about to murder Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States of America. He had the gun to do it with, a derringer about six inches long, a lightweight, luxurious little weapon mounted in gold, and a dagger, too, engraved with the spidery words AMERICA, LIBERTY, INDEPENDANCE. The last word was misspelled, but the blade was sharp.
     --From The Spur

Monday, October 14, 2013


That man wouldn’t take to old age kindly. (How old was he? Forty? Maybe fifty?) Wouldn’t take to sickness kindly, or enfeeblement. Losses kindly. One in particular that Mrs. Dooley said struck only the men (“impudence,” she named it in a whisper), and when that happened they’d hang theirself as soon as look at you. Not all, of course, but some. Though why a man should take it to heart like that she didn’t know, when you considered how tiny a part them particular ornaments was of their whole body, and how little what they did amounted to, except in the case of fathering George Washington or, say, our own dear Prophet. If impudence, though, had actually struck the doctor, none of the ladies had any way of knowing.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The devilish OED

I decided the Oxford Dictionary—ten volumes, as I look back, of the entire language that conquered India and everything in its wake and is still a contender after 500 years—millions of quotations from England’s heavenly choir of literary angels so dazzling that you could sit and read and turn the pages till you died right there under big books weighing twenty pounds apiece—might be fine for the William Buckleys of this world but for certain others was the work of the Devil.
     From Ardyth's memoir New York on Five Dollars a Day

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Make a wish

It is not true, of course, that say the word “wish” and some sufflation like the breath of the Holy Ghost goes to work to grant it. But sometimes the utterance does move some airy element to activity, and one fine day . . . Wasn’t it you who wished for such and such? Well, behold! Hindle would be starting up that grand staircase between the bronze boy and girl statues on the newel posts holding up the branches lit with amber globes, she would be going down that wide upstairs hall to that polished door, turning the silver doorknob and walking into that bedroom all pale blue satin and Brussels lace. She would hear that china cottage clock covered with roses and tiny birds chime once, chime twice, glance up worriedly and see the back of it and her own white face reflected in the mirror over the mantel. Didn’t you want to be here? Wasn’t that you?
     --From Variation West

Friday, October 11, 2013

Daubing up Herman

"Blow your nose, Thornton," Althea ordered, raising her voice.
     "You go play and mind your own business," her mother said mildly.
     "What with?"
     "Go look out the window."
     "Can't I daub up Herman and give him a feather?"
     "Not while he's good," Mrs. Luby said of the baby who now sat nodding in his perilously tall and narrow highchair, with his wet chin on his wet bib. "I sometimes daub his fingers with a little molasses," she explained, "and give him a feather and he'll pick it off first one hand and then the other hand for the longest time."
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Keeping track of nights

Time is money, the saying goes, and once upon a time in the Mormon country it was kept as careful track of as any coin ever spent. One polygamist died of old age in Salt Lake City still owing his third wife two overnight visits and a Pioneer Day, and she never forgave him for it.
     --From Up Home

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"With province and sway"

Her excellence as mortal creature had been brought to the proof. If her desire was Jack’s command, if he did what she wanted, showing thereby that he loved her, she had reality; she was a functioning substantiality with province and sway. Woman’s meridian does not occur, like a butte. It is man-made, like a pyramid. She did not study all this out, but neither does the Carpenter Bee take a pencil out from behind his ear and sit down with his legs crossed and figure out how many beeswax partitions he is going to need in his tunnel. She only knew that unless Jack got rid of the dynamite she was null and void, a nobody, made out of moonshine.
     --From Marry Me, Carry Me

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pig sacrifice

Our cat Violet ate pork kidneys, and if company made a comment about her he would say gravely, "Yes, a large pig has to be sacrificed every day for Violet."
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent (speaking of her husband, Egon)

Monday, October 7, 2013

"Steadfast change"

Forever is a funny thing, is only time inconstant, only life that bears within it (like an engine does its means of generating power) steadfast change. The hardest heart, the thickest ice, the stiffest monument, all will melt into the distant sky, break into rain, to tears, to clouds of sand. And that change—count on it—will change again! And so the spring came round in mint condition and almost instantly began to tarnish.
     --From Variation West

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Dismissal and discrimination"

Where habits of dismissal and discrimination run through the social and pietistic standards of where people live, it's like lead in the drinking water, a lot of the kids will grow up very dumb.
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Like a studio starlet"

Growing up and at the age of twenty selling a story to a New York magazine called All-Storey for sixty dollars changed the entire vale of my life. From then on for the next two years, I was like a studio starlet on honorarium for some future explosion, some dazzling conversion into real fact, I was oxygen, hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen waiting to combine into “vital properties.” Or as Emily Dickinson would have it, "Not what the stars have done / But what they still may do / Is what upholds the sky!"
     --From Ardyth's memoir Bodies Adjacent

Friday, October 4, 2013

"To write it down"

She longed for the pen in her hand, the smooth paper under it, to be telling, to be explaining, because all of a sudden then the picture in black and white would begin to glow in its natural colors. To write it down was to put the finishing touch on any event, see what it was, what it meant, what it stood for. To put anything into words was like pouring melted wax on top of cold glasses of jelly, to harden there and preserve and keep what was underneath like new.
     --From Good Morning, Young Lady

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Murdock goes to the auction

Like happiness, Burdick’s Institution for the Care of the Sick was a secondary product, got hold of by Tot and Serapta Burdick, spinster sisters, in a roundabout way on account of the path their brother Murdock started down when he and his drinking friend Francis went to the auction at Camp Floyd and came home loaded down with cots, Army blankets and a pile of monstrously large kettles and pans he not only had no use for but no place to store except in the spare room at his sisters’ house. Because of this (though for other reasons too), his wife Alice became quite intemperate in her harangue against him. All that pile of useless stuff!
            Useful enough, though, Murdock knew, if she would listen to reason and he could sit down and talk with her man to man about God’s idea of matrimony, which, set forth by the Prophet Joseph Smith before they killed him, was not just the condition of being husband and wife, though that had its virtues too, but more like prevailing as a shepherd and his flock. Murdock tried to explain this to Alice during their honeymoon nine years before, but she went into such paroxysms of fainting, hysteria and lunacy that he was deprived of ardor ever to bring the subject up again.
            Could he have done so, however, and met with the understanding that would have privileged him to move between two, three or four households instead of just one measly cottage, think how practical these pallets, covers and big cooking utensils would be! The tenderness! You dear old sweetheart, you angel husband. (Instead of always being ripped up one side and down the other.) He often thought that what he should have done, while he was over there in England on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he met Alice, was try to find out more about the true nature of the English before throwing in with one of them.
            --From Variation West

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


. . .frenzy and muddle in menfolks was as natural as the gristle in their necks.
       --From Ardyth's description of Variation West

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

History like phosphorescence

History lit its own self up like phosphorescence, no shining in the dark where it was not, no ghosts without it, no such thing as a landmark.
     --From Variation West