Recollection of My Mother’s Prejudice toward the American-Indian
My mother, who worked as a legal secretary for most of her single adult life (13 years), would sometimes remark upon the circumstances of Indian tribal members who owned property along the Columbia River. We were on our way to Astoria, Oregon, where my sister now lived. She was a nurse in social services and her husband and former high school sweet-heart had become a dentist after four years of training in Portland at the dental school there. I saw some of the molds of his patients’ teeth he had made out of an acrylic substance which had a light orange or amber color to it. But on that visit to Astoria, over Christmas vacation when I was seventeen, he would perform a root canal to alleviate my infected front tooth which had been severly damaged following a bicycle accident I suffered when only eight years old. After having struck a medium-sized dog, I was propelled over the handle-bars of my little bicycle and thrust to the street curb where my face collided with the curb in an unfortunate accident which left my right front tooth permanently in two pieces, one of which I soon pulled out of my mouth at my friend’s house in the bathroom while noting the blood dripping from my upper gum in the bathroom mirror.
During our drive along the Columbia River, my mother remarked with annoyance about the big Cadillac or Lincoln in front of a shack with an areial antennea which supplied signals to a color TV. All paid for with welfare money, she pointed out. We were driving along the Intersate from Umatilla to Portand, later we would see the Multnahoma Falls before rolling into Portalnd. Once we had gone on a long summer drive to Yellowstone Park. My mother had been raised in Wisconsin. She complained about all the drivers from the mid-west who were not accustomed to the more tortuous mountain roads of the far West, and whose car right in front of us posed as an impediment. She met my father when she worked as a secretary for the chemistry department at Northwestern University where my dad was doing post-graduate work in organic chemistry. He was working on both the refinement of pennicilin and anti-malarial drugs. All this was during World War II, during which my sister’s father was killed in combat, leaving my mother a widow. Her father, my grandfather, was a civil engineer who worked for U.S. Steel. When she was older, in her teens, their family lived in Rockville Center in New York City for a number of years. My spinster aunt took care of my grandfather when he later developed health problems. His final residence was an assisted-living home in Madison, Wisconsin, where my uncle worked as the manager of a paper mill. In other words, my mother had come from a family with a secure financial foundation in the upper-middle class.
But in 1960, when my parents divorced, she immediately had come down in the world, although her respectability was still secure — provided that she have nothing to do with men. Years later she would begin to go out on dates, but never, never . . . intitially. Only one of my friends at that time had divorced parents; and oddly enough, he lived right up the street from me. Our birthdays in August were a day apart, and we remained friends from the day I’d moved into that new neighborhood until he moved away after the 6th grade. His single mother, a librarian, took her two children to Portland, which was where she was from and where her mother still lived. Mrs. Whipple’s former husband was a psychology professor at WSU, just like my father was a chemistry professor. Evan’s father had taught his son how to play chess, and Evan taught me how to play chess when we were eight years old. Evan says I beat him once in the 6th grade, but I have no recollection of that occasion.
But I still must return to my mother’s remarks about the Indian folk who lived along the Colombia River in such squalid circumstances. Well, they were poor. No question of that. And people who are well-off, like my mother, although she was quite frugal in day-to-day matters, have literally no conception of what life is like with no money, or just barely enough to live on, to pay for electricity and to buy groceries.
My sister and my younger brother and my mother and I all now lived in a three-bedroom house on the other side of town in Pullman, Washington where Washington State University is located. And there I grew up regaling in my ever newly-acquired knowlege about the world, both historic and present. Perhaps back then I absorbed the perceptions I had around me like a sponge.
And now the reader can dismiss all this as the fond recollections of an old fellow who is rapidly approaching at state of senility. But, I am happy to assure anyone who has read my remarks thus far, that I am still in utter and complete control of my intellectual faculties. In fact, more so than ever before.
For there is a perspective granted to old people like me. We have all these innumberable memories from the course of our lives. And these are generally vivid, in some cases even pronounced if the experience recalled still ripple with emotion, the sort of memory which is seared into the mind.
This is true for everyone, at any age. Our memories and our remembered perceptions form the basis of our perceptions and understanding now when, anew, we look at the world.