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Lori Papers Wednesday, February 27, 2013 Writing a memoir
I have spent a fair amount of time this winter, in my self imposed isolation writing a story down that until I began the project, realized has forever been a verbal telling. Bits and pieces of it have been used by me in explanations of myself, defenses of my behavior, for shock appeal, in therapy, in relationships…It occurs to me I have been telling these fragments for all my adult life. And there are copious notes to self, black, ugly, goop that made my stomach feel as tho it had lead in it that I wrote in the hand of a mad woman onto the page as therapy – to get it out of me, anywhere but where it had lodged. The story is about the woman in the photograph (which if you’d like to see it you will have to access my other blog Loripapers.blogspot.com, as WordPress is rather troublesome to edit); my mother.
I have been practicing the craft of writing for almost 25 years. 17 of those in a more or less professional capacity self publishing a
4 or 6 page newsletter that has a paid, ebb and flow subcsribership of 60-100 people. In the routine of this and being studiously budget conscious I strive for under 6 pages of content. The content is of gardening in Rocky Mountain climates, farming lavender, ancient earth lore, and living a rustic, off grid life at my cabin. Keeping it in its brief format has honed my skills, taught me the value of brevity and challenged me to be blatantly honest and quick to the point. I have often thought the same about texting, especially when I had a flip phone or limited characters. It made me be real creative with abbreviations and simpler ways of saying my piece. With these years of writing behind me and the experience and now perspective of my life with her, only now am I able to thread the tattered, over told tales into a cohesive fabric, draped with narrative, anecdotes, and an appreciation I never had while she was alive. The working title of this first part memoir is “My Mother’s Story” but in my mind’s eye, I can so easily see the dust jacket of the book with just her name on it in some florally script; “Rosalie”. Maybe the working name is the subtitle. As I write it I keep thinking a pattern will present itself-a theme. But so far the only thing that spills into all the pages is bourbon, and I can feel my mom rolling in her grave at my inkling to fit it onto the book jacket somehow. Really, there is no need. It comes up enough in the pages. Just last night as I was transiting from one story of her to the next I mention that you’d think she was a bad parent with the alcoholism interwoven as it was. On the contrary, mom and dad were actually great parents, they raised two independent, rebellious yet respectful, adroit, driven children. My brother and I never wanted for anything. I will tell you, that three women, their own memoirs, have greatly inspired me to finally put it on the page: Mary Karr’s “Liar’s Club” and “Lit” rang so true, hit so close to home, that I am forever grateful for her bold, brash look at herself while at the same time showing her innocence and vulnerability. The same can be said for both Jeannette Walls in “Glass Castle”; the line in the beginning of the book where she is rolling up the window of the limousine that has picked her up for her New York City job so that her homeless, dumpster diving parents don’t see her, and Joyce Maynard with “At Home in the World”, where she later wonders and is baffled why no responsible, clear thinking adult ever stepped in to save her from herself when she was a mere 18 and in a strange relationship with a 53 year old J.D. Salinger. The integrity with which these women revealed their story to us is my guiding light. I will share excerpts of my memoir with you here.
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I was in the market for a wall tent when I came across Finn and the cutest little cabin I ever saw. Finn was an acquaintance, so I asked him what the structure was. It was positioned up on a trailer and he’d obviously just pulled up at the Saturday craft market where I was headed to sell my lavender goods. Finn’s response; “It’s a tiny little house, you should step inside.” Remember when Dorothy ran into the snake oil salesman on the road who later turned out to be the Wizard of Oz? This was me that day…I was in the market to find me that day six years ago, and this cabin has been part of my journey, but better still it has become my home, a place where I have found myself. I bought the cabin as a playhouse for myself and as shelter; the only shelter and shade to be had on a 20 acre parcel of land in the mission valley. For a year prior, my then husband, the two dogs and myself would continue our hand at trying to subdue the acreage I was able to purchase with money my mother left me on her death. It was difficult that first year. It was an alfalfa field, wide open to every element, not a lick of shade from even one tree, no out buildings, nothing. I used to set up a triangle piece of canvas much like a Bedouin tent next to the creek for all of us to crawl under, hide from the 100 degree heat and have lunch. The cabin sat out front of our house in town for a couple months before we could coordinate moving it up to the land. It was that brief period of time that I came to understand the luxury of having a ‘room of one’s own’. I would sit out there for hours, reading, crafting lavender, inviting my friends to stop in and have tea at my playhouse. Meanwhile, Finn was building me another; a basic shell I could place in the backyard that I could fill with the back stock of my expanding lavender business. I spent many hours out there in my studio. And our little family would go to the cabin on the weekends. Once the cabin was situated on the land (and when you commission one from Finn, I highly recommend you request the moving team of Gary Delp of Heritage Timbers and Finn himself – honestly, it was entertainment and fun that is rarely encountered but long remembered) the entire dynamic of the place changed. We could cook lunch, we could nap on the single bunk, we could spend the night, sheltered from the dew, mosquitos, roving coyotes, and even winter winds. But one of my favorite things was the shade cast by even a small building out on that prairie. With it set next to the creek, after 2pm the block of shade grew long as the day progressed. So we set farm chore schedules akin to the Nearings of the 50’s and were rewarded with long cool cabin-cast shade, the song of the creek and gazes of the grand Mission mountains through lazy lidded eyes. Lifetimes have occurred in the years since I acquired the cabin; a divorce after 17 years, leaving my house and gardens in town, a massive crop loss, a mid-life crisis… I have lived in many apartments but have never neglected to visit my cabin for an overnite stay. For awhile, when I could not have my dog in a couple of the apartments I rented, the cabin became the place where I got my doggie fix. And now it turns out that the first home I ever bought just happens to be this 7×12 one room cabin. When the shit hit the fan; my back stock lavender dwindled as did any and all surplus income, and then I was evicted from my apartment, it dawned on me that as it was all bought and paid for (Thanks Mom!), the cabin was the only thing that made sense. My religious weekend sojourns to it had proved to me that I could exist there. I had downsized my entire life, become quite used to living with less with each apartment I rented. So in October 2012 I moved in. And I realize, that I have not been this happy and content for some time. This is my home sweet home. I measured the inside when I was trying to figure out the way my necessary things would fit. At 6.5 x 11.5 feet it is just shy of 75 square feet. She is, with her arched roof, 6 feet tall. The slight arch makes even taller folk than my 5 foot stature feel comfortable. The wood that lines her insides is warm toned and Finn gave all the nail holes exacting attention with little half round wood caps. There are ample shelves, and storage space neath the bed. The single bunk is nestled at one end, next to a big window and has it’s own skylight. There is another skylight above the kitchen. A small wood stove tucked into a corner, is, in winter, more stove than this space needs. Even on a 10 degree day, it warms to 85 degrees in a couple hours. When I let the fire die, heat holds at 60 degrees for hours on end. I cook marvelous meals on the 2 burner propane stove. I wash dishes in the bathroom size sink with water I haul in. It drains into a bucket under the sink. I use the grey water on my trees. There is ample storage under the sink. I utilize a cooler for a fridge. I have a bucket system toilet in another outbuilding. The small footprint of it is located in a large swale, close to a small perennial creek. It is obvious that the wild things rule here. And I would have it no other way. I maintain a low and quiet profile as much as possible to avoid disturbing those who were here long before me. And to bear witness to Nature. The cabin, with its windows to every direction, including up, is like a hunting blind. I see a lot and am unseen. What I notice most since I began visiting 7 years ago is that I can no longer abide noise-especially white noise. Trains, traffic, TV, clanging pipes, forced air heaters, electric gadgets and appliances, ticking clocks, dripping faucets, buzzing space heaters…my cabin has none of it. I have traded them all in for: a crackling fire on a cold, Montana winter’s night, the creek outside my door, a caroling coyote chorus roving the valley, a multitude of birds and occasionally, my dog going ballistic at an errant mouse up in the ceiling. Lori Parr Writing to you from a lone prairie in St. Ignatius
My man gifted me a nice little case of body care tools not long ago.
The tweezers and shaver have since gone rusty with non-use. I quit shaving my legs and tweezing my brows when I realized the meaning of self torture. And I got it young, people. So I look a little rough in places. Maybe he was trying to tell me something.
I use the little scissors to clip my cuticles after peeling them back with the metal orange peeler stick. There’s a cute little mirror with a magnifying side that has enlightened me to be more careful in applying my mascara on the rare occasion that I wear it. I can’t see a damn thing close up anymore.
Nail, and toenail clippers, files, a small knife, and even a little toothbrush, the kind where the case snaps onto the end to elongate the handle so you can actually use it; all very practical and I put them to use often.
There is just one tool in the collection that seems a bit antiquated – the shoe horn. Now, maybe they still use the shoe horn in China. This is not the statement of a bigot. Even if each and every single, tiny little tool inside the pouch didn’t have a tiny, little sticker stating that fact, any of us could bet our bottom dollar that it was indeed made there. What in our American market place isn’t anymore?
Evidently when shoe horns were ‘in’, people wore their shoes much tighter than I do today. You needed this little lever to wedge your foot into the shoe. I can’t even imagine wearing shoes that tight. They even made long handled ones so you didn’t have to bend over to put the tight little buggers on. Well, I guess I’m just plain grateful that I opt for comfortable shoes and that I am flexible enough to hoist my feet up to a comfortable level or even bend over to do it. Work a yoga pose into the action!
Anyway, the horn that came in the kit is made of shiny stainless steel. It’s a pleasing shape, the shoe horn. But honestly, I have not one shoe in my growing collection that would be assisted onto my foot by it. But I kept it. I slung a loop of twine through the little punched out hole in the end, hung it on the key hook by the door. And one day I thought of a new way to use it.
I’m living in a tiny, shotgun shack this winter. At times it can get quite muddy out around the acreage. It’s that kind of mud that builds up on the bottoms of your boots until you are a good two inches taller. The kind of mud that doesn’t let go. If you continue to walk around on these mud platforms it doesn’t eventually fall off, it smooshes up onto the sides and curls up over the tops! I usually use whatever is handy to scrape it off: a crusty old bovine pelvic bone the dog dragged home, the hoe, an old knife, a stick. And one day I thought, what about the shoe horn as boot scraper?! I tell you, it worked marvelously. The curve that would wrap around your Achilles tendon allows for it to scoop just so below the mud layer. It comes off in one big slab like peeling an orange. The edges are perfect for getting in the treads and the heel crevice like a fine toothed comb. And being metal, it cleans up real nice.
Just tonite I found yet another use for it. I was cleaning up the cabin, in wait for my man who was bringing dinner. He likes a tidy house and I needed to scrape candle wax from the table. There’s nothin’ like company to make you realize how not tidy your house is. The candle wax was a little thick…again with the shoe horn! That shiny little wedge of metal scraped every trace of it up, and effortlessly.
Check back with me. I have a feeling alternative uses for shoe horns has just begun.
Since I began growing lavender I have been a vendor at one Missoula market or another; actually, I have vended at all of those downtown. For the last 8 years I have held a booth at Clark Fork River Market under Higgin’s Bridge. But for one year my transportation to market has been one tricycle that you see in the photo (taken by D. McAdoo). I have retrofitted the trike to fold up and out as my display and sales booth. It came with the basket between the two back tires. And I attached the one to the handlebars and the two to the sides. What makes it ‘minimalist’ is the amount of space it takes up, it has no carbon footprint (other than the methane that now and again escapes from the human combustion engine that peddles it…) and the time it doesn’t take out of my life/pocketbook. I only require about a 5 foot space to set up, which means cheap rent at any market. Breakfast, coffee, and a market snack are the fuel it takes to peddle it the 1/2 mile to and from market. Not having to pull a vehicle into market before and after for unloading and loading saves an immense amount of time and frustration.The price you pay for a farmer’s produce rarely covers her time spent farming, and crafting her product, let alone the time it takes to set up and take down her market booth. So my theory is; It better take less than a half hour to setup and break down, cuz I’m not making any money for that time. And I certainly don’t want to get caught in the traffic jam that ensues at the end of a 6 hour stint of standing out in the hot sun selling my wares. Been there, done that. Don’t do it anymore. When I’m loading up the trike I think of myself like an outfitter packing my mule. Everything either has to collapse or fold up; my chair, an umbrella. Clip on or tie down; I utilize lots of clamps and twine to attach buckets for fresh bouquets, attach the umbrella, tie down things that will blow out on the fast peddle to town, clamp trays into place to extend shelf space. I used a couple screw clamps to attach a board to the back basket. This board acts as a sign as I’m peddling about and flips up and over the basket as my display table while vending. And everything else has to nestle into the attached baskets securely for the ride and look good on display.
This is Shorty. See, he is riding his own trike! In fact, it was years ago I saw Shorty ride by at the craft market when I stopped him and commissioned him to make me a market trike. He built mine for me, and I store my trike in his garage during winter. Actually, Shorty’s garage is a museum of trikes! He must have at least a dozen. They are his sole mode of transpo. He rides a different one to market to buy his fresh produce each week. He tells me they are all for sale, for the right price. He crafts them all by hand from bits and pieces, odds and ends that he finds discarded in dumpsters, and junk heaps. Talk about a minimalist!
I purchased this cabin and land with all the money my mom left me after she died in 2005.
I had a husband then; he begrudgingly helped with the mowing – usually mowing down baby trees I had planted and coddled. He claimed it was an accident. Now I don’t have a husband…only partly because of the tree desecration. Mostly because even at 30 years of age, I was too young a bride. He never liked coming here anyway. I never put his name on the title. I knew it would be my ace in the hole. Every woman should have one.
The bed is a single bunk, but we would sleep together in it. Well, he’d sleep. I couldn’t due to his snoring, (only after I left him did I realize how sleep deprived I had been.) There’s no escaping it in the cabin. The cabin measures 8′ x 12′, or 96 square. It has a quaint oval door which makes it appear hobbit-like. The ceiling is arched so as to appear more roomy inside. If I stretch my tallest I can touch it with my fingertips. It actually feels like a ship inside. The bunk takes up one end and has a large window where I can watch the riparian edges of the creek and the prairie sail by before I arise the mornings I am here; at least once a week for a couple days.
Today I am awakened by a magpie pecking at the skylight window above the bed, (there’s also one above the kitchen). Magpie is trying to eat the myriad tiny bugs that are on the inside of the window trying to get out. Magpie is molting, her antics are as silly as she looks right now. 4 snipe fly over and land creek side. There is something so comically cute about their long bill, striped head, and round little button eye. Maybe it’s the way they pull their chin in and stand so straight and tall. 2 dozen Hungarian partridge spook from their yard stroll around the cabin – like my little clutch of chickens, into the tall grass when I go out to pee. I hear a pheasant out in the tall grass.
There are two shelves at the east end of the bunk. The bottom shelf was made for me by my first boyfriend from a nice piece of hardwood he found. He burned the runic poem into the face of it as you can see. This is the cabin library. When I was married I had amassed an extensive library at the house. Actually, books have always been the one thing I wouldn’t part with in all my adult years. Every move to a new location entailed hoisting heavy boxes packed with my collection. And collect them, I have. I have procured a few rare ones along the way; Cornelius Agrippa, The Rock is my Home, The French Farm House. My very first job after I graduated high school was at a bookstore, and I have worked at many others since then.
While married, the cabin became my little playhouse. I put all my favorite things inside. This small trove of books are ones that make my heart sing or are filled with life saving practicality:
Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living, Dick Proeneke’s One Man’s Wilderness, Pruitt Stewart’s Letters of a Woman Homesteader, Tasha Tudor’s Garden, Letters of Queen Elizabeth I, Outdoor Survival Skills, edible plants and animal identification books abound. The stack on the left bottom shelf are my ranch journals. Each time I come to the cabin I make notes of animal and bird sitings, irrigation water in the ditch, creek levels, lists of projects, projects accomplished, how much – if any I made on the hay. Much of what I write in them is dry and quite boring but now and again a nuance is captured in the way the wind blows through the tall grass, or the cat-like mew of a short eared owl, or how I can feel it-thru the tiny cabin, when a big horned owl lands on the chimney, or the covey of partridge take shelter under the cabin when the harrier makes a creek-long pass.
There’s a rageddy little brown title-less binding in the upper right. This is a journal I found in my Mother’s things when my brother and I cleaned out her apartment after she died. It has only a few meager entries but they are precious beyond description. They are dated 1965; the year my brother was born and I was one. The tiny glimpses into the day-to-day life of a mother with two babies encourages me to keep writing. One entry simply said: Loading the kids up on the stroller, we are going to the park. They just love being outside!
I like being at my cabin. Maybe it’s because outside is so right in my face.
The cabin sits right on the small perennial creek. Too close I think sometimes when the water’s high…water and August’s heat attract a pleathora of heat seeking creatures: dragonflies, humming birds, snakes, frogs, bats, and unfortunately, mosquitoes! Once the sun sets, the solar powered light and residual heat inside the cabin draw the blood sucking insects inside.
I came up with a makeshift-cabin-sized net to sleep under. I really only need my face covered; the dog, well, he’s on his own.
I stopped at the fabric store and purchased about 3 yards tule netting, and a large embroidery hoop. The netting comes in different sized holes, so get the finest one you can find. And you get a wide range of lovely colors; I chose sage green! It took some time to arrange the fabric evenly around the small inside hoop with the large hoop lightly clamped on. But once it came together, leaving a point at the top, I tightened the hoops together, tied a string securely to the point, then hung it from a small hook above the bed and slept mosquito-free all night.
Total cost: $6.49