Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Old Women of Belfair
Last Thursday the Page Turners had their monthly meeting. They schedule their discussions for the third Thursday of every month from 10-12 A.M., so it was little surprise that they turned out to be people with flexible schedules. I ducked into the library meeting room of varnished pine as 3 after ten, a dozen old women and an old white-bearded man named Don were milling around finding their name tags and filling their mugs from home with weak coffee. After some adjustment to the idea they made me a name tag and inquired as to my make and model, and intentions. Since the novel for today was set in the Qing dynasty of China (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See), I propped myself up as a scholar of China and its cultural mysteries (rather than as a visual illustrator as some poorly informed know me). We talked foot-binding and wife-beatings, Muslim comparisons abounded, the youngish 50 year old with straight brown hair across the corner from me offered sagaciously that fashion as a disciplining force is universal and that women who wear 1000 dollar shoes in New York and LA will slice their big toes in order to get the right fit. Don told of a Chinese friend of his who was married by parental arrangement back in the 50s to a “stunning” young woman (“that worked out ok”); he told nervously of the millions of Chinese graduates who will swamp our “dumbed-down” American professionals.
We talked about feminism and how women couldn’t wear pants to school in the 60’s (except during finals week). We ate freshly baked coconut bars and thought about how nice it would be a Chinese grandparent and have our children wait on us hand and foot. I was the expert for facts, figures and anecdotes. I oversimplified and provoked points off to the side and straight down the line and the old woman with the gnarled walking stick next to me (Mabel?) wished she was anthropologist too. The youngish fifty year old next to me, whom I liked, but not as much as my own little bobcat, Jennifer, wondered that perhaps I could write a book about the old women of Belfair.
As far as I can tell the old women of Belfair like to be independent, they like to read and wear Birkenstocks, they like the birds and sea and they regret the way those who built their town and named it did so by pushing the natives onto the reservation down at the bend, reducing their potlatch grounds to picnic parks and their shores to summer homes. They let the Mexicans “do a good job” in tending their yards “even though they are Mexicans,” and they care deeply about the world and about ethical living. Muslims and Asians are pretty far away and about as close to real as what they see on TV. They are strong of heart and with serious prodding they are willing to change. Next month we read Grapes of Wrath.


Blogger Gayle Kirby said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Gayle Kirby said...

I was surprised to see that you've moved on to my home state....I hope you wander out on to the Olympic Peninsula some day...
Gayle K.

1:30 PM  

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