Mary Beth Writes


To remember hard stories truthfully requires bravery.

I’m reading The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson. We bought the novel at the Heritage Center of the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge reservation. Pine Ridge is about two hours south of the Badlands and as I read this book I see the stark, beautiful landscape out the car window. I see the little gravel turn off at Wounded Knee, where 500 American soldiers massacred 300 Lakota Indians in 1890. Where, in 1973, Native people held this place for 71 days until the US government moved in and destroyed the tiny town that was there then. We met, at that turnoff, a woman who remembers the day her house was plowed over.

The Seed Keeper is a strong story told through the voices of four native women. Each woman, in her own time and way, is trying to integrate her story into her time and it is fraught work.

Reading these compelling stories is making me wonder about our fraught time. How much of the deceitfulness of the Trump administration was welcomed and supported by people who wanted to win, not remember?

The dad of the Seed Keeper main character says:

Personally, I remember stories of my family that are harsh and must have been difficult to endure. I can say my dad lived a hard childhood as the oldest kid of a new widow during the Depression. Saying those words is not the experience of a decade being often hungry, exhausted, worried about his mom and little brother. His experience deeply affected how he raised my siblings and me, affected what he expected of us and the fears he must have wrestled in the night when we were sleeping in our cozy beds in our nice bedrooms in our lovely home.

Our nation was won by dozens of battles fought by men who then came home and didn’t talk about it. It’s intense and weird work to live one’s life on top of repressed memories. It’s easier to put on made-up macho rituals than to deal with the demons of wars fought well and fought badly.

Carrying and sometimes firing an AR-15 is easier than, well, a whole lot of things that apparently a lot of men don’t have the bravery to say or admit. Cruelty is the power of the weak and pathetic.


Are women often more enduring and strong because we fail so early? There is a story out there of who we should be – and so many of us failed at that so early. It’s almost a rite of passage for teenage girls to realize they are never going to attract the coolest boyfriend, wear the best clothes, or weigh the right weight. Our hair, acne, scars, shyness, mouthiness, and other so-called imperfections teach us to move inward, figure out who we are, then live that life. Women who don’t do this work live lives trying to fulfill the story written for them, instead of their own.

In my 20’s I was friends with a remarkably homely woman. Frizzy hair, complexion like mashed potatoes, terrible clothes, she even had a wart on her nose. Everyone liked her. She was an underpaid social worker who enjoyed people, laughed a lot, and loved to eat in diners. I was having breakfast with her as she described a mutual friend who was absolutely beautiful and who  was going through another bad breakup with a toxic guy. Bev leaned back and said, “I always feel sorry for women who are beautiful right away. They don’t get the time one needs to know who one is.”  

In the novel a very old woman talks about the horrors she experienced as a young woman. She thinks about telling her memories to her daughter and grandkids as they harvest their garden  on a beautiful early fall day. She decides to not tell those stories because what she experienced and witnessed was too horrendous. She doesn’t want those stories to be in her grandkids' heads. 

At the end of the day, she and one of her granddaughters walk back to their little home where they discover people in shock. The two youngest boys of the family have been kidnapped by state authorities to be delivered to Indian boarding school.

Trauma trips through generations.

Our nation was founded with energy, vision, and hope. Our nation was founded on sanctimony, greed, and slavery.

Here we are.

Half of us say our history isn’t our history.

The other half says,” Listen up.”


The rez dog Len refers to and yes, that pup got part of Len's salami sandwich. Len shares. 




While we were there, we saw a wary old Rez Dog who looked like he’d seen some stuff in his days. I don’t know that, of course, but sometimes it takes an old dog to help you remember the true things that really happened.

Interesting to hear your friend Bev's take on women who obtained their beauty too soon. I went to school with a girl who was incredibly beautiful and incredibly thin. Blond and baby blue eyes. My mother saw her at my junior high graduation and talked about her beauty for the next 45 years. This from a woman who heaped compliments on girls with brown eyes, dark hair and dark complexions. Guys fell all over this girl. It seemed to me she always was going to have it easy. Over the years I have heard little snippets about her: her husband came home one day and announced he wanted a divorce, her father became mentally ill, she has gained weight. I hope her early ease didn't leave her ill prepared for these challenges.
Mary Beth's picture

People address a beautiful young woman in different ways than they do those of us who are more ordinary on the outside. I think a person has to be very tough and wise to take praise and strong positive attention and that current of sexual attraction. A kid in middle school doesn't have the chops for this. We are lucky if we get some years to just be ourselves. I was considering this the other day when reading Sleeping Beauty (via facetime) to our little granddaughter. That story is of a beautiful girl raised safely by three wise and loving women who keep her away from premature attention. She's friends with all those cute lil animals before that prince whose ready for a GF.

As always you give me much to think about. All around us, we want to be given one version of history, how different we would be if we all accepted that: "Our nation was founded with energy, vision and hope. Our Nation was founded on sanctimony, greed and slavery." Patricia
Mary Beth's picture

Thank you very much..

This past June, in my sister's township in OH, the conservative majority of the Forest Hills school board banned anti-racist, and/or identity based teaching in the school. They, unbelievably, called this a “resolution to create a culture of kindness and equal opportunity for all students and staff". Teachers will not be allowed to give assignments that nudge students to consider their race, socioeconomic class, religion, gender identity, sex, sexual preference, ethnicity, or culture as derogatory, to force kids to “admit privilege of oppression,” or to reflect, deconstruct or confront their identities. The board also cancelled the predominately white school's Diversity Day. 300 students walked out of class and held a protest, creating their own "Diversity Day". I told my sister that the board's "resolution of kindness and equal opportunity" is really a resolution of blindness and denial of opportunity.
Mary Beth's picture

This is happening right here in Waukesha, also. Scary and crazy beyond anything we could have imagined.

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My step-grandmother Ricky ate an apple every night. She’d sit on her bed, lean against the headboard, then chomp the apple after which she would remove her false teeth and lay down to sleep.

I haven’t really thought about Ricky in years but this week for no identifiable reason (because we were talking about unsung aspects of our lives?) I dreamed about her. I awoke one morning seeing her face as she stood in her dining room chatting with my mom and me. Ergo, I started thinking about her.

What's Ordinary in Your World?

This train photo is not cribbed from anywhere. It's a Genuine Leonardo. 


Hello and how are you? I am writing less and less as Len and I meander around to doctors, specialists, dentists, and that way-too-early appointment at the endodontist. (So far, we are fine.) The irony being that most of what we are attending to are the side effects of medications prescribed for stuff that didn’t hurt and we didn’t even know we had.

A Quiet Week

The cat in the picture is my daughter's cat, Nancy. Sometimes we all just need a quiet place to slow down and think.


What's going right in your world?


My teeth again. Argh. This past week I’ve had a jaw ache/toothache that got worse instead of better. Today my dentist said I need a crown but also that’s not the thing that is causing the swelling and infection and ache. I now have an Rx for an antibiotic and an appointment for that crown and an appointment with an endodontist to get an Xray worthy of NASA.


The picture is our wedding cake, made by my friend Karen, who drove it from Indiana to Chicago on the hottest day of that year. It was in the back seat so their two little boys had to ride in front (remember when kids could ride in front?). They got lost in the city but I didn't know that for years because Karen and her husband start early and had time to get lost and then figure it out. Sometimes wedded bliss is a lot of work. 

The following story and recipe is not about the wedding cake, but it is the photo I have...



How Do We Remember What We Remember?


The Jan 6 Hearings, huh? This is an amazing moment in US history and I’m trying to understand our incredibly intense response. Four of 10 voters have watched at least some of the hearings, which is 20,000,000 people. It’s not just me that can’t look away.

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