Friday, June 26, 2009

Daily Life: My Favorite Farah Fawcett Memory

It was the summer of 1977. It is hard to believe that it was over thirty years ago. I had gone from St. Francis Indian School to Philips Academy at Andover, MA for the summer semester on an exchange program. I went with James Murphy (always James, never Jim) and Leo Little Bald Eagle, on scholarships. It was, for me, a journey into another world. I'd gone from the poverty of the reservation* to the insular world of a private prep school in the space of an airline flight, my first. We were housed in dorms there on the campus and I had a small simple room that opened up onto the stair landing. There wasn't much in the room - a bed, a desk, a dresser and a pair of chairs. It was nice though. The window looked out over the front porch of the dorm.

It came to my mind yesterday with the death of Farah Fawcett. I recall that iconic poster on the wall of my dorm room, there at Phillips Academy. I was just looking at their website. It took me a moment to orient myself (I oriented off the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, were we would often sprawl on the lawns. The Commons, where we ate our meals. The Gelb Science Center, where I had a class in Animal Behavior. The Tang Theatre, where I saw one of the first plays I can recall. The Bell Tower. I also had classes in Fencing (LOL - with swords, not for cows and horses, I was a master of that later by the time I went there and could string barbed wire with the best of them, as the small scars on my hands attest).

I've been sitting here at the computer taking the virtual tour. I have fond memories from that summer, as it was probably my first real exposure to the world beyond the reservation for an extended period of time. I can recall going downtown to shop at a small bookstore, built into a house. The Science Fiction/Fantasy section was in the attic and it was there, during that summer, that I bought and read Edgar Rice Burrough's entire "John Carter, Warlord of Mars" series of books. It was also there that I checked out and first read the Lord of the Rings (having read the Hobbit the summer before, oh, about a hundred times). I recall an ice cream shop downtown as well. Mrs. Barrett, an English teacher at St. Francis Indian School, was from the area and on several weekends she had us over to her mothers house to BBQ and to play in their pool. (I think that was probably the first time I ever swam in a personal swimming pool as well.) I remember we imprinted a duckling for animal behavior glass and I named mine "Ham". I remember how much fun it was learning to fence. I also learned to play tennis that summer.

Some very fond memories, tinged with the bittersweet. Leo died several years later in a car accident back on the reservation. James, last I heard, was married, living in Colorado, and still working behind the scenes in television. I have no idea what happened to Mrs. Barrett, but I have very fond memories of her and our other English teacher at St. Francis, Ms. Weed. They managed to instill in me (as did my family) the love of reading and literature that remains with me to this day. Two years later one of my sisters attended the same summer session. She has equally fond memories. Except, she got hit by a car crossing the street and spent several weeks living at Mrs. Barrett's mothers house as she recuperated.

*The Rosebud is one of the poorest places in America, but when you grow up in that poverty, you simply don't realize it. Though it may be economically poor, it is also rich in ways almost unimaginable - tradition, beauty, family, a profound sense of place.

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