The Paparazza Goes to Idaho

Audrey Thompson

Idaho is one of few places in the United States where you can find a Merchant-and-Ivory-style mansion surrounded by vast fields of wheat.

Merchant-and-Ivory-style mansion Merchant-and-Ivory-style mansion

If you didn’t know this about Idaho, no doubt it is because the paparazzi seldom venture into Idaho. This particular paparazza, however, is branching out. I took the camera to Washington and Idaho for the weekend, far from the celebrity-flung fields of Salt Lake City.

To be honest, I have never seen a celebrity in Utah, although many of them do come here. Donna saw Dustin Hoffman at the Sundance Film Festival last month and her friend Stu saw the back of Dustin Hoffman’s head. I have never seen even the back of a celebrity’s head in Utah. When I was twenty, I saw Art Linkletter in three-quarters profile in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but that was the last time I saw anyone famous, unless you count my family and William. Counting my family and William is somewhat circular, though, as they are the only ones who consider themselves famous, and the reason they think they are famous is because I write stories about them and put them on the web.

Silly Hats
Famous Family Members

When Ivan and I went to Sundance to see Brother Outsider, we didn’t take the camera and we also didn’t see any celebrities. Last weekend, when Ivan and I visited the Salt Lake City cemetery in the Avenues, we did take the camera. We weren’t looking for celebrities, of course. Not surprisingly, we didn’t run into any, but we did encounter some interesting personalities. Our favorite was Mrs. Ashworth. She is buried at some distance from the rest of her family.

She never learned how to lie

My Western paparazza expedition started in Spokane. Along with the digital camera, I took the recharger, an extra battery, and four film CDs. I did not take a lens cleaner, which turned out to be what I chiefly needed. I mentioned it when I talked with Ivan on the phone. “I think I may have smudged the lens,” I said, “and I don’t have the lens cleaner with me.”

“If you don’t have the lens cleaner with you, don’t use your shirt to clean it,” Ivan warned me. “Use a clean, soft cloth diaper.” This timely advice came while I was at Gonzaga visiting Tim Clancy, who is a priest, and staying with Mary, who is a nun. They did not have any cloth diapers handy. Georgia Johnson and Mike Hayes, who were also there, had not brought diapers with them either, although both of them are parents. Possibly they do not own diapers any more. Mike’s and Kathy’s daughter, Ruby, is ten. Georgia’s daughters, Hannah and Katharine, are in their late twenties.

Georgia and Ruby
Georgia Johnson and Ruby Hayes

I am not sure where Ivan got the idea that I could just ask around wherever I happened to be and someone would hand me a cloth diaper. I suspect this comes of taking in one too many episodes of Let’s Make a Deal while growing up. Monty Hall used to offer a reward to any audience member who was carrying, say, a pocket Aztec calendar, a postage stamp from Easter Island, and a clean diaper. Somebody in the audience invariably produced the goods, thereby creating the misleading impression that ordinary people are prepared for pretty much any contingency, provided that the instruments will fit in their pockets or purse.

Some people really are prepared for almost any eventuality. Most of these people are mothers. One of them is my own mother, who could produce items of apparel from her Mary Poppins purse as needed by family members. But there are limits to preparedness, especially where Jesuit priests are concerned. It is the rare Jesuit who brings diapers to campus.

Gonzaga Gonzaga

Tim had asked me to come to Gonzaga University to give a talk on listening across race, colorblindness, and whiteness theory for the honors students and other interested folks. He took me to meet the students and check out the Hopkins Honors House, which contains more books on Schleiermacher than you would think the average Honors House would have. By tucking copies of his own Schleiermacher books in with the house copies of Gerard Manley Hopkins and whomever students are reading in Engineering nowadays, Tim no doubt hopes that a whole new generation will stumble into hermeneutics unawares. I can speak from experience, however, in saying that this system does not work. Ivan has tucked innumerable copies of his own books on the ancient Maya in with my books on African American feminism, but the sum of my knowledge about the ancient Maya has not changed in any marked fashion.

Tim Clancy, S.J., at the Hopkins Honors House
Tim Clancy, S.J. Tim Clancy, S.J.

The Hopkins House is named after the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, of whom Gonzaga is very proud; he was a Jesuit priest. The Honors House has shelves full of books about him. Next semester the honors students have a seminar on him and they are not pleased; they do not see why they should be the first honors students to actually have to read him. Some of his friends apparently felt similarly. When Hopkins sent them a poem of his about nuns drowning, one friend wrote back complaining, “I wish those nuns had stayed home.”

Almost everyone Tim and I met on campus asked us how we had happened to become friends. No one has ever asked me how I happened to come by any of my other friends; I assume, therefore, that the question is really about Tim. Apparently the natural state for Jesuit priests is to be friendless. It is possible that Tim himself never encounters this question except when I am involved, but he played right into the Friendless Jesuit Priest Motif. When an older Jesuit asked how the two of us had become friends, Tim told him, “I have known Audrey since grade school. She is my only childhood friend.”

“That is very poignant,” I said, “but not true. You had lots of childhood friends. I am just the only one who’s left.”

Tim was a year ahead of me at Ecolint and although our families were friends, I didn’t know him all that well till I got to ninth or tenth grade. When I was in seventh grade, I thought that Tim’s group of friends was incredibly sophisticated, incredibly intellectual, incredibly political. I mentioned this to Tim when he was telling Mike and Georgia yet another variation on the only-childhood-friend drama. He reflected for a moment. “Mostly what we were arguing about,” he recalled, “was whose father was smarter than whose.”

Tim and Lori Clancy
Tim and Lori Clancy
Top two photos © Terry Clancy
Joni with Lori, Karen, Tim, Kevin, and Bob Clancy
Joni with Lori, Karen, Tim, Kevin, and Bob Clancy
Terry Clancy, Rob, Liz, Randy, Ellen, and Tim Clancy, with Audrey seated
Terry Clancy, Rob, Liz, Randy, Ellen, and
Tim Clancy, with Audrey seated
Joni and Tim Clancy at Karen Clancy’s wedding
Joni and Tim Clancy at Karen Clancy’s wedding

The first person I met at Gonzaga was a frail, older Jesuit being supported by a young woman as he walked around the mail room of the Jesuit House. “Who would have thought we’d see the day when Jesuits walked arm in arm with pretty young women?” he asked me.

“Times have changed,” I reflected.

“Thank heavens for that,” he said.

Another sign of change was that Tim had booked me in the Jesuit House Chapel for my talk on whiteness theory. “This is the first time the chapel has been used for this purpose,” he remarked.

“Yes, I expect so,” I agreed. Mrs. Clancy said later that God had had his hand in this plan, and I hope that that is true, but it is not impossible that Tim screwed up and left his own planning till too late. It is not for me to say, of course.

Everything to the greater glory of God

The first third of the talk was by no means a rousing success, but by the last part of the talk I had hit my stride, and people in the audience seemed to be connecting. Afterwards, two thoughtful young women came up to talk about their thinking in response to what I had said. I had mentioned that those of us who are white tend to assume that if we have access to an actual brown or black person, we can report on what that person said as more or less representative of an entire race — yet we would never say of our white friends and acquaintances, “I have this white dentist, and she says that white people think that . . . .” Evidently it is important to those of us who are white to name and claim our black and brown friends and acquaintances — and that should give us pause. What are we doing, I asked, when we make a special point of saying, “I once met this very articulate Hispanic man and he told me that . . .”?

One of the young women who came up to talk with me was white and she had a kind of courage about race issues that I wish more white people had. She was willing to look at herself candidly and to say, “Yep, you’re talking about me.” Most of us who are white and well-meaning do what Ivan’s mother called “yebbitting” — we say, “Yeah, but.” “Yeah, but the thing is, I really do have a lot of Mexican friends and one summer I even had, like, nine friends from Taiwan.” We say to one another, “Good point, but you’re not talking about me, I hope you understand.”

This young woman said, “You were talking about me. When you said that about our making sure to mention our best friends of another race, I thought, ’I wrote that essay for class where we were supposed to talk about our philosophy, and after I turned it in, I realized that I never mentioned God but I mentioned every single friend I have who is black.’ I think that must be what you’re talking about.” She was willing to rethink the automatic assumption that it’s only other white people who have a problem with race.

While visiting Gonzaga, I took plenty of pictures. Most of the photos were of statues and buildings; they are not very exciting and I am not going to show them to you. I did not take a picture of the building they have there that is basically a shrine to Bing Crosby. I am not a fan of Bing Crosby; I am specifically not a fan of his.

Tim and I drove out to the site where his parish is going to build its new church. We drove through the rain, and when we got out of the car, the rain stopped.

Tim in the church of the outdoors Tim in the church of the outdoors Tim in the church of the outdoors

This business of the rain starting when I got in a car and stopping when I got out reoccurred throughout the trip; I mention it because it is far from being the story of my life. The story of my life has mostly been the opposite.

I saw other parts of Spokane. Spokane has a little bit of glamour and a little bit of edge. The glamour is at the Davenport Hotel and the Peacock Bar.

The Davenport Hotel The Davenport Hotel
The Davenport Hotel The Davenport Hotel
The Davenport Hotel
The Peacock Bar
The Peacock Bar
Tim Clancy, Georgia Johnson, Mike Hayes
Tim Clancy, Georgia Johnson, Mike Hayes

We did not check out the edgy parts of town. We took in the Peacock Bar and Dolly’s Diner. The diner has a WWII poster in the women’s bathroom explaining that “Women’s Looks Fade during War Times.” It must have been hard to make this sound like a pressing issue during a world war, but then again, you’d think that tax cuts for the unimaginably wealthy would not be our own most pressing concern today.

Dolly’s Diner
Dolly’s Diner
Dolly’s Diner
Georgia, Mike, and Tim
Georgia, Mike, and Tim
Mike and Georgia
Mike and Georgia
Tim
Tim
Audrey and Tim
Audrey and Tim

After breakfast, Mike and Georgia took me to Moscow, Idaho, via Pullman, Washington. Georgia works at University of Idaho and Mike works at Washington State University in Pullman, which no one is allowed to call Wazoo anymore, but everyone does anyway.

Georgia lives in a wonderful, open-plan house with plenty of room for the air and the dogs to move around in.

Irene, Georgia and Peggy
Irene, Georgia, and Peggy

She does not turn on the central heating till 4:30 in the afternoon. Her notion of “heat” is a steady 65°F. Even then, Georgia opens the windows to cool things off “for the dogs,” she says. The dogs are huddled next to the woodburning stove.

At our house, there is no question of opening windows. I like to air things out in the wintertime, but I have to do it while Ivan is shopping or at work, because if I open the windows when he’s here, he complains bitterly. I am not really even supposed to adjust the heat. When Ivan feels the slightest chill, he becomes suspicious. “Did you touch Mr. Thermostat?” he demands.

Mike Hays
Mike

When Mike first visited Georgia at her house in Idaho, he told her candidly, “I don’t know when I have been this cold indoors before.” I myself have definitely been that cold indoors before, and in fact colder, but the times that I have been that cold have been memorable, historic occurrences for which I could give you the exact dates and places. New Year’s Eve 1983 at the Clancys’ house in Itasca, for example.

For a few hours, I shivered on Georgia’s couch. Eventually, I stood and shivered next to the woodstove, although the stove was not lit. I was trying to make a statement and it worked. In the middle of her sentence, Georgia remarked, “I think I will put some wood on the stove.”

As soon as the fire took hold, Irene planted herself in front of the stove to soak up the heat. Dogs are very effective at soaking up most of the available warmth from direct heat sources. Nineteen years ago, Ivan and I lived in a duplex in which all the upstairs rooms had heating vents in the floors and all the downstairs rooms had heating vents in the ceiling. The only real heat downstairs was from a space warmer, which Ivan would turn on as soon as he got home from work. The minute he turned it on, Molly would stretch herself in front of it, exactly proportioning herself to the space heater so that no particle of warmth escaped beyond the black lab buffer.

Molly in December, 1984
Molly in December 1984

Irene was not able to soak up all the heat from the wood stove, but she is a big dog and she did her best.

Irene
Irene

At our house, Trillin sleeps on the floor directly over the water heater. Harley sits expectantly next to her favorite heat register.

Harley
Harley

Peggy did not spend as much time in front of the stove as Irene did. Peggy is one year old and her mouth is her best friend. She spent a lot of time at the top of the stairs, watching us and chewing and chawing on her bone. When she got tired of that, she and Irene delicately retrieved selected items of Georgia’s underwear and brought them downstairs. Later, Peggy tore the stuffing out of her dog bed, then dragged it into Georgia’s bedroom to strew about. I heard the ruckus and went upstairs to investigate. My habits being photographic rather than housekeeperish, I went back downstairs to get my camera. When I came upstairs again, Peggy hid under the bed and barked at me. She didn’t mind me personally but she did not like the camera.

Peggy Peggy
Peggy Peggy
Peggy
Peggy
Peggy

Later, Georgia went to the city dump to drop off the remains of the dog bed. You can go visit the dump every day of the week except Sunday. Going to the city dump is something of an event in Moscow. I stayed home and read critical race theory, so I can’t show you any pictures.

Whereas Peggy did most of her domestic rearrangements by herself, our Molly was a team player. When she and Trillin were babies, they were inseparable. Ivan called them the Gang of Two. As soon as Ivan and I went out the door, they raced through the house on their splendid mission, like Brownies in reverse. Trillin would get up on the table and push off a bowl of potato chips; Molly would strew the remains over the rest of the house. Trillin would topple plants off ledges; Molly would gallop through the house with the roots and leaves in her mouth. Trillin would knock books off shelves; Molly would chew them up. Together, they would dig through the cat litter box, pulling out treasures and joyfully flinging them around the bathroom.

For a while, Ivan and I had a fig tree in a planter. Over time, it lost its leaves and branches, until all that remained was an eight-foot stalk with a single leaf at the top; Trillin and Molly had not been able to reach that high. When they were done re-educating the Ficus, Molly and Trillin dug out the dirt out of the planter. It took Ivan three hours to clean up. Afterwards, he came to pick me up from class; by the time we got home, my shoes had been dragged out of the upstairs closet and brought down to the living room to be chewed, a Dave Barry book had been mauled, and Ritz crackers had been ground into the carpet.

Audrey and Trillin in March 1985
Audrey and Trillin in March 1985

Ketzela spent her days perched in the only safe place, on top of the fridge. It was not entirely safe, but it was as safe as things got.

When I mentioned to Georgia that Teddy is our only normal cat, she remarked that she was not surprised. “He’s the one you didn’t raise yourself, isn’t he?” That is more or less true, although Ivan is the one who raised them. Ketzela was melodramatic and Trillin and Harley are melodramatic, too. Ivan’s family was melodramatic, so I suppose it runs in the family.

Kelly, Naomi, and Ivan
Kelly, Naomi, and Ivan
Grandma Culbertson, Grandpa Culbertson, George, Ivan, Naomi, Cousin Judy, Kelly, Aunt Mildred, Uncle John, Cousin Janet
Grandma Culbertson, Grandpa Culbertson, George, Ivan, Naomi, Cousin Judy,
Kelly, Aunt Mildred, Uncle John, Cousin Janet

Trying to fit in, Teddy has begun practicing little moments of melodrama. It is like that normal blonde woman in the Munsters who was such a misfit. A lot of times, I feel like that myself, except for the blonde part.

No one who knows Georgia will be surprised to hear that her dogs are melodramatic. When Georgia drives up to the kitchen door, the hounds start to bay, as if catching a whiff of bear after an all-day run. Irene is a black-and-tan hound and Peggy is a walker hound, so there is a lot of baying. When Georgia goes out to check the mail, the dogs gallop to the windows and howl, watching to see if Georgia is leaving them forever. In general, what with the baying and the dashing and the flurries of underwear, there is a fair bit of melodrama. Except for the underwear, visiting Georgia is not unlike being on set during the filming of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Irene even looks like Basil Rathbone. She is very handsome.

Irene as the Hound

When I go on a trip and Ivan is left alone with the cats, they sit on the stairs behind his computer station and yell accusations at him. It is not very restful and he is glad for me to come back. Not as glad as the cats are, however. They dislike changes in their system.

Harley and Trillin glare suspiciously
Harley and Trillin

Sunday morning, Georgia and I met Mike, Kathy, and Ruby for breakfast at the Breakfast Club. Ruby explained about NASA’s interest in Lego and I explained about the Barbie Liberation Front’s interest in G. I. Joe. Our waitress politely ducked out of the way of the camera whenever she came to check on us. Mike and Georgia warned her that any pictures I took would almost certainly show up on the web; the waitress did not come by as much, after that.

Georgia and Ruby
Georgia and Ruby
Mike and Kathy
Mike and Kathy

Georgia regaled us with stories and Ruby watched her intently, basking in her attention and tracking every expression and gesture. Irene and Peggy watch Georgia with expressions a little like that, but with a more finite set of concerns. Whereas Ruby is watching Georgia be Georgia, the dogs are trying to figure out if she is going to feed them, take them for a walk, or abandon them forever when she goes to check her mail.

Kathy told us that her letter carrier had come to the front door the other day to ask, “Don’t you ever check your mail?” “I told her, ’Sure, I do.’ I don’t let it sit there for that long,” said Kathy.

“How long?” I asked.

“Oh, I check it every week or so,” she said. Their mailbox is twenty feet from the front door, you understand. You don’t have to drive there or anything. Georgia’s mailbox is across the street, and she checks it several times a day. This is normal, even if you have already received your mail. It is always possible that the mail carrier will come back and bring you more. It may be that she forgot to drop off one of your letters, or that the large, desirable package she has for you was too big to bring with the regular mail.

Ivan expects to see vast piles of mail on his chair when he comes home from work. If there are no boxes, he is upset. Even if he got three boxes yesterday, he wants and expects more today. Catalogues are good, too, as then it is possible to order more stuff.

Personally, I prefer getting letters, but I don’t get very many. Fred Buchanon once pointed out that unless I wrote other people letters, I was not likely to get any in return. But the trouble is that I have nothing to write letters about; I have nothing to report. I don’t lead a drama-filled life.

I leave the drama to the animals.

Irene turns her back on civilization

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