When I was a child, my mother gave my brother and me each a Hudson Bay blanket. My mother had been a child in the Great Depression, and the experience clearly made a profound impact on her. I grew up constantly hearing her tales of deprivation, which induced in me a sort of guilt when I would receive gifts, or even drink lots of milk. My mother told me that her family didn’t have fresh milk in the Great Depression, due to a combination of primitive refrigeration technology and poverty. They had to make do with condensed milk.
So I was told that the gift of the Hudson Bay blanket was a Very Valuable Thing, a thing of such value that one must be given to my brother AND me so as not to demonstrate overt favoritism. At least that was my interpretation of why my mother made such a big deal of giving one to each of us…
My mother told me that my brother had once written an essay for school on the venerable history of the Hudson Bay blanket, and may have even delivered it as an oral presentation. Clearly there was some serious mojo going on with this blanket.
But deep down, I never quite “got it”. The thing looked cool, all white with the boldly colored stripes, but it was made of wool, and as such was all scratchy. It didn’t seem substantially warmer than other blankets, especially the down comforter I had, encased though it was in an ugly brown satin. I also had a blanket my mother called a “thermal” blanket. There was something odd about this blanket, in that it was crocheted or woven in a manner that produced a myriad of holes. Even as a child, my nascent skepticism was aroused; weren’t all blankets “thermal” blankets? Wasn’t holding heat the idea in the first place? And why should a blanket be full of holes?
But Western Montana is a cold place, and I was grateful to have lots of blankets. I would arrange the layers so the Venerable Hudson Bay Blanket would be somewhere in the middle, so it wouldn’t scratch me.
By the time I got to college, I began to go through a sort of ascetic phase. I gave away many of the things I owned, and at one point I started to eat a lot less. At the time, I think I was trying to impress my first so-called girlfriend with how much will-power or self control I could exert. I call her my “so-called” girlfriend, because she refused to have sex. Yup, her refusal was a gigantic ego-shattering, self-esteem destroying, frustrating mind-fuck.
But eventually I came to my senses, and began running into women who liked to, you know, “get it on”… One night I was by myself at the Top Hat bar in Missoula, probably watching yet another R&B boogie band cover “Mustang Sally”. In walks Christy. Christy worked at the Kinko’s where I did all my photocopying. She was older than me, one of Missoula’s classic old-school radical feminists. I’m not sure exactly how she perceived me; she helped me photocopy a great deal of information I had gathered on autoerotic asphyxia, and even bound it all together for me into one large binder. This was the binder that I later loaned to Rick Linklater. I think she may have perceived me as some sort of “new wave” guy, some sort of unexpected by-product of what the hippies begat.
She walked up to me and hugged me. These days, that’s a benign greeting, and certainly not always one with sexual overtones. But to me, at that time and in that place, it could only mean one thing: She liked me and I must pursue her sexually!
So I did. We walked and talked, and of course I tried to ply her with alcohol. She seemed fearful of beer, on the grounds that it had yeast in it. Yeast was bad, somehow. I tried to explain to her that commercial American beers were both filtered and pasteurized, and so had little or no live yeast remaining. But this was really my introduction to the fact that she had a whole slew of “new age” and pseudoscientific beliefs. She claimed to have “allergies” yet wouldn’t accept that true allergies are a histaminic response, not the sort of generalized malaise she complained of. She was a believer in astrology.
Eventually we had sex. The first time was awkward and not very fun. But this created a History between us, and for her History was political. All the psycho-social ramifications and implications of this political act had to be discussed ad nauseam. But Christy was a smart gal, and in general I liked her company. Many of the women I met who were my own age were vapid and shallow airheads, and I knew deep down I could never relate to them. But I was beginning to see the weird angry-hippie-feminist side of Christy as well. I remember her telling me about how human society began as a Golden Era, run by women, and called the “Matriarchy”. But then evil men took over, and society became a “Patriarchy”.
This was news to me, as I had always assumed men had pretty much oppressed women from the get-go, and that things had gotten better for women rather late in human history, mostly in the industrialized countries. But I had come from a hard science background, so the concepts of “Matriarchy” and “Patriarchy” were completely novel to me. I had no easily accessible resources with which to investigate her claims.
Certain more tangible things began to get on my nerves. She boasted of once having destroyed a man’s Aerosmith LP because it contained the lyrics “You can’t catch me, ‘cause the rabbit done died”. But rabidly horny guys will put up with all kinds of things, and I was a rabidly horny guy. So we had sex a second time. This time things were better planned, and it proved to be the first time I ever saw a diaphragm. It looked pretty cool, actually, and of course I wondered how it might fly if thrown like a Frisbee…
So we start going at it. At this point in my life I think I’d had sex only about 5 times, so I still quite the n00b. I don’t remember how long I lasted before I came. But surprisingly, my erection didn’t go down! This was a bit of a surprise, so I just kept on going. This time around some sort of weird equilibrium was achieved, and as it happened I didn’t stop until the sun came up. I think we had been going at it for 5 or 6 hours. Alas, I was only able to pull off that stunt the one time, but it reminded me of all those old blues songs that included lines about “all night long”. Hmmm, I guess it really was possible…
By the way, for those reading this in 2009, this occurred in the 1980’s, long before phosphodiesterase inhibitor drugs were available. Indeed, no drugs or freaky devices were involved, other than probably just some alcohol.
Being that Christy worked at Kinko’s, she wasn’t a wealthy person. At one point she complained that her house was cold. I offered her a blanket, which she accepted. Since her primary need was simply warmth, I decided to give her my Hudson Bay blanket. This act had a two-fold fallout. My mother was aghast that I had given away what was to her almost a family heirloom. I found this attitude strange, as it seemed to be directly at odds with her Christian religion, which ostensibly placed a high value on charity. I refused to confront my mother with this contradiction, as by this time I took great pains to avoid arguments and confrontations with my mother.
I was not entirely surprised that the radical leftist recipient of this gift had even less understanding of its material value than I did. Back in the 80’s I had no easy way of finding out how much such a blanket might really cost. But a quick Google search tells me that buying one today might set me back $300! I’m sure it didn’t cost my mother that much when she bought it, but I don’t disbelieve her claim that it was expensive.
The final straw with Christy and me came while we were eating ice cream. We started talking about the SLA, and Christy began to deliver an impassioned screed about how bank robbery really wasn’t such a heinous crime! This was a mind-blowing assertion, as I had come from such a completely different moral background. My father had been the assistant Attorney General for the state of Montana. He was largely responsible for re-writing Montana’s state constitution in 1972. He taught law at the University of Montana starting in 1965 until his semi-retirement in the early 1990’s. My law-and-order upbringing was directly at odds with Christy’s radical leanings.
After that I’d see Christy around Missoula from time to time, but it was all over between us.
Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to that damn blanket…