Now is the Winter of our Discontent – II

One of the problems with being over 80 is that you watch your friends get sick.  In the past month, one classmate developed ALS and another has cardiac amyloidosis complete with implantable defibrillator.  The 40 year old daughter of a friend who we watched since infancy has serious breast cancer and is undergoing surgery radiation and chemo.  While I don’t have survivor’s guilt (yet), it isn’t fun.

Add to that the recent loss of an excellent surgeon I practiced medicine with in Montana for 15 years.  Reading his obit was how I found out that he was a Fulbright scholar.  This is so typical of Montana and how great it was.  Don’t ever brag.  Show us how you are and what you can do, but never tell us.  There are so few people out there that you’ll bump up against each other again and again. They’ll figure out who you are without you telling them.  When I’d go back East, I noticed that city people (who a friend in Montana called decorated ants) would tell you what they were really like.  They had to as they’d likely never get another shot at you.

Which brings me to another greatness of Montana back in the 70s.  Back East your education pretty much pigeonholed you.  Right or wrong, you assumed intelligence correlated with the amount of education.  Not so in Montana. In the early 70s there were plenty of bright people who couldn’t go on to college growing up during the depression.  So you quickly learned to treat everyone the same.

Princeton?  Where is it?  Is is an Ag school?  You were free to create your own identity without being pigeonholed.   It was a fabulous feeling.

There were Ivy leaguers around (all Ivy Fullback, Brown, Dartmouth, Yale etc. etc.)  but we all kept it fairly low key.  One rancher acquaintance had gone through Harvard in 3 years.  His daughter went there as well, and was actually the centerfold of the Harvard alumni magazine, and this before she won a silver in the olympics.   The son of another rancher went to Harvard and was told that his father was a cow farmer.  When he did well academically, he was told that he was there to lower the curve.

The children of my friends continued the great Montana tradition of exporting its  brightest youth, going to Cornell, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, Harvard (and doing quite well there) but never coming back.

The one group of people that I didn’t (initially) treat ‘the same’ were the Indians, united only by their different appearance from what I was used to (maybe I met one in the years of college, grad school, med school, internship, residence and even the Air Force).   Calling them native americans back then would have gotten you some strange looks.  I worked with some excellent Indian nurses in the local hospitals, and did some consulting for the Indian Health Service, getting to know the culture much better.  My kids went to school with some.

If you wanted to invent an institution to produce social pathologies (alcoholism, child abuse in particular) you couldn’t do better than putting people on a reservation, giving them enough money to get by and giving them nothing to do.

My father and his brother had  the classic liberal conservative debate (before I knew what they were).  Uncle Irv would always say — it’s the system doing (whatever behavior that he didn’t like) — you must change the system.  My father would  counter saying that people would corrupt any system.

I basically bought my father’s position (being reinforced by living for the past 16 years in Massachusetts).

Now I’m not so sure. After one son moved to Hong Kong, I realized that uncle Irv had a point.  Hong Kong is dynamic, vibrant and clean (at least it was 2 years ago the last time I was there) with hordes of hardworking active people.

No so where my son lives along with many exPats — Lamma island, a 20 minute ferry ride from the city.   Walk home from the ferry and you’ll see a bunch of fat asian guys sitting around drinking and smoking.  Who are they?  They are the descendants of the tribes that lived there initially.  Either they own the place or they are continually supported and don’t need to work.

I looked at them and said, my God it’s the rez.  My son said, yup it’s the rez.

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