Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Perspective on Pillars

Many of the adventuresome young men who came to  Oregon while the Hudson Bay Co. was still the ruling force lived here long enough to see the log cabins turn into gigantic stone edifices, such as the Portland Hotel, or Meir & Frank. The entertainment went from being some fiddles at a barn dance to operas and orchestras, and the frontier wives were transformed into queens of high society. They rode to entertainments in carriages with beveled glass windows, and then in Packard town cars. I imagine that they learned how to talk in that fake British accent that you hear "cultured" Americans using in the old movies—at least their daughters did, after being sent to "finishing school" in the East. 

Pillars of Society in Portland, Oregon

This takes me back to York, in the U.K., a place I mentioned earlier as being very, very old. In fact, York is where the emperor Constantine was crowned as Roman Emperor, and it was an old city then. My friend Randy Giles (d. 2009, Pondicherry, India) grew up in West Lynn, and ended up studying music at the University of York. His main tutor was an elderly British gentleman who had the habit of saying, "Pillars of society in Portland, Oregon!" He wasn't aware that Randy was from Portland, it was merely and expression he had acquired that conveyed the meaning that someone was putting on airs. For instance, if a student were to spout some knowledge of some obscure musical fact, instead of raising his bushy white eyebrows and saying, "I say! Well done! He would scowl and mumble, "Pillars of society in Portland, Oregon!" Randy thought this was hilariously funny.

Dr. Randall Giles

How very American to take a forested area larger than England, peopled with a culture that had existed for many long centuries, come in with guns and disease, cut down the trees, can the fish, fill the meadows with wheat fields, build some palaces and declare yourself a pillar of society, and have it all done by suppertime. This is something that won't happen again, we have run out of wilderness (of course the people who lived here didn't think of it as wilderness, they thought of it as home).

These are the sorts of thoughts that comes to mind when I am searching a newspaper database for a sea captain and keep finding instead his wife on the society page.