I stood in my friend’s living room this morning, doing yoga with three other older women, as I do several times each week—driving over the hill on Ringwood Road, through the brilliant yellows, reds, oranges and browns of autumn leaves, from my nearby home in Etna, NY. As my eyes chanced on her fireplace, I was transported back to Quilcene, Washington, to the home of Eva Taylor in the spring of 1973. I’d been thinking a lot about friends in that community where I lived for three years in the 1970s. I plan to return for a couple of weeks of research next spring. By happenstance I linked with Eva’s niece on Facebook and learned, with sorrow, that Eva had died not long ago.
My first introduction to Eva did not bode well for a good relationship. She’d written us a rather aggressive letter, basically asking what the hell we were doing at the school. My (now ex-) husband and I were involved in a large research project to ‘monitor and evaluate’ an experimental schools program there—one intended to be designed by the local community. Before responding, we discreetly asked other people about her and learned, for instance, that she was a member of the John Birch Society (an organization with political views about 180 degrees from my own) and a consistent opponent of the school’s yearly levies (elections called to raise taxes for the school). These facts, combined with the rather hostile tone of the letter, led us to anticipate our interview with her with some trepidation.
She lived out in the country, and we joked that perhaps our pickup truck would reduce her sense of us as ‘educated idiots’, perhaps slightly mollify the antagonism she apparently felt. Maybe it did and maybe it didn’t, but once we met her, our preconceived notions were blown to the winds. She welcomed us and listened very politely and with apparent interest to our explanation of what we were trying to do. She asked intelligent questions and had responses we considered reasonable.
As we got to know her, little by little, we discovered a woman of depth, intelligence and with a genuinely adventurous spirit. At the time, I was deep into the radical feminism of the 1970s, struggling personally with the many ways in which our culture strengthens and reinforces sexist attitudes and behaviour. Here was a woman whose whole life was a tribute to women’s capabilities and strengths—without any apparent influence of this 1970s resurgence of feminism. She was a real inspiration to my 27-year old self, and continues to inspire me whenever she comes to mind.
Eva had homesteaded in Alaska with her husband, who was a bush pilot there. She had built an amazing and beautiful fireplace of giant rounded grey stones reaching to the ceiling of her living room (the image that came to mind this morning). She had found the stones, brought them home, and built the fireplace on her own. She had ridden all the way across the country on a mule with a woman friend. She invited people, including us, to her home to sing and play the piano, the fiddle. Her relationship with her husband appeared to be one of unusual equality and mutual respect.
An interchange I expected to be brief—and feared would be painful—turned into a series of pleasant memories that have stayed with me these four decades and more. Eva Taylor, who held political views I definitely did not share, still managed to inspire my admiration and respect. She was a real pioneer, a woman of great strength and determination, and a role model for the young women who knew her. She will be missed, but she’s left a legacy that will live on.
In this year of political turmoil, I find it good to remember that people of any political persuasion can be reasonable, admirable, worthy of our respect. We will need to keep that in mind as we try to come together again as a nation after this divisive election campaign.