My wife and I had the good luck to know Meridel LeSueur personally late in her life. I believe she was about 91 or 92. We met her at a small gathering of people associated with a publication called The North Country Anvil. (We knew some of the people who ran this literary magazine, or published in it. They invited us to a family camping weekend near Millville, Minnesota.) She was so impressive one had the impression—I came to regret not doing this later—one should keep verbatim notes of what she said so as to publish later.
The year after that first weekend, we met her at a winter poetry reading in St. Paul, where she read with Carol Bly. We asked her if she was going to The Gathering, as they called it, that next summer. She replied, “Well, perhaps if I could get a ride.” My wife, who is rather bold, called her daughter in the summer and asked if she still needed a ride. After being vetted, this was all approved.
It was delightful taking her there. She was physically frail but mentally an articulate iron lady. And such an intense listener. One began to get rid of extra words in asking or answering questions. As we drove along the Mississippi River near Lake City, MN, I noticed her peering rather intently out the window. I asked her about it. She replied she was looking for the place where she had camped to hide out from the FBI in the early 1950s. She said they were after her with the subpoena to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. She said they never did find her. After she camped along the Mississippi, she went to Arizona and stayed with her Navajo friends until HUAC forgot about her. (She was blacklisted by HUAC for many years, and wasn’t able to publish works until later.)
On the way back, I asked her about a comment she had made during one of the discussion sessions. She had made a mildly derogatory remark about “intellectuals.” She said (and I’m re-inventing her words as close as possible), “I’ll answer by telling a story. When I was 14, my mother left me at home while she was off with some other political activists. There was an anarchist who was staying with us and I was to make him breakfast. He had been in prison for 14 years for trying to assassinate a capitalist. But he hadn’t succeeded, even though he fired his pistol at him. I wanted to make an impression on him. I did come up with something smart to say, but when I handed him his ham and eggs, my mind went blank. I just blurted out ‘Why did you miss when you shot at him?’ His answer shows what I meant when I said that about intellectuals. He said, ‘Oh, I made the mistake most intellectuals make. I didn’t practice.’”
Later, when I researched this, I found out this must have been when Alexander Berkman, and probably Emma Goldman were visiting the family in Oklahoma (she also had said she knew Emma Goldman.)
When Meridel asked us what we did for a living, I told her I worked for the government, but it was hard because there was so much pathology. She said, “Oh, then you must keep working then if you understand that, but just remember who you work for.” I said, “Oh, what do you mean?” “The People, of course.” My wife told her she was a speech therapist and worked with small children with communication problems. Also, we had our first child, Evan, then a baby, with us. Meridel was pleased with her, and said my wife’s real name, among Indians would have been “Wolf Mother.”
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