The mines in the upper reaches of the county left lasting legacies for the community that Marilyn found herself in, so many decades later. Because of the demand for coal, the mines brought railroads, which in turn brought opportunities for commerce of all kinds.
The railroads also brought workers from all over the country, and all over the world, who were drawn to the opportunity to establish their families and make a decent living. While down in the valley, agriculture became king, and the farming and ranching families were primarily white, in the mountains the community made room for many newcomers. It resulted in a lovely, problematic, hopeful, and occasionally combustible hodgepodge of last names, faces, and skin colors.
It was, in other words, a microcosm of the whole American experiment.
In her youth, in the 1960’s, Marilyn kept her grandmother Ursula’s stories in mind as she joined the front lines of the civil rights movement. Marilyn thought about her heritage as she began her artistic expression, searching for imagery that represented the intertwining of the whole human race.
Marilyn’s grandmother Ursula stood on those front lines as well. Ursula painted signs, joined marches, and listened closely to the radio broadcasts of speeches by the leaders of the movement. Grandmother and granddaughter shared a commitment to justice and inclusion for all.
And they shared hot, desperate tears at the news of one act of violence after another. They shared deep puzzlement at the notion that violence could ever be part of the solution. Ursula remembered her father’s stories of the Great War; she remembered her husband’s tour of duty in World War II; and Marilyn watched a brother go to war in Viet Nam and return, whole in body but broken in spirit. Violence of any kind was incapable of constructing anything other than more violence.
Marilyn and Ursula shared so much, across their generations. Ursula never let Marilyn forget where she came from, and never let her lose hope in the future.
“You are the future, my dear,” Ursula told her granddaughter. “You must never let yourself treat this responsibility lightly. Be the voice for those who lived long ago, and dreamt of the world you are creating.”