Valeria Still, 90, shares her writing during 'Read Aloud' event at Crossroads

August 05, 2008 11:00 pm

By MIKE FERGUSON

Baker City Herald

By MIKE FERGUSON

Baker City Herald

The most colorful guy Valeria Still ever knew was a guy named Marv who "smoked too much, drank too much and ate a lot of fried eggs and fat steaks, but outlived most of his contemporaries."

"Maybe," Still speculated in a short story she wrote called "The Charmer," "it was because he always wanted to liven up the humdrum that he survived so well."

Still, 90, was a contributor at last week's "Read Aloud" program at the Crossroads Carnegie Art Center. The event, in which people could read their published or unpublished work aloud, was sponsored by the Libraries of Eastern Oregon.

Marv, Still recalled, was a "rough and tough little guy, but he was good to children and he liked to game hunt or fish with his boys and ours."

According to Still's story, Marv became irritated with the boasting by a new bartender at a club Marv frequented. The barkeep claimed he could charm a snake just by "saying ‘Zzzz' and the snake will quiet down and go to sleep."

"Amazing," said Marv. "You mean you can actually charm a snake? Hey, listen folks, this fella charms snakes. Remarkable! Brave fellow!"

It took Marv about two weeks searching rocks and sagebrush to find the cure to the bartender's bragging that Marv was looking for.

One night he appeared at the bar with "a box festively decorated with ribbon," which he set on the bar.

"Hey!" Marv called. "Gather round everybody and listen to how this brave fella charms snakes!"

The bartender obligingly repeated his familiar story, and then Marv "with a quick release of the ribbon on the box dumped a very much alive, noisy and unhappy diamondback rattlesnake on the counter."

"‘Here you are,' chortled Marv. ‘Now you can charm that one!' "

Bartender and patrons alike "scrambled to put distance between them and the counter, but everybody laughed so hard when they told me that story," Still wrote, "that I never did find out what happened to the snake."

Still said she's been writing for the past 15 years, "ever since I joined a writing club in Portland. I wrote because I was assigned to write something every week."

Another of Still's stories also starred Marv. "Marv was always doing something spectacular," she said. "He was in Weiser one time and ordered coffee at a lunch counter. He asked — politely — for a spoon to stir his coffee, but nobody brought it — so he took out his pistol and started stirring his coffee with it while singing ‘The Wabash Cannonball.'

"They brought him his spoon."

Still says her writing "really doesn't have any purpose. We had that writing club, and every week we were asked to write a memory. We came out with a lot of stories about the Depression. We bonded practically instantly probably because we all had that in common."

Are there any more stories forthcoming?

"I've lived a long life, and a lot of things have happened to me," she said. "I just don't know how many of them are interesting."

"I will do more stories to leave for my kids," she added. "They enjoy hearing them."

Valeria Still of Baker City enjoys writing poetry, too. Here's an excerpt:

When did "Thy rod and thy staff'

That comforteth folk

Become less of a comfort

And more of a joke?

I heard one remark

With a hint of disdain

Oh, she's pretty well, really,

But she's now on a cane!

As though, with a cane

She somehow was older

Than she really might be

If she clung to some shoulder! ...

My cane probes the potholes

And measures the curb

If that makes me look foolish

Then I'll just be a nerd!

I'd rather keep using my cane

As my guide

Than to fall on my face

And break more than my pride! ...

And if you still protest

Your cane is a label

Forget the name Cain

And just call it your Abel!