We just got back from a trip to Montana which centered on a Memorial Day for long-time dear friend and lovely artist of print and soul, Mary Beth Percival, known as MB to intimates. Her brother Mark Graesser gave the clear winner address which brought you into her family and her formation in ways the utterly frank and shy MB never would have. It was the perfect time to love and understand her more. But I had a moment I felt I had to add to the ceremonies and I’m including it here.
Milo Miles “Story of Remembrance” of Mary Beth Percival, July 29, 2017
So many treasured memories of MB. One of the most vivid comes from when she and Monte went with Donna and me to Monhegan Island off the Maine coast. I see her sitting in sun hat and sun glasses on a shoreline rock, sketching and writing in her notebook. [See below.]
But the event I will recall here involved just the two of us. It was in the summer of 1977, right before I left Missoula for Cambridge Mass. As the late, great Doug Bieri told me, “Milo we’ve had so many farewell parties for you, you have to go away for at least a little while!”
One afternoon I encountered Mary Beth near the Top Hat and she asked me for a ride to the Broadway Market since she didn’t have a car and needed to pick up some specialty groceries. As soon as we pulled into one of the parking slots, she declared, “I have to tell you something,” and I knew groceries were at best a secondary reason for this trip.
MB looked right in my face and said she wanted me to know that the most insidious aspects of growing up isolated in small-town Montana were low ambitions and restricted dreams. Thinking that you were no more than a tiny guy in a tiny town. And worst, that was all you deserved to be. Other people became writers and artists and actors. The few exceptions from Montana only proved the rule.
Immediately I knew how right she was. I had gone to college in Bozeman and Missoula because I cherished my Montana identity and did not want it to become merely my pre-adult nature. Just how long could I stay away from Livingston, one of the most beautiful spreads of scenery in the world? Yet I knew the time to leave had come. I had to expand my work and culture options or I would more and more feel my life was wasted.
“Look at me,” said MB with her radiant smile, “I grew up in a smaller town than you did, and I’m making it as an artist!” Could not deny that.
So Back East I went. I knew exactly one person and had one professional contact. In the first couple of years especially the whole project felt crazy hopeless many days of the week. I cannot think how often I was back in that Chevy sitting next to MB, re-listening to her pep talk. She offered me some of the most valuable insights of my life. She gave me the faith in myself to keep at it.
I know I recalled that encounter the last time I saw MB – at a big house party, aptly enough. She wasn’t talking but she puckered her lips at me until I came close enough for a sweet kiss that said “I love you, friend” plain and clear. Of course, I now realize it was also a kiss goodbye.