Bay Shore, NY

Terry & Kil, Bay Shore, NY - married 1950

I was led, quite circuitously, to Kil and Terry Pickett in 1998, when a friend invited me to accompany her to a pow-wow in Queens, NY - suggesting it would make for an interesting subject for my camera.  While there, I inquired of one of the tribal organizers whether he could suggest any couples from the Native American community who had been married for at least 40 years.  We were directed to the parking area, where the Kil and Terry, long-active members of the Thunderbirds (a pan-tribal dance group) were volunteering their time.  When we arrived, however, an ambulance had just taken Kil away; he had suffered a mild stroke and a heart attack.

Weeks later, I received a call from Terry.  Kil had recovered and, after a brief discussion about my project, we agreed to meet.  Terry described herself as full-blooded Irish; Kil is an adopted member of the Seneca tribe.  It took a couple of months for us to get together, but we finally arranged to meet at the Native American Meeting House on New York City’s Lafayette Street.  A Thunderbirds meeting was imminent, and a number of young people from various tribes were milling about.  They clearly looked up to Kil and Terry as respected elders.  I showed them some samples from my project, and spoke about how I’d like to proceed at the session.  They graciously agreed to participate and we scheduled a time for me to travel to their home in Bayshore, an hour’s drive from New York City.

When I arrived at their modest, comfortable home on Long Island, I got a warm hug and a kiss from Terry.  They were completing preparations for Christmas, wrapping gifts for their large extended family, and making food.  Tux, their aged Newfoundland, slept under the table.  As we waited for Terry to finish preparing some snacks so she could sit with us and our conversation could begin, Kil showed me some traditional deerskin drumsticks he was making.

Kil and Terry have a large and diverse extended family.  Terry was married twice before, and had three children when she met Kil.  They later adopted a child and had a daughter of their own.  At the time of our meeting, the Picketts were living with their son, Teddy, a Vietnam veteran.  The two of them have since moved to Vermont, where they live near another son, Peter.  They frequently return to New York to attend tribal gatherings and visit family; Terry continues to devote considerable time canvassing door-to-door for the NY Public Interest Research Group.


Terry:
First date he ever took me on, he made me pay my own way, because I was a married woman.  I thought, now this one’s a winner.  But… Peter liked him anyway.  That was important.  Now, we got to know each other, and we fell in love.  It was crazy.  I kept telling Kil he shouldn’t marry somebody with three kids.  He didn’t pay any attention.

RF:
Now, having had two marriages that didn’t work, in terms of longevity…

Terry:
I was never gonna marry again.  Never.

RF:
So what changed your mind?

Terry:
Well, he was the best lay I ever had.  (Laughter.)  That probably had a lot to do with it.  Well, what else gets people together in the beginning?  It’s passion.  But out of this passion came friendship, and support, and mutual support, that sort of thing.  Kil adopted my kids.  And then we wound up adopting [another boy].

Kil:
After we were married, we had our own, a daughter.

RF:
How does your sense of community obligation – and what that says about your individual characters – apply within the marriage?

Terry:
I think on Kil’s part, he has a deep sense of loyalty.  And he has a sense of responsibility.  And he’s well organized.  And he’s more of a nurturer than he thinks he is.  And he’s got this family, see, he’s a very young man, he has this family and he wants it to run right.  So he hangs in there.

I’m more of a… I’m a nurturer too, but I’m much more impatient.  I’ve been praying for patience all my life.  And I’m hot-tempered.  And I have to be careful, because he’s vulnerable.  Which has probably done more for my patience than all the rest of it together.

RF:
How have you handled disagreement or discord?  And has that changed?

Terry:
How do we handle it?  Well, sometimes we handle it well, and sometimes we don’t handle it well.  Sometimes we blow up, and sometimes we –

Kil:
I think we somehow are able to reconcile, forgive and go on; I guess because we did have such a good life.  And I think we appreciated the good life that we had.  And we’re able to make up… and go on.

I think the first few years of our marriage – the first ten or twenty years (he chuckles.) of our marriage, we just felt… it had to go on.  Because we had children, we had responsibility.  And we just had to put the small, the differences aside.

Terry:
When Kil just spoke of the grandson that taught him how to ski… that is [our son’s] wife’s child by a former marriage.  An interracial marriage.  She was a blue-eyed blonde from Boston, and she married a black musician.  So we have a couple of black grandchildren.  And that’s not a problem for us.

Kil:
Yeah.  It’s so great that these kids – who aren’t our blood – will put their arms around us, you know, and “Grandpa” this… it’s amazing.  It’s so gratifying.  It’s a wonderful reward for living.  We’ve thought about giving it up.  But we just sat back and saw that, well, our life has been too important.  We’ve accomplished too much together to quit now.  (He chuckles.)  And, besides, we wanted some continuity.  We’ve got this dynasty now.  (Laughs heartily.)


Terry:
My take on marriage is, it’s rarely perfect.  I don’t know.  Once in a while, I think – especially in today’s world, and maybe in the old days, when women didn’t speak their minds.  But I was raised by Grampa, and Grampa taught me at an early age to speak my mind, much to his regret…  But my take is that it’s a compromise.  You have to decide.  I mean, Kil mentioned earlier.  We have the kids, it’s worth the effort.  And we have to hold down some of our own priority and decide what, exactly, what is it that we really wanna do?  What are we going for?

And I think if you have… good sex, good love, good friendship.  That kinda works.  And there are times when one or the other, something is missing for a while.  But it gets back together again.  You don’t necessarily have to forget.  You have to forgive.

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