You can't see them, but up in those hills are many of our traditional foods, for women such as I to go and gather...Piyaxi, Luuksh, Xoush to name only three...it's such a beautiful day outside and my kupn is sitting right by the door along with my rootbag!
OR I could just go upriver and explore...that's another favorite on such a day as this....but there it is...
On Saturday my brother, #1 son and I loaded up in our van and off we went to a small pow wow in a neighboring town. We'd been told they would do an honor song for our "dad" (actual foster dad to my brother, and quasi-adopted dad to me, we both called him "Pa" and loved him dearly) who had passed away last year. Off we went.
The drive over was interesting enough, the trees seem to greet us as we went by, "hey - good to see you guys again, drive safely!" and we saw a lot of beautiful sights on the way over...small tendrils of mossy growth wistfully climbing aged rock walls; tree nurseries full of baby fir trees laughing, playing and falling over each other as fat baby beings will do...it was a nice drive.
We got to the Pow Wow and actually none of us were really "feeling" it but as we walked in I could see my son getting that "ohhhhh yeah, I missed this" look on his face. We visited and laughed with people around us in line for the nice dinner hosted by the Pow wow group then it was time for grand entry.
We watched grand entry, snapped a few shots of different people we love or look up to then it was time. We admired the hard work and artistry that went into many of our friends and relatives outfits and we especially took in the elder women as they danced in with all their dignity and experience in their traditional dresses. Our sister Jacky called us over and we trotted off obediently and got in line with the "family."
The emcee started talking about the honoring...how do you "honor" these two people who had left us? Atway Jay, a leader and historian, one who carried with him traditions and knowledge unfathomable in depth, Atway Jeri, the richly magnificent mom of a beautiful family and the core of our gatherings, the one who laughed with us when we were happy, and gently patted us when we were sad, who would say sharp things yet with a smile and gentle voice.
I had only met them in the 90's when working at an urban arm of tribal government. I had been hired as the receptionist and Atway Jay had greeted me with a handshake and smile, asking who my family was, then telling me "oh I know all about you." Then came Jeri who finding out my background, took me under her wing without question. From that day forward they would look in on me everytime they were around and they would expect me to be a part of their lives.
There's no way to express the importance of this connection because as the story goes, I was raised pretty much without anyone who would do this. Later, I went home to my own family, my mother, brothers and the whole huge extended core of my being. Long story short, coming home was as rough as being away were it not for the patient guidance of a few of my brothers and cousins.
In retrospect I understand my biological mother had a rough life. So rough, it's truly astounding that she survived. The lesson learned here is that each individual deals with adverse situations differently.
Upon coming home to stay within one year I'd lost my cousin, auntie and other parts of my being. I planned on diving into this amazing family and started with my "dad" who then passed away with cancer...I turned to my mom who had chosen a life path of brusque harshness with which to shield her soul from the paralyzing blows life had dealt her. She stood tall up to the end with her snapping eyes and quick retort, but the strength in her made me speechless with awe; For some reason she never "took" to me. For many reasons actually. I am the spitting image of my father whom I'm told was a laugh a minute and as kind as you could ask for when he was sober...and the utter and absolute opposite when he was drunk - which was more often than not. In many ways, I represented what she once was and no longer could be...although to myself I often feel old and used up, to her I must have been the picture of vitality taking the world by the tail and spinning it at whim...for whatever reasons, after her passing, I found that she had not even acknowledged me in her will as her offspring...something I continue growing used to without pangs of that young child standing in the cold...
Atway Jay and Jeri took the sting of my mother's treatment of me away. Where she degraded me and scoffed at my hopes and dreams, they sheltered me and advised me. Where she scratched at my psyche and poured salt into exposed nerve, they loved me and poured healing rosewater songs into my wounded soul. The world was a shaky place and they made it safe.
All of these things zipped through my mind as I danced around the pow wow floor with this amazing extended family. I wondered how I could ever express these things to those to whom it matters. I realized I just can't. I couldn't get the words out because as I recalled Jeri's gentle voice urging me forward I started to cry...when I remembered Jay's words after I ran for a particular office and lost, he took me aside and told me "don't you be ashamed, you did a good job, a damn good job, you be PROUD of yourself." He always expected our best...it would never have occurred to him that what we attempted we might not achieve. When we tried to take a step back he would just laugh at us and push us forward...if he didn't laugh we would actually JUMP forward:-)
No, there aren't enough words, not enough songs to honor these two who are now gone, but often I see them; I see Atway Jay's smile in his grandson, and Jeri's affectionate touch in her daughter...I see his determination and grit in his grand daughter's eyes, and his quick smile in my own son's dance. I often hear her voice, our Mugg, when I question "should I do this or not?" and she would just look at me and say "GET OUT THERE" or "YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO" and then just smile and shake her head...I miss her delightful little gifts she would bring me from time to time, a little purple picture frame, a purple flowered bag, a richly colored purple barrette.
When I look at my brother as he moves forward to what is expected of him I remember how Jay always used to tell him "it's YOUR turn now"
Honor...the legacy these two left is that there are many younger people with a vision...two of us are working in our way towards this vision. Everything they stood for was about honor...and as long as there are songs to sing, causes to fight for, issues to resolve, the legacy of these two will stand.