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Litefoot is Gary Davis. And Gary Davis is a man with a mission. That mission is to inspire people to get up off the couch and take action.
At the last Mt. Hood Cherokee meeting, our new friend Gary Davis stopped by to share a few words. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Davis spoke about his interesting life story, but the story paled when he drove home a message at the end of his talk, about hope, tenacity, longevity, purpose, action, and faith.
He grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma but fell in love with a woman who lived in Seattle. She turned out to be smart and capable, as well as beautiful, and Davis knew that there was something for him in the Pacific Northwest. It helped that he’s a huge Steve Largent (Seahawks) fan. He’s lived in Seattle with his beautiful family (they all came to the meeting too!) since 1997.
Davis took the stage name of Litefoot and began rapping for his friends on the reservation as a teenager. His first rap album was produced in 1992. His music touched a nerve for some and resounded for others, bringing up painful or powerful topics from an Indian’s perspective, in contemporary music. He reached even more people with his first movie in 1995 when he was The Indian in the Cupboard. He added television roles to his movie roles. And all the while he kept making music.
Back in the early days, Davis said, he knew what he wanted to do and he had a meeting with Chief Wilma Mankiller and told her about it. “I knew Oklahoma was not the rap or hip hop capital of the world. What I wanted to do was bring a message to the people. People were hanging their heads. Other people recognize what we have to be proud about that we don’t even realize.” The Chief could have reacted in any number of ways to a young punk making modern music, and she chose to ask him to sing at a function for her. “But there’s one thing,” Mankiller said to him, “I want you to speak.” Davis said he thought he was nobody and had nothing to say, but he did as she asked.
It wasn’t that there was nothing on his mind, but more like too much on his mind. “Things have gone on for so long that people can’t even find a beginning point in order to find something to say. I prayed for the right words and 15 minutes later I stopped talking and people started clapping.” He knew speaking was for him. The high only lasted until the end of a show when a girl met him and demanded, “What did those Pilgrims do to you?” Davis said he thought to himself, “Brother, you have a long way to go. You have people with privilege who don’t even know they’re privileged.”
Since then he rapped in Kodiak, Alaska all the way across the continent to North Dakota and Maine. He was invited to perform in Rome. In 2005, he and his wife Carmen Davis started the Reach the Rez tour, to bring a positive voice to native people. To “get out ahead of drugs and suicide” he told us, “not once something has already taken place.”
Davis is every bit as active as he says people should be. I mean, he walks the talk. His message resonates with me personally. I can get a little uneasy among my Cherokee brothers and sisters, and I begin to feel like an outsider when I don’t find people who think about our heritage the way I do. So many Indians are about spirituality and artistic expression to connect to their indigenous heritage or to send a message. But that mooshy stuff simply doesn’t really resonate with me. I totally get that there is a power in activism through radiating your positive energy into the world. I totally believe that people’s lives are changed through creating or experiencing artwork. But…uhh…it makes no sense at all to me. Listening to Davis made me feel like I belonged again. Here is another one of us, and this man is about practicality and action. I am that kind of Indian.
He told us that someone once gave him a critical message: “No one cares.” We can moan about how poorly our ancestors were treated, or about how hard it is to get ahead now, and how racism and how cultural appropriation weakens our power, but it will not get us anywhere. People have too much going on in their lives to give us their effort and attention, and there are competing stories of need. “I care, because I am one of you,” Davis said. “But in general, people just don’t care.”
The answer is to become your own change. Do something. Volunteer, help build a home, help get legislation passed so that kids have access to better education. “I’m willing to think outside the box. It may not be the most comfortable for me, but I do what has to be done, in order to make it happen. People sometimes only see you for how they see themselves. They’ll say ‘We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’ or ‘Nobody has done that.’ But don’t let their words limit you.”
“If it doesn’t speak to you; if it doesn’t resonate with you like you’re on fire, then get out of there! What is it that you’ve been born for? I love education, but it’s not the be-all end-all for everybody. What’s your thing? We need to know our own value. We need to know how brilliant we are.
“So many of us, so many Indians, have important things to do and we need to get out of our own way. Sometimes people live their lives as though on accident. Ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ If it is just about checking the box, it’s not the right reason. We are who we’ve been waiting for. There’s nobody coming, man. It’s up to us. We’re good enough to do this. We’re capable enough.
“We weren’t still supposed to be here in 2017. We were supposed to shrivel up and go away and die. Most of America doesn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning and see that we are still here. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Are we gonna sit here and talk about what they don’t do for hundreds and hundreds more years, or are we gonna do something?
“You can make excuses, or make a way. Just start. Take a step.”
Litefoot is working on his 12th album, scheduled to be released June 27th on the birthday of Warrior Kai McAlpin. This sweet little Cherokee tyke was sick with cancer on the day Davis spoke to us, and died three days later. It allowed us to hear Davis say “Kai is…” and we thought of Kai that day, alive and loved in Oklahoma.
A friend of mine had a booth at the gem and mineral show this weekend, and invited me to stop by.
I parked and walked toward the Hillsboro Fairgrounds building, and passed several nerds with big grins, clutching recent aquisitions. It was then I knew I was going to be among my people!
My reason for going to was to visit my friend Joe whom I had only seen twice before, and then only for 5 minutes each time. Once at a Mt. Hood Cherokees monthly meeting, and once at our summer Cherokee Event. Through a telephone interview and several emails over the past year, we knew instinctively we’d have things to talk about, but until now the planets had not aligned to put us into each others’ path. Interestingly, that morning I told him I probably couldn’t make it because I was going to a picnic at a park in town, and was hoping to play Cherokee marbles in the rain with other Indians from our group. I walked around the park in the rain, watching children on the jungle gym and middle school girls play some pretty impressive soccer, but no one I knew showed up. Finally I discovered (via facebook on my phone – just love technology) that the picnic had been canceled and viola! The planets had aligned for once, and there was time enough to visit.
(Since there would be no potluck, I brought the fresh baked walnut-apple crisp home for myself. Score!)
We had a great visit, and things were slow enough that my friend took a break from his booth at one point to walk through all the booths with me. This was bad news. I am smitten with lovely things. And I do think rocks are lovely. Soon I was clutching several irresistible slices of stone. My friend selected an agate from the table of a lovely woman from Oklahoma (who, yes, also turned out to be Cherokee), and she handed me a tool I had never used before.
“You’ll need a loupe for that,” she said.
The professional rock hound taught me how to use it, and I gasped with astonishment at the magnified Moroccan berber agate in my hand. I gasped in exactly that way the first time I looked through a telescope powerful enough to show me Saturn’s butter-coloured rings.
“There’s a cluster of stars here,” I told them excitedly, pointing at the rock. “And this is a whole galaxy! With a cloud nebula off on this side, see it?”
Joe chuckled and took the stone from me and said he was going to photograph it.
That’s why he was there at the show: to exhibit his art. This guy has fixed a magnifying piece to his beautiful old lens that he used to capture east Asia after he fought in the Vietnam war. The lens has served him well, and now it has a new life. At his booth he had a 17-inch computer screen set up for visitors, and his camera, screen, lights and computer in the back. For most people he explained what they were looking at, and how he made the images, but for some who eagerly handed over their treasures, he photographed their rocks.
The results are magical.
I sent a text to another friend and mentioned that the gem and mineral show was near his house. The next day I got a text back. He and his wife had gone to the gem show, and he bought a rock too!
I am still curious about the Cherokee connection, right? The punch line doesn’t seem to include any Indians, but they were all over the story in the beginning. My friend who went the next day is from east Asia, and his wife is not indigenous American as far as I know.
I found the connection in an old email in which Joe talked about his upcoming residency at the Crow’s Shadow Institute on the Umatilla Reservation outside Pendleton, Oregon. He told me that in his art the Cherokee component is necessary. In his work he tries, in the Cherokee tradition, to see clearly and understand what is around us right now, and in that way make links to what has happened over time. One example of that is when he showed me photos of petrified wood, and I could see the cells! Cells in rock. Fascinating, don’t you think?
Whenever I open myself up to what’s out there in the world, I have the best adventures. Joe gave me permission to share more of his images, so I’ll leave you with them. Click to enlarge. Look for unexpected landscapes.
Time for a catch-up post! It has been wet and chilly lately: unusually early for these parts, but I suppose that balances the remarkably early hot and dry weather we had the end of May and during June. The weather this week is unmistakably Autumnal.
And that makes me panic a little: wait! Summer can’t be gone already! I’m barely getting my mind wrapped around this new house and I haven’t spent enough time sitting back and enjoying it. Yet, if I think about it, I realize there has been much afoot, because I am Crystal and Crystal cannot sit still.
I had a housewarming party. For me this is a complicated negotiation of life goals and stepping outside my comfort zone. My Internet personality may not show it, and my real life personality certainly masks it, but I am a solid introvert. I find that being around a gathering of people is often so mentally exhausting for me that I usually prefer to avoid them. So planning a party? I was a dervish that week, spinning 14 hula hoops in different directions. Afterward – I am not kidding you – I spent two days not talking to anyone, not cooking or cleaning or doing anything that needed doing, and playing video games in my slow recovery.
The background to that plan is that this summer my friend G came to see the property, and announced, “Crystal, you MUST host many parties. This place is made for parties.” I thought seriously about that. I’ve been pretty lonesome ever since Arno and I broke up, and I am adamant that I will not fall in love again until I am comfortable being without a partner. Parties would force my introvert self to make friends. 🙂
Also! I can take that risk as long as G helps me. In her I have finally found one of those friends that everyone should have. We have dozens of things in common, are delighted by all the same exact non-typical things, she’s as odd as me, she’s as mentally and emotionally unpredictable as me. So, while I have a lot of mainstream and socially acceptable interests and talents, now there is at least one person around whom I can fall apart into eccentric quirkiness, and she won’t bat an eye.
With her encouragement, I invited everyone I could think of to the potluck. I even walked to the house of the neighbor I hadn’t met, in order to invite her, and we had a great conversation. My Uncle showed up, my brother and his girlfriend from Seattle, people from work, a group of Tara’s friends, and the leader of my Cherokee group came out with her dogs. Friends that I’ve only known a couple months came out here. The weather was perfect, the food turned out amazing (a recipe for pulled pork I had never tried before, and some gluten-free enchiladas).
The housewarming party was a great success and I am riding that wave to the next one: a Samhain bonfire party, which must wait till the forest gets a good soaking.
Part of getting ready for the party involved painting the two living rooms, finished WHILE the first people arrived, ha ha. The house was a series of shades of white, but now we’ve got green, blue, and *purple* walls. I love the purple fireplace room – can’t wait to get a good shot to show you.
I’ve had an electrician come out, a fireplace inspector, a well and pump specialist…so much work to be done here, and so many things to learn. Appointments are all set for the experts to do their magic and get this place ship shape.
We attended a Tiki party at the home of Arno’s brother and sister-in-law, and I learned a little about being a gracious host. The gathering was relaxed and comfortably whimsical, because the couple fills their home and lawn not only with the best kind of people, but also with fabulous thrift-shop finds and creative inventions. Structures around the place included Tiki gods with fires, Tiki gods blowing bubbles and spewing steam, a monkey dangling from a vine, hula dancers shimmying, and a 12-foot volcano that erupted frothing bubbles. So much fun.
Learning includes taking care of the growing birds. My chickies are now practically hen-sized and hen-shaped, but no eggs yet. They are big enough to intimidate the neighborhood cats, so I let them roam free around the acreage during the day. They are getting saucy and healthy on grass and bugs, and they have claimed the place as their own. I have the worst time trying to keep them off the deck. One day I had the sliders open and I caught them in the house! I purchased my first bale of hay, and my first 40-pound bag of chicken feed. “What kind do you need?” asked the woman at the counter. “uhhh….” was my eloquent reply. Next time I’ll have an answer.
Tara and I managed to get to only one Cherokee gathering this summer, but it was a good one. We went to Eugene for a combined potluck with both the Tsa-La-Gi group and the Mt. Hood Cherokees, for announcements by visitors from the Nation in Oklahoma, and awards and gifts presented by Chief Baker. Tara went directly to our friend Robert, who was working at the basket-weaving station, and made a gorgeous basket. Robert later told us some stories about our favourite clever hero: Jistu (Rabbit). We also got our full-color picture ID cards for the Nation, so fancy compared to the old paper ones.
We joined the local annual festival here in tiny Rainier, and gathered at a pretty park right on the Columbia River with hundreds of others as the sun went down. The Washington side of the river hosts a seaport, with barges and tugs, lumber and pulp mills and their narrow towers reaching to the sky and covered in lights. It’s not at all pristine, but I’m growing to love those sparkling towers at night. I can find beauty anywhere.
At work two announcements came that have captured my interest: first, a job opening for a new position that I am applying for. It’s still with VA, and in the same office, but on a different team. I’ve got 8 years yet before I hit my 30 and can qualify for a pension, and rather than 8 years of doing the same thing I’ve been doing for the past 8 years…I may as well try to learn a new job and keep my brain fired up! So cross fingers for me. The other announcement came this week: no more mandatory overtime! Thank the gods! I cannot even express to you how wiped out I am from 4 years of mandatory overtime. Who knows when VA will find more money and set us back at it again…but for now, I am going to revel in the luxury of a regular 40-hour work week.
That is enough news for now. I’ve jabbered long enough. I’ll leave you with a couple more deer photos. I know it’s old news, but I still love to see them.
On Wednesday, my regular day off, I wrapped up a draft of the Mt. Hood Cherokee quarterly newsletter much earlier than I expected to. I sent it off for review by another Cherokee in my group, and then I had a whole day in front of me.
It would have been a good time to vote. I’ve got the ballot sitting on the table, and it must be received in Tahlequah by June 27, 2105. I know exactly who I want for Chief, and I’ve known for at least a year. I know who I want for Deputy Chief. The holdup is because there is also an At-Large Councilor position open, and ten candidates for it.
The Cherokee Tribal Council includes 15 members representing citizens in local districts (local being the northeast corner of Oklahoma), and two additional representatives representing Cherokees who live elsewhere. You guessed it, I’m one of those “elsewhere” Cherokees, so electing the At Large Councilor is actually something I really care about. We are rather excluded way out here, and I’d like to have a representative who keeps us in the loop.
The Cherokee Phoenix has posted interviews with all the candidates online. I have resolved to read every one of them before I make my choice. I’m saving it for another day, however, because for the first time in weeks I had a break to go do something unproductive, and I wasn’t in the mood to stay indoors and study election interviews.
A friend of mine was free to join me, but only for 2 hours, so I pulled up a map of Portland and scanned for nearby city parks I haven’t explored yet. I found something I had never before seen in Portland: a rhododendron garden. It was meant to be, since I had just been raving at the photos from a rhododendron garden posted by my former University Advisor who lives in Boston. It’s late in the season here, but I thought it might be worth a try, in hopes of finding late bloomers.
The garden is also named after me, so that is another reason to go! Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is next to the Willamette River on the east side, where I am. It was only a 20 minute drive. It had been raining all morning and we practically had the park to ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I was reminded of when M and I visited The Butchart Gardens.
You will almost certainly have seen rhododendrons because they grow all over the world, in different habitats and elevations. I grew up thinking it was an Oregon native, since it grows wild and profusely in the forests here. This showy plant is indigenous to Asia, and is the Nepal national flower. It likes mild climates and lots of rain – hello UK!
Most of the flowers at the garden had browned, wilted, and dropped, because of the season. But as the photos show, there remained plenty of colour to gaze at. We were also distracted by the many ducks and geese. The woman who sold us tickets to enter (only $4) said that people in the neighborhoods drop off their domestic ducks when they get tired of them. (I have heard that people also do this in Laurelhurst Park, in another part of town.)
It was raining when we left the car, but the weather slowly changed as we walked the grounds, turning warm and muggy – but no longer wet. Is that better weather? I’m not sure.
It was a nice stroll. We didn’t get very wet, and there were a surprising number of rhodies still blooming. Then I returned home and filled a couple more boxes with stuff, getting ready for my move.
Tara came home from their last day of school. Last day of high school and last day of that chapter of life. In celebration we went out to eat and properly stuffed ourselves at Olive Garden.
Who is this great warrior? Me!
I admit it is awkward and unusual to think of myself as an Indian warrior. But if the Cherokee Principal Chief is comfortable with it, then there is no reason for me to hesitate.
I was given the tremendous honor of being nominated by the board members of the Mt. Hood Cherokees. I am particularly grateful to our leader, David, who talked me into putting my name forward, when the idea of representing the group seemed like more of an honor than I deserved.
My Tara willingly gave up a dress rehearsal for her evening performance so that she could be there with me.
My Uncle Dwight and Aunt Joyce came up from Lebanon, Oregon and were able to see the ceremony.
Chief Bill John Baker presented me with a gorgeous framed certificate showing the Cherokee Warrior’s Memorial in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, as well as a medal he pinned to my blouse. Before I knew what was happening, he popped a microphone into my hand and said, “Do you want to speak?” Answering his question honestly, I answered, “No,” with a smile. “But since I have a microphone in my hand, I will.” And I thanked my Mt. Hood Cherokees for nominating me, and I said how much of an honor it was.
Chief Baker said to me as I approached him, “Finally, a woman!” And I thanked him for saying that. It may be obvious by my own comment above that even *I* have fallen into accepting the incorrect social stereotype that a warrior is not a woman. And that an honored veteran is not a woman. My own At Large satellite group is sending a message that we aren’t trapped by stereotypes, and I am happy to be the face of that message.
It was a great day for a Cherokee picnic. Many of our Oklahoma Cherokees came out to share information about Indian education and student scholarships, basket-weaving, and voter registration. They were assigning photo ID cards for Cherokee citizens (which I never signed up for: too much going on that day!). We had music from two traditional flutists.
I can’t say which was the best part of the picnic: receiving the warrior award, or seeing our storytelling friend, Robert, again. Both could have made my whole day on their own, together they just buoyed me beyond belief.
I’ve blogged about Robert Lewis in the past. His personal style of telling the tales of Cherokee history is to bring up audience members to tell the story with him. It’s engaging and funny and educational. Robert’s got a huge love of people and joyfulness, and his energy is irresistible. He’s an art teacher at Northeastern State University and has to miss the first day of school on Monday because of this trip to Portland and Seattle. I’m sure he’ll ease right into the school year with grace later on this week.
Then, we ran around and said goodbye to old friends and new friends and my Aunt & Uncle and off we went for the next big even of the day: Tara’s ballet performance at Washington Park! That post will come next.
I finally made it to another meeting of the Mt. Hood Cherokees. I made a point to go today because we had guests Julia Coates and Jack Baker, both At Large Tribal Councilors. And it’s the 175th anniversary of the arrival of Cherokees in Indian Territory following the Trail of Tears.
Aaaannnnddd, I did want to learn a little about what’s going on in the Nation. We’ll be voting for Principal Chief in a year, and there is Great Rumbling Afoot, and I wanted to try and educate myself a little before I vote. Not that I expected to get all the information I need, out of one visit from two people, but it is good to add this extra information to what I’ve been gathering.
Most of the meeting was focused on culture and heritage, which is what our At Large group is all about. Thank the gods our group leader makes an active effort to avoid politics, and re-directs us when possible, back to learning about being Cherokee and leaving the other stuff outside the door.
Today I learned new information about the Trail of Tears, the name given to the ethnic cleansing of American Indians from the southeastern United States to the present-day Oklahoma. At the point of bayonets, the first people left. By 1839, 46,000 Indians had left their houses, their farms, their possessions, their friends, even their savings, in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and other states all the way up to New England.
Cherokees accompanied other Indian tribes, up till then all of them at some stage in the process of learning the ways of the white people, attending schools, running businesses and plantations. All trying to find a way to maintain their culture, tradition, and languages, but in a way that made sense to the white colonizers.
That part I knew.
In having an intimate gathering with a woman who had studied and researched the Trail of Tears, new facts were revealed. I didn’t know, for example, that when the Indians were told that they had to give up their lands for white settlement, they took it to the Supreme Court. And Won! But President Andrew Jackson ignored the decision and kicked them out anyway.
Prior to the forced removal of Cherokees, the Army had apparently given them months of notice. The Indians were told to put their business affairs in order, to pack, and to present themselves to be penned up in stockades built just for them. I learned that it was one of the first known uses of the phrase “concentration camp.”
But the Indians were modern people and many of them educated and wealthy. And -just imagine how you would feel being told to pack up and move simply because other people wanted to build a settlement on your land- finding the whole idea preposterous, they refused to comply. While they understood that packing extra shoes and a coat and some food would be a good idea, since the Army was bound to show up any day, they also understood that making those kind of preparations would be a kind of complicity. In protest, in an inspiring display of dignity, they refused to prepare at all. Perhaps some of them held a feeble hope that soldiers would see how pathetic it was to boot a woman out into the street in a housecoat clutched by a toddler. Or how despicable it was to shoot a deaf man for not responding when he was told to move.
Apparently the obvious cruelty of enforcing the crime did not stop the soldiers from obeying orders.
After being rounded up in the concentration camps, the Indians were marched West. They walked to Oklahoma with only the clothes on their backs. They walked. The ones that didn’t die on the trip were at risk of dying from disease once they landed in Oklahoma.
The thing that struck me the most about Julia’s readings today was learning that the Indians had a warning, and yet chose to go on with their lives until the very last moment. She told of one woman who saw the soldiers coming with their rifles, and fed the chickens first. That is some kind of powerful force of will. It’s the kind of pride that takes ultimate courage. They couldn’t expect to be heroes you see. Chances were no one would ever find out and tell an individual’s story. The resistance of the people sent to internment camps in 1838 was pure, distilled integrity. A pact made within their own souls, or between a soul and it’s God. Incredible courage.
One more thing I learned (since I deal with pain by making light of it): I heard for the very first time about Uktena – a mythical Cherokee beast. It’s a dragonlike serpent with a crystal in its forehead. Since dragons are my totem, and my name is Crystal, and I’m Cherokee…I think there is no better mythical beast for me!
The Mt. Hood Cherokees invited Robert Lewis to Portland to tell us some Cherokee stories. Miss T and I brought some food to add to the potluck, then pulled up chairs and had three hours of fun. (The event was four hours, but T had a commitment before we could go.)
Mr. Lewis explained that he got into professional storytelling by accident, when he found himself in an emergency situation: with a group of children on a school field trip in which 30 third-graders needed to be kept still and quiet for about 10 minutes. The only thing he could think of was to tell the kids a story his father had told him, about how Coyote put the stars into the sky as a special job for The Creator of Everything.
He works for the Cherokee Nation, sharing and teaching cultural knowledge in the form of storytelling, and also teaches art at Northeastern State University, where he gained his formal education in literature, music, and humanities. He works a lot with kids, and says it is his greatest joy to watch the look on their faces when they “get it.” He told me it was his very first trip to the Pacific Northwest. I offered to take him on a quick tour of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, but his schedule allowed only storytelling and travelling: no exploring. I told him that was positively sinful. Next time, he needs to insist on a couple of hours of free time!
Mr. Lewis told stories for an hour and a half, pulling audience members into the center of his performance space. Each character in his story had to be acted by someone from the audience as Lewis narrated, and told each character what to do and what to say. We took turns playing roles such as Opossum, Rabbit, A Beautiful Woman, The Creator of Everything, Bullfrog, Panther, Alligator, and Bear.
Each story had a lesson, of course. We learned why Rabbit and Opossum aren’t friends anymore, how Rabbit got big ears because he already has knowledge,where the first Cherokee clay pot came from, how Thunder is a Mighty Warrior, how Woodpeckers came to be, how the Stars got into the sky, why Opossum has no hair on his tail, how Rabbit’s song is so powerful he sings it from his heart, and even why you shouldn’t do what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it!
Then it was time to eat. Mr. Lewis blessed the meal and we invited the guest of honor and elders to take their food first. Then we began to eat from the tables piled with goodies, as always. When we were finished eating, Lewis told stories for another half an hour. Then he had to jump in his rental car and zoom off to Eugene to tell stories to the central Oregon Indians!
I was proud to see my girl eagerly anticipate the event for the last two weeks, and then attend with me, fully committed. Once there, Lewis recognized her willingness right away and pulled her twice onto the floor to participate. I am hoping to continue to gift some of our Indian heritage to my child.
I just found out a couple hours ago that my grandmother died. Grandma Freda Haley of the big Haley clan, and the reigning Matriarch of that family, as well as the Truloves. She was 82, and had been ill for months, but not so ill that this quick passing was expected.
Gramma was the second of 8 children, but Great Uncle Bill died in 1946 when mortar fire hit his tank in WWII. So Gramma was the oldest and all her brothers and sisters loved her so.
She married Rex Trulove and had six children – my Pa is not quite the youngest. I’ve done a bit of genealogy this summer, and by my rudimentary calculations, Freda’s children, grand-children, great-grandchildren – and one great, great-grandchild!!! – and their partners make up about 53 people.
I saw her this August at a family reunion. She was a smaller version of her vivacious self; not as loud, not as brazen, not as big. Her face was less physically beautiful – someone else had applied her makeup for her. Gramma was there despite the deception age placed on her skin, and it didn’t take any effort to see the amazing woman inside. Her devious eyes watching me like a hawk when she made up crazy stuff and told me with a straight face to see if I would catch it. Her bawdy jokes about sex and booze that she made up on the spot. Her willingness to use age as an excuse to cut in line and get the only brownie left, and to get wheeled into the shade when the sun got too warm. She would turn in her chair and look at me and laugh. I got the sense that she was still sort of surprised to be getting away with it.
The memories I have of her are primarily times when I was busting at the seams laughing. She could – and did – drink as much or more than anyone at the table. She always knew the best jokes and it didn’t matter if I was 12: I could hear them with everyone else. I remember when my Pa brought her to Pine Ridge Inn, in Tamarack, Idaho for the Friday night jam session. She explained that the piano wasn’t tuned to the way she knew her songs, but with a little encouragement, she played and sang all night with the rest of us. (Yep, me and my little guitar and a mic in a redneck bar when I was only 10 years old)
When she lived in Klamath Falls she had this teeny, white and curly haired, wiggly mess of Teacup Poodle named Sheba. One of the only dogs I’ve ever loved. Now, whenever I hear the name Sheba, I think it’s a poodle name. I was with her when her cat had babies, and I watched each one be born in a cardboard box. When the mother cat neglected the kittens, Sheba obliged. I was so impressed.
Her great love in recent years was her trusty companion, Spike. He was an indoor cat and gave her love back to her. When Gramma wrote a newsletter for her senior community, she included “Spike’s Corner” for news about pets. Spike died this year too.
Gramma was the only person I remember who washed my mouth out with soap. I don’t even remember what I said. I knew I deserved trouble, and there was no one else there to appeal to. I just accepted it. She opened a brand new bar of soap and made me put the whole thing in my mouth and move it around. Egad! That was horrible. The punishment was so effective that it wasn’t until I joined the Air Force before I was brave enough to learn how to cuss properly.
I have memories of her at huntin’ camp. Back in the days where it was a grown-up’s world and the kids were only invited along because they couldn’t be left home alone. There was coffee or beer to drink at huntin’ camp. I couldn’t bear coffee at that age, so I had beer for breakfast, and then I’d go find a creek to drink, or melt snow in my mouth if we were lucky to get an early fall storm. Gramma seemed at home camping. She was there at the famous Easter camp at some pond. Was it Otter Pond? Beaver Pond? The Easter Bunny found us out there and hid eggs in the Oregon Grape and amongst the pine and fir trees. Somebody imbibed too much and fell into the fire. That was the year I learned how to get over my squeamishness and bait my hook with a live grasshopper and I caught my first fish. It was only about 4 inches long, but my Pa was so proud he filleted it for me and fried it up anyway.
We’ve got this picture of Gramma in her chair right in a river. She’s got her pant legs wet, with her bare feet in the moving water, and a coffee cup (probably filled of whiskey and ice). I can’t remember where that was taken. Maybe it was one of the times she camped with us at Brownlee Dam on the Snake River.
She always laughed and laughed. She made everyone else laugh. She had had a hard life, sometimes things were bountiful, but often in poverty and want. All her kids and her siblings say to me about it is how she made life fun no matter what the circumstances were.
We are all so proud of her.
She was proud of her Cherokee heritage. Our Haley family came from Talequah, OK to Oregon. Gramma told me she was called Ho Ho Nay, meaning Calf-Woman. There was a great little story about why, but sadly I’ve forgotten it.
I complained once about being so fair skinned and blonde, saying I don’t look even remotely Cherokee. She told me to shush because she had a framed photo of a Cherokee Chief on her wall and the man had green eyes. I have green eyes. It made me feel better. I have big Indian eyes, especially when I was younger. I’m so white I’m translucent, but when I tan, I get golden dark, dark. I have a lighter streak of hair that naturally grows on my right temple and didn’t think much of until I saw a photo of Gramma with her hair parted in the same place, and a white-blonde streak in the same spot.
Send me some love. I’m so sad I couldn’t be at work today. I need to be strong for the services tomorrow in Eugene.
Comment from the old blog:
I’m sending love! I am sorry for your loss, and thankful for the rush of memories you provoked for my own grandmothers that have passed on. Thank you for sharing your grief and your memories with us, my dear friend. And for holding space for your grief by taking the day off and really allowing yourself to experience it.
Oooooh, so timely, go read Joy and Sorrow. The depth of your grief is a reflection of the joy your Gramma brought you.
Thank you, Ophelia, that’s a beautiful poem.