Monday, February 28, 2011

The Indians in the Closet

My Grandmother Mattson and her big house on little Twin Lake held many memories for our family.  The front porch and the beach were two places that I remember as a place for reading, swimming, and of course imagining.  But there was one small space in her big house that held history, and stories beyond the imagination of most children.  That was where the buckskins and other Native American regalia were hung and there my cousin Gail, or one of my sisters and I would hide away on those rainy days when we were little.

The closet was more a narrow room with long oak wood boards that were smoothed by the many feet that wandered up and down the long rod that held a multitude of clothes, searching for what to wear.  It was a long room with a window at the end so it certainly wasn't dark, and there were so many places to hide with a book if I wanted to escape when my own family was there. (When you have many sisters you needed some time alone!)  

But my best memories were made with the soft smooth buckskin dresses and leggings that draped gently over the wire and cardboard hangers that lined the way back in this closet.  There were many days three or four of us would sit on the floor dressed in deerskin and leggings whispering and stroking the soft subtle folds of those clothes with their tiny colored beads lining the neck and sleeves of many of these garments.  The fringe was always too long and often tickled our arms and legs if we stood and paraded back and forth down the center of the long closet like models on a runway.  With heads high we'd walk proudly like we thought those tribeswomen might have and the images we created with the stories we imagined as we sauntered up and down as if on some forest path were alive with created lore and magic for us.  

If the light streamed through the small north window, as it often did in the summer we felt our skin get moist under the skin gowns and sometimes the fringe dripping with sweat would make us itch and scratch as we grew hotter. The window never could open, so it often got hot there but it never really bothered us because our imaginations were walking through our warms woods in summer, or riding horses with buckskin clad friends in long ago times.

The winters were the very best time because then we climbed the many old hat boxes to stretch carefully up to the long shelves above where the handmade blankets of red and yellow were kept, and with them we were transplanted into teepees where smoke rose high from the fires that warmed those rooms of buffalo hide, or long houses of wood and bark.  We each knew just enough native lore from grandma's stories to create our own that often could last all afternoon on those weekend days at Grandma's house.

As we grew older, we even got to wear those fragile gowns on Halloween evenings as we went door to door to get candy, and money for UNICEF.  I can still smell those velvety deer leather clothes that were so soft from the sweat of many years with my Great Grandfather's circus.  The smells and feel of those old memories filled what we wore and cemented like the sap of the pines that surrounded my grandmother's home the dreams we created so many years ago.  It gave us visions of what it might have felt like walking the Michigan forest paths with the Potawatomi, Ojibay, or Ottawa as we set our feet on paths toward our own adult lives.  It truly gave us dreams to live and revel in as we grew.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Where Does Wisdom Grow?

I have many favorite authors who's books I love to wade knee deep into over and over again.  But there is only one with whom I can go back to again and again for wisdom - and for joy.  When I first read her words I found I agreed with so many of her thoughts and ideas.  Both of her books keep calling me back to those curled pages and I so wish we could return to her concept of what life was like before technology.

"Everybody is a story," she told me from the written page of one of her books.

"People sat around kitchen tables and told their stories...It is the way wisdom gets passed along."

We don't share that kind of wisdom much anymore.  Her wisdom is that of a Jewish mind and my favorite line of hers is, "Real stories take time."  We really don't have time anymore to work at life in a way that makes for good stories (at least most of us don't...) and we certainly don't make time to listen to those important stories of our lives from those around us anymore.

So, today I am stopping to gather up my stories like a hen gathers up her chicks.  The stories I've learned have become important ones for me, and some of the lessons I've learned from those tales are too.

Like good letters good stories aren't perfect, but share the essence of us and our stories with those we know and love.

Stay tuned!