Thursday, May 26, 2011

I'm so glad you didn't knock! Part IV

There are lots of ways to honor the life of of a lost loved one, and one of the best is to have a really good party. A Laguna tradition, somewhat in the vein of a potlatch, is to hold a "Grab Day" or a "Throw" - which it is depends on where you stand, literally. Just about a year after Liz's death, when daughter Lucinda, who also raised her family in the old adobe house, found out I would be visiting (with my dear old friend, Liza B.) she said, "We'll have a Throw in memory of Mom when you come!" as if I really understood what that meant.The date also nearly coincided with Liz's patron saint's feast day, a happy convergence all around. 
So as I now know, the idea is that with family, friends and neighbors from far and wide gathered on the street below, from the roof the hosts toss (or, really throw) down to them blessings and gifts like canned and packaged foods, kitchen towels and gadgets, school  supplies, and the like. Of course I asked if we could bring something, and of course, the answer was, "Oh no, please just bring yourselves!" and of course, we brought a case of little bags of chips. Everybody else contributed as well, bringing the goodies in laundry baskets or dish tubs. When it came time for the big event, a neighbor across the way offered her nice flat-roofed house, since the old adobe has a steep roof on it. There was so much stuff it more than filled the bed of a pick-up and the entire back section of our rented SUV just to be moved across the street to the neighbor's, then handed, bucket brigade-style, up a ladder and onto the roof.
By this time quite a crowd had gathered. Liza and I were invited to the roof, deeply honored to be among those sharing the goods and good wishes. The festivities began first with the thanksgiving and blessing, ladles of water from a beautiful traditional olla (pot) gently sprinkled on the people below, followed by more colorful and boisterous anointments!
Then the fun and hilarity began - we threw and threw and threw - Liz was well-loved and her descendents very much respected, so there were lots of participants, family and friends on the roof, and ten times more people down below; I think it literally took an hour for the seven or eight of us on the roof to share the wealth. As a grand finale, all the baskets went flying. So you might have come with a basketful of goodies and left with a handful, or come with nothing and filled a basket with soup cans and sodas and chips and cereal and paper towels and shampoo and pens and socks and...yep, I know what you're thinking: there is always the potential for a grabber to get clocked on the head, but everybody's willing to risk it, and of course, Liz's Throw went off without a mishap, and with abundant joy and happy memories for everyone. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I'm so glad you didn't knock! Part III

The early 1970s were not done with this family yet.  Elizabeth's husband, the childrens' dad Ray, whom I think I never met, died from ill health. I don't know how old she was, but beloved Grandma Paisano also passed away during this time, leaving a hole in everyone's heart.
In spite of these terrible soul-smashing blows Elizabeth really came into her own in both family leadership and community service following these years, when, without any particular background or training, she was appointed director of the Laguna Library. By the later 1970's she became increasingly renowned in the world of indigenous librarians; she visited us when business brought her to Chicago in 1979 for a meeting at the Newberry Library. Through recent Google searches, I have come to learn that she also attended conferences in such places as Auckland New Zealand, and Regina Saskatchewan, and testified before the Gates Foundation and Congress. I stood in front of the library with her in 1977 when was still in a little adobe "box" (above) but before she was done, she had shepherded the library into a beautiful new structure to house its books, digital resources, and archives, and from which to offer services to the 7,000-some enrolled members of the tribe.
Elizabeth at my home in Chicago, 1977

Liz's spirit lives on at the Library, for which she worked tirelessly until just a few months before her death in 2007, at the age of 82.
Elizabeth in front of the new library sign, photographer and date unknown.

I'm so glad you didn't knock! Part II

In 1972, I entered the graduate program in cultural anthropology at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. By this time my parents had divorced, my mother was living in Spain, and my relationship with my father, who was still in Indiana, was beginning to wear thin. But my friends in Laguna opened their door to me, so that's where I went for any long weekend away from school. The drive was "only" 450 miles, but in those days the speed limit was 75, and I had all the wakefulness and stamina needed to do it within eight hours or less and to turn around to do it again back to Tempe a few days later.
All the kids were growing up. Mike was almost a man; his younger brother Wally was doing well in high school, and the four girls were blooming. 
I was fortunate to be able to spend lots of time with them, their wonderful mother, who by this time was the energetically devoted director of the Laguna library, and Grandma. I got to know the area well, and had many opportunities, for example, to take Grandma and one of the girls to see Grandma's friend, another grandma, in Hopi. While in Hopi we were blessed to witness the famous sacred Snake Dance, something most outsiders never have the good luck to observe.
Then one day I got the call from Elizabeth. Wally, distraught by a love interest's rejection, tried to take his own life. He managed to shoot out the roof of his mouth and one eye, but survived. Good surgeons restored his face, his speech, and, with an artificial eye and lots of good therapy, his mental and physical health. Soon, the affectionate and playful young Wally happily went off to attend college at New Mexico State, but in 1973, in a snowstorm, his car was struck by a jack-knifed semi-truck, and Wally was killed.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I'm so glad you didn't knock! (A Love Story) Part I

The year I was 3, my father, a professor, spent the fall semester visiting the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Those were the days when long drives in the country just to take in scenery was commonplace family entertainment. My parents, who were lovers of dramatic land and who had great appreciation for Native American cultures, especially enjoyed the southwest. One day the three of us, my mother, father, and little me, were exploring along the north-south axis of the Rio Grande and stopped in the town of Bernalillo for gas (20¢ or 25¢ a gallon). Those were also the days of rural bus routes, and there, waiting for the bus, were an older Indian woman with a toddler about my age; my parents struck up a conversation with them, and offered to give them a lift home to the Pueblo of Laguna, about 70 miles away along the east-west axis formed by U.S. Route 66. This is where the miracle begins: Grandma Marie Paisano actually accepted the Anglos' offer, and got into the car with her 2-year old granddaughter, Barbara. I often think of how unlikely that should have been, especially in those days. The two families have been friends ever since: that would be nearly 58 years now,  through thick and thin, tragedies and triumphs, deaths and births, partings and reconciliations, illness and well being.
How I wish I had photos of that first encounter, in retrospect it was so unbelievable it would be good to have a record of it. Even though we had a camera, there were no pictures taken that day. It was commonly believed, "Indians do not like to have their pictures taken" which of course wasn't true in any unqualified sense. Like anybody else, they just didn't like being photographed without permission by tourists treating them like interesting wildlife, inconsiderately snapping away in their churches, at their ceremonies and sacred spots.
Our next visit to Grandma and her family, according to my photographic record, was in June of 1959. I think the photo must have been taken by Grandma's daughter, whom we called Elizabeth, though everyone else who knew her called her Liz. There is Grandma in her apron, front and center. On the left side of the photo is her grandson Wally, and next to Wally, with my arm around her, is Barbara. Next to me is my father, and on the right side, my mother with Elizabeth's second daughter, Karen, on her arm.
Elizabeth's husband was still alive, and another son, Mike, was maybe away with his dad this day.  Soon three more daughters, Georgine, Lucinda, and Beverly, were to arrive.
The years went by, many letters exchanged, there were always fruitcake and other gifts for them at Christmas. In 1968, Barbara, who was growing up a bright and lovely young woman, took an opportunity to attend camp in Bemidji, Minnesota. That seemed close to Indiana, where we lived, and so before returning to New Mexico, my parents sent Barbara a plane ticket so she could visit that last summer before her senior year in high school, my last before college.
Two years later, Elizabeth called my parents. Barbara, the oldest child, the daughter with nothing if not the whole future before her, expected to replace Grandma, then Elizabeth in her turn as the glue of the family, was dead. She had been killed in a car accident.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Images from the Southwest

More descriptive details to follow, for now, just a little of the visual candy that is Arizona and New Mexico, for your delectation.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"In the Air Again"

Where you been, girl? In the Air Again sung to On the Road Again, traveling joyfully after a five-and-a-half month hiatus. This trip was a most welcome change of pace, the impetus for which was a two-day seminar in Scottsdale, Arizona. Afterwards, KLK and I took advantage for a quick "taste-test" of central Arizona and a bit of west-central New Mexico that included time with treasured but seldom-visited friends. I went to grad school at Arizona State University (ASU), in Tempe, the town next to Scottsdale, for a couple of years, and while there extensively explored the same area as our vacation route, but have spent nearly no time there since. The growth since I left, economically, physically, and on the dimension of sophistication, has been stunning. 
The trip was rich one, one that promises to yield a number of posts, should I be so lucky as to find the time before we leave again for the Greater Yellowstone area, while I'm buried at the office and so far behind in basic housekeeping that it seems my apartment will never come to order again.In the meanwhile, thanks for your patience with the no-blog state of Amusing Musings.
This is a photo of 12,637 foot Mount Humphreys, the tallest in the Spanish Peaks range. The Spanish Peaks mark the location of Flagstaff, Arizona, also the junction of the interstate that runs north-south along the center of the state, and I-40, the east-west superhighway that replaced the iconic Route 66. The photo is taken from Meteor (aka Barringer) Crater, along I-40 in central Arizona (more about which later).  On my outbound flight, as the plane made its way from Chicago to Phoenix, Mt. Humphreys hove into view at about 2:00 with respect to the angle of the plane and stayed there, looming snowily against the blue sky, sitting on the flat, drab early spring earth, for a good 45 minutes until the plane angled south for its descent. Unfortunately the (annoyingly thoughtless) person in front of me had his/her seat back down all the way, and I could not access my camera for what would have been a superb aerial view. But you get the idea!
The windy road in the panorama is the access road to Meteor Crater from I-40. Hard to believe that it is actually cattle ranch territory. We saw this sign, but no baby calves, along the way.