THE SOURCE Kate’s Journal


Episode 26 New Mexico 1966

How the Navajos Got The Blanket
<img src="https://pachofaunfinished.files.wordpress.com

It has been said that 'Spider Woman' taught the Navajo to weave their extraordinary blankets, but I believe that knowledge was pulled down eons ago from somewhere beyond the clouds.

High above the desert plain lies the village of Acoma, called Sky City.

We drove up the steep winding road where men with rifles slung across their arms stopped us and forced us to go back. The dance we had hoped to attend was open only to residents of Acoma, and we were strongly encourage to return another day.

488px-Acoma_Pueblo_Sky_City_2 Acoma, New Mexico “Sky City”

Georgia and Emmett had been teachers in Acoma after graduation from Baconne, and when we arrived, she was warmly greeted by former students who had grown up and become parents themselves in the ensuing years.

According to tribal tradition, Acoma has been occupied for 2,000 years, though by local maps it is only 800 years, much of that time only accessible by climbing up the mesa with foot power.. An arial view shows similarity to Masada in the Judean desert, where the Jews committed mass suicide rather than being captured by the Romans. People have always sought protection by building up into the hills. Today Acoma is an active thriving community, but in the ’60’s it was just beginning to get a modern identity.

Indian ruins “Mesa Verde” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen Another stone village hidden in the rocky hills of northern New Mexico.

Isleta, a small farming village situated about five miles from Albuquerque, is Georgia’s home village, and would be one of our bases while staying with various relatives throughout the area. In spite of being an only child, we would discover many “cousins”.

We were invited to help make the bread early one morning. Dragging ourselves out of sleeping bags to the heat of a July morning, we found ourselves late to the job, as the bread was all ready to pop into the oven.

Reyes Abeita Isleta
Cousin Rejas was one of the the bread makers for the village, where her bread was famous. When the baking was done, the loaves were spread out on a blanket on the floor to cool.

The two room house house was made of adobe with a hard packed mud floor, solid as cement. A sofa divided the room which suddenly filled with a number of village women who came to sit and visit and stare at the newcomer. When they determined that I was OK, they dressed me in their native clothes and draped me with their turquoise jewelry. While admiring my “Pueblo” self, I fell backward onto the loaves of bread cooling on the floor. It was there I experienced the most profound spirit of graciousness when our hostess told me it was “OK, we have to break it up anyway.”

Kayti Isleta

Our next stop was Georgia’s cousin Diego and his wife where we would spend the night. They lived in quite a nice house, larger by far than the others. They had been featured in a Hollywood movie several years before and were considered a little famous. Diego was a poet and promised to read some of his poetry to us after dinner. His wife was busily whitewashing the walls of their living room, but paused to ask if I liked chili. Anticipating a pot of California chili beans I said of course, but when dinner arrived, it was a plate of stewed hot chilies! We cooled it off a little with cantaloup and Kool-aid, but I thought twice before I said I liked anything unrecognizable again.

Their daughter was a published writer as well, so Diego read from her book along with his own after dinner, while telling us stories from their days in Hollywood. He was not well-liked in the village as many people who rise above their “station” are not.

Diego’s wife told us to put our sleeping bags close to the wall under the open windows in the living room, as some of the men in the village had imbibed a bit too much alcohol and often shot off their guns and shouted bad things about Diego, who had long since fallen into an easy sleep.

She didn’t seem too worried, so we did as told and stretched out on our sleeping bags under the open window. Shortly thereafter, the boys, having worked up their jealousy over the unfairness of life, arrived in full force to taunt the sleeping Diego and use up a little ammunition. Scary? Yes indeed, though they didn’t come close to the house or the open window, but slowly drifted away to their own beds, and an undoubted hangover the next day.

My own thoughts spurred on by Diego’s poetry:

CANTALOUP AND KOOL-AID
by kayti rasmussen

Where is the door to the story?
Can we all walk through it?

A story lives on the lips of
Diego from Hollywood days.
Far from this dusty village
where nothing happens.

Cantaloup and Kool-Aid
and a bedroll on the floor.
In this stone village
where he tells his stories.

The soft nicker of
curious Indian ponies
offer a lullabye sleepsong.

Even the tree outside our windows
seemed to listen with ruffled
leaves tipping and cooling.

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THE OLD ISLETA CHURCH Kate’s Journal


Episode 25 New Mexico, 1966

I Am Home (2) “I Am Home” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The New Mexican July heat is invasive to the body but not to the adobe churches that hold onto the coolness of winter, releasing a gray coolness slowly throughout the summer. I have a feeling, walking into this one, that I am walking into palpable silence. A lid, or a large gentle hand, seems to descend on our voices. I never tire of going into these old Indian churches. Each one has its characteristic dust smell, the smell of time. I do not expect to emerge as a Catholic, or even as a believer, I am a pagan by birth. But surrounded by the simple whitewashed walls and dark beams, my imagination is awakened, and I am joined by countless generations of ancestors of my friend, Georgia Abeita.

I seem to hear the shuffling of moccasins filing in for the Mass, and to hear the voices of the children raised in song. There would always be more women and children than men, as in many other cultures. The little girls are dressed in their colorful best, with black shining hair, made clean for Sunday service by washing in rainwater and yucca. Little boys, bored like most other little boys, shuffle their feet and long to be outside as soon as the priest finishes his prayers. The absence of pews makes the hope of a short sermon a significant consideration.

church at Isleta

The people in Isleta are involved in a bitter religious struggle,. The priest who was here for 9 years was not a man who understood the Indians. He wanted to make them give up their Indian ways and just be Catholics. The people wanted to be both. He spent most of his time down-grading them, instead of teaching them, and even had a part of the plaza where the people danced covered in cement. This might not sound so bad, but these people believe they cannot dance on anything but the soil, or God won’t hear them. So this was really a serious matter with them, and did not endear the priest. Finally, after asking the archbishop for 8 years for a new priest with no success, Georgia’s cousin Andy Abeita, who is the governor this year, ordered the priest out of the village. Monseignor Stadtmueller, or “Father Fred” as they called him, refused to go, and instead of handling the situation more diplomatically, Andy handcuffed him and they led “Father Fred” out of the village.

Naturally, the priest had some followers, and this divided the village, and led to a great deal of bitterness. Even whole families were split by this action. The summer we were there, in 1966, an attorney had been called in, but the council members refused to listen or work with him. In the meantime, the priest had taken all the valuable Navajo rugs, the hand carved stations of the cross, paintings, etc. from Isleta to his new church which is a few miles away.

Amusingly enough, this was not the first time an Abeita governor had ousted a priest, as Georgia’s great-great grandfather threw the priest out of the village in his day as well. That time he was followed by several villagers, set upon and killed. They packed the body in a cottonwood coffin, and brought it back into town. He is buried someplace in the village, and due to a freak water table in the area, the coffin rises on occasion. (Or so it is said.)

INTO THE LAND OF THE SUN Kate’s Journal


Episode 24 New Mexico, 1966

247“People of the Sun” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The road leading east from Barstow is straight as a string, and the brilliant red sun resting on the highway as we drove straight into it on the second morning of our trip was eerily suggestive of an omen; but for good or bad?

I became aware of the effects of extreme heat when we passed the remains of several steers in quiet repose alongside the highway.

The Grand Canyon became our first campsite. Glorious in its immensity, I was overwhelmed to look down into the view which has inspired countless generations of man to wax poetic. Below us, the canyon surged with life; eagles fly and small drifts of morning fog moved. The air is fresh and clear and sharp as if we are looking down from a plane; a disembodied feeling. We gaze down with wonder on eagles flying through what seemed to be the depths of the canyon.

We stretched out in sleeping bags on the ground on a bed of pine needles, after a steak dinner cooked over a small campfire. For dessert we gathered a few pine nuts off the small trees surrounding our campsite.

My delightful traveling companion was Georgia Abeita Oliver, an Isleta Pueblo from New Mexico, and teacher of my children. Her husband, Emmett Oliver was a Quinault from the coast of Washington, also an educator. They had met at Baconne, an all-Indian college in New Mexico. While she had gone on to the University of New Mexico, he went to the University of Redlands in California.

I was put in charge of finances as Georgia was the driver, and we would share the cost of the gas. We had decided to keep our expenses to a minimum, and use all the money we could afford on books, pots, and artwork. Food would be a secondary expenditure. We would be staying with Georgia’s relatives all along the way, so our lodging expense would be minimal.

The next day we arrived in Laguna, where we would stay with Georgia’s two elderly aunts and their brother. He and one aunt had been teachers and the other aunt was a nurse. They lived not in the old village, but in an enormous house below the old village of Laguna. Their father, an engineer from England, and two other engineers who each married Indian women, had come to survey the land for the United States. The building, which was now in fine repair, had been a deserted mission, and was large enough for each man to live in his own space and raise families of 10-11 children, most of whom still lived in the area.

Before dinner we walked up the hill to the old village. The ancient stones which formed a stairway were worn with indentations from centuries of footprints. My imagination traveled back in time to the countless women who wearily climbed to the top to haul water, or to find potholes which held water where they washed their hair before rubbing with yucca to give a beautiful shine to their black locks.

Before we left, Georgia suggested that I bring only skirts rather than pants, as it made a better impression on people who might take a little while to know me. It would make climbing through ruins a bit more difficult, but more politically correct for people who maintained a suspicious attitude toward strangers.

IMG_0003Stone stairway to old village of Laguna

The old church was deserted as was the village. Everyone was inside their homes until after dinner. When we had finished our own dinner, we too went outside, and as I was accustomed to a great deal of conversation, feeling that if there was a lull in communication it meant that someone was either bored or upset, I was at first uncomfortable with the silence. We simply sat and enjoyed the evening silence. Astonishing! Now and then a small ripple of laughter came as someone shared the happenings of the day. An old bedraggled grey cat rubbed against my legs and seemed content to sit quietly at my feet. Above us the village was also quiet, without even the barking of the ubiquitous dogs.

Life takes on a slower pace here in the desert. The realization that we are only here for a short time and why rush it is prevalent.

The stars shine so brightly in the Southwestern sky, and it is understandable that ancient man was able to divine the paths of the constellations while studying the skies so intently,. We slowly drifted off to bed so that we might get an early start for exploring the old village.

church at Isleta

NEW BEGINNINGS Kate’s Journal


Episode 23 Fremont 1959

375px-Mission-Peak-2006
Mission Peak in Fremont, CA

Our best friends as well as Sam’s family had all moved into this new community which incorporated in 1956 by merging five old farm districts. Business was booming with new doctors, dentists, banks etc. opening regularly. There were probably 6,000 people here when we moved; there is now an ethnic diversity of 225,000 many of whom come from nearby Silicon Valley.

We moved into our new home in Fremont and began to figure out what to do with all the additional space both in and out. I had been taking classes in Japanese Flower Arrangement for awhile, and we decided to take it another step forward and put in a Japanese Tea Garden with ponds, waterfall, arched bridge and eventually a Tea House. Dr. A took pick and shovel in hand and dug till we had a pond big enough to swim in, which ended when we threw in all the koi fish. The whole thing turned out so well various groups around town began asking permission to come take a look.

J Garden 4 (1)

I met a Japanese/American lady who was to become a good friend who was brushing up on her Japanese, so I began learning the language as well. My Campfire group began studying ancient Japanese culture whether they liked it or not!

What do you do about a gorgeous new neighbor wearing short shorts and high heels, and who looks like a TV model? Why, you make a friend as quickly as possible. Joan did not come as advertised though; she was one of the nicest and funniest girls I had ever met and we became good friends.

We tried to figure out what we could do to earn more money for Christmas, and explored all kinds of things including running a Christmas tree lot or perhaps a nursery school. I came up with the idea of painting store windows with seasonal greetings. She immediately said “I can’t paint”. But of course I could, so with her pretty face and personality she got the business and I climbed the ladders, did the work and collected the money, which was not always the easiest thing. I became known as “the hatchetman”.

We took over most of the stores in town as well as branching out into Oakland and San Jose. I received some strange requests while painting in the cold December weather. One was a book deal which I took, and several were for decorating entire showrooms. We made a real business out of it and eventually spread out into dressing department store windows, which is what I had done during high school in Alameda at J.C. Penney.

Meanwhile, our youngest daughter had a delightful Native American teacher with whom we became very close friends. She was from the Pueblo village of Isleta in New Mexico, and her husband, a commander in the Coast Guard and also a teacher, was a Quinault from the State of Washington. I have written about their stories in the past.

We began vacationing in the Seattle area and at their home on the Hood Canal which they graciously allowed us to use as our own on occasion. We fell in love with the area and eventually moved there for a time. The fishing was good, and the diving in the Canal was lovely.

We fished and hiked all over the Northwest and Canada trying all the while without a lot of success to capture the sheer beauty of the country.

Sitting around mellow with a glass of wine one evening, my friend Georgia said she was going home to New Mexico when school was out and would I like to go along? Her plan was to come back just before school started in the fall. Dr. Advice while working to get the OSHA thing going, had spend some time in New Mexico, and he agreed that it would be a good thing for me to go.

So the day after school was out we took off in Georgia’s car bound for the desert. We would be living with her various family members and traveling between Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. We opted to do this as cheaply as possible, with me keeping track of the money which we would only use to buy books and artwork. The car was packed with art supplies and sun lotion.

I’M BACK!


I’m back and please don’t tell me you didn’t know I was gone. Christmas arrived with great hope which soon disappeared into a miasma of hopelessness. For some reason, through no fault of my own obviously, pneumonia struck Christmas Eve, and put me into the hands of the good folk in the local hospital. It was a grand experience to say the least. It is very disconcerting to find that you cannot breathe. But I am home again and on the way to becoming my usual annoying self.

I found renewed appreciation and gratitude to all the medical people who kept me going during my stay in hospital. I learned that there are “travel nurses”, which I never knew of. I had heard of Doctors Without Borders who go from country to country, but these girls who sign on to be a travel nurse, sign up with a company, some of whom allows them a choice of numerous states including Hawaii and Alaska. They come for a period of 13 weeks, and there are some nurses who decide to just travel; no home base, no ties, just keep traveling and seeing the country.

The two travel nurses I had were from the East Coast, one from Upstate New York, the other from Kentucky. They are skilled in many different disciplines, and give a great sense of security.

They get a housing stipend of about $3700.00, and find their own living space, and when the 13 week contract is over, they get a nice bonus. I asked why they had chosen California, and they both said Northern California pays the most in the country.

I came home to find half the wall in my dining room filled with oxygen tanks, and a cable tether which allows me to travel all over the house. I don’t plan to stay tethered for long, but in the meantime, it’s very nice to say “I don’t want to do anything today!”

Two close friends met at our front door bearing chicken soup the day I came home. I am more grateful than I can say for all the loving care of these “visiting angels”. They gave such hope to a dear husband who at nearly 90 has never mastered the preparation of food, and finds it difficult to do even minor clean-ups! Mothers, take heed; teach your sons how to live alone and like it.

It appears we will need some help around the old place for awhile, and so a lovely young woman is coming next week to see if she likes me and if I like her.

Life should always be filled with new experiences, and we can always learn. Remember: You only have to know one thing; you can learn anything.