The Old Church


The New Mexican July heat is invasive to the body but not to the adobe churches that hold on to 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 essentially 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 my friend, G eorgia Abeita’s ancestors.  I seem to hear the shuffling of moccasins filing in for the Mass,. and 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 people here 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 to them.  Finally, after asking the archbishop for 8 years for a new priest, with no success, Georgia’s other 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, 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, in1966,  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 handcarved 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.)

The old Isleta Church

The Old Arrowmaker

original watercolor rasmussen

Give Us This Day


The sun rises early and hot on a  New Mexico summer mornng, and so do the women who bake the bread for the village.  A batch of 14-16 loaves at a time is a job for more than two hands; on this particular morning, it took six hands to work, and many more to drink coffee and laugh at the Anglo newcomer helping make the bread that would be sold through0ut  the village.  Accustomed as I was to baking for my family and friends,  two or three loaves at a time was an appropriate number for my two hands.

 The invitation to participate  had come the afternoon before,  after a quiet visit, during which  I was observed and apparently approved.  After the rising and shaping of the loaves, it was placed in the pre-heated beehive oven to bake.  Small sticks of wood were placed in the adobe oven and set afire.  This was fed regularly until the oven came to the right temperature, which was determined by holding a small piece of paper inside till it caught fire.  They transferred the loaves on a large wooden paddle, after which a piece of wet burlap cloth was hung over the opening, and secured by a piece of weathered corrugated metal.  Without clock or timer, they seemed to know precisely when it was done, and the next batch could  be baked.   As the bread was removed from the oven, it was placed on a blanket on the floor behind the couch in the communal room to cool, or to”sleep” as they say.

  By this time we were a group or old friends trading stories of children and grandchildren as women have done through the ages.  Women came throughout  the morning, and though some were reluctant to smile and accept my presence, most were amiable.  Suddenly, someone suggested dressing me in typical Isleta wedding clothes just for fun. Everyone clapped and laughed while covering their mouths with their aprons so as not to show their teeth, which would have been impolite.  A shapeless knee-length white  cotton dress with ruffles around bottom and sleeves, through which they quickly ran a narrow red ribbon, came first.  Over this a rather heavy black  wool tunic was placed, which was secured over one shoulder with a large safety pin.  A narrow woven band wound around several times as a belt.  They brought out a box of beautiful soft white deerskin which they wrapped round and round my legs, over deerskin moccasins.   Finally a cotton apron went over all.   After surveying their handiwork, they all removed some of their turquoise jewelry to hang around my neck and place on my wrists.

  I felt truly resplendent, and asked if there were a mirror so that I could admire my glorious apprearance.  Oh yes, behind the couch where the bread was sleeping on the floor, there surely was a mirror.  I carefully tiptoed around the bread and saw my “ancestral”  self!   It was such  a wondrous sight, I stepped back a step or two to better admire the entire figure.  Woops!  Tripping, I sat heavily into the mass of baked bread.  With one step, I had endangered Pueblo and Anglo relations, which might never be restored.  I could not move, but sat nearly in tears, thinking too of the money they had lost because of me in the sale of their bread. 

There was great silence, as they were apparently too horrified to speak, when suddenly, the hostess, my friend’s cousin, looked at me over the back of the couch and simply said.  “We have to break it up anyway to eat it.”  And the room exploded in laughter.  The dictionary defines “gracious” in several ways, but I will always have my own definition.

Me     1966                                                              Retes Abeita, Isleta

Obsolescence


Everything comes with built-in obsolescence.  The ubiquitous cell phone is no exception.  Wherever you go these days, someone has one pressed to his/her ear, talking or texting.  I don’t talk too much on mine, and I don’t know how to text, but it does ensure that people think you are “with” it, when they see you talking on one.  I had noticed that mine needed recharging more often than it used to, but then so do I.   After trying vainly to buy a replacement battery at several stores in town, I finally went to the cell phone store, only to find that mine was defunct after only three years.  The good news was that I could buy a brand new basic cell phone with no bells and whistles (such as mine was) for only $40  which was the price of batteries!  What a deal.  The nice salesman began writing it up as I took my wallet out to pay. Yes, I could keep my old number, which was a great timesaver, but  I would need a new case and my old charger would not work with this new one, plus an additional charger for my vehicle.  It is like buying a new computer, where you discover when it arrives home that none of your programs will work on the new operating system, so you buy new ones which need to be learned.  While the nice salesman was adding up the charges, Dr. Advice wandered in.  After 65 years of married life, I know his reaction to sticker shock, so I cheerfully called out that I had found a $40 cell phone which would have been the price of a new battery.  Naturally he was delighted with my clever purchasing power, and spent the next 25 minutes chatting with two other very nice young salesmen while they transferred all my data to my new phone.  ( I didn’t know they could do that with a flick of a button)   He was quite happy with my “$40”  purchase, but I went home $100 lighter in my bank account.  Not a bad exchange however, when you consider the fun we had talking to these three young men.  Never pass up an opportunity to “connect”, it makes life so much more interesting.

Read, every day, something no one else is reading.  Think, every day, something no one else is thinking.  Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do.  It is bad for the mind to be continually part of unanimity.

Southwest Odyssey


“Don’t bring too much luggage” telephoned my friend the night before we were to leave on a summer trip to her home in New Mexico.  My friend Georgia had been the fifth grade teacher of my two daughters, and she and her husband had become close friends of ours.  Georgia was an Isleta Pueblo from New Mexico and her husband Emmett a Quinalt from the  State of Washington.  Both were educators, she an elementary school teacher and Emmett not only a teacher, but a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard.  They had met at Baconne, an Indian College in New Mexico, and then went on to University.  She at the University of New Mexico, and Emmett  at the University of  Redlands, in California.   We shared many interests and when Georgia asked me to join her in her trip, I jumped at the chance.  Road trips had never been my favorite thing to do, but since I was  traveling with a friend and with such a new and interesting destination, I was eager to begin.

.  The road leading east from Barstow is straight as a string, and the brilliant red sun was resting on the highway as we drove straight into it on the second morning of our trip was eerily suggestive.  An omen perhaps, but  for good or bad?   The second night out we camped at the Grand Canyon, side by side with the beginning summer tourists.  Since we planned to stay with Georgia’s family or friends, with very few motel stops in between, we brought no camping gear, and threw our sleeping bags on the ground where we had placed a few pine needles for a mattress.  We cooked a steak on a small camp fire, and ate an avacado we had brought  from home.   After dinner we gathered pine nuts and cracked them for dessert.  What a memorable feast!  I was put in charge of finances, as she was the  driver and we would share the cost of the gas.   We had decided to keep our expenses to a minimun, and use all the money we could afford on books, pots, and artwork.  Food would be a  secondary expenditure.   The following morning we drove over to the Canyon rim and looked down upon the view which has inspired countless generations of man to wax poetic.  Below us, the canyon surges with life; eagles fly and small drifts of morning fog are moving.  The air is clear and utterly fresh and sharp as if we are looking down from a plane; a disembodied feeling–this hillside is floating.

The next day we arrived in Laguna where we would stay withy Georgia’s two old 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 the 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. 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.  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 and for Georgia to renew old acquaintances.

Laguna stairway

Emmett & Georgia                                                                                                                   

 

The Case For McDonald’s


I like Ferragamo shoes, trips to Paris with my daughters, caramel frappachinos at Starbucks, and McDonald’s.    I don’t eat the food there, but the coffee is supreme, and the people- watching can’t be beat.  The price of senior coffee is so fair, you wonder how they can make a living.  The several McDonald’s in our city are all owned by our good friend, who by the way is the inventor of the quartrer-pounder hamburger and we are always greeted with familiarity.  We are an ethnically diverse city, which sometimes leads to interesting conversatiions, and certainly broadens our view of travel destinations we will probably never take.  I have a different understanding of the few homeless persons who sometimes wander in out of the rain  to keep warm and buy an inexpensive meal.  Young families can afford to bring small children in for a McDonald’s treat. A few people bring their laptops and work in a quiet out of the way corner.  Two long-time employees who clean the place are refereshingly accomodating, and the maintenance man has become our maintenance man.  One of the owners is godfather to his children.  The small elderly cleaning lady from the Philippines has some health issues, and loves to tell me all about them.  Her English is not good, so I only understand a word or two now and then, but enough to give sympathy when needed.  She always gives Dr. Advice a small container of catsup when we are leaving, because I told her once it had licopine in it and was good for him.  The man who does the tables on Saturdays is a former Marine whose hearing is nearly gone, and has some short term memory problems, but his knowledge of  the Vietnam War is impressive.  And I admit to having a certain amount of reverse snobbery  when friends give me a pitying look while comparing their favorite coffee shops.  Yes, I like McDonald’s, It offers more than fast food if you look.

“Not Your Average Chicken”

by kaytisweetland rasmussen

What’s In a Name?


“The retrieval of childhood experience is one of the most mysteriously unpropitious of human endeavor,” Janet Malcolm wrote, ” neither of the two ‘I”s through which the story of a childhood is told is trustworthy.”  But Most of the stuff I say is true because I saw it in a dream and I don’t have the presence of mind to make up lies when I’m asleep.   Having clarified  that, my mind can afford to ramble. 

 Being in the military (Navy), we made an almost annual migration to many places within the United States.  Often, when my mother went to be with my father for an extended period, I did not accompany her, and instead, went to stay with my great-aunt.  I don’t recall being either happy or unhappy, and though an only child, I don’t believe I was spoiled.  Of course, that may be my own opinion.  Upon each arrival at a new school, it was my habit to change my first name.  I had no repugnance to my own given name, but as I was always an outsider,  I became an actress in my own play. The propensity began in the first grade when I was totally smitten with Jackie, a cute little redhead with dimples and freckles. Before her I became Hallelulia for a blessedly short time.  Other schools and names took their place, and the next name I recall was Elsie, named for Elsie Dinsmore (a book) or Elsie Brown a girl who lived near my great-aunt.  My Elsie was “born” when I was in the fourth grade in San Diego.  I was able to live a secret  life for most of that semester until a census taker arrived and informed my mother that she had two children; Kathryn and Elsie.  After her disappointment in my duplicity, Elsie suddenly disappeared.  Also during this year I suffered what should have been, (next to having my name change caught out), my deepest embarrassment.  The school held a talent show, and I signed up to play a selection on the piano.  In addition to no particular skill in eiher singing or dancing, I also could not play the piano beyond Chopsticks.  For my first selection, I chose a heavy duty ” Russian” piece.  Needless to say, I was booed off the stage.

  We lived in San Diego, which had been the site of near-disaster at the age of four when twin boys of six enticed me into a deep ravine near the San Diego Zoo and left me.  My memory is not one of fear but rather of anger amplified when the police found me sometime after dark.  I was given a boxing lesson the next day and threatened with punishment if I allowed anyone to treat me so again.  My first opportunity to exact revenge came shortly thereafter, and after delivering a few good punches, I was never bothered again. 

There were other name-changes, but not until the 10th grade, did I come up with the first original name of “Arvie” made up from my own imagination.  I truly loved that name, and would have kept it if the War had not started and we moved.  I was sent again to live with Auntie, a no-nonsense New Englander, who would never have understood my need for anonymity.  That was the year I was forced to grow up and accept my own identity for what it was worth.

Why would a quiet, well-behaved child choose to play-act her fantasies under a new name in each new location?  Perhaps loneliness or a feeling of inferiority, or maybe just an opportunity to escape from a life she did not feel a part of.  As adults, we cannot know what is in a child’s heart or mind.    Most fantasies are harmless, and end with childhood.  We do what we can and hope for the best.

    “Presidio  Sunset” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen                                                                                                                                                             

Compensation


Sometimes things need to be re-blogged just as a reminder.

COMPENSATION

If it were not for the shadows

We should never have the sun.

If we never had the night-fall

Then day had not begun.

If we never knew a heart-ache,

Then our soul would never sing.

If we never had a winter

We should never see the spring.

If we never knew the tempest

We should never love the calm.

If we never knew the wounding

We should never feel the balm.

If we never knew some sorrow

Then our hearts could not be gay.

There may never be tomorrow

But we always have today.

“Into The Storm” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Chance Encounter


Dr. Advice and I arrived three hours early for our annual flu shot.  We were obviously not the only ones who did not read the signs posted on the entrance to the lab giving the times the shots would be given,as there were already twenty or thirty people ahead of us.  The annual flu shot has become something of a ritual.  Some  people would not have it if their life depended upon  it.  Others like us, line up like sheep, just waiting to be stabbed in the arm, and wear a sticky note on their jackets proudly announcing “I Had My Flu Shot”.  That is good medical P.R. 

A small bouncy woman who looked to be in her late forties,was in  line behind us.  It was very cold, but she had no jacket and had an out-sized fanny pack strapped securely around her middle.  She made a joke about us each taking one of the wheelchairs standing in the corner of the hospital corridor and having races up and down the hallway to take up the waiting time.  Her speech was slurred and she seemed to have trouble controllling her hands,  After apologizing for her speech, she told me her story.

She had had not one, but two brain aneurisms some years before, with resultant surgery.  One is usually enough to do you in.  Her short term memory is gone, and in her fanny pack she carried not only everything she needed for her day, but a most important pad and pencil to write down things she needed to remember.  Her sense of humor was amazing, and her self-deprecating jokes infectious.

She related a story which happened about 10 years ago in front of her local grocery store where she had gone to pick up a few things.  She had written them down, but wanted to try to remember what they were instead of  relying on her note.  An angry looking woman was pacing back and forth in front of the store.  She spoke to her and made a joke about trying to remember just what it was she had come for.  The woman seemed not to hear, so she went into the store and completed her shopping. W hen she finished and came out of the store, the woman stared straight ahead with no recognition.   The little woman thought no more about it.

A couple of years ago, when shopping at the same store, my new-found friend was approached by a woman who said “You probably don’t remember me.”  She did not remember and told her so.  It seems that on their first meeting, the woman had been listening to every word she had said.  She told her, “On that day, I was contemplating taking my life.  After hearing your story, I decided that if you could undergo all that you have, I did not have that right.  Instead, I worked to solve my problems, and I have you to thank for my life.

We are all put here for a purpose.  Most often, we don’t know what that purpose is.  I know that with her sense of humor, and her inspiring story of survival, this woman has saved at least one life.

The Virtues of Peanut Butter


A creamy smooth spoonful pressed cool against my tongue, a slightly sweet, slightly salty bite of bliss that sticks to the roof of my parched mouth, leaving me to scour frantically for a swallow of milk.  Of all of man’s culinary triumphs, I dare say that peanut butter is among the greatest of inventions and, like it’s trusted companion the banana, is quite possibly the most perfect food.  I myself am nowhere perfect, (I’m actually not so far off), but I feel that many of my most positive attributes can also be found in peanut butter. 

How can a petite eighteen year old woman resemble a greasy, nutty condiment?  In a bare pantry or a fully stocked one, I find contentment.  I accept and try my best to ameliorate trying times  or situations.  Like peanut butter, I am incredibly versatile and harmonize well with most people and environments.  What food, other than peanut butter, can taste equally delicious with every food group?  It lends a flavorful nutrient boost to crackers, celery, ice cream and raisins.  As for the sometimes dreadful, sometimes wonderful tackiness that peanut butter can create, I also tend to stick two things together.  Through my wild and carefree gallivanting, I introduce my friends and myself to people and places that we might never have seen. 

My grandmother, the wisest woman I know, once told me to be bold and courageous because I was going to screw up anyway, and I might as well do it with some enthusiasm.  The experiences and memories adhere  to me.  The peanut butter in my stomach serves as the stitching on the patchwork quilt of my life.

Attrributed to Kate Nickerson, 1982 as part of her application to the University of Washington.   She graduated five years later.

Ernie Banks


Ernie Banks was a shortstop/first baseman for nineteen years for the Chicago Cubs.  He became known for his catchphrase which he repeated even in the pouring rain, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame.  Let’s play two!”  His attitude was so sunny and infectious he was nicknamed “Mr. Sunshine”.  His own motto was “The whole theory of my life is sunshine, and today the sun is shining”. 

Attitude is a deciding factor in who we are.  Sometimes it’s difficult to dig through the daily debris to find an attitude adjustment, but it’s a necessary addition to our morning routine.

Let’s play two!