THE STORYTELLER


I Am A Child

“I Am a Child of the Sun and Wind” original watercolor painting by kayti rasmussen

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.

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

The pleasant knicker of an Indian pony
through the open window over
heads drowsy with sleep,
announced the coming of the dawn.

We sat around the fire pitching our
own stories into the lap of the storyteller.
We dropped troubles and pain.
Are they now someone else’s stories?

HOW OLD IS OLD?


Navajo Grandmother “NAVAJO GRANDMOTHER” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

I was raised to believe that asking another person’s age was as bad as asking how much money they had in the bank. Kids did it. Polite grownups did not. It was one’s personal business, not to be shared. I don’t know what they believed anyone was going to do with this information if we somehow let it slip.

Some years ago I began practicing Tai Chi each morning at the crack of dawn in the park. My face was the only non-Asian, and was clearly the oldest face in the group, although there were plenty with more wrinkles.

From day one, as each came to meet me, their opening question was “How old are you”? At first I felt this to be an invasion of privacy, or at the very least, an indication of the category in which they placed me.

A young friend has been teaching English in Beijing for several years. During his first year he was taken aback as people stepped into his “privacy zone” and looked him up and then down. Another cultural difference. So this is the box where the asking of one’s age is placed.

These days I’m different. You can find out a lot about someone by knowing his age and where he grew up.

You can find out what kind of music he grew up with, what presidents shaped his political opinions, even what kind of clothes were in fashion. Did she wear poodle skirts or hot pants? Did he wear knickers or polyester leisure suits? A well known haberdasher and dear friend used to sport pale blue leisure suits open at the neck with a gold chain. You may say “How gauche”, but it actually WAS the fashion.

Where were you when certain life-changing events took place? I’ll bet you remember where you were when JFK was assassinated, don’t you? Or when John Glenn landed on the moon? I know where I watched all the newscasts. Glued to to TV set and as it happened, I was painting a watercolor each time.

Now that I am the one asking how old you are, it places you in a certain place in your life, and that’s what I really want to know. I want to know you, and I know that’s what you want to know too when you ask the question.

Whereas in most of my early life I was the youngest person in the group, now I reside in the other realm—to my great-grandchildren, I am probably the oldest person they have known. I hope I pass muster.

INDIFFERENT COMPARISONS


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“The Old Arrow Maker” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

The stories of our state’s Native Americans and those of New Mexico have intriguing similarities. I have been writing about the Indians of the Southwest for some time without comparing the histories of the local people.

Santa Fe became a capital city 200 years before Washington, D.C. was founded. The Spanish stared colonizing New Mexico 100 years before California. Native Americans still make up almost 10 percent of the population of New Mexico, while in California less than 2 percent are listed as Native Americans.

Although the two states became part of the United States at the same time, it took New Mexico 62 years longer to achieve statehood.

The arrival of Europeans was disastrous to both states’ Native Americans. The white man’s diseases—measles, smallpox, and diphtheria—killed thousands.

California Indians were gatherers and hunters. When they had exhausted the resources of a place, they burned their rough wooden structures and moved on. The Pueblo Indians of New Mexico were farmers who grew corn, squash and beans. They built permanent houses of adobe in villages that had been in the same place for 1,000 years.

The mission system in New Mexico was very different, but still cruel in its attempt to eradicate the ancient culture by destroying sacred artifacts and forcing a foreign religion on a deeply spiritual people. One priest boasted he had burned many sacred Indian masks.

The Pueblo Indians knew how to grow things. The Spanish conquerors demanded a tithe and confiscated many of their crops.

When the Spanish missionaries arrived in California, there were 300,000 Indians. By the time the United States took over in 1848, 150,000 were left. The great influx of people with the Gold Rush sounded a death knell for those remaining. By 1900, thee were 15,000.

There are 19 self-governing Pueblo nations in New Mexico, where Native Americans keep their culture, traditions and language. Most villages speak a variety of the root languages Tiwa or Tewa.

How did they manage to preserve their heritage? Perhaps it was because of charismatic leader Po’Pay, who brought together the different factions of his people to revolt against the tyrannical rule of the Franciscan priests and Spanish rulers. The Pueblo Indians—armed with bows and arrows—drove out their Spanish conquerors—whose soldiers had guns and metal armor—in 1680.

Drought and the Apaches hit the pueblos in the 1670’s and Po’Pay took up residence in Taos and plotted the rebellion among the 46 Pueblo towns in the Rio Grande valley. In the Acoma Massacre the Spanish killed and enslaved hundreds. Twenty-four men had a foot amputated when trying to escape from the “mile-high” city atop the mesa.

To spread the word among the villages he gave a knotted cord to runners sent to all Pueblos. Each day a knot was untied until the final knot which would signal the people to rise up against the Spanish. After the revolt survivors fled to Santa Fe and Isleta which was 10 miles south, and which did not participate in the rebellion. All the Spanish fled to El Paso.

For 12 years, the Pueblos were independent. In 1692, the Spanish regained control of the Pueblos, but this time they were more accommodating, allowing the Pueblos to keep their own spiritual practices as long as they also followed Catholicism.

As an interesting aside, in one or two villages the Franciscans paved a small area in front of the entrance to the churches, ostensibly to “make a better place for the Indians to perform ceremonial dances”. This however, removed the direct connection of their feet to Mother Earth, so they did not use the architectural improvement.

OLD WEDDING CEREMONIES AT ORAIBI


hopi wedding pot

Hopi Bride With Wedding Pot” stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Every bride is beautiful in her own way, and the Hopi bride of yesteryear was no exception. Though today’s bride is more apt to wear a long white wedding dress and serve a multi-layered wedding cake at her reception, not so long ago her preparations were time-consuming and laborious.

The two sided wedding vase was used by both the Cherokee and the Pueblo Indians and contained a sweet corn liquid which the bridal couple sipped during the ceremony.

After informing her mother and future mother-in-law of their intention to marry, the bride was set to the task of grinding corn for three days. Can you imagine a young woman of today grinding corn for three days?

About the Hopi Indian Marriage Ceremony

The village beauty parlor then took over and after washing her hair with pounded yucca roots to make it shine, the bride’s mother cut the front hair to the level of her chin and rolled the long hair in back into two large coils over her ears which designated her new status as a married woman. After this ceremony, the bridal couple each took a pinch of cornmeal, walked to the eastern side of the mesa on which the village of Oraibi stands. Holding the meal to their lips they cast it to the wind and return to the house as husband and wife. Simple ceremony.

Gifts of corn were distributed around the village, and the bride set to work making dozens of paper breads for the festivities after the wedding to which the entire village was invited.

Hopi Corn Maiden
“Corn Maiden” stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

kiva isleta Kiva at Isleta, New Mexico, where I lived for some time in the 1960’s

The crier of the village announces the time for the spinning of the cotton for the bride’s blanket which takes place in the kivas. The bridegroom and male members of his family then wove a large white blanket which would be used as the bride’s winding sheet upon her death, and a second smaller sash each with long tassels on the ends, plus a reed mat in which the blankets are to be rolled.

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Woven bridal sash

The last act of the drama is called “going home” in which the bride, who has been living with her husband’s people up to this time, returns to her family home. Wearing the large white blanket and carrying the smaller one wrapped in the reed mat she walks to her mother’s house. For in this land of women’s rights the husband must live with the his wife’s relatives.

THE PEOPLE WE NEVER NOTICE


095
Presidio Sunset” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Every day we are looked after by scores of people, most of whom we either ignore or don’t see in the first place. The restaurant servers or the people who clean up after you move quietly from table to table in the restaurant, the checkers at the grocery store, the men who collect our garbage, the postman; most of these people are simply bodies in motion as we go about our business.

I’ve been thinking about these people for some time and I like to call them “our angels”. People who look after us.

Norbert is our postman. He is from the Philippines, a Democrat who doesn’t like Obama. He and Dr. Advice have long philosophic discussions every day and Norbert makes it a point to tuck our mail in a safe place if he thinks we aren’t home. He has a family and a wife who works also.

Cesar is our garbage collector. He is from Mexico, quite handsome with the whitest teeth I have ever seen and drives a cute Corvette which was given to him by an old man whom he helped over and beyond what was expected. He is married with 3 children and a side business as a handyman. I look for him on his pickup days because he is unfailingly cheerful and smiling.

A few years ago in our coffee shop, a disgruntled customer yelled at the small lady cleaning his table. We called her over to our table and tried to make her feel better. Dr. Advice had spent some time in the Philippines during the War and knew the town which she called home so they had an immediate connection. Carmen and Edith are ladies from the Philippines who clean tables, sweep floors, clean bathrooms and take care of customers at the coffee shop. I only understand about one word in 15 from one lady, but they always stop for a chat, give me a hug and bring extra napkins, cream etc. Carmen is going home to the Philippines in 62 days and will be gone for 6 mnths. I will miss her.

Ray, who works at MacDonalds, is from Mexico but loves to work on cars as a side business though he can do most anything. He invited us to his wedding last year which was an occasion we would not have missed though we were the only English speakers at the reception, which featured Mariachi music and the best Mexican food available. His wife is from Viet Nam and works as a caregiver. Together they have three children.

In Trader Joe’s and Safeway there are several other “angels”. People who work exceedingly long hours, yet are friendly beyond what is demanded by management. We are known to all by name, and Dr. Advice can always be found engaged in a long conversation while I spend his money. Jonah who is African American calls me Ma, and always stops what he is doing to give me a hug. Ron is retired from the airlines and is always available for good humored ribbing. Tilly, the hard working girl who makes sure the carts are stacked neatly, loves movies and can always be expected to give us a review of her latest favorite, which are always kid movies. I accuse Nancy and Mario of spending 24/7 at Safeway, because they always seem to be there.

In our Safeway there are several baggers who are handicapped. We are so grateful to Safeway for hiring these people as they add a lot to our lives and to others as well while they go about these jobs which are so important to their self importance.

I sometimes wonder if I was blind to these hard working helpers in the past, and if they only notice us now because of our age. I hope that’s not the only reason, I would like to think they value our friendship as much as we do theirs.

WRANGLER 1ST CLASS


My definition of “wrangler” was of a person who took care of horses, or of a new pair of blue jeans. That was until I met Jules Sylvester, a 6’6″ animal trainer and herpetologist who works in both movies and television. Since then I have found that movies who have any animal have wranglers to train and handle them during the filming.

Some of the films that have used his expertise are Jurassic Park, Casino Royale, Something About Mary, the chimpanzees in Project X, the snakes in the pit in Indiana Jones, and Out of Africa where he trotted along in front of the lions.

jules 2

Born in Devon in 1950, Jules and his family moved to Kenya where he began catching snakes when he was l6 years old. He served in the Rhodesian Light Infantry during the Rhodesian Bush War in 1973-74. Today he owns Reptile Rentals which provides a variety of animals for films, photo shoots and commercials. “Vermin wranglers is what we are” he says in his soft British accent. “Everything nobody likes, we’ve got it.” Asked once how he trained snakes, he laughed and said “You can’t make a snake do anything they don’t want to. They’re not that smart and I’m not that clever. This is more like reptile management.”

Jules and his delightful wife, Sue, who came from Zimbabwe as a small child, are friends of my daughter and her family. They married in 1987, and I was privileged to paint their wedding portrait.

075 Mr. and Mrs. Jules Sylvester watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

After visiting Jules’s snake collection a number of years ago, one grandson, now a wildlife biologist, and a young friend armed with a homemade snare, went snake hunting in the hills behind their home in Southern California. When our son-in-law came home for lunch, he found stretched on the fence a six foot rattlesnake skin and meat of the critter roasting away on the barbeque with plates and napkins waiting on the table. His advice to the boys “Get that mess cleaned up before your mother comes home.”

brady snake

LIFE IS A JOURNEY


Road Leading Nowhere Road Leading Nowhere

Far From Somewhere Far From Somewhere

Road Leading Somewhere Road Leading Somewhere

Grow old along with me,The best is yet to be. The last of life for which the first has saved. Robert Browning

watercolor paintings by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

Sam and Panda2 Dr. Advice and Panda

Paintings like the words in our stories have a strong basis in fact. A picture, a word, a gesture prompts our creative spirit to get busy. For eleven years our Old English Sheepdog Panda accompanied Dr. Advice on his morning walk, meandering ahead and then coming back to see why he was so slow. Panda knew every bush and squirrel hole on the trail as well as the regular everyday walkers and their dogs. She was the queen of the trail and kept herself aloof from the other dogs after a quick nod of her head.

Panda came to us as a rescue dog having been caught in a flood which nearly took the life of her master, a horse trainer of some repute in Northern California. Disaster had struck in the middle of the night, and about 100 horses had to be quickly removed from the premises and onto higher ground. Our grandson, a horseman living in the area, was among those who came to help in the rescue of the horses. The rancher unfortunately had a heart attack after the disaster and was unable to keep his animals.

Panda, along with several other farm dogs were given to willing people after the action. Our grandson thought Panda would be a grand roommate for Penny our dachshund, and when we came to meet her, she jumped into our pickup truck and made herself comfortable and at home. Once in the truck, there was no coaxing her out again. In her eyes she had found her forever home. I always thought she looked like the Nana dog in Peter Pan whose job it was to look after the children, like Nana, Panda had decided to take care of us.

Old English Sheepdogs are pretty laid back and not prone to sudden activity. On one morning walk late in her life, while walking the same old trail she knew by heart, she became separated from Dr. Advice, and he began driving home before he missed her. Luckily when he realized his mistake and went back, he found her waiting patiently where he had mislaid her.

Unlike the Border Collie, whom we see herding sheep by crouching and staring them down, the Old English is a drover who will push from behind for miles and miles if necessary. Our morning walks always went from about two miles to sometimes 14 miles, and Panda was always trotting along beside us looking for a stray rabbit or two, unaware of who they were dealing with.

Our dear pet friends always know when it’s time to say goodbye, even if it seems too soon for us, and eleven years after Panda came to live with us, that day arrived. Now her quiet, gentle ghost smiles on Charlie, the exuberant Jack Russell Terrier who now demands two walks a day, and Dr. Advice has learned that it is to his advantage to oblige.

Life is a journey, and the companions we take along with us, and the people we meet along our way keep it all new, exciting and worthwhile.

.

LA DOLCE VITA – FELINE FORMULA


Watch Cat
ORIGINAL WALL MURAL “THIS IS A WATCHCAT WATCHING YOU”
by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen

Choose only human pets who train easily.
Walk casually, but authoritatively, as befits your status.
Exercise moderately, but never let it interfere with your catnaps.
Make absolutely clear that every soft, warm place,
especially human laps, is yours upon demand.
Occasionally allow select humans to touch your person,
but have fang and claw ready should reverent touches cross into familiarity.
Groom fastidiously; after all it’s the exterior that reflects the interior.
Clean and sharpen claws regularly, prepared for instant deployment.
Form habits that suit your comfort, but capriciously change them to avoid predictability.
Stretch fully several times each day, always with liquid but languid motions.
Never allow your server to think the food couldn’t be a little bit better.
Never! Never! Never! allow yourself to be trained to do anything.

—Claudette V and Lory O, November 2013