49 Writers World Tour of Southeast Alaska with Sherry Simpson
September 21, 2014
To Childhood Eyes
August 1, 2014
My grandmother was always a tough old woman ready for any challenge. Even after my mother and I left Alaska, even after we heard news of her death, even after I sat for hours with her memory, recreating the years she fed me soup and told me stories and washed my clothes, she was only the imposing, grey-haired woman who taught me I was Eagle, told me bears were my cousins, reminded me that the wind was my grandfather. She often declared that our family carried powerful names, but I never saw in her the youthful bearing that comes with the noble birth she claimed.
Recently, a Raven relative gave me a photograph I’d never seen. My grandmother poses with confidence, dressed in the latest white-man ruffles, shoes, hair, and jewelry slick, modern, rich. Behind her, an embroidered cloth brushes against the polished arm of the leather chair upon which she rests her hand. Behind her could have been a flowered dish awaiting her dignified touch. She always favored decorated platters.
Before her was a path lined with years of tumult and sorrow. But in that moment, she must have thought that her station in the world she was entering would be equal to the one she was leaving. She must have thought she could meet every new challenge. She must have thought she was entering a world where highborn Tlingit women were respected, where white-man ruffles danced like Chilkat fringe, where sunflowers could bloom in dark rainforest gardens. (Ordinary Things, Extraordinary Tales Exhibit, Juneau-Douglas City Museum, January 2014)