The Old Weaver Woman
by Grandmother Waynonaha
Author of Voices: A Collection of Native American Stories
Each day as the sun sends it rays across the hills stretching out into the prairie lands, Old Weaver Woman starts her day. I have no idea of her other names only that we have called her Grandmother Weaver for so long as I remember.
In the early morning when the sky is only a gray light, she carries her water in an old metal bucket from the near by river. Filling her water pot on the stand in the corner she fans the coals of the fire to boil her coffee. From the cracked and faded jar on the shelf she measures out just enough to make her one pot of coffee.
In another small kettle she starts her morning corn pudding. Each day the same, never changing she greets the day with prayer “for those less fortunate”, she says.
“Each day is only a dream,” she told me, “some day we will all awake from this and find the vision that we have woven”.
Once I had asked her how she came to find the patterns that she put into the weaving. She said, “From all nature there is wisdom. They too hold the visions so we can find them when we need them. It is from these keepers of wisdom that I ask for the patterns too weave.”
I sit by her on a low round kitchen stool looking around the small room lined with drying bunches of herbs we have gathered. Old jars and cans hold the treasures of her healing medicine and knowledge. A worn ragged tapestry bag that she carries her healing tools in, hangs on a hook in the corner by the doorway.
Behind the blanketed door is the bulk of the dried herbs and roots stored for the winter. During the winter months she is called on for healing by the people in the small town at the base of the mountain. They barter food, supplies, or work for the healing herbs and delivering of babies that she offers.
I once saw her sew up a prize coon hound that had been ripped up very bad by a badger. The man was so pleased at this that he forever delivered her fresh meat during the winter from his traps and hunting.
Each morning we send a prayer to the Father Sky world, and the Mother Earth we live on, for peace and healing.
Life here on this mountain side, floats day by day, peaceful and unchanged. Every minute accounted for and each day marked and used in a good way.
To keep track of time there is a brown grocery bag tacked to the kitchen door. Drawn on it is a moon chart to keep track of each full moon they are marked with a symbol to identify them. “After all, she said, “what do we need to know the exact day for? It is only important to know when to plant and when to gather.”
Old Weaver Woman measures out the hot corn pudding into two enamel bowls and pours the hot strong coffee into chipped enamel cups. I carry a smaller plate of food to the garden so that the spirits may share our morning meal. Coming back from the garden I pick up a Blue Jay feather dropped as a gift, for which I leave one strand of hair.
After adding fresh blue berries and brown sugar to our pudding, with bent and twisted spoons we eat in silence. My cup is so hot I have to use the edge of my skirt just to hold it. The heat takes away the cold in my hands as I sit here smelling the steam that rises from the cup. I add a lump of brown maple sugar to the coffee stirring it with a small stick and sit as the sun creeps into the dark room. My mind races up the mountain and down again as I recall the many times I have come to sit here and listen to my elder.
The small cabin holds three rooms each closed off with a blanket door way. One is for eating sitting and cooking. This room has a small table and two chairs that are wired and nailed together. Along the wall there are shelves and a long bench for chopping and making bread. The sink also serves a wash tub that drains out into the yard.
The other is a sleeping room with a small lean too that holds herbs and other medicinal things we have stored away on shelves. There is no bathroom or running water, no electricity or other modern facilities. To bathe you go to the river in warm weather or, in the winter, heat water and stand in an old wash tub sponging water on you like a shower. Two small windows open to the morning sun each day and the large porch serves in most good weather as a place to work. A large loom stretches from floor to ceiling on the porch for weaving blankets. This loom comes in during the winter, along with the other tools and items that collect along the back wall. It is this back wall of the porch that will be used to stack winter wood for cooking and heating.
The old soot darkened stone fire place smolders with the small fire that we use for cooking each day. Gently banked between uses to hold the live coals, it waits. The smoky smell from the fire seeps into the layers of cloths that I have on, and will stay with me for days after I leave here.
I have come to help my elder for a few days and do the heavy work she cannot manage now.
Yesterday I climbed up the steep hill to her cabin carrying on my back a heavy basket of food. Mostly I had store bought supplies for baking, and on top I had added some warm socks, a pair of winter boots, and a heavy jacket for her to wear. She has so little and asks for nothing, even my visit must be under the disguise of a casual call. She would not want it said that she needed help with her work. There is no family to come and chop or stack the wood for the winter time. Most of her family and children have gone away and she does not speak of them now. I have only heard her speak of a husband that as she says she once knew.
One time she said, the ones of today do not want to learn the old ways of healing.” “In time.” she said, “they will come back and someone must keep that dream alive so they can learn them again”. “For now they have other dreams to make, but they cannot forget the original one that they were given to keep.” With this said she looks out into the morning sky and motions me to get ready.
I understand her words more now than ever, as I hold the old jacket filled with the smell of many smoky fires and remember the dream.
We put on our old woolen jackets and with baskets in hand set out on the narrow path to gather the wool.
When the sheep are being herded through the lower valley they leave large amounts of wool snagged on the brush. It is from this gathered wool we will weave the blankets that are used on long winter’s nights.
For days we card and die the wool with berries and flowers that are steeped to create beautiful natural colors. This same dye is also used to color the reeds which later will form the woven baskets to sell on the road side in the spring.
It is from these meager things that she lives and waits for the people to return, as she holds the dreams for the future.
We spend most of the days gathering the wool with little or no speaking. Sometimes she sings a song to the plants, or we explore the possibilities of some wild game for dinner.
Mostly we catch rabbit and small game such as grouse or ducks. We sit fish lines in the river and check each day to see if fish are on them.
One day we were gifted with a fresh leg of deer by one of the hunters, we carefully dried the meat for winter use. The scraps of meat that were left over made us a tasty stew with herbs and vegetables from the garden.
Out side along the upper slope is a fairly flat area where she grows a small kitchen garden. “In the winter months the dried produce will help to fill in the pot”, she says.
After a long day of chores and work we have a hot cup of herb tea and some berry scones she has made. I fill mine with blue berries crushed with honey; there is nothing better than this.
The Nubian goat Hector who is actually a female, sticks her head in the door way letting me know she needs to be milked. She was accidentally lost during one of the sheep herders passing through. Very often there are goats in the herds as they ward off insects that attack the sheep. The scent of the goats repels many parasites and insects that would other wise attack the sheep herd. Also these goats are a hardy breed and give a larger quantity of milk. We enjoyed the cheese and milk that Hector has produced over the years.
During the later hours before the sun finally goes to rest we sit on the porch and card the wool we gathered. After we get enough we will fill the old kettles and make the dye. That will not happen until far into the colder months and will take days to dry and spin into yarn.
The geese from the lake near by are starting to teach the young ones to fly. They fly in formation over and over until they are ready to leave for the winter. I listen to them calling and feel the change of seasons as summer departs.
The nights are cooler and soon the geese and other birds will all fly away to warmer lands.
Full of the rich and wonderful soup that we put together from the daily catch, I understand the beauty of this simplicity.
My body is tired in a good way, with back against the porch rail I sit and listen to Old Weaver Woman. I love to hear her sing or tell stories of the old days when she was a young woman. As I listen with my eyes closed, I can see her as a young girl running bare foot with long hair flying out behind in the wind.
I can see her getting into mischief and hear her laugh as she is being chased by her mother. Her favorite uncle she speaks of often, grabbing her up and running with her on his shoulders, to save her.
I hear her laugh and it floats into this old room now seeping into the corners like the smoke that has long been gone.
I hold her blanket to my face, the one that she had woven on the loom that now stands unused. I can still smell the smoky fires and hear her speaking in that low soft voice. The dark room echoes her laughter and once again I am with her here in the dream.
Copyright © 2006 by Waynonaha Two Worlds
All publication rights reserved.