This is a cautionary tale — trust few — and a plea to the community: I’d be ever grateful for the return of anything mentioned in this letter. The list of individual items is too extensive to list here in its entirety, but if you bought something that seemed out of place at a church rummage sale in Santa Fe a few years back, chances are it was one of these stolen items. Here’s my story.
A number of years ago, I was between apartments for a short time, during which I accepted an offer to store some of my belongings at the home of someone I had long considered a friend. To my horror, when I was ready to retrieve them, I was told everything had been given away to a local church for the annual rummage sale. That was one of the most upsetting moments of my (at the time) four decades on the planet.
They’re only material things, you might be thinking. Let it go. And while I agree with the whole “let it go” thing as a fundamental principle for attaining enlightenment, I evidently have not yet reached such a state of higher consciousness: I miss my stuff! An assemblage of colors and textures, it was — of things symbolic of my memories and dreams, my successes and still-to-be-achieved goals, collected and curated over many years.
I believe that within some material things there resides a story, and they can become markers of our lives: vessels of memory, carriers of identity, sources of inspiration. For instance, among the items so carelessly discarded were metal butterfly chair frames (not the flimsy fold-up ones of today, but the real McCoy, right out of the ‘70s) that had been with me since I was reading A.A. Milne’s Now We Are Six as a kid in L.A., then at Santa Clara Pueblo. When my mother and I moved there after the sudden death of my father to leukemia a couple of years earlier, they came with us. There was a porcelain doll dressed in a white tutu and white ballet shoes, and miniature purple and orange sofas that traveled with my daughter and me to the Czech Republic and back; Pendleton blankets that I received from my mother and grandmother when I graduated from university and baby versions that were given to me at my baby shower 26 years ago; a rather unusual “jacket” of transparent gray-green-lavender organza decorated with raised, thread-filled poufs, made by a celebrated artist from Dixon and given to me on one of my teenage birthdays; Persian rugs and pillows; boxes of watercolor pencils, glass beads and jewelry; an extensive (more than 100) keychain collection representative of pretty much every place my daughter and I had ever visited; and an antique Eeyore doll, still looking for his tail.
Bigger losses were contained in a silver, cube-shaped trunk filled with heirlooms for my daughter: a child’s red wool broadcloth (or tradecloth, as it is sometimes called) skirt and its taffeta blouse, hand-woven sashes, silver brooches and buckskin moccasins. Together they comprise the traditional regalia worn by the Osage during their traditional dances. Perhaps most devastating of all was the loss of a traditional wearing blanket given to my daughter by her aunt in Osage County, Okla.
It’s made from navy-blue wool broadcloth — the end of the bolt, to be specific, which always holds two intersecting bands or cross patterns that don’t appear anywhere else on the bolt — and beaded with tulip designs. (The Osage are considered both Plains and Woodlands.) When the blanket was last in my possession, a tulip stems was missing two (greasy) lime-green beads.
Every now and then, the memory of these losses will surface, wreak a little havoc on my letting-go skill set, then settle back into dormancy. This year the sting of recollection became more painful. As my daughter prepared to travel to Grayhorse, her family’s ancestral stronghold in Oklahoma where some of the traditional Osage dances are held each June, my angst over “losing” the blanket resurfaced and grew into something I can’t quite name — a combination of anger and sadness resting at the threshold of regret comes close.
Thinking about the blanket resting among someone else’s possessions or hanging on someone’s wall rather than being worn by its rightful owner for its intended purpose brings a great sense of melancholy to my spirit — it was made to be worn, to be danced in, to be loved. Imagining it as part of some dusty, rarely seen museum collection is equally unnourishing.
To see the blanket is to know that it holds significance far beyond generating the superficial and momentary elation experienced by the purchaser upon getting a such a “great deal” at a church rummage sale. (I was told my belongings were donated to a local church and sold to raise money for disaster relief in foreign countries.) It should have been evident to anyone sighted and still breathing that the blanket was out of place at such an event. That part, the part where the sale-goer who purchased it (and the church staff who accepted it as a donation in the first place) ignored all the clues that screamed, “Something is amiss here — this blanket is really out of place at a church rummage sale” — is unsettling. Have we gotten that far away from instinct, that removed from what it once meant, and required, to be human?
Native American tribal heirlooms carry value independent of monetary measure, and their exaltation is not based solely on their survival through linear time. Each person who has worn or used the object through many generations has imbued it with some of their own spirit and their own life experiences. Therefore, it would follow that when the object has been removed from the generational cultural wheel and the person who holds title to it has been robbed of its possession, its absence will omit some of the narrative of that person’s life. In turn, since the object is no longer part of the cycle of inheritance, entire chapters of the tribal story will never meet the ear.
In this case, my daughter’s narrative has been interrupted: so much of her cultural story is woven into the warp and weft of the blanket. When we blessed her journey to Grayhorse, she was wrapped in all the promise of the future — if not in the splendor of the blanket that I still pray will someday, somehow, make its way back to her. I have two green beads ready and waiting for that day.