Autumn of Life is for the
Old Ways - Velma’s retirement from O.I.O.
The classic Marland Mansion
building was the only logical location in which Velma’s friends and staff
gave her a retirement party. There was a festive feeling about that night.
She was dressed in a long black dress with sleeves of a sheer fabric. Her
black, shining hair she usually worn in a bun at the back of her neck but
tonight she had her hair pulled onto the top of her head in cluster curls.
Pictures were taken of her standing in front of one of the massive pieces
of furniture and the pleasant elegance of the photograph was a compliment
to her beauty.
The woman spoke briefly to
the group and told them she was retiring because of her husbands age, and
her wishes to spend time with him. She must have known or had a
premonition about how difficult his last days would be.
“You need to come to town
right away,” Velma called her daughter in the middle of the night. “Your
Dad is hemorrhaging severely. We must get him to the hospital.”
This happened over and over
for a number of years without fail. In fact, had happened while she was
away for a conference on her job. The blood all about the house and on the
telephone where he had to call one of his children was a frightening thing
for her to see. She had to come home because of his being in the hospital
and that was, probably, when she made the decision to retire.
Velma simply changed her
work. She now became totally involved in her sewing of shawls, men’s
shirts, children’s Ponca regalia, men’s and little boy’s leggins. Her
ribbon work was coveted. It was a Ponca style but everyone seemed to want
to own something with the showy designs. She was always true to the
dictates of her tribal patterns which were outstanding. Once someone made
the comment, “The Ponca’s regalia is showy!” Velma, always loyal to her
tribe, turned the statement around to joke, “Yep! We show ‘em up.”
Lee seemed to understand
her mission and he helped her. There was always a shawl in place to be
readily available for his attention and, actually, he became quite skilled
in putting fringes on the edges of it. He measured the spacing of the
fringes and marked each one with chalk so there were no gaps in the
strands of fringes. With an awl the holes would be punched through the
heavy, hemmed, gaberdine fabric, edge. This made it easy to pull the silk
like fringes through the edge with a crochet hook and made for a speedier
finishing of the shawl. Velma sold her work to the Indians and this is how
Lee must have balanced out his Christian ethics, even though it was
sometimes a question of whether she actually made a profit. Considering
the fact that many were given away. Eighteen dollars for fringes, 20
dollars for fabric, and the ribbon work fabric brought the cost of making
a shawl to around 50 dollars.
This didn’t include the
actual time required to do the intricate ribbon work designs which take
thought as well as manual hand work and dexterity. If it was given away,
then what? Or Velma in her tenderness for someone who needed a shawl might
sell it for to them for 30.00. She would excuse this with the explanation,
“Oh well, that fabric was given to me, anyway.”
“We are just on the
fringes,” Lee would smile, and his children understood his feeling about
being so involved with the ancient celebration of life these traditions
really symbolized. When she carried a shawl for a give-away, Lee might be
heard to casually comment and smile, “well, we can make some money if
there aren’t too many more occasions for a give-away.” Who can understand
the way of a man and a woman? Lee loved everything about Velma and she
could do no wrong in his eyes.
Velma always laughed and
said she and Lee had an assembly line. In fact the assembly line was made
up of only those two. Other tribes paid her to come teach their youth to
make shawls and she, often traveled a distance to do that. Uncle Parrish,
her old friend, went with her one time all the way to Tahlequah where she
taught the Cherokee women shawl making. He had a daughter living there and
he was glad to get to visit her. His other daughters laughed about the two
old people in the autumn of their life, who were relatives, off on a trip
together. They were the two oldest people in the tribe only months apart
and both around 90 years old.
From habit many Ponca folk
came to her for one problem or another and she always dropped what she was
doing to go to their aid. Velma and Parrish Williams were those who were
of the old ways when tribe was a great and important part of their lives.