If courage is measured
in a thimble or a five-gallon-container, Aunt Josy picked up the heaviest
one. She was a tiny, little, Native woman, whose children were all boys.
That is all but one, who was her jewel. Her daughter was petite with
features to be fine like a sculpted doll. The kindness practiced by my
aunt seemed to wrap itself all around her little family until each one of
her children lived happy in an idyllic paradise their parents created for
them. No matter the time of day, those children were always clean and
neatly dressed. It was as if, something like two or three good servants
had risen early so they could work with Aunt Jo just to get the children
all into sharp wardrobes. Of course, there were no servants. Only their
own mother was there to direct them. I can see her yet, as she called to
one or the other of them. Her countenance showed how absorbed she was in
her task. Her children didn't stand against her in any way. They always
scurried about with a focus as strong as their mother's while hurrying to
carry out her instructions. It was a bit like watching a small army. Order
prevailed and before long a task was carried out to completion. Even as a
child my heart was always capable and in unity with her force of action.
It was a good feeling for taking care of the immediate and for
“We need more water,”
she would call, and before the words were out of her mouth one of the boys
would have the water bucket in his hand while going out the door in order
to pump up a fresh bucket to put back up onto the small table where it
served the kitchen.
When Aunt Joe cooked it
seemed, she never labored. Suddenly and without any warning the children
were being lined up on the benches around her heavy old kitchen table
where stacks of food were waiting for them. “Indian way,” the food was
plain but plentiful. Only the number of children created a need for each
one to share only bites with no overeating by anyone. Even the use of salt
was measured which required a salt shaker to be on the table.
As the years lumbered through their lives,
steadily and with giant steps all the children, boys and girl, were
growing into youthful adults whose good looks and genteel personalities
had been molded through the love and hard work Aunt Joe practiced.
Without warning, tragically, the old grief
of tuberculosis walked in on my aunt. She was, without question
overworked. However, her uncomplaining ways and positive goals made her
one to never hold back. Probably, this was what brought the dreaded
disease of the Native American's upon her. That large container of
resolution was now passed to her husband, my uncle Henry. These ways,
measured with great love for his children as well as my own father's
sharing groceries for that family enabled Uncle Henry to continue on with
Aunt Joe's work at home while she, herself, was away at a tuberculosis
hospital for one year. No one knows what sacrifices were made for Aunt
Joe's children. Dad wages at the foundry were anything but spectacular.
Still, he never complained with Mother's dedication to Aunt Josephine's
family. It was years before when the mother of Aunt Josephine sent her
children daily to care for stock and chores on Mother's, Mother's place,
so the debt was repaid. Uncle Henry's decision to stay at home with his
children was years later passed down to his own son who suffered the
complete loss of his wife leaving the children, totally orphaned.
So it goes with the clans and ways of the
Native American and it all worked as gently as water flowing over the
riverbed of the Arkansas River which ran close to their homes.
“Ne! Water. Ne-skee-the, salt. Ne-Ne,
smoke !” I can still hear Aunt Joe and see her eyes bright with interest
while she taught me small words of the Ponca language. Even then there was
respect for my name, “Je-Ne,” given to me beneath the peace pipe of the
rain clan. I didn't know anything of it, but Aunt Joe knew. Those today
who ignore the power of water, smoke (prayer), and marvelous works of
creation often suffer.
I wonder how she would
feel if she were alive today? Would she look about her to the bureaucracy
of offices filled with staff, pushing papers about, while her niece, who
so diligently saw to her needs, “goes-wanting”. How her own niece worries
from month to month about food, housing, and utilities. I question, if
Aunt Jo would put up with her heirs ignoring the needs of their own. I can
see her strong attitude and dedication as she might call out. “See to
that, Sonny! Hurry up! See to it!”
Yes, today, Aunt Joe is gone, it is true.
Where can I find the tracks she left?
Will the whispering of the wind about her old
home place still tell the story? I doubt it. Only in my mind where soft
memories rise up on occasion, will the tender compassion of days gone by,