do.â She pointed at two high columns of stacked plastic laundry baskets.
And work we did. We spent over an hour filling thirty baskets with all sorts of goodies for the poor and elderly families at the pueblo. Crocheted hot pads, hand-thrown pottery Christmas ornaments, packets of elk and buffalo jerky, strings of dried chiles and garlic, sacks of candies, jars of homemade chokecherry jam, cans of peaches, and the small bags of piÃ±on coffee Iâd brought were sorted into the humble containers. When we had filled each of them more than halfway, a colorful piece of cut cloth was draped over the top, and then tied under the basketâs rim with a long piece of twine.
While we worked, the aunties chattered, mostly in Tiwa.
Yohe, one of my favorites, suddenly broke into English. âMy son see on TV over at casino. He came fast my house, tell me good news.â
âWhat good news?â I asked.
âTst-tst!â Momma Anna warned, wagging a finger at meâperhaps because I had just asked a question, which was considered rude among the Tanoah.
Yohe answered me, in spite of this. âMean old teacher leave this world.â
There was a chorus of grunts from the women gathered, a ritual I had witnessed before when the women were releasing something unwanted, cleansing their spirits by breathing out repeatedly with a low, percussive unh!
Yohe went on after this: âLot of us have many bad time, that one.â
âYou mean the woman who was matron at the Indian boarding school,â I said, careful not to say the name of the deceased.
No one answered, but many of the women were nodding their heads in agreement.
Suddenly, one of the aunties answered Yohe as if I had not even spoken: âYou were not there that long, Yohe. They took me there when I was five, away from my family. I had to give up my name. They called me Rebecca. They cut my hair, and if I spoke Tiwa, they washed my mouth out with chlorine and lye and it burned for days. I was there so long, I forgot what my mother and father looked like. The headmaster wouldnât let the young ones go home for holidays because he was afraid we wouldnât want to come back. I remember crying because I was so lonely for my family, and that mean old matron made me stand in the hallway all night. She tied my hands and feet together so if I fell asleep I would fall and hurt myself. When they finally let me come back home, I had forgotten who I was, and I didnât even want to be at Tanoah Pueblo anymore. I didnât want to be an Indian! I had to work hard to learn my own language again, to get to know my family. I almost left here and tried to be white because they made me hate who I was, what I am!â She began to cry, and several of the other women went to her and comforted her.
Another auntie spoke. âThey never have enough food, too many mouths to feed. I hate that soupy thing they make us eat, taste like dirt water. I am hungry all time, even now, I am still hungry from that.â
One woman laughed. âOh, at least you donât have to sleep in same bed with stink girl.â
Yohe said, âI not sleep nobody. I wet bed. I am so lonely, afraid, I make water at night, not even know.â
The women all shook their heads and made little commiserating noises.
Yohe turned to me. âI get sick eye, they send me home. Almost go blind. They want me out so they will not get it and go blind, too.â
Momma Anna spoke. âYou home this time, Yohe. That next other time gone. We all home today.â
âNot all,â Yohe muttered under her breath. âUnh.â
All the aunties helped carry the baskets from Momma Annaâs main room into a cold mudroom along the side of her kitchen. The women made approving comments about how attractive the baskets looked, and how happy they would make the recipients. Then, one by one, the ladies wrapped themselves in their blankets and went out the door, bidding one