Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
Two days later as I thump one thread upon another, Red-Point comes in. This is a day devoted to much needed rest for all the family. They had to stay at the sheep dip longer than two days. They returned the afternoon of the third day, and the ranch came to life again. Red-Point sinks on the floor with the trunk a prop for his back. I know from his posture that he is going to stay for a visit. He is usually in a hurry, has to catch a horse, go to Ganado, or start off in another direction for a sing. But the day after a long strain like the dipping is a day of light activity, and the men at least will sleep part of it away.
"The sheep are dipped at last," begins Red-Point as he lights the inevitable cigarette. "It was lots of work. We have all our own. Ben Wilson brought those he has on the mountain, and I have to take care of Marie's, Tom's, and Ben's. There are lots."
"How many do you have?" I ask.
He tells me a large number which I figure out to be 1,063. Red-Point is the best of my Navajo teachers. I understand him better than anyone else. His gestures are more than vivid, his speech is distinct and classical. He does not use, as do many of the young people who speak English, a syllable or two instead of a whole word. From learning chant lore, from singing it,
and from teaching he has developed the habit of clear enunciation.
He tells me I must write a letter to Marie telling her about the dipping. I promise to do so. I ask if he lost any of the sheep, and with satisfaction he answers: "No. It is difficult to do the dipping properly, but here at Ganado we know how now. Not many were lost, none of ours. They don't use that tobacco any more, it was no good. This yellow stuff is better, but we have to be careful." He refers to the sulphur solution they are trying this year instead of the nicotine previously used.
Usually when Red-Point visits me I stop weaving, because I have to concentrate on listening and I cannot see his helpful gestures with my back toward him as it must be when I am weaving. But today I weave as he talks, stopping only occasionally to look around for a cue. Atlnaba and Maria Antonia come in with the little children, Yikadezba's two little sisters. They no more than get nicely settled each with a child on her lap, than the answer to a question of Red-Point elicits a general stir. They have told him Ruby is at the hogan. They call Ben, who is playing outside. He goes for Ruby. Red-Point will not be satisfied until he has reported to Marie the status of the dipping.
Soon Ruby comes in. Red-Point extracts from her a soiled, crumpled scrap of paper which he hands to me. It is the receipt, $10.63 paid in sheep, one cent apiece for the dipping. It states also what part was the portion of Marie and Tom. He wants me to write about this. He gives a long sentence to Ruby in Navajo, I translate it mentally and wait. After a long time Ruby says a few words. I then say, "And he said
so-and-so also, did he not?" "Iss," answers Ruby as though the word was torn from her very being.
In this efficient fashion the entire letter is constructed. It is easier, I vow, to learn Navajo than to depend on English with Ruby as interpreter. I feel like shaking her, unjustly of course because she almost certainly does not understand me. She should because she has been in school for many years. But she does not understand really, and her defense is dumb stolidity or worse yet, upon occasion, silly giggling. On this occasion I have no difficulty in following Red-Point, for I know the details of the situation. But in an emergency, or when we are in a hurry, Ruby exasperates me even more than she does Red-Point, who mutters to her, "You have no sense."
Besides the main topic of the day he wants me to tell Marie that he has made arrangements to improve his flock by having the ewes served by some pedigreed rams the Government secured for the purpose. He says too: "Tell her we have hired the young man, as she told us, to herd the sheep. We are doing just as she said. So far everything is all right. The sheep are all right, the cattle are all right, the children are all right, we are all all right. The corn is high. We'll have lots this year. Tomorrow I will go and dig it out again. Three times it has been buried with sand because of the rains. It was lots of work to dig it out, but it is good.
"Tell her we need her and Tom here because we have lots of work. It costs lots, too, to pay the herdboy. But we are paying him as she told us. We are getting along all right. Tell her to make Tom save his money. Don't let him drink, but save up the money so they can help us all out. Tell her we are sending the wool she asked for and a big ball of warp. And tell her to write to us."
All these things I write as faithfully as I can. Then I add a little note of my own explaining to Marie that the translation of her father's sentiments is to be charged to Ruby and me, and if there is that which she cannot understand to fill in between the lines herself or ask me. I continue, adding my version of life at White-Sands. Marie will be glad to get our letter, and she will reply promptly but, like many white people I know, will ignore the questions we especially want answered.
As soon as he is through with this effort Red-Point gradually slips down along his spine until he is resting against the trunk with the edge of his shoulders. He props one foot on the opposite knee, his accustomed position for relaxation. During his dictation the children have clambered over him. He has quieted them if they started to talk, but now he babbles pettingly at them and occasionally breaks out singing a lullaby he composed for Yikadezba. A child nestles in the crook of each of his arms. Ben is sitting for a moment quietly beside his grandmother, playing with his puppy, Spot. Ninaba has come in during our writing, and she sits near her grandfather. Red-Point looks about with a happy contented expression on his face. Sweeping the circle of children with his hand he remarks, "My daughters have been very good to me—to give me these grandchildren."
My blankets no longer have "news value." I am working on another now. The last one is a success. There were no disagreeable surprises when we took it down and we carefully fixed the corner tassels. Atlnaba wove quite a lot of it; but I have a feeling of confidence now, and I am not conscience-stricken about her share. I had hoped to be able to make my next blanket of wool dyed with vegetal dye. But that is impracticable,
so we are introducing a small amount of red instead of rose or yellow as I had wished to do.
The pattern is an adaptation from a simple old-fashioned rug. The weaving seems easy. Above all it proceeds in a matter-of-fact way. One of my principal ideals is to attain the nonchalance of the Navajo about weaving. The goal means the acme of skill. I have not set my teeth over a vow or anything of the sort. I have said to Atlnaba: "I am going to put up another blanket. But if I do not get it finished I will take it home rolled up on the sticks and finish it there." So I need not hurry. If we are interrupted by visitors or a sing or a celebration it will make no difference.
I have nevertheless resolved to do as much of the weaving as possible and have told Atlnaba to allow me to make mistakes. She has smilingly acquiesced. I have her lay out the design when we come to it because I have no experience, hence no judgment about the space. Atlnaba weaves in about an inch, laying out the center, but that short space suffices for the trail blazing which I need. I advance the diamond pattern by using small rectangles. When watching up the terraced rectangles I am likely to forget my stripes. I have no trouble with coördinating materials and implements and muscles now, but I realize the need for coördinating vision, the vision of the complete design and its individual stripe components.
The blanket nears completion as my stay nears its end. I have only plain white space to do. Atlnaba thinks it too near to leave unfinished. I am not particularly interested in finishing off and I allow her to weave the last, most tedious two inches.
We need have no doubts about this one. It is a beautiful conception (not my own), the idea is carried out, not perfectly
but reasonably well. When the rug is thrown on the floor it stays there. It is worth its corner tassels.
One day when he is about five months old, as I innocently make eyes and faces at the latest baby of Yikadezba's-Mother, he suddenly laughs aloud. He had smiled before, often, but this was a real laugh, "out loud," his doting aunt says. Then I am told that he who makes a baby laugh aloud the first time is supposed to give him a present. "Anything" will do. During the swift-flying days of my stay with them I have eaten with Red-Point's family occasionally, particularly when a sheep has just been killed. This time I will give a feast, have a mutton killed in the baby's honor, and I will invite my white friends, the traders, too. The meal is of Navajo simplicity, mutton, bread, coffee, and by way of luxury jam, honey, and peaches.
The hour is sunset, the table a tarpaulin spread on the ground, the appetizers good nature, good talk, and good will. We send a plateful of food down to Maria Antonia who remains at her house because Curley's-Son is present with Atlnaba. In the course of our conversation Red-Point picks up the poker over which I have become sentimental.
"This is one of the very first things the Navajo ever had," he explains. "A poker should never be destroyed. It should always be kept with the point to the fire. If one moves away from home, he should lay it up high somewhere with its point to the fire where it will not be disturbed. There's a song about it which I know. Nobody else knows that song now. That is so the persons who live there will come back safe."
My goods are packed, the women help me load the car.
[paragraph continues] The house is empty, except for the inanimate loomframe. Maria Antonia and I look about to be sure I have forgotten nothing. Red-Point comes in. There seems to be nothing more. I go out to the fire and bring in my poker, as good as the first day I picked it up a raw unmannered stick, or even better now than on that day, for its point is hard and tempered and it has the earmarks of a beautiful old tool. I hand it to Red-Point and ceremonially he points it to the fire, then singing his song, lays it carefully at the top of the hogan, its point on the ridgepole toward the fire, its handle on the western wall of the house.