Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
During the intervals between my trips with the Twins'-Mother, Marie visits me frequently. She seems to want someone to whom she can talk about her mother. Atlnaba, who looks thin, drawn, and old, often joins us. Marie goes over all the circumstances of the illness to reason out the ultimate cause of the fatality. "The doctor said my mother had tuberculosis, but she didn't die of that. She wouldn't have died if she hadn't got pneumonia. About two years ago when she was lifting a heavy load of wood, she broke a rib. It punched into her like a knife, and she was sick after that. But that Knife Chanter cured her. I don't think, though, that her rib ever healed right, because she often complained of pain in that side. Then she broke it again before you came. It got better, but she said when the singer pressed her at that War Dance, that is when she felt it punch her lung again."
"That is probably what caused it," I agree.
"But then she was well again after that man sang. She could walk around, and it didn't hurt her. Then she had that sing. I think she would still be living if she hadn't got wet. Then she gave up too; she had no more hope."
"She always worked too hard. You know she always wanted to do more than she should or could do. Atlnaba is like that, and so is your father—most worth-while people are. Then
they overdo, and they die young. But I am sure your mother was happier doing what she wanted to do."
"That old woman who is here, she was just coming to see my mother at the hospital. She did not get there in time, so she has been staying with us since then. Everybody came to see my mother. The night before she died, Tom, his brother, and Ben Wilson all dressed up in their best clothes and went in to see her," she states with the greatest pride, as though greater honor was never accorded any woman.
"Did she like that?" I ask.
"Oh, yes! When she opened her eyes and saw them she smiled. She couldn't talk much, but she said, "My sons."
"What did she call them usually?"
"She always said "my son," and they said "my mother." Of course she should have said "my son-in-law," and they, "the one whom I do not see"; but she thought too much of them for that."
Tom comes up. It is Friday night and he is tired from a week's work. As he smokes, I get out my photos. One of Yikadezba is especially good, and I think of suppressing it. But they see it and scrutinize it eagerly. Finally Tom says: "It just seems to me she is still running around and I might see her any time. I can't believe she is gone."
I return about six-thirty one evening, tired, hot, hungry. I can hardly tell whether it is hunger or fatigue which makes me so exhausted. A fierce, hot, sandy wind has been blowing all day. I go to Red-Point's shade to take a letter to Marie, and she asks with her customary persuasiveness: "This old woman wants to go home tonight. Won't you take her?"
It has become almost as difficult for me as for a Navajo to
say "No." This time, however, I do not yield. "Oh, Marie! I am just dead. Tell her I'll take her tomorrow morning."
I have recovered after "a little coffee"; my ailment was hunger. As I lie on my stomach on my nice woolly sheepskin I hear footsteps and the soft murmur of voices. It is too dark for my reading. Marie and the old woman sit near me as the darkness falls. It is too warm for a fire. The wind has quieted after a day's fury. The stars are far away. We know one another's whereabouts only by sounds and the flash of a cigarette.
The old woman took a fancy to me at the War Dance, and I thought she was sweet. But she does not know me, or why I am here. "She says she thinks it is nice you are here and one of our family. She is glad you learned to weave, but she can't understand why you thought of coming here to live."
I explain that white people have notions about Indians derived from seeing them at trading-posts or in the towns, that their notions are not particularly flattering. I was interested in learning all about their clans, their kinship, and many other things. But I wanted most to see what they were like at home. People say they are lazy. I did not think that was true, because if they were they could not get so much done. They say also that Indians are unfriendly. Well, I knew that was not true, but I wanted to see. And besides I wanted to weave.
"You have relatives," she says. "Grandfather, sisters, and children. But you have no father. It is good to have a father, you know." She refers not to the fact of illegitimacy—that does not matter so much—but rather to the Navajo custom whereby a father's clanfolk owe a particular debt of hospitality and good will to "son's children."
"I know. I have often thought of it and thought I ought
to have one. But how can I do that? Have you any suggestion?"
Quick as a flash she answers: "Take your grandfather's clan for your father's. His clan is Place-of-Walking-About, my clan is Place-of-Walking-About; he is my brother, therefore you are my brother's child. You call me father's-sister, I call you the same and you call my children "cousin."
So saying, she rises and shakes hands with me, thus formally making me a relative of hers and her children. I rise and gladly accept the neat, spontaneous recommendation. The darkness covers my surprise.
One Friday about two weeks after Maria Antonia's death Tom announces: "We are going to move Sunday while we have the wagons. We will start early, and you can come later when we are settled. I have chosen a place for you."
"Where are you moving to?" I ask.
"Not far, just down near the garden."
Now I know it is not the fear of death which makes them move. If it were, they would not have stayed a minute, nor would they come back. They have shown that inconveniences are nothing in the conflict with custom and belief. If Maria Antonia's spirit were haunting this place, it would not begin now; it would have been here for the last two weeks. It is simply that "it seems as if she were walking around." Out of hopeful and loving expectation comes ghastly silence; instead of natural bustling activity there is only baffling stillness. They do not, like us, try to "stick it"; they simply move away, leaving the disconcerting hush to consort with the abominable quiet.