My mirror has often lied to me through the years before all the family stories sifted into my head. My fake gold blonde wispy hair and sun burnt fair skin, German, Irish, English, all safe races to be. Often, though, strangers’ voices echoed , “You have such interesting classic features and bone structure.” Often repeated. Then there is my obsession with genuine Southwestern pottery and artifacts lining my China cabinet.
When I lived in Hawaii, I learned all about prejudice as water balloons were pelted down on me from dark haired occupants of school balconies. Now in a world of rapid immigration to the United States it has been easy to disregard the faces in my family photo albums as Really Tanned People.
The messages filtered in slowly, as very elderly grandparents began to relate real history and native tongues.
It could have been clear as we gazed at Grandpa and Grandma White’s 50th Wedding Anniversary photos. Grandma fair and skin as pure as a child’s. Grandpa, her antithesis, rounded features, dark skin, decades after giving up his cattle brand Inspector days, his eyes piercing and black singing in his silence. Slowly a tiny vortex assembles itself as decades of denial find their way into a common ground.
Grandpa rarely spoke, when he did, the words were soft, barely comprehensible. He said nothing when our family ponies, ill tempered, ill mannered and lazy refused to be saddled, bucked us off, bit us, and crushed us into trees and fences. He never spoke of his heritage, already full of recriminations from Grandma’s British family.
Finally in the years called the Roaring zeros, we come clean. Cecil’s Grandaughters stored the family legends until a time when Native American Heritage is honored and is safe.
They remember his stories of an Indian Father, wearing his hair in braids, raising great grandfather Louis White in Kansas speaking to them in his native tsa la gi, Cherokee language. Only in his later years would he tell the unusual circumstances of his mother, Katherine White herding horses in Oklahoma as a young girl. In that time, to marry an Indian in Kansas was considered a criminal offense. Perhaps the very reason Louis and Katherine settled in remote southern Colorado. Great Grandpa Louis who could not read or write used his lasso as a tool to record the number of cattle.
We all return from whence we came so all the finer Believers feel. So we have.
Aunt Faye strolled the North Park Hills and Valleys, discerning arrowheads from scrabble and the calls of eagles from hawks. I tremble in terror in my pickup at 70 miles per hour as I missile toward the Mountains of concrete in Denver, constantly wishing I was outside walking along the river bottom with my dog. Ginny studying Spanish on crowded city buses while she dreams of upcoming vacations to Mexico. Andrea and Ben rafting down Central American white water rivers in tiny canoes, sleeping on pristine beaches, eating seeds and nuts. Elizabeth gently lying bareback across her new Pinto Pony. Greg, secluded high in the mountains, protecting the waters that travel from the mountains. The red hills near Grand Junction call sweetly to Rob the Bicycle Bandito. Each of us packing just what we can carry in our gypsy wagons to unknowingly follow the trails of our ancestors.
All of us, folding a few feathers, dark and white, into our pockets, freeing them into the freezing Colorado runoff in honor of The Ancients. While the wild geese nesting on the sandbars and the white hawk in flight give their silent nod. They have seen it all before.