My memories of this house run as deep as my roots because they are one in the same. I walk through museums, “vintage” art galleries, antique shops and southwestern curios. I like to hear the conversations of people as they stare at the depictions of Walpi. The most famous picture of Walpi is the one of the village facing West, with the sun shining on the little houses at the entrance. They say that it goes back to 900 C.E.
I listen to the comments, “That’s amazing!”, “I wonder if people still live there, is it a ruin now or park?”. The one that stands out the most and floods my mind is, “I can’t imagine growing up there, look at that little house!” I smile, standing next to them. One day I heard a french guy tell his friend matter of fact like, “I have visited there. It is beautiful and the villagers sell their crafts. Pottery and kachina dolls, even the kids sell their crafts.” I smile and look at him. I wonder.
I remember waking before dawn, wrapping up in a blanket trudging through the falling snow. It was the morning of my newborn clan niece’s baby naming, 21 days after her birth, she was ready to greet the Sun and life as a Hopi. Everything was quiet as we walked to Sichomovi, I was holding on to my grandmothers hand. One day, that little newborn would be doing the same as I, with her hand in her grandmothers. From birth, we learned the cycles of life and already had a duty spanning centuries back. Beautiful.
I remember walking that road from Walpi to Sichomovi, to get water before having breakfast and stopping by, as instructed by my grandma Vera, to check in on her boarding school day chum, Olive. I would end up pushing a wheel barrow full of empty plastic milk jugs to the water tank. When I was small, I sat in that little house at the beginning of Walpi, drinking a sweet coffee with my maternal grandmother, Charlotte. It was always so quiet and she would sit with me. She gave me the world – frosted flakes, sweet coffee, and marshmallows. One day she taught me how to tie my shoes.
As I got older and developed a love for cheeseburgers, my aunt Joyce taught me to make “cheese burger money”. I made little pottery. She said my little fingers made good shapes. She painted and fired them. In the summer, I would sit on those steps and sell to the tourists. I met French people, Germans, English and Texans. That’s how I learned what a large world we lived in. I also realized that I needed to learn a language to sell better and be more impressive to the tourists. I still laugh, remembering their faces as I shouted out, “Bonjour! Would you like to see some pottery?” and “Merci, beaucoup, mon ami!” It worked 100% of the time.
In my memories, that little house was filled with special moments with the influential women in my life. My grandmothers and my aunts. It wasn’t until I was older that I begin to experience new memories that included my mother and my sisters, when my mother became a grandmother and my sister became a mother. Then our little family grew.
A few years ago, something very special happened.
At Christmas, a small tree went up. My mom, my sisters and I sat up late – quietly whispering and wrapping presents. We all looked down at the long line of kids sleeping on the makeshift bed on the floor. We all remembered all at once, our childhood sleeping on the floor in this little house. It was amazing.
Early in the morning, the sky just turning pink, we woke our children up. Wrapped them up in blankets. There was snow on the ground. We grabbed our cornmeal and walked to the shrine to great Tawa, Father Sun. To give thanks and pray for this life, for our lives. The kids, their little sleepy heads were stepping into our steps that reached back beyond 900 C.E. They were sleepy and cold – I smiled. I remembered standing there, not understanding prayer or this time of season – burying my face in my grandma’s shawl which always seemed the warmest place.
As we made our way down the steps and on that road, I told the kids to run back to the house. I ran with them and when I reached the house, I turned around from that spot where I sold pottery and kachina dolls. I smiled as I watched my niece crying and running with her mom. And all the young boys running to pray or returning. I watched my little cousin, Chris, running back from the bottom of the village. He heard that was the best way and he wanted to do it.
The ladies yelling, “Asquali!” to all the little ones as they ran. My niece and nephews who were still crying and running, heard that and the tears stopped. They puffed a little and ran with purpose on their face. When they reached the house, they came proudly to announce they ran all the way back. They were so caught in purpose, that we had to point out the small tree full of gifts from Santa’s visit.
This past summer, I was in a mood and set on sitting in that little house during our Home Dance, moping and eating stew. I sat still. Little girls ran in and out, screaming with laughter and the boys chased each other around with bows and arrows they received form the kachinas.
As the day passed, the kids got dirtier and dirtier from playing freely. I held my little 3-month old niece and talked to her. “You see this craziness?” She smiled. All the girls were dressed in traditional dresses. Even in my grumpiness, as I held my baby niece and had random one-sided conversations with her, my breath was taken away. The memories multiplied to the present. I looked at all my sisters, my nieces and aunts, in the same traditional clothes as 1000 years ago. The corn stalks and kachina dolls. The random small toy carved arrow that would come flying through the door. How beautiful.
I smile because when I hear somebody in an L.A. gallery wonder, “I can’t imagine growing up there, I wonder if people still live there or did they leave because it’s hard living.” I muse. Yes, we do still live there. No matter where or how far. Technology and all. It’s home. I smile as I stand next to them pondering over my house, this little house on Walpi.