Saidi lights a candle in honor of her relatives

She goes to blind school sometimes. Otherwise, she lives in an attic. It is there she develops ceremonies  She then offers to the spirits in the hopes her deepest nature reflects her heartfelt affection for all of her departed relatives. The composition of these ceremonies causes her to dig deeper and deeper into her spiritual core for what she recalls as central to her leaning towards her indigenous roots. When Mom was a girl, it was not cool to be Indian. That was the problem. So, everybody in the family had to be someone else or come from somewhere to keep the lie alive. Better to be Italian! Saidi heard her mother telling her sister-in- law one day. Although Grandfather often wore his Eskimo costume to birthday parties, weddings, and wakes; it was only part of his hidden Indian regalia that revealed his well-developed sense of Indian humor as well as his private penchant and his deliberate habit of play-acting. At least, that’s what Saidi’s mother often told her.

At this point, Saidi cries out: But that’s not what my grandfather told me. He told he was a full-blood Indian. No, you’re totally mistaken. Shut up! He was from Azerbaijan and that’s how things will stand up in the history books from this day forward and beyond. Because she was Irish, maybe she had a real good sense of Irish humor but certainly an Irish imagination.

But, Mom, I want to know for sure which town he came from. Don’t you have any pictures left showing how beautifully crafted and constructed his tipi was? Mom would not give in. She had married a white man. With that marriage was translated in her literature that, in fact, and, to her way of thinking, relatives from both sides of the family came to America only by way of Armenia. The two countries sounded similar. By Thursday, though, things might have changed or become more detailed and focused. By Thursday, perhaps, according to Mom, all the relatives may have all seemed to have successfully emigrated and they failed to come from Kazakhstan. Now they came from upstate New York. The problem was that was where a lot of Mohawks lived. Not only that, New York was near Canada and a whole lot of Indians hung out over there as well as mestizos. Mom made sure her attempts at postcolonial deconstruction would begin a process of disowning and severing whatever spiritual roots had ever been ever honored or claimed. Clearly honoring ambiguous roots of dead relatives were not part of her social repertoire. Not even within the Celtic leanings of Irish culture which my mother claimed through her mother’s stranglehold on her was finally never clarified. Not in Indian culture, either, which she so firmly disavowed as ever stemming from her father’s side.  After all, weren’t most of his ancestors Scottish lairds on Sunday? 

In trying to put together a suitable grace for a family event, my mother would include a little maxim that might have originated from Seneca, Mother Theresa, Catullus, or even Marcus Aurelius. The problem was, as such, she failed to attribute the little maxims in an authentic way as to appear to be honoring the elders. In fact, such quaint maxims were never properly attributed. Proper luminaries and august historical sources were forgotten. Instead, to cover up her shame of barely having graduated from high school and to cleverly obfuscate her fear of being found out she was a half-blood Tlingit from Alaska, Mom always insisted: let me tell you about Aunt Malvinia, now there was an extraordinary woman! The God’s truth, she was the one who penned some of the most remarkable words ever known to womankind.  I have her words on this table napkin I have saved for the past three or four generations. Three or four generations didn’t make any difference. She’d then proclaim words to the effect: I still have those words inked in by the ghost of her own hand intact taken from my hope chest alongside with that collection of china soup tureens and Irish linens. What of the proverbs and prayers that existed to advance the cause of honoring the elders? As children, should have known all these by heart from the beginning and have penned them in our little home-schooled journals, but we never did.  Had we ever dared commit these sayings to memory out leaping the recurrent and somewhat obvious power outages of senior moments, we experience now, there could have been still another way of honoring the elders. However, as children, we weren’t quite tactless enough to challenge the art of a rather scurrilous or scandalous maternally inspired sense of an unflinching truth, this truth seen as a wayward source for ethnic diplomacy. In fact, it was not unusual for Mom to come forward with one of these honoring remarks and makeovers at the beginning of a thanksgiving meal.

Your Aunt Malvinia used to say: Love is just a four letter word offered before the vanity table of the Lord. At another time during the meal, she might be heard to exclaim: your uncle Dana, such a great artist, now he used to say: When you enter the temple of art, you must forget the real artist is god. And yet again after the turkey was consumed, we used to hear:  Your Aunt May, she used to stare at the moon until it turned blood red. That’s why she needs to wear Great big spectacles that hug her pug nose. Later, Mom would spoil the power of the maxim by saying: well, you know what exactly, really I think of her, or don’t you? The latter statement would unpin the probable sanctity and sanity of the proverb and make the complaint stick like a compliment to the bottom of a wine glass that was never quaffed fully or fully quenched in a gulp that would quench your thirst for—what? Was it learning? Was it for expanding and encompassing the far reaches of an unwavering sense of the visionary, the imaginary, the untrue as true?

Presented here for the first time is a poem that was penned during one of the private ceremonies honoring the elders that Saidi wrote in braille before she died last year on her sixtieth birthday. It Aunt Edith who knew braille and was able to decode this poem for the benefit of the relatives and anyone else who cares to listen.

NOTE:  This piece is a work of fiction and as a fictitious memoir bears no resemblance to persons living or dead.