Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
In Spite of rain, changes of the earth's surface, rites of restoration, and other interruptions, the green blanket has been steadily advancing toward the top. A number of warps have torn—they are the thin ones of the old warp weaver; the heavier evenly twisted ones of Maria Antonia are sound. Marie helps me a lot with the stripe weaving. I know that now, and do not need practice. Suddenly a question of my old grandmother brings too vividly to mind a matter I have refused to dwell upon, "When are you going home?"
There are indeed few days of my stay left. Maria Antonia says she will be lonesome after I leave. She is a dear old soul. Shyly she steals up to my house for a short visit whenever I am home and the rest of the family gather together. If one of her sons-in-law is home she may be left alone. She and I make good conversation. I have taught her to teach me the three most important principal parts of the Navajo verbs. There may be ten or twelve, unpredictable and different in form, but for the present I am doing with the simplest forms. I get them by making sentences with past and future adverbs.
Maria Antonia tells me about her ailments, which are many. They are the chief reason why her large pretentious rugs remain static for days, even weeks on end. She tells me too about the sings she has had for illness, shows me the tiny
charm, a small cowry shell strung with a turquoise bead, that she wears on her hair string and another like it which she has tied to a string on her belt. Many a time has her husband sung over the members of his family. But if they need some power other than he possesses he does not hesitate to call in another singer who has that power.
I know my grandmother has had gallstones because when we were at Fort Wingate the Mission doctor, coming a day later, reported to Red-Point that Maria Antonia had been very ill. He had gone to see her and had diagnosed her disease. He would not operate, he told us, even if he thought it advisable, because Maria Antonia has a bad heart condition. There would be a reason he does not reckon on, namely, that Red-Point would not let him. "We must return at once," decided Red-Point. The need for a sing is the touchstone with which to speed up and excite a Navajo. But we persuaded him to wait until after the Council meeting, because the doctor said the immediate attack was over. We returned two days later to find Maria Antonia apparently as we had left her.
As soon as her pain passes by, she thinks she is well again, but is rarely without headache and stiffness. This is the frail old woman who swings an ax vehemently at her woodpile in the setting sun. The one who wakens me at sunrise by the snapping of a dead juniper branch she is wrenching from a stump. Lazily I watch her assemble a pile of wood and say to myself: "Poor old thing! Somebody ought to do that heavy work for her."
And then, to my shame, I find my own woodpile replenished. Maria Antonia has dropped an armful on it as she bustled by.
It doesn't seem right, and yet I believe she would be grievously hurt if she became too feeble to do the things she wants to do. The flesh may be weak, but the spirit is as vivacious as in the days long past when she was as productive as Atlnaba. She grieves not to be able to weave more steadily, but her back hurts her and she does not see as well as formerly.
Maria Antonia is the one who rose first to my defense on the day a visitor criticised her for my presence. "My mother is awfully mad," said Marie the day after.
"Why?" I must naturally ask.
"Because that man who was here yesterday said we ought not to teach you how to weave. It made her awful mad, and she said she guessed she would teach you if she wanted to."
As we sit on the side of my house like two crones at their smoking, she tells me about herself and her family. And her heart will feel sad after I am gone.
Now that my time is becoming shorter I have more visitors than usual. Maria Antonia comes oftener and stays longer. Atlnaba has strung up a small blanket half of which she finishes the first day. When Marie asks her what she is going to do with it, she answers, "I am making it for a present for a friend." But with no large rug on her own loom she has time to spend with us. As I stiffen up after a few hours of weaving, she and Marie take my place and like magic the web advances.
One day they all come and bring three visitors. They are Silversmith's two wives, who are sisters, and his grown daughter. They are dressed in their company best, and all, but especially the daughter, are weighed down with silver, bracelets, rings, necklaces, earrings. I have often noticed that Marie and Atlnaba fasten the collars of their velvet shirts with safety
pins stuck at a precise angle, but I thought it was because they had no other pins. Silversmith's daughter has the straight front piece of her shirt and the sleeves from wrist to elbow highly decorated. Altogether she has perhaps three dozen or more of the lovely ridged silver buttons the Navajo make. Between each two, placed with the greatest nicety, a medium-sized safety pin is fixed.
The number of persons in my hogan is large now, for the children have come too; Ben has brought a lamb and Yikadezba a puppy. But somehow the house does not seem full. As each new visitor comes in, she folds her numerous skirts neatly and compactly around her as with one movement she sits, lighting like a bird which has drawn in its feathers.
The visitors are of course weavers and they discuss in friendly fashion the blanket I am making. My family proudly present me as Exhibit A. They laugh, as tolerantly as the rest of my friends, at my first blanket. Somehow I am not as ashamed of it as I was, for the green one stands on the loom, even and respectable, with faults not of weaving but only of design.
There is the pleasant hubbub of conversation, often breaking into quiet jolly laughter, the thump thump of the comb on the warp, the scurrying of the children in and out, out and in the hogan. Suddenly Ben gives a cry of surprise and, as if electrified, all the women spring up and out of the house. I do not wish to lose my place and insert the batten into the shed before I go out. It is a strange hawk soaring high in the sky; we do not see that kind often here. We all come right back, and as I take up my place ready once more to weave, I
notice the batten has been pulled out of the warp and lies on the floor.
About this time in my career another marvel happens. I find myself no longer counting the rows or the warps which are or should be forward to make my triangles. Suddenly I know which ones they are. It seems so simple, the way they look, different on four rows, and the differences regularly repeated. How could I ever have been so confused as I was in those first days, after we had put in the design? It seems incredible that anyone could be so stupid.
The time has grown so short I am forced to consider it, even as does Maria Antonia; and even as she, I count the remaining days with heaviness of heart. True, when I leave here I am going to Europe; but I should love to follow the train of thought I have just begun to get and to allow unaccustomed muscles really to become hardened. I shall miss the friendliness and kindness of this White-Sands plain, a spirit which pervades it from the white light of pre-dawn even to and through the darkness.
As I ponder the shortness of my stay I get pangs of conscience. Here I came out to learn to weave. Have I learned? What an object that first blanket is! The second green one is excellent, but who wove it? Marie did more than half altogether. If I leave like this I shall not be able to say honestly of any piece, "I made this." It will take an age to finish off the green one, and I know how. It is merely a struggle with tightness, tedious but not new.
When Marie comes in on Friday I say to her: "Do you think we could get this done by tomorrow, if you help me a lot? I would then have three days left. I should like to have you string up a tiny blanket for me, just two hands long and
one wide, and I want to weave every stitch of it myself. I think if I work hard I can get it all done in the three days I have left."
Marie is more pleased than usual. She sets to work with a will, and together we push battens, reeds, and umbrella ribs, and together we pull on heald and heald rod. Saturday we take down the green rug, finished. It shows no disposition to move away from us when we put it on the floor. There are mistakes in the pattern but the web is good. Even the edges are good. Marie has seen to that. We criticise it once more as, with the sacking needle, Marie fastens in the surplus of the edge strands to form tassels at the corners. The blanket may not be as we intended, but it is good. We know it, and everybody who knows blankets agrees with us. But I cannot say it is mine.