Sunday, July 10, 2011

Montana in the House

We have a full house this morning. My cousin and her family from Virginia, along with four kids from a reservation in Montana that we visited back in the summer of 2003, are in sleeping bags all over the apartment. Back in 2003, we were a group of approximately 20 travelers in a maroon colored van, most of us Jamaican or first generation Americans of Jamaican descent, visiting the Fort Peck Sioux and Assinboine reservation that my cousin's husband grew up on. Here he was, a full blooded Sioux, bringing the hoards of his Black family and a handful of close friends home to visit. We were a very conspicuous sight on that quiet rez in northern Montana. Everyone knew we were there. There were ten children among us, with my son the oldest at age 11, and my daughter one of only two girls holding their own among the boys.

Our kids bonded with the Indian kids at once. That week, seventeen of them were all over the rez, playing soccer, climbing hills, jumping on neighbor trampolines, fishing down by the river (someone called us in for that, as only members of the tribe are allowed to fish in that river, but the ranger who came merely chatted with us and let us stay). My daughter was the queen of the fishers, the one who caught the most and the largest fish.

My husband, the ichthyologist, whipped out his trusty Freshwater Fishes and did everyone the favor of definitively identifying the fish they had caught, which meant we knew exactly what we were eating at dinner that night.

The kids rode everywhere in the back of an old pick up, bumping along without restraints, and no one worried particularly about safety, not even me.

And at the end of the week, we attended the reservation's annual Pow Wow, and my cousin's husband made sure he got an authentic teepee for us to sleep in during the days and nights of dancing and drumming and swirling costumes and lights and vendors selling all manner of trinkets, every one of which was a fascination to our children.

I remember one of our number said, "What is wrong with this picture? The Jamaicans are sleeping in a teepee and the Indians are sleeping in tents from China." It was funny at the time. We were so visually different from everyone else and yet we felt so comfortable.

And now the kids who made our children feel at home, all of them now young men, are here with us. My cousin, a government lawyer and former teacher with an education masters from Harvard (can you tell she impresses me?), and her husband, a social worker with an addiction treatment inpatient facility (he impresses me, too), run a college readiness program in the summer for kids from the rez. The kids spend two weeks with them in Virginia, and they take them to visit colleges, arrange interviews with folks in different careers to expose them to the options, organize test prep classes for them, and they also pray with them each morning, because my cousin, who is really my sister, and her husband are born again. But my cousin doesn't proselytize. She just leads by example and if everyone who was born again did it the way she does, we would surely all be born again. She is a force of love and her boys are growing into the sweetest of men.

My husband put out breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausages and fruit and bagels and cream cheese and juice for everyone. After we ate, I went with my cousin and Aunt Winnie's grandson (who lives with my cousin and family in Virginia), across the courtyard to visit with Aunt Winnie. She was thrilled to see her grandbaby, and he was very sweet to her, although he couldn't understand anything she said. I could see his brain ticking away as she spoke, and I wondered what he was thinking, feeling. This was the woman who raised him till he was seven, because his own mother wasn't able to. He loves her so much, and I could feel his sense of being adrift, because she, his first center of security, was adrift in her memories, unable to communicate them.

When we came back, my husband had found the pictures we took that summer of 2003, and everyone was crowded around the computer being amazed at how young all the kids looked, and we laughed and pointed and remembered. And my cousin said, "You know, we did that trip at the exact right time. The kids were still young enough to fully embrace and appreciate every part of the experience."

That's one of my nephews below, half Jamaican, half Sioux, all American grown boy. He recently got himself a mohawk, which really suits him, I think. He is such a sweetheart, this boy, and I love him dearly. He's a monster on his school's varsity crew team, don't be surprised if you hear his name. But off the water, he's a gentle guitar-playing Bob Marley-loving seventies-inspired soul. 

And this is the same kid back in 2003, taken that same day when we went fishing in the river on the rez. How they grow.

As long as we're doing comparisons, below is my son and his best friend since before they could say each other's names. He came with us to Montana and South Dakota that year. He was 10 and my son was 11 and they were climbing near our campground in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Here are those same boys earlier this month. Still outdoors. A lot taller. Still brothers.

Well, that wraps up the broadcast from our house this Sunday. The Virginia-Montana crew is back on the road in their big white van, headed back to the D.C. area after exploring New York in sunglasses, pretending to be celebs, and interviewing my husband and me about careers in Icythology (my husband) and journalism (me). A wonderful time was had by all, certainly by me. So here's one more then-and-now pairing—there my girl, who's 9 years old here and 17 now, but you know what she looks like.

She's with another one of my beloved nephews, who made sure he turned his cap to just the right angle before I snapped this picture. Peace out, y'all.


  1. Again, such richness bursting with deep, kind vitality...

  2. You have no idea how this posts tugs my heart into an elastic thing, so much love pouring in. So many reasons.
    Ah lah, love. Ah-lah.
    Thank-you for being on this planet.

  3. Love the husband with the fish and the book. Priceless.

  4. Oh my God Angella, how can anyone not love you and your family. Each and everytime I read you I'm amazed, the joy, tolerance and culture your family has been exposed to!
    And I'm truly envious of your cousin, my little girl dream was to be married to either a native american or a japanese man, and I don't know why but it was that way!
    Those kids are all so beautiful, beware girls!

  5. It is wonderful to take the time to look back and reflect while cherishing what was and was is. You can get lost in this. At least I can. You know, now I want to sleep in a teepee.

  6. They'll never forget that trip to Montana.



  7. You've given your beautiful children such rich experiences. The photos just glow--

  8. Such great memories, Angella. This post is the reason that I take so many photos. "Photographs and Memories"!
    Your Friend, m.
    p.s. Has your son always been so serious?

  9. Memories to keep your heart, chaos and fun in all its splendid colors!

  10. I'm soaking this up like a deep bath, there's a treasure here, and thank you for posting it. I understand totally about deleting the posts that caused the shock waves in your family, and maybe it was ok too to write it down in the first place.

    What a wondrous life you lead.

    xo dd

  11. And that picture of your husband with the fish and the book is hilarious and wonderful.
    Was it a yellow-bellied squaw fish?

  12. i've gone back to this a few times today, angella. what a rich, complex family life you have. it's really stunning, in so many ways. the energy, the love, the geographical diaspora....a deep and nurturing current that flows to and from and all around you.

  13. Your family memories make my heart swell with an even deeper affection for you.

    Aunt Winnie and that precious boy...I must admit to the tears streaming down my cheeks right now. It is so hard and even harder for a young person to assimilate into their realm of how the world works. I am glad that he felt the love. That is something that never goes away. Never.

    Big hugs, sweet, sweet Angella.

    PS-Do people tell you that you and your cousin could pass for sisters? Such loving and beautiful faces.

  14. Dear Angella, You DO realize, I hope, that you are as much a force of love as your sister/cousin. The matter-of-fact way you have of telling us the most remarkable stories, as though these examples of cross-culture miracle are ordinary events...the beauty that shines from every face. xo

  15. A, I am glad you visit here. Thank you.

    Ms. Moon, i am glad I know you and thank you for that.

    Tess, it's a true thing, that man and his fish.

    Miss A, it sounds as if you should visit Japan or apply for a job at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I'm only half kidding!

    Gary, i get lost in the memory of this myself. it is a trip that can never be duplicated. The children have grown beyond it, into their own lives. But we did have it. So there is that.

    Michelle, great to see you! you're right. none of us will forget.

    Elizabeth, i think the experience was a rich because it was shared with our children. They connected with the kids on the rez and allowed us all to plug right in. They were the magic, not us.

    Mark, my son isn't always so serious. in fact he can be a world class goofball. but he is "concentrated." he is absorbing and analyzing the minutest details of what is going on around him at all times, so maybe that's why he looks so intent. (Sports saved him from an ADHD diagnosis, we're convinced.)

    Kathleen, sweet memories indeed, reprised this weekend.

    Deirdre, you clearly know your fish! I will ask him and report back. Welcome home, friend.

    Susan, thank you for tuning in to a current of love. you multiply it by doing so.

    Debra, his face in that picture, the questioning, the concern, the love. breaks my heart, too.

    Marylinn, it was a cross cultural miracle, indeed it was, and all the more so because when it was happening, then and again this weekend, it just felt like human souls connecting, and the external was a mere detail, not significant at all. It is a gift. Thank you.

  16. I am speechless.

    Sacred stuff this.