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the designer


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Personal Testimonies by Yagniza:

Introduction   Career_Day   Contemporary_Native_American_Issues    Cultural_Racism   My_Journey    The_Amphitheater   The_Designer   The_Sacred_Trust   Notes_on_Navajo History   Racism_Institute    Spanish_Poetry   El_Cuartocentenario   El_Inca_ Garcilaso_de_la_Vega    The_Best_Is_Yet_To_Come


Page Contents:

My Sister, Jackie | The Guardian | The Weaver | The Storyteller | The Traveler | Apache Canyon | The Seer | The Designer | California Virus | The Wedding | Hokam | The Pristine Rivers | The Quest | Post-script


The Designer is part of “Grounded in Faith” published in White Shell Water Place, Native American Reflections on the 400th Anniversary of the Founding of Santa Fe, by F. Richard Sanchez (Author, Editor)

White Shell Water Place is an anthology, a companion to the Santa Fe 400th Anniversary Commemoration publication, All Trails Lead to Santa Fe, which affords Native American authors the opportunity to unreservedly express their ideas, opinions and perspectives on the historical and cultural aspects of Santa Fe using their own voice and preferred writing styles that are not necessarily in accord with western academic and writing conventions. One cannot truly contemplate the history and culture of Santa Fe without the voices of the Native Americans--the original inhabitants of Po'oge, ''White Shell Water Place.'' Indeed, much of Santa Fe's story is conveyed from a western colonial perspective, which, until fairly recently, has predominantly relegated Native Americans to the fringes. However, over the last thirty years colonial narratives regarding Native American history and culture have been, and continue to be, disputed and amended as the pursuit of academic, intellectual and cultural self determination gains momentum in respective Native American tribal and academic communities. The Santa Fe 400th Anniversary Commemoration has created an opportunity for the Native American voice to be heard. This anthology is a ceremony of Native voices, a gathering of Native people offering scholarly dialogue, personal points of view, opinions, and stories regarding the pre and post historical and cultural foundations of Santa Fe.

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Her real name wasn't even 'Jackie.' When she was three, my sister assumed her turquoise, papoose doll's name. Her doll was the size of an adult's hand, made from soft fleece, with a sienna face, brown squares for eyes, a single, red stitch for her mouth, small balls of fleece for fists, buttonhole stitching around her face, and a simple, straight stitch and French knot design in fuchsia and gold on her hooded blanket. Jackie carried her against the back of her neck, tucked inside her dress. She made her dance, singing "la-la-la-la-la-la-la."

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Jackie was full of ideas - making paper dolls out of cardboard, and designing elegant formals for them. We colored these strapless, ruffled dresses, and carefully cut them out, storing them away. A brown paper bag as her backing on which she drew her design, she embroidered Alencon lace from linen thread using buttonhole stitches, the paper bag tacked to a mesh netting. At the end of a day a minute fraction of a thumbnail, our measure for an inch, was completed.

In sixth grade, I wrote the history of the world, and she illustrated it. Marie Antoinette, in a plum caroco over a Rose Bergin court dress, with gathered ruffle sleeves, fluting, and Watteau pleats, lay on a slab, decapitated, her hair swept back under fanned, mauve tulle.

When I needed a frog for $2.50 to dissect, we didn't have the money, and I was afraid to tell my teacher. So Jackie and I checked a biology book out of the high school library, and, as if I had held forceps and scalpel in hand, and cut into its outer skin, and through its muscular body wall and bones, removing its membranes, she documented its anatomy, dorsally and ventrally, diagramming its circulatory, digestive, urogenital, and central nervous systems, and its brain and spinal column, freezing its evolutionary legacy, as the precursor of the primitive Reptiles, on poster board. I got an A.

After school, we danced to American Bandstand, pretending we were 'regulars.' Linda was Paula, Jackie was Vicki, and I was Denise. I led because I was the tallest, ensnaring them in the 'brushy brush.' Linda would jump up with her legs around my waist, I'd spin her around, and, then, she'd fall back, with her head close to the floor. Jackie was a good twister. She liked the Supremes.

We played movie stars, each having a room to clean that was our apartment, writing letters to each other, and delivering them in our mail slots. Jackie was Rita Hayworth, Linda was Doris Day, and I was Audrey Hepburn. I wore my favorite white, sequined formal, with dark cat eye glasses, my hair wrapped in a silk scarf; Linda wore her black, strapless formal, long gloves, and carried her short, satin cape; and Jackie wore an aquamarine, spaghetti strap, tight, tight, short sheath.

She knew card tricks ("pick a card, any card out of this flower, now put it back, is this your card"), and string games. She came up with Chinese hopscotch, and the pinwheel game. Standing in the middle of concentric circles she drew in the dirt, she played a different being each time we ventured into her home, starting at the outermost circle by banging on the gate, and working our way inward, to knock timidly or boldly, if we were feeling daring, on her front door. Then we were either caught in dreaded terror, or free if we could run back out through the maze fast enough. We played build the castle, crack the whip with me or Linda on the end, Mother May I, red light, green light, jump rope, chase, and hide and seek.

While Moma and Daddy were at work, we snuck in their closet to read the dusty World Book encyclopedias, and travel books with slides of Europe and Asia, Moma bought, and never unpacked. We fingered her hidden violin, and adjusted the lens on her camera, until we were in focus. If we locked ourselves out of the house, or bathroom, Jackie picked the lock.

Watching Frankenstein and The Mummy, we screamed as loud as we could. The TV distracted Moma's sewing, and she'd yell at us, and jerk out the wires on the back, but Jackie knew how to splice them with a razor, and rehook them with a table knife. Moma chased her with a broom, wanting to beat her, threatening to get that stubborn streak out of her yet, and never could catch her.

For jiu-jitsu, we piled our lumpy, wool mattresses in the kitchen and went at it, pretending we were engaged in an ancient, sacred, ritual dance, as we "hachaed" each other. Playing Tarzan, we swung from the trees, and yelled "aaahhh." Jackie got her leg caught in the barb wire fence doing this, and snagged it. She jumped up and down screaming, pointing to a little cut on her upper leg. We didn't say anything, and only looked in horror, because there was a huge, bleeding gash down the back of her leg. The scar ended up 8 inches long, and an inch wide.

When I hid in the dining room cabinet from the bogeyman, she sat outside the door.

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We stalked flowers, leaves, bark, berries, and wild grasses picking them at mid-day so the sun would have dried up the dew. We hung them to dry from their stems on the clothesline or put them on a piece of mesh window screen set on bricks. Then we stored them in brown paper bags until we were ready to make dye for embroidery thread. Yellow sweet clover made a pale yellow color; snakeweed, medium yellow; globemallows and golden rod, brilliant yellow; Indian paintbrush, dull orange; brown onions, rust; violet penstemens, khaki; scarlet buglers, bluebonnets, and wild onions, varying shades of tan; sage brush, light brown; red onions, light medium brown; juniper mistletoe, medium brown; chamiso, dark brown; and pinon, sumac and ocher, black.

We shredded the leaves and blossoms, cut any twigs or bark into small pieces, then wrapped the material in cheesecloth. In a big, enamel pot, we cooked the dye material for an hour until the water became the color we wanted. Then we strained the liquid dye through a sieve. Adding cold water, we simmered the thread for two hours, stirring with a wooden spoon so the dye would penetrate evenly. After the thread cooled, we rinsed it and hung it to dry, turning the skeins regularly so they would dry evenly. Then to set the dye, we boiled the thread for an hour in a mixture of alum and water.

Each dyed skein was wrapped in homemade, wax paper envelopes, then organized by shade, like a color wheel. From this thread, Jackie embroidered globemallows, larkspur ('espuela de cabellero,' the horseman's spur), penstemen, and scarlet buglers in their natural, muted tones, and daffodils, roses, and tulips, using many different, ingenious stitches - the chain, feather, single feather, long feather, long armed feather, parallel feather, fly, star, spider web, herringbone, lazy daisy, chain scroll, chain ring, picot, straight, satin and, my favorite, the French knot, her textile strands of color overlain and interwoven.

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She told us scary stories about skull worshippers that crushed in the skulls of their victims, then scooped out their brains and ate them, while their blood was still warm, and their bodies twitched. They searched for their prey at night. The only safe place to hide from them was in a cave or tree, since they were bound to the ground.

She made up languages, indecipherable to us. Hypnotized by the tapping of a stick against a rock, we listened, in a trance, as she conversed in an unknown tongue with a sharp-clawed, black panther and a small, quiet, saronged man, in a jungle, under a cloud-obscured moon. The panther, with a long, looped tail, was five times larger than the man, yet we sensed no fear, rancor, or pleading, amongst them. Just before dawn, the panther ripped into the man's flesh, devouring his blood drenched heart; the man's dagger unsheathed in its scabbard. The panther left Jackie untouched.

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She ordered a telescope, off the back of a Milk Nickel, a five cent ice cream bar, to see Cassiopeia, the Queen of Ethiopia, and Orion the Hunter, Poseidon's son, his lover Dianna, the Goddess of the Hunt and the Moon, tricked by her brother, Apollo, into slaying her Beloved. While Zeus couldn't restore Orion's life without offending Hades and Apollo, he cast Orion into the sky, midway between the horizon and zenith. In the 'armpit of this giant,' the star Betelgeuse is primed to supernova, its releasing energy enough to burn through Earth's atmosphere, destroying life as we know it.

She keyed off the Big Dipper, to Navajos, a family around a hogan fire.

Peering at the wintry Milky Way, and galaxies far removed, we were pulled by gravity's force, thrust out into the universe's cold, vast, outer space, weightless, drifting, floating, tumbling, turning, endlessly orbiting the Earth.

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We rode our bikes on the Santa Fe Trail to Apache Canyon, fifteen miles north of Santa Fe, past pinons, junipers - that a witch couldn't pass unless she knew the exact number of needles on its branches, sagebrush, and yellow chamisa.

Traversing the rutted, scarred route, the cordillera into Santa Fe, we entered our private, secret retreat, the steep walled Canyon trod through over time by the Llano, Folsom and Plano ancestral Indians, the Anasazi and Mogollon ancient Indians, and Pueblo and nomadic plains Indians; helmeted Spanish conquistadores on horseback - Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Gaspar Castano de Sosa, Juan de Onate, Don Diego de Vargas, along with robed Franciscan padres intent on converting the heathen, to bring to them El Sangre de Cristo y Su Santisimo Sacramento; French traders and trappers; Anglo merchants - William Becknell, James Magoffin, Henry Connelly, Charles Bent, Samuel Owens; Forty-Niner prospectors en route to California or bust; stagecoaches from Quivira (Missouri and Kansas); Mexican soldados; Kearny's unassailed cavalry that raised the United States flag over Santa Fe; and 'the fighting parson's' Union forces and Sibley's Confederate Brigade that skirmished in the Canyon, leaving thirty seven men slain.

Tired, we ate cold red chile sandwiches and drank bottled watermelon juice, breathing in the Canyon's pinon scented air, dreaming away the day.

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Once, Jackie saw our Lady of Guadalupe in a blue, cloudless sky and Moma believed her.



In high school, she studied design at an Indian art boarding school, drawing left-handed in charcoal, pen and ink. She blended the charcoal as she chose, tracing over it at will, with fine lines of black ink undulating across the page; the black dust and ink smudging and staining her face, her hands, her nails, and her clothes. Silhouettes were captured fleetingly, the curve of a face, a breast, a hip, a thigh. Then came page after page of elegant, lavish models, attired in the strict discipline of the day, fashion etiquette meticulously observed. Out of the chaos of evening wear made from silk, satin, moire, lame, taffeta, shantung, chiffon, crepe, or organza, beaded, sequined, frilled, piped, tucked, boned, padded, poufed, seamed, unseamed, bias-seamed, cut- away, straight and narrow, or flared and full, her style emerged and evolved.

Her sinuous, sumptuous, sultry models gazed to the right, to the left, in three-quarters pose, or straight ahead, all predicated on sharp, crisp angles, accentuated curves, elongated torsos, their faces shrouded in shadow. They sauntered out of their parched sanctuary, alert, dominant, proud, displaying their form, sashaying down the modeling runway, stalking the crowd, devouring the paparazzi, feeding on the frenzied excitement, then satiated, retreated to their portfolio preserve.

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After graduation she came home, and could only find work at a laundry on Cerrillos Road. She schemed with her friend, Janet, how she would meet her in Arizona on the Hopi Reservation, how they could go to California together. Jackie would carry a hat pin for safety. She started running away, hitchhiking to Albuquerque, calling me from the bus station. I wasn't supposed to say anything, but as soon as Moma got home, she smelled the fever luring Jackie away.

Slamming the door on her Red Dodge, Moma took off to Albuquerque to find her, and bring her back home, not even the devil-killer hill, La Bajada, deterring her. Once Moma's tire blew-out on the way, another time she drove through a blizzard, but she went each time, anyway. The last time though I don't know if Jackie tried to call or not. She got away.

Moma prayed that she would come home; after that failed, she hired a fortune teller, then a tarot card reader, (even though she knew it was so wrong for a Catholic), to tell her where Jackie was, why she had left, and if she was okay. Seeking Jackie's return, Moma hiked from Santa Fe to Chimayo, leaving early in the morning, taking only a canteen of water, her Requiem marathon. None of it worked.

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After being gone for five years or so without any contact, Jackie came home. She was going to get married and wanted a Catholic church wedding.

She designed her gown and she worked with Moma on the pattern, basting a muslin mock-up. Then Jackie begin the careful cutting, piecing, and sewing. With a Sabrina neckline, a fitted bodice, dropped waist, flared skirt, back zipper, poufed elbow length sleeves and a big bow in the back, her capacity for wonder took over. She used the Alencon lace she made as a child to decorate the bodice. A myriad of small pearls were patterned on the skirt, waltzing across the lush, thick undulating satin. Her elbow length bridal veil, attached to a satin bow on a comb, was diaphanous Illusion. Her husband-to-be would wear his Navy sailor suit.

The wedding and reception were fun. I drank champagne. After the wedding, she had to leave with Michael, her husband. He was stationed in San Diego.

Much later, I got a letter from her. She sent me a picture of her and her baby, Lisa, sitting on a bed. Jackie had taken up macramé. I never got around to writing back.

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From the whispered information I overheard at the hospital, it turned out she had been living and working in the garment district in Los Angeles. Her daughter, Lisa, was nine. A hospital there had tracked down Moma, and said, "We think we may have your daughter."

As I sat near her, a tangle of tubes sustaining her, I said, "Jackie, wake up. Come on, let's go to Apache Canyon. We'll climb the long hills without walking our bikes; we'll beat the wind this time. Come on. Let's go. We'll spend the day." I heard no answer.

A nurse came in, and said, "The only voice she probably recognizes is your Moma's."

She was worn out, 'hokam,' the Pima singular word for 'all used up,' the plural, 'hohokam,' that described to them why the ancient Indians left an area. The ancient Indians for us, the Anasazi, had made tools and weapons, decorating their pottery with geometrical shapes, weaving willow baskets for which they were renowned, building villages of tiered masonry, carving mysterious, haunting petroglyphs, leaving behind their handprints emblazoned on their cave walls - then they had vanished, disappeared, 'hohokam.'

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The Anasazi ranged from Colorado to New Mexico to Arizona, nurtured by the Rio Grande (the "Blue Mountain") and Pecos Rivers. The Rivers flowed southward, commingling at Amistad, then coursing onward to the Gulf of Mexico. Over time the Rivers that fed the families and crops of the Anasazi, that they drank from when thirsty, were transfigured.

Hot dog wrappers, potato chip bags, candy wrappers, styrofoam cups, soft drink and beer cans, tangled fishing line, dirty diapers, animal carcasses, rusting cars and trucks, toxic pesticides, metallic waste, industrial chemicals discharged from factories and plants, raw sewage, and human and animal fecal contamination converged in their attack on the Rivers before they ended their journey, comatose, at the Gulf. Hohokam.

Jackie had been caught up in this onslaught. Her blood, the same blood in the veins of our Rivers, poisoned, the pollution and stench unabated, her arteries choked. As she lay in front of me, her moaning echoed to me from the cesspool she had fallen into, alone.

She lived like this for eight years. She lost weight, her body curled up into a fetal position, and she never regained consciousness.

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The day of the funeral it snowed - dry, blowing, hissing snow, the snowflakes like sharp discs. Moma was running around at the last minute, as usual, fifteen minutes before Mass, taking a bath in a thimbleful of water, trying to find her clothes, getting dressed, and I thought, "We're going to be late, and I'm the driver. Great."

The church was dark and cold, and so empty it echoed. No sunlight reflected through the stained glass, the only light coming from candles, flickering in front of handcarved bultos, bleeding, weeping, Mary grieving as she held her Son, St. Michael trampling on Satan, Jesus clasping the Orb, rising into Heaven. Particles of dust encircled the brocade-stoled priest as he prayed, and lifted his goldplated Chalice high, singing the Gloria. He blessed us with Holy Water. Moma continued to cry. From Daddy, we had learned that it wasn't dignified to cry over death, "When I die, I don't want you to cry or carry on. I will have lived my life." We stood still and silent, composed.

We drove to the cemetery in even heavier, blinding, piercing snow. We moved as fast as the plates of rock ground against each other, deep beneath us. Still, Moma gripped the back of my seat, and cried, and begged me, repeatedly, "Please, Holly, please, slow down, please, slow down, for the love of God and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Dios mio." If I had been hopping on one foot, in the snow, racing the car, I would have won handily. I told her again, though, "Moma, I'll try." I drove even slower.

When we got to the cemetery, we gathered under a solitary, tarp shelter. Around us, pinon and juniper trees, laden with snow, stood out against the still and silent landscape. As my younger brother read a prayer, Daddy stood next to him, smaller now, his brown, creased face, placid. Moma was still crying. I wished she would just stop. It seemed so inappropriate. I couldn't look at her, afraid to see the cracked, convulsed Earth in her face.

I wanted to run away, and take Jackie with me, to Apache Canyon, to trudge through the deep snow with her, making angels, in the fresh, fallen, feathery down, dancing like blue, Spring butterflies, laughing as pine cones from the forest canopy twirled around us, spiraling downward, destined to feed the microbes buried deep below us. Instead, her coffin, with a single bouquet of white lilies, was lowered into her grave.

The Blue Mother River carved its crescent meandering scrolls in the alluvial plain in front of us, etching its course in the Earth's skin. Gleaming snowflakes covered Moma's black mantilla. Each intricate, delicate, hexagonal, frozen crystal, burst forth from its nucleus, repeating its symmetrical harmony, trying with all of its might to transcend its structure, to explode, hurling its dust particles back into space. Instead, they finished their journey, gently melting on Moma's grey hair.

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My sister's only child died living on the streets of Albuquerque. Her body was cremated; her ashes unclaimed. No official death certificate exists for my niece, an act performed by a mortuary. She left three daughters behind.

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