In Hoopa we say that when you die you go "across the river (the ocean/ the sea)." It takes you 10 days to get there. During this time we do a ceremony for you, to help you on your journey. Also during that time you get to visit the places and people from your life, your home, your family, your friends... My grandfather passed away today (1/13/13) after living what I can only describe as a long, active, full life. He lived in a house he built at the top of a hill overlooking the Hoopa Valley.
I loved telling people about my Grandfather because to me he was almost like the greatest Indian grandfather character from the greatest Indian story ever told. He was small and athletic. He wore shirts unbuttoned at the top, jeans, and boots. He did calisthenics every morning and built the "eighth wonder of the world" (his wood shed) with his own two hands. He could chop wood, clean a salmon, hunt a deer, and hike an old trail, all before I figured out how to get out of the water bed in the spare bedroom of my Grandparent's house. One summer I lived with him and my Grandma and he taught me some words in Hupa. He told me some of what he remembered about his Grandmother, his Grandfather, World War II and the valley that was his only home.
One time (probably more than once) he went running outside in his underwear yelling at a big black bear "you get out of here!" Growling at him to stay away from his fish. The bear growled back (probably) and then left. Grandpa went back to bed.
One time he was at the top of a tree (he said). And somebody forgot he was up there before they cut clean through it and yelled "TIMBER." He had to run down the side of the trunk as it was falling. He made it, landed safely, but broke most of the bones in his hand. After that they started calling him "Superman." (Faster then a speeding bullet)...
One time he made me BBQ salmon. Actually that was more than one time, but there was this one time, I asked him how he made salmon that was so good and he said "practice - and happy salmon."
He loved hunting and fishing and sports. He also loved roses. Once I got the bright idea to make a "princess flower bed" of rose petals. Me and some of my cousins picked every single petal off his roses and spread them on the ground. He came outside yelling at us and chased us around the house. We ran. We ran and ran. Only two of us got away. We thought we were safe on the side of the house when he came out the backdoor. We took off again but he just called us over and gave us a sliced up green apple. He said we earned it.
Once I asked him who he thought the best President we ever had in his lifetime was. He said Bill Clinton.
Once he told me that I had to decide between being a good tennis player and having a boyfriend. Every good tennis player who ever got a man became a bad tennis player. He felt bad for little Martina Hingis and even worse for that Lindsay Davenport. He hoped I would choose tennis over boyfriends. "You can always get a boyfriend, you only got so long to be good at tennis."
Once he asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said "a writer." He said "what do you want to write?" I said "stories." He said "what kind of stories would you tell?" I said "probably stories about you." He laughed and said "those would be some good stories. Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Big Foot?"
Once he saw Big Foot... true story.
1/14/2013 12:05:51 am
Cutcha, your grandfather sounds like a remarkable man with a wonderful sense of humor. I am sorry for your loss. He was right; your stories about him are some good stories!
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Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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