Monday, May 6, 2013

Lessons from my Hu'uli

(Day Five)

My hu'uli-bat, my mother's late mother, lived right next door to us when I was a little girl. 

I grew up calling her "hu'uli" instead of just "hu'ul," which is the baby-way of saying "mother's mother" and never grew out of the habit.  The "-bat" that now adorns her title indicates that this beloved person has made her journey to the spirit world.     

I spent a lot of time with my hu'uli-bat when I was a child.  Every day after school I would run home just long enough to dump off my school things before running the 12 or so steps it took to get to her front door. 

Hu'uli-bat didn't speak English, so when you were in her home, neither did you. Though I've never been fully confident about my ability to speak O'odham, I never had to worry about it with hu'uli-bat. 

Everyday I would walk/run/burst into her house, shouting for her, "Huuuuu'uuuuuuuullllliii! Huuuuuu'uuuuuliiiiii! " and would undoubtedly find her in the middle of some project.  She would have been waiting for me to get home to show me how to do something.  I was always eager and excited to help.

I was my hu'uli's shadow, her fetcher-of-things, her messenger, and her pupil.

Hu'uli took the time to patiently show me everything.  She was very particular about how she wanted things done, so she was always detailed in her instructions and explanations. 

I remember her showing me how to grind wheat, clean beans, pound dried meat, make a fire, wipe a table, chop wood, pick bahidag and i'ipai, flip cecemait on a hot komal, things all good, industrious O'odham should know. 

I remember her patient instructions and her strong, dark brown, wrinkled hands working next to mine, sometimes stopping to shape my hands or to give me gentle reminders or tiny bits of indirect praise. 

Although my hu'uli-bat took the time to show me so many things and purposefully taught me many skills, she also unintentionally taught me things that have stuck with me all my life. 

One day in particular, I remember bursting into my hu'uli-bat's house after school, just as I always did and found her sitting in her front room, staring at the ground.  She had a huge smile on her face but wouldn't look up as I walked into the room.  I asked her what she was doing and she immediately shushed me, as if not wanting me to break her concentration. 

Excitedly, she told me how she had tried to kill a fly earlier and that it was taking its time dying.  She had been watching it for over an hour and she didn't want to miss a thing.  She said that it had decided to die several times, but it kept changing its mind. 

Hu'uli-bat gave me a blow by blow account of where she originally hit the fly, where along the ground it had traveled, and its behavior during the entire ordeal.  She made it sound like an adventure.  She said she admired its spirit and now, didn't have the heart to finish him off the rest of the way, because he had too much spirit. 

As she recounted her story, she did impressions of the fly dying, then coming back to life, she waved her hands and dramatically shut her eyes again and again as she imitated his death.  She was smiling the whole time; her eyes were bright and alive.   

I was completely engrossed in her story and the two of us continued to watch in silence until the fly stopped buzzing one final time and was officially declared deceased.  Instead of scooping him up with the flyswatter and throwing him in the trash, like we did with all the others, she instructed me to take him outside and throw him to the wind so he could be back with the earth. 

This silly memory is one of the strongest that I have of my late grandmother.  I can still vividly picture her smile and the look of pure delight in her eyes.  The memory of her impersonation of the fly still makes me laugh to this day.

In O'odham culture (and in general) there's a huge emphasis on the idea of respect and revering our elders. When I think of my elders, I immediately think of them as being all-knowing and wise. I have to remind myself that elders can also be humorous and silly. My grandmother was an incredibly wise and intelligent woman, but she was also extremely funny and she loved to laugh. 

Even though my hu'uli-bat never intended to teach me anything that day, I learned a surprising number of lessons from her anyway.

I think most people have an idea of what it means to "enjoy the little things in life" and of course imagine beautiful things, like flowers or clouds or sunsets.  But what I learned from my hu'uli-bat is that anything you give your attention can be beautiful.  I know people don't usually think about watching the death of a fly as "enjoying life", but the simple act of sitting still and observing the world is what struck me and has stayed with me for all these years.

One of the most significant things I learned from hu'uli-bat's dramatic recounting of the life and death struggle of the fly, was to listen.  I've always been talkative.  Talking is easy.  Listening is hard.  I was quiet and I listened to my hu'uli-bat describe what she saw that day, I was both sad and excited with her, over the tragic death of a fly, and it was an amazing feeling. 

Sometimes it's hard to patiently listen to others, but I think about other people's excitement when they tell me about things that I don't particularly see as exciting or noteworthy.  I patiently listen when my daughters tell me about the shapes they see in the clouds, or when they're describing their drawings or when they share the dreams they've had.  I'm reminded to pay attention to the things that I don't always see as significant.  I wouldn't have thought twice about a fly, but my hu'uli-bat drew me in and I was just as invested as she, to watch the fly finally stop buzzing.   

It's a goofy memory, but one of the most cherished that I have of my hu'uli-bat.  It is constantly reminding me to draw my attention to the world right in front of me, and of course, that no matter how old I get, I can be as silly as I want, just like my hu'uli-bat.      


A photo of me and hu'uli-bat as I brushed, braided and pinned her hair.  She liked to tell me to be sure to use the "shosha" on her hair, to keep it in place. 
Shosha (I think spelled 'sosa' with dots under both s') is the O'odham word for boogers.  It's what she called hair gel. 



*Written as part of the 31-Day Native Women's Writing Challenge. On the Warpath Women Poetry
Today's prompt (a day late) is: "Write about what your Grandmother taught you."

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