I love the place I call home. Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. I even love saying it. Teec. Nos. Pos. When I do I feel connected to mother earth. More than anything I loved my grandma’s house. It was like a railway hub with my uncles or aunties checking in on my grandparents, dropping kids off or picking kids up. In the air was always the scent of something cooking. Here life’s lessons, especially the hard ones, were very real and learned quickly. My grandmother, Jeanie, was always the heart of our family. It was through time spent with her that I learned about who I am and my purpose in life.
I spent many days roaming the hills with my cousins catching bugs or horny toads—and usually getting scolded for doing it. “That’s your Cheii (Grandfather). Don’t bother him!” my grandmother would say. She followed this with traditional Navajo stories about why he is our “Cheii” and why he is important to the Navajo people and should be respected. I’ve come to know my people through my grandmother’s words.
I recall a loom in her room. Around the loom were multicolored bundles of wool, carded, spooled, dyed and ready for the loom. Even though I was little, I knew what it took to process those bundles. I had witnessed firsthand the backbreaking work that went into raising healthy livestock, shearing the sheep, harvesting the wool, then cleaning, carding, spooling and dying the wool. Women and men alike met at our chapter house to sell their rugs, showing off their newest pieces and talking all things weaving. Rugs were prized possessions and I respected that.
As the weeks wore on I watched beauty come to life, little by little, higher and higher up the loom as my grandmother inched closer to completion. I remember sitting next to her while she patched up yet another scraped knee. I asked her, “How do you know how to make the lines into a pattern? When do you know it’s time to switch colors? How do you know which colors to use? How do you know when it’s finished?”
She smiled and sat in front of her loom, running a finger across the warp like a harpist searching for a place to start. “Do you remember the tea we picked? That is where this color comes from (tugging on thread weft). Sage is this color here (tugs another weft line). The colors are all around us in nature. This black here is the color of the churro, same as this white one here and the brown one there. I don’t know how to pick the colors so I let the creator do it for me. As for these (pointing her thumb at the first patterns started on her rug), it comes from here (placing her hands flat to the ground), all around here (waving one turquoise jeweled hand in a circle around her head and then placing it on her squash blossom necklace over her heart). This is where we’re from and how others know where we come from. Most importantly, shi yazh (my little one), you have to be right inside here to make all this work. It reflects life. If you rush, it will show here. If you get lazy it will show too. If you get mad you can see it. It’s like this in everything we do. These here (points thumb again at the patterns) can mean lots of things. What do we always pray for?”
“A’oo, shi yazh! These are clouds. This one is corn. When it’s finished there will be our sacred directions. This is very important, always our sacred directions. This keeps us in balance. Do you understand what I’m telling you?
I nodded “yes” even though my nine-year-old brain was still trying to process it all.
“Someday you will tell someone what I’m telling you now,” she said. “That’s important. Share what you know. Now, go play and stay off that wood pile!”
Years later when I started working in Native American art, her words came flooding back and I gained a deeper understanding of what she meant. She was talking about vegetal dyes when she said, “The colors are all around us in nature.” When she said, “It comes from here… all around here. This is where we’re from and how others know where we come from” she was talking about how patterns come from region. Lastly, she was explaining a rug’s traditional layout when she said, “…always our sacred directions. This keeps us in balance.” My connection to my grandmother lives on in my passion for Navajo rugs. I recall her saying, “Share what you know” and feel happy knowing that’s exactly what I’m doing.
As my grandmother got older, she created fewer and fewer pieces. I always wanted to ask her for a rug to call my own but I never had the heart to ask. When I graduated from high school we had a small family get-together, and as I sat opening cards and shaking hands with family my grandma came in holding a plastic bag. Inside were two small rugs she had made for me. I now had two rugs to call my own. I was not expecting that at all. These rugs are a symbol of who I am and where I come from. I still have them and will forever.