Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Culture Shock

My Yu'pik Mother

Part of the time we lived in Fairbanks, we shared a house in town with another single mother, Linda, and her daughter, Jennifer. During that time, Linda's father, Mac, a widower, got married to a lovely Yu'pik woman just three years older than me, Marti. Marti, of course, "adopted" Linda, basically decided that she was Linda's mother and so was. (The thing with most cultures indigenous to harsh lands, the more relatives you have, the more likely you are to survive. Adoption is easy but not casual.) Not so of course to a white person's thinking, Marti also adopted me and my children. Having a grandson at that age was very high status. Age is also high status, and Marti has always, when asked hers, responded with "My oldest daughter is . . ." (fill in my age at the time). So, when she was 32, she had a 29 year old daughter. Now that she is 67, she has a 64 year old daughter.

The reality of a third status item was born in to Linda and me after we had moved to California and Marti and Mac came to visit. Linda and I took Marti to Macy's to buy a dress. She tried on a very nice dress and was getting ready to buy it when the sales clerk commented, "That's a wonderful buy. It makes you look 20 pounds smaller." Of course, Marti wanted to know what it was that did that trick, and upon being told it was the dark fabric and vertical stripes, immediately asked if they carried anything light in a horizontal stripe. So, there she stood, in front of the mirror and the stunned sales clerk, smiling from ear-to-ear, in a dress with yellow and black horizontal stipes that made her look like a friendly bumble bee, rubbing her belly in pride and crooning, "My belly. My beautiful belly. I ate for it. I got it."


When Julie was nine, we moved from Fairbanks, Alaska to Stockton, California. In Fairbanks we had the best wild berries that gathering could collect, but tree fruit doesn't grow that far north. It doesn't ship well once it starts to ripen, so what we got in the stores was green and hard enough to stone martyrs with. I'm not sure that I ever bought any apricots there, since my grandfather had grown his own and I was spoiled about having them actually taste like something other than cardboard.

So, when my friend Elva invited us over for dinner, and gave Julie an apricot, it was a new thing to her. She bit into it. The juice ran down her chin and her arm and her neck and onto her blouse. The look on her face was not only surprise, but delight. Elva sent us home with a bucket of apricots that night, and brought us all sorts of fruit fresh from the orchard all that summer and the next.


J said...

I think I had eaten canned apricots before, and boy, what a difference that makes. :) Apricots may be my very favorite stone fruit...I'll go eat a nectarine, a peach, and an apricot, and then let you know. I don't have any plums at the moment.

I never know Marti was so close to you in age! How funny. Loved her, and Mac. Linda told me that when Marti got cancer, she talked of dying her hair green, since it was going to fall out anyway. What a woman.

Maya's Granny said...

And then there was the day that the cat jumped into Marti's plate and ran off with her piece of chicken. Marti's calm response to this? "More chicken in the kitchen, I hope."

And play Mah Jong with Marti and her friends -- when they lost (seldom, oh so seldom) they would swear in Yu'pik and Linda and I would have no idea what we were being called, but they would all laugh like crazy. Probably sexual.

Deja Pseu said...

It's funny, but I can't stand apricots. We grew up with an apricot tree in our yard, and a friend of my mother's would come by every year and pick them for jam, and throw the rotten ones on the ground. My mother would make my sister and I go pick up the rotten fruit, so to this day all apricots smell rotten to me...

lalunas said...

I so admire Marti, her confidence in life. She is like a old majestic oak tree, proud, wise,unshaken by what surrounds her, happy and beautiful inside and out.

Linda Atkins said...

I love "I ate for it. I got it."