She was considered a sickly child whom talked in her sleep and often woke screaming from dreams. Sarah, her grandmother, remembers hearing Mabel mumble in her sleep. Sarah knew what was happening to Mabel, she understood that she was Dreaming. As she grew older, Mabel would sometimes sleep for days and Sarah Taylor would have a hard time waking her up. Spirit would talk to Mabel in her dreams telling her necessary steps to take in order to fulfill her role as a doctor. Like a shaman, Mabel was a medium between the spiritual and the real world.
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The scene was typical. Mabel lecturing, answering questions from an auditorium of students and faculty who wanted to know about her baskets and her life as a medicine woman.
As always, she was puzzling, maddening. But that morning I studied her carefully, as if I might see or understand something about her for the first time.
She was matter-offact. The student sank into her chair. A distinguished-looking man in gray tweed raised his hand. Mabel looked down from the podium to the front row where he was sitting. My grandma never taught me nothing about the baskets. Only the spirit trained me.
Clearly, she was perplexed. Do they talk to you? Why would I be listening? He reiterated the fact that Mabel was an Indian with a different world view, reminding the audience of her story earlier about meeting the Kashaya Pomo medicine woman Essie Parrish in Dream twenty years before she met her in person. The professor, an earnest man in his mid-forties, turned to Mabel. Quintessential Mabel. Nothing new.
Same stories and questions. Same answers. This small Indian woman, over eighty years old, with coifed black hair and modish glasses, this little Indian woman in a mauve-colored summer dress adorned on the shoulder with a corsage of imitation African violets, had turned a Stanford auditorium upside down. No one cracked her. She was baffling, even for me.
Certainly the facts of her life were interesting and warranted a story. World-renowned Pomo basketmaker with permanent collections in the Smithsonian and countless other museums. The last Dreamer and sucking doctor among the Pomo peoples. The facts were easy. The life was not. We drove east on Highway 80 toward Sacramento. It was a hot October day; it had not rained and the hills beyond the Bay Area were dust gray. Mabel patted her brow with a clean white handkerchief.
Her black patent leather purse sat open on her lap. She was polite. She had smoked all the way from Rumsey to Stanford, but remembered that my red Honda Civic was new. In fact, the trip to Rumsey and back was the first major excursion I had made with the vehicle. I pulled out the half-full ashtray. First thing to clean when I get back to Stanford, I thought. So much for the new-car smell. Peoples had to go clear to Sacramento for water. Was a dirt road then. No water in Woodland, so she went on to the Sacramento River.
One of the horses died. Lots of animals died. She stayed along the river until the first rains came. She was hungry. She ate fish mush and drank willow bark tea. It seemed I knew all the stories. Over the years, ever since I was a kid, I had heard them again and again. Saying problems is on account of her. Thing is that man had that poison sold it off. Some peoples even think I got that poison. Your stories go all over the place.
She folded her hands resolutely over her purse. I saw from the corner of my eye; it seemed the gesture was intended for me. I focused on the road. You know, how you got to be who you are. There has to be a theme. Tying up all the stories. Why somebody want to do that?
You just do the best way you know how. What you know from me. I drove on in silence. Mirages rose from the hot pavement. Old Grandma Sarah Taylor on her wagon. The buckets of dirty clothes rattling on the wagon bed as she steered the horses over the hard, rocky ground to the creek. The sickly little girl next to her who was Dreaming in a world of white people It was a summer Monday like so many others. Wash day and one-hundred-degree heat.
After she watered and tied the horses, she lifted the frail seven-year-old to the ground and sat her in the sand near the washboard and pounding rocks. Then she began to unload the wagon. She placed them in a row along the water, but all the while she watched the clump of silver willows downstream and the chaparral behind her. She watched the horses, seeing where they turned their heads. She had sensed something wrong just beyond the Rumsey store, when she was hardly out of town.
Someone watching her. The horses lifted their heads. She pulled in the reins and started shouting. She knew half a dozen languages and she called out in every one of them.
Every one of them except her own, Lolsel Cache Creek Porno. On and on she shouted. And then as quickly as she had started, she stopped. Slowly, she let out the reins, and with her one free hand untied the scarves around her head. She needed to see from the corners of her eyes.
She needed to take precautions. So before she knelt in the water with the dirty clothes and washboard, she did one more thing. She pulled a bucket close to her and knelt in a shallow pool. She looked over her shoulder. The gaunt child looked up with sleep-swollen eyes. She was sitting just as Sarah had left her. Sarah turned back to her work. The girl would sleep. She had been up half the night, talking out loud in her Dream.
Sarah started on the underclothes. The way a person dresses. First things first. Mondays, wash. Tuesdays, iron. Other days, outside chores, paint, chop wood. Or the orchards.
When she walked into town last spring after a five-month stay in Cortina, the white folks asked her back. They let go the Indian help they had hired to replace her.
Mabel McKay: Weaving the Dream
She spent her life teaching others how the spirit speaks through the Dream, how the spirit heals, and how the spirit demands to be heard. Beautifully narrated, Weaving the Dream initiates the reader into Pomo culture and demonstrates how a woman who worked most of her life in a cannery could become a great healer and an artist whose baskets were collected by the Smithsonian. What remains is a timeless way of healing, of making art, and of being in the world. File Name: mabel mckay weaving the dream pdf.
Mabel McKay – Weaving the Dream