Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bringing Back the Light


Whenever I am in Alaska, I walk the beaches of my beloved island home. I walk until my body aches and my feet hurt, but my heart's sorrow has eased from any and all pains it might carry. I never fail to marvel at the beauty and the deep and abiding joy that this land brings to the deepest places of my soul. I marvel at how the simplest of things can lift up my spirits until they soar with the beauty of the light on this magical land.

On this long beach walk, I picked up so many of my treasured heart shaped rocks, that I had to remove my coat to wrap them up and carry them. Clasped to me with both of my arms barely hanging on,  I thought to myself..."I'll never make the walk back home again!"

 But somehow I did, putting one foot in front of the other, just as we all do when times are hard, the heart is aching from loss or sorrow, and yet deep down inside we know we can do it. We can keeping walking, keep holding on, and keep bearing the burden that seems so very very, heavy at the time.



I found this miracle of miracles, old pieces of fishing nets, trapped between two old pilings from the remains of the Treadwell Gold Mine. Once, the largest gold mine in the world, a place where my Finnish Alaskan grandfather worked in the iron foundry.I looked at this in amazement. Nature's message to me, my own little message in the form of prayer flags stretched across the beach..a reminder of the past, with my own hope for a brighter future.

I thought of my Finnish grandparents, working so hard to raise their large family as pioneer Alaskans. Teaching their children how to live off of the land and to treasure its natural beauty. To let that beauty fill their own hearts and lift their spirits no matter how hard their lives, or their work might be.

And such are all the days of all of our lives. We make it through the hard days by finding the things that can still bring us joy. We surround ourselves with family and friends, we keep very, very busy, and if we find the solace for the sorrow within.

I think of my life here, as a child in early Alaska, all that my family went through..especially my parents who had to work so very hard to make do with just enough to feed and clothe themselves and five children. My mother sewing, and cooking, loving the wild flowers that grew in our yard. How she clothed us, and fed us, and how her unique sense of humor filled us up just as the music and the books she sent away to the 'states' for filled up our hearts.

My parents took us for long rides in our very limited roadways. If you drove forwards and back again, you'd hit 20 miles total. Juneau is landlocked by mountains, oceans and channels. Douglas Island by being an island though we've had a bridge to Juneau for all of my life.



Our parents took us berry picking, boating, picnicking and for long, long trips by car, ferry, and the Alcan Highway up and over and then down through Canada. We had Finnish relatives in Michigan, Alaskan friends in Wisconsin, and then we would continue our long drive all the way down to Louisiana to visit our mother's first home and all of our French relatives.

Oh how the relatives all loved us, how they yearned for our visits with the little Cajun French gal who'd left them all to marry a 'rich' Alaskan. We all laughed at our dad's stories as he described being 'rich' meant he'd owned a new car. Bought just for his courting of our mother in the late '40s. We listened in astonishment as our southern family spoke back and forth in French, my mother's native tongue, while we tried to catch the occasional word of English that might get thrown in. It was so much fun there, and quite exciting. We were the highlight of the year for them, those 'rich' Alaskans from such a far away land.

I remember 13 long trips down this Alaskan/Canadian highway to Louisiana.Thirteen trips that took us many weeks and a combined total of 14 flat tires with me desperately carsick every single mile of the way crammed in the back seat with 2, then, 3, then finally 4 younger brothers.
 
A long way for my mother to travel, away from her own family and her own beloved mother. A long way to be gone from the home she loved so very much. But she did that for him, and to give all of us a better life. A life where my dad had work, and family we could live with, and an abundance of fish to catch, and venison and moose to feed his burgeoning family.


And so she did, he did, and we all did. We did what we needed to do. And so, I do it still.

I walked the beaches, the streets of my dear little Alaskan town. I drove long hours with a beloved aunt who was both my mother's cousin from Louisiana, and her Alaskan sister-in-law after she married my Dad's brother, my uncle. A double bond.

This dear woman misses my mother as much as I do. "She was like a sister to me!" she said with her own tears welling up in her eyes. And she was. My mother lives on in both of our memories, in all of our hearts, and now, I am the only child who is the most like our mother.

I am the only daughter, and the one with the memories of both lives...one in Alaska.... and one in Louisiana.....I am the blending of the  Finnish pioneers from one land and the French Acadian (Cajun) immigrants, on the other.




And so my dear little mama, as I walked these beaches, each and every time, I held you and all of the memories of all of these years. I walk on the beach, I bring in the light and I remember it all.

I will never forget them or you because all of this place, all of you and all of my dad and my Alaskan family are part of me, now and forever. I head back to my Alaskan home and all of my Alaskan family. I bring in the light and carry it with me, now... as I return home to Oregon, once more.

My own other home. And just as you always longed for and remembered your first home and your own little French mama in Louisiana, I return to Oregon and long for and remember my first home and my own little French mama in Alaska.


Nell Grace Peltier/Pelletier Savikko
Sept.1, 1935-Sept.8, 2013

Love you, and miss you, my sweet little mama. Goodbye for now.



Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sewing, quilting, and wildcrafting, with small format art quilts, prayer flags, and comfort quilts for a variety of charitable programs. And best of all, sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join in her Liberated Quilting Challenge and make and donate small art quilts to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) Help us change the world, one little quilt at a time!

18 comments:

  1. Beautiful tribute to your home and your Mama.

    Sending lots and lots of ((Hugs))

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    1. Thank you, Darlene. As you know, it's not an easy walk to make and often we stumble with its challenges. I'm grateful to have made it to the end of one journey in so many ways.

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  2. Walking with you....and sending hugs!

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    1. Thank you, Beth. You know this path and its long journey. I have felt your hand in my mind as so many held me up and encouraged me to keep going. I pay tribute to all who have walked this journey and do it still and to all of their loved ones, like your own beloved father, who finished their earthly walk with loved ones by their sides. Thank you so much for the lovely card and caring sentiments. It meant so very much to me!

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  3. Michele,
    what a journey you have travelled with your parents and on your own. As you bid your mother farewell, you have found ways to rejoice and celebrate the ways and values she instilled in you and her other children. I know you will miss your time on Douglas Island -and so it is when we grow up and go on our journeys. I also know that your Mama could not have been blessed with a more loving thoughtful daughter. I salute your celebration journey - one that honors your parents and the simple joyful gifts of life.
    Hugs dear friend.. Warmest regards,
    Anna

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  4. Beautiful heart-felt words to honor your family, your past, and your present. May our words to you be a gently hug in condolence, and a comfort we share and give to you as we reflect on our dear ones who have gone to their new home in heaven. The love continues always. Be blessed.

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  5. Oh Michele....what a wonderful story full of memories. I look forward to experiencing Alaska in 2014 from Australia. Take care.....Annette xx

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  6. A beautiful heart warming tribute Michelle

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  7. Sending you virtual hugs as you travel through your loss of your Mom. Both with her demise through the years of her illness and the finality of her passing. May you find solace and btw, your tribute to her is beautiful. {Jane}

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  8. Beautiful writing and such wonderful life stories. Bless the solace of walking a beach.

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  9. your gift with words paints a heart warming story and tribute to your dear mother who will always live on in your heart/mind ...thanks for sharing ...sending you hugs and love...

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  10. What a beautiful post, Michele; it brought tears to my eyes. (PS if you write a reply here I probably will never see it unless it automatically emails to me! Just thought you'd want to know).

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  11. Brought the tears to my eyes too. Your writing is so beautiful and those photos so evocative.

    Growing up by the sea I'm drawn to it & I love walking along beaches. Not bothered about sitting or lying on them just walking & watching the waves, mesmerising.

    Thank you for this Michelle.

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  12. This was a beautiful post. You are giving me courage. The courage I need at this painful time in my life. Thank you...sending hugs.

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  13. This is such a heartfelt tribute to your mom, and I appreciate the courage and honesty in your beautiful writing. I have sent my dad on but have yet to walk this journey with my mother who is also my best friend. I do not look forward to that time, but know from the process I've experienced previously that it takes kind of a long time and little things can surprise you with how painful they are. Sending love and light to you and yours, Lisa

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  14. What a beautiful tribute to your sweet Mama and the land that you love. I lost my own mother when I was in my 20's and I still miss her. It's a slow healing process, but you never forget.

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  15. Michelle - Sending you hugs and good thoughts. You are lucky to have such valued memories and to be able to share them so well.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.