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 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!