133. Visions of the Dark, Robert Coles Hears An Eskimo Mind
From Aperture Number Eighty-one
Visions of the Dark, Robert Coles Hears An Eskimo Mind
There is, of course, something else for the old woman to stare at when she is of a mind and look (and look and look); there is the snow.
In the summer, the snow has gone but in the summer she claims never to sit and stare. In the fall she resumes what she once called her 'position.' She possesses a linguist's (and philosopher's) sense of what she has in mind: "These are the long days, the long months. The sun has its position; I have mine - the chair. I can't keep track of time the way my children do, or my grandchildren. Even though the sun has left us, my grandson comes home from school and tells his mother what day it is. He looks at me afterwards because he knows that I will smile. I may be away from them, in the middle of my thoughts, but I know when to come back and smile. Without my smile, the boy would be disappointed. He would not be so sure of himself. To be sure of yourself, you have to see someone else smile - let you know that not everyone does things the way you do! My grandson counts the days in a month. I don't know how old I am. He thinks I am kidding him when I shrug my shoulders and say I am many winters old. He asks me, to have fun, how many. I tell him more than he would care to count up. He is sure I have done the counting. But I haven't.
Once he asked me how many summers I've lived. I told him a winter or two worth of summers. He was so interested in those numbers they teach the children at school - as if what I'd said had nothing to do with what he asked. I didn't repeat myself - and he surprised me He had heard me - and understood me
The white people have always perplexed, if not dumbfounded her. She has tried hard, many times, to figure them out - especially when she has been sitting in the chair. But they are no obsession of hers. They startle her, occasionally, with their arrival in her mind; soon enough however, she gets rid of them. It is just that, as she experiences it - a hasty housecleaning, a dismissal of sorts: " I don't like to be bothered when I'm sitting in my chair. I want to rest. I want to remember. The greatest joy for me now is remembering. I would be lonely if I couldn't remember. I remember my whole life. I will sit and look out the window and suddenly I'm a young girl and my father is holding my hand and teaching me how to use the knife with the fish we've caught. My favorite time was with him; he would wake me up every morning with his hand on my shoulder. I'd see his smile. He never told me to get up. My daughter tells her children to get up. We didn't talk as much then as people do now. I've caught the sickness - it's the sickness of words; I keep saying what what I remember! I may die talking! It will serve me right!
"I will wake up and I will see my father. He is with me. He has never left me. He will be touching my shoulder or maybe squeezing it. He always squeezed when he was afraid I was not paying attention or I was too much asleep. The other day I was going to fry some potatoes for my grandchildren but I felt tired and my eyes caught the large bag of potato chips. The young people of our village like potato chips more than anything else - except the cokes they use afterwards to wash their tongues of all the salt. I put the potatoes down and decided not to use the stove. I picked up the bag of potato chips. But I had let go of it before I really had done more than hold it in my hands. My father had seen me, and squeezed my shoulder."
"He died a long time ago. I do not know how long even, my daughter has a number; she says thirty years - when she was a girl as old as one of my grandsons. He has a number too. He is twelve he tells me. So what! All these numbers. What do they have to do with life? Does the sun have numbers for itself? The bears and caribou? The fish? The snow that greets us, stays with us - goes away crying? I watch the snow cry. My grandson says it is melting. I say no, it is crying. Who likes to leave? My father died with tears in his eyes. I wiped them away and put them to my mouth. He has been with me ever since! He used to take me to watch the snow melt. He said it was sad to see it leave even though we were going to have a good time in the summer."