Some of my ancestors on my Mom's side, in Alabama.
(click photos to view large)
Dan Hayward, a photographer here in Laramie, gave a presentation in Laramie yesterday about a project he’s working on comparing his contemporary photographs of the Crow Indian Reservation to photographs from the early 1900s taken by a Native American photographer named Richard Throssel. Dan’s objective is to compare how two photographers with utterly different contexts view similar scenes, and how these photographic contexts communicate differently.
One of Throssel’s photographs was a gorgeous portrait of awoman named Pretty Shield, a Crow medicine woman. Pretty Shield was the great great great grandmother of Audrey Plenty Hoops, who happens to be going to school here at the University of Wyoming. She spoke for the first half hour of the presentation, walking us through her remarkably detailed knowledge of the lineage of her ancestors from Pretty Hoop to herself. Audrey showed photographs of some of them and told funny and intimate stories, as if she had been there herself. It was surprisingly moving.
The writer Milan Kundera, in his book Immortality, posits that there is no eternal life, but instead that we live on only in the memories of those that knew us personally (he calls this “small immortality”), or for famous or well-known people, in the public memory (“great immortality”).
The Crow seem to embody this notion of immortality in their welcoming of long-dead ancestors into their daily lives. Audrey spoke of her many “grandmothers” as though she saw them every day. I, on the other hand, know very little about my ancestors before my grandparents. My parents are organizing our family trees and I look forward to learning more. I’m slowly collecting photographs of my ancestors that my father scans and sends to me, but in many of them I know nothing about the people pictured. Our culture could learn from the Crow in this regard.
Pretty Hoop was born in 1856 and died in 1944, at the age of 88, but she walks today in the minds of her descendants. Imagine the changes she saw in her lifetime and the perspective that she passed to her children, grandchildren and great great great grandchildren. I wonder what ancestral wisdom in my family has been lost over the generations.
My Dad with his mother, probably during a trip to Arizona.
Me and my sister, Kim, with my Mom's father, Oscar Lee McCall, at his furniture store in Enterprise, Alabama.