"Passing The Gift"

An Alaskan Short Story by
Alaskan Artist
Dianne Roberson

Copyright 2003  © Dianne Roberson
Mother, me, and Daddy in 1967
Snow falling softly on the glass had drawn me to the big windows in my studio off and on all afternoon.  This was my second
winter living in the mountains near Palmer,
Alaska and I spent a lot of time looking at my magnificent view.  I watched the sun
rising over the mountains on clear days and the northern lights dancing all over the sky on the cold, dark nights.  Snow
machines were visible as they raced along the frozen Knik River, while small planes flew above; but there was very little
activity on my side of the mountain up on Midnight Drive.  Just the occasional sight of a neighbor’s car climbing the gravel
road or a slow walking moose invaded my world.  I arrived in Anchorage,
Alaska the spring of 1994 with a wish to live in the
mountains; today I feel I have well-earned solitude.  It had snowed a lot this winter, so much that the roofs were straining from
the weight.  My metal roof seemed strong, but I had forgotten about the big white tent.    It was impossible for me to reach its
high roof to clean snow off; I had tried several times.  Last summer, I laughed at the label’s warning against use of the tent in
snow areas (like why are they for sale in
Alaska?)  Reluctantly I left my scenic perch to investigate the possibilities of cleaning
the snowy tent top.  

Darkness invaded my world early in the afternoons during the winter in
Alaska.  Frantically, I hit at the snow with a broom.  
Since the roof slanted upward I couldn’t reach the top.  Going inside,  I stood on the old sofa near the center of the tent, and
pushed up with the broom.   Determined to break the heavy snow, I rammed the roof with all my strength.  Everything came
crashing down on top of me!  I was unable to move fast enough to get out from under the falling tent.

Waking up a few hours later, I forced my cold arms to push fabric away from my face.  I had been knocked on the sofa and
the mattress leaning beside the sofa had fallen over my head, protecting me from the onset of collapsing boxes.  Slowly I dug
myself out.  Finally, reaching a hole in the side of the tent, I crawled out into the snow.  Unable to stand, I rolled over on my
back to rest and decide what to do.  Looking up, I saw the most wonderful
aurora corona.  Despite pain and cold, I smiled.  If
this was my death bed, what a wonderful send off it would be.  I could just close my eyes and feel my spirit reaching up to join
the awesome dancing
northern lights.  I felt peaceful, full of love.  Sudden pain sharp interrupted my pleasure; acting on
instinct, I forced myself to crawl toward the house.  I remembered thinking I must take some pain medicine.  Getting to the
aspirin motivated me to keep moving.  Crawling along the laundry room floor, I managed to find a walking stick in the dark and
used it to flip the light switch on.  The room remained dark.  The power was out again!   It could be hours before the electricity
came back on.  I crawled to the bedroom and pulled the telephone off the end table by its cord.  Silence!  There was no dial
tone.  At least the aspirin was in the bedside drawer.  I pulled the covers down from the bed and slept on the floor until the
following afternoon.  

By then I didn’t need 911 or the lights.  I woke rested, and used my walking stick to make it to the truck.  Doc said I had pulled
muscles in my back, and sprained my ankle.         

“Elevate your ankle and stay off it for at least a week,“  he advised.    

Returning home, I did exactly that.  Every day during the week I was healing, I looked at my great-grandmother’s
painting on
my bedroom wall.  By the third day, I began thinking back over my past, remembering how I discovered my Cherokee great-
grandmother.  It was while I was pregnant with Tinara, my first daughter.  There was something about expecting my first child
that made me start thinking of things I never questioned before.  In the summer of 1967, I was living in Montreal, Canada.  
Homesick, I decided to fly to Atlanta before I got any bigger.  Quickly one morning, I packed and took a taxi to the airport.  I
wanted to get to know my daddy’s side of the family.

Daddy’s sisters were not close to my mother.  As a child I only saw them on Christmas Eve.  Daddy drove me to see Aunt
Cubie.  After dinner was cleared and the men gathered around the TV, Aunt Cubie and I sat in the kitchen and talked.  I told
her all about living in Montreal.  She reached for my hand, and looking at my nails, shook her head.  

“Still never take care of your nails,” Aunt Cubie stated.

Getting up for her nail care kit, she smiled at me.  It looked like I was going to get a manicure.  I just never noticed my nails;
besides, the turpentine and oil paints messed them up.  Politely, Aunt Cubie asked me about my mother.  She knew my
mother didn’t approve of their card playing and occasional cocktails.  Aunt Cubie commented on my paintings.  

“Did you know,” I began, “my mother says there has never been an
artist in her family before?  I feel as if I was born with the
need to paint.  Sometimes, I just know how the painting should look and I am painting on automatic.  Was there ever any
artist in your side of the family?”  

“Yes,” she replied, “A very long time ago.  It was our grandmother, a Cherokee
Indian potter.   She married a white man who
deserted her and left her with four children to rise.  Her mountain scenes painted on pottery sold well enough in the Smokey
Mountains to support the family. I  mentioned several times to your Aunt Opal that the vivid colors you paint with come from
Indian eyes.”   I told Opal, “The native blood in Dianne isn’t so diluted after all.”

I accepted Aunt Cubie’s invitation to stay with her a few days.  Aunt Opal came over every evening and to join us.  They told
me about Daddy’s childhood along with stories about their mother’s relatives.

Just like that, it all made sense now.  It wasn’t that anyone had tried to cover up our
Indian heritage; it was just that it wasn’t
anything they wanted to brag about.  I can remember the adults all insisting that I cover my pink skin in sun block because we
all burned so badly.  Momma and her sisters just blistered and peeled.  On my vacations in Florida with girlfriends, I forgot the
lotions and was surprised with a beautiful dark tan.  Returning from one such trip, Daddy had remarked that I was as brown as
granny.  

“Hush,” Momma would say, “Don’t tell her those tales, Glenn, you never saw your grandmother.  You don’t know the stories
are true.”  

“I saw her picture.”  Daddy sternly replied.

“Do you know any details?” I asked Aunt Cubie.  

“No, when her children moved south, they sold everything.  All I have is an old black and white faded photograph of her.  You
can have it.  Glenn drives up to North Carolina every summer, but he has never found a trace. Your Daddy still goes because
he loves the mountains, and he remembers how you insisted on painting up there.  He said when you were a child he could
hardly pull you away from watching the Cherokee
Artists.  The artistic talent in our family died with granny.   Everyone moved
to the city and worked in factories or offices.  That is, until now!  You have brought art back into our lives,” she informed me.

Aunt Cubie and her sisters, along with Daddy, are all dead.  I am thankful that I pried into our past.  One of my ancestors had
left the gift of art, and I picked the gift up.  I took that old photograph of my artist ancestor back to Montreal and painted her
portrait in oils.  Sometimes I think about how it was back when my Daddy was alive. It seemed so important to keep races
separate.  Today we live in a country that has come a long way in accomplishing equal rights; we know that all races deserve
to be proud.  The result of this equality has been more interracial marriages with beautiful children of mixed heritage.  I am
glad I lived to see this, but I can’t help wondering about the future.  Will there only be people that are one color?

Will the melting pot turn beige?  That is fine for physical appearances, but what about our heritage?  It is more important now
than ever to teach your children the skills that have been passed down to you.  Whether it is painting, crafts, cooking,
hunting, sewing, religion, or living a healthy lifestyle, the passion for these things can’t be learned from books.  Daddy was
passing his grandmother’s love of art to me by taking me to the mountains to watch
native artists, just as someone must
have taken him as a child.

My body recovered during that week of bed rest, but most of all my mind refreshed itself.  It felt so good to take the time to
remember my deceased relatives, who gave me strength for my future.  Yes, the gift of art became diluted in our family.  
However, the gift managed to survive.  Looking at the
painting of my great-grandmother, I was glad I  was able to use the
talents she gave me to paint her
portrait.  I renewed an image captured many years before I was born, so my grandchildren,
and theirs to come, could see what their great-great-grandmother looked like.

Dianne Roberson is a free-lance
artist, writer, and photographer who works from her studio in Palmer, Alaska and on line
at:
http://www.artworldplus.com for her prints and original paintings.
Daddy in Atlanta, Georgia
Thomas Glen Roberson, Sr.
Aunt Cubie, Aunt Opal, and Aunt Louis in Atlanta, Georgia
Art World Plus Art Gallery |  Alaskan Art by Alaskan Artist  
Dianne Roberson  |  P. O. Box 2243  |  Palmer, Alaska  99645  

Phone/Fax:  907-775-4229  |   E-Mail:   dianne@artworldplus.com
             
Copyright 2003       ©  Dianne Roberson   All rights reserved.
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