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Chipeta

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(Editor’s Note: Gretchen is our newest addition to Mile High Mamas and can also be found blogging at Lifenut. Join us in giving her a warm welcome!)

I wove the tips of dyed purple and white feathers into her braids. I draped strings of glass beads around her neck and wrists. I pinned the brown skirt with rick-rack trim we found at the thrift store around her waist. She slipped on her Mary Janes and became Chipeta, Princess of the Ute Indians, wife of Chief Ouray, Colorado history icon, example of the head-held-high. She looked radiant.

Colorado fourth-graders must study state history. Often, a musical production is involved. The highlight is usually a universal squirm shivering through the chairs when “Rocky Mountain High” is sung. Nearly every girl wants to be the exotic, beautiful, but doomed Baby Doe Tabor, every boy John Elway or Adolph Coors. There’s always a kid who wants to be Alfred Packer, Colorado’s Finest Cannibal. Aidan wanted to be Chipeta. She lobbied hard and won the part.

The kids wrote their own scripts, memorized the words, and adopted their character’s features for the performance. On stage, they were grouped together: The Explorers, The Miners, The Pioneers, The Women, The Indians. The groups took turns at center-stage.

Aidan strode forward with the boy who played Chief Ouray, Chipeta’s husband. Under lights that coaxed shine out of the beads and her proud face she began to recite the events of Chipeta’s life.

Hi! I’m Princess Chipeta of the Ute Tribe of Western Colorado. I am married to Ouray….
The boy playing Chief Ouray vigorously shook his head “no!” so we in the audience would be clear they weren’t really married. Everyone laughed. But Aidan didn’t understand why—clearly, she thought the laughter was directed at her.

She swallowed and pinched her mouth closed. Her body cupped. The room was silent for several moments. A woman behind me murmured “oh, no.” My mind began flinging wise things I could say when it was time to help her recover, my arm around her shoulder, promises and perspective quick and comforting.

Suddenly Aidan’s head lifted. She took a deep breath.

Did you know my name means White Singing Bird?
Aidan continued. Chipeta could play the guitar, worked for better Indian and settler relations. She met Ulysses Grant. She died in 1924 and is buried in Montrose, Colorado. You can visit her grave.

Applause, a quick smile of relief, retreat back into the mix of fourth graders in cowboy hats and shaggy glued mustaches and bonnets—she was done.

It’s difficult to convey how that one small moment changed how I view her. In a few seconds, I watched her go from mortified to quietly assured and it was a sight to behold. I think parenting is filled with moments like this, but our children aren’t on a stage, illuminated, braided, beaded, costumed on a daily basis. Our attentions are pulled elsewhere. The spotlight of that night redirected my gaze where it should have been all along.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Jennifer Antel October 9, 2007

    What a lovely memory for both you and Aiden. Love it!

  • comment avatar Shannon October 9, 2007

    Hey, good for you, adding another writing gig! 😉

    And I’ve actually seen visited the Alfred Packer massacre site.

  • comment avatar Alison October 9, 2007

    Beautiful post!!!!! It’s amazing when you see your daughter transform right in front of you, when you realize how quickly they are growing up. How in a moment they go from little girl to young lady and how you want to freeze time so you can remember in detail that very moment.

  • comment avatar Jenni October 9, 2007

    Hi Gretchen! It’s so exciting to see your beautiful and evocotive writing blessing a whole new audience!

    I love this post, btw.

  • comment avatar Mia October 9, 2007

    Gretchen, I love your writing! I’m so glad you have another place to share them!

  • comment avatar TexLex October 9, 2007

    I just realized your writing reminds me of Beverly Cleary. That post was quite Ramona-esque, with some parental poignancy blended in.

  • comment avatar Edie October 9, 2007

    Moments like that are fleeting, but breathtaking. What a special glimpse into the young woman within your little girl!

  • comment avatar Tracy (tjly) October 9, 2007

    Great to see your writing recognized! I love this post!

  • comment avatar John October 9, 2007

    Great stuff, keep it coming.

  • comment avatar Aimee October 9, 2007

    Welcome Gretchen! And a lovely post to boot!

  • comment avatar Goslyn October 9, 2007

    Congrats on your new gig, Gretchen! And a lovely first post it is.

  • comment avatar melissa October 9, 2007

    came over here to see your new place! great post.

  • comment avatar Annie October 9, 2007

    When I visited the Ute museum in Montrose and saw the ornately decorated costumes, I thought, “Where did they get all those beads? China? I wonder if they used lead paint.”

    Welcome to the Mamas!

  • comment avatar Melodee October 9, 2007

    What a lovely picture you paint with words. 🙂

  • comment avatar Beverly October 9, 2007

    What a wonderful experience for her! And a proud moment from mommy! Someone sure raised her right…… Glad to see your work out here..it serves this wonderful forum!

  • comment avatar Catherine Dix October 9, 2007

    You sure know how to make a grand entrance! This post was gorgeous.

    Welcome, Gretchen!!

  • comment avatar Gretchen aka mopsy October 10, 2007

    Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome and encouraging words! This is going to be fun.

  • comment avatar Heth October 10, 2007

    Love this Gretchen. What a fun new place to write too!

  • comment avatar nutmeg October 10, 2007

    Give them wings.. or in this case feathers! A beautiful story!

  • comment avatar JoAnn October 14, 2007

    I’m so excited for you! Others get to share in what I love in your writing!

    Gorgeous piece…your last paragraph was so true….

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