Story About TWHJ

The Provenance

papago-basketsThis story was written for Little Eagle, a 12-year-old foster child whose foster mother shared materials from The Wounded Healer Journal with her to further her healing from sexual abuse. Members of TWHJ wrote stories and wishes for Little Eagle and she put them into a scrapbook.

This is my contribution — a true story — which is also the story of how The Wounded Healer Journal community came to be. — Linda Chapman


Dear Little Eagle,

papago-basketmakerWhen my grandmother, Pauline, was born in Texas in 1888 her father wrote a letter to his mother, telling her to hitch up the horses to the buggy and come see his lovely little daughter, who was born just before harvest-time.

Pauline grew up and she became a hard-working farmer’s wife, and when I was born she was already sixty-seven years old. I remember her soft roundness, and the way she almost always had an apron trimmed with rickrack tied around her waist, and how she smelled like lavender powder.

Sometime after the turn of the century (even before my own mother was born), her mother (my great-grandmother) moved to Arizona. On a trip back to Texas, she brought my grandmother the gift of a basket made by a Papago Indian weaver.

It was about fifteen inches tall and about a foot wide, woven of yucca and devil’s claw and bear grass. In basket-maker’s terms, it had “the female form” – round and curvy at the top – with a big bottom.

My grandmother used the basket in many ways over the nine decades of her life. For many years, it sat on a shelf, filled with quilt scraps of all colors and patterns.

It sat in the sunlight so long that it became faded and pale on the outside, but you could still look inside the basket to see the designs the basketweaver had woven. I have often wondered what story those symbols told.

From those scraps of cloth, my grandmother made quilts for her seven children and their children and their children’s children, too.

I still have mine: It’s a rainbow of fabrics stitched together in strips, and on the reverse side it’s bright red like a fiery Texas sunset.

When I look at my quilt I remember my grandmother’s gentle and kind ways. I remember her grace and quiet dignity and the way she always thought of others first. (Sometimes I feel a little sad about that, and wish she could have given to herself a bit more. But that’s another story.)

Little Eagle, I’ve made quilts, too, and when I make them, I think about and pray for the people I am planning to give them to. I wonder if that’s what Granny was doing as she sewed my quilt. I’d like to think so.

Granny died about twenty years ago. When she did, I was allowed to choose something from her home to remember her by. I chose the basket, the Papago basket, which sat in a corner, dusty, filled with Guideposts magazines, overlooked by everyone else.

A few years later my son was born. When he was about a year old I found him sitting inside that basket, with only his head popping out! His eyes were bright and shining and he looked very mischievous and cute. It’s an image I’ll remember for a long time.

But my life changed a lot over the next few years, and I eventually came upon some hard times. I was homeless, and my son had to go away to live with his father. It was a sad and scary time for me. I felt like I had lost everything. But there was something I still had — my grandmother’s basket. I had kept it all of those years.

I took it to an Indian art gallery, where a kind woman wearing a silver and turquoise necklace lovingly examined it from top to bottom. I told her the story of how it had been passed down to me, and she wrote it all down. (The story of where something old and valuable originated and how it came into someone’s hands is called its “provenance,” I am told.)

She called to her gallery assistants and said, “Come look at this Papago basket. I’m thinking of buying it for the gallery. Isn’t it fine? It’s old, very old.” She told me she thought it was even quite old when my great-grandmother herself carried it from Arizona to Texas around 1920.

I took a deep breath, and told her how I was reluctant to let it go.

She quickly understood, and said something wise which helped me release it. She said, “It has done its work with you.”

I knew that this was so.

With the money she gave me, I was able to find a place to live. I was no longer homeless; My son could come home again — and he did! I had another chance at life: We had another chance to be a family.

All because my great-grandmother, who died before I was born, passed on a gift that helped me cross a difficult bridge in my life; a gift that enabled me to survive.

And all because the Papago woman passed on her own gift when she traded the basket to my great-grandmother. (Perhaps it had done its work with her, too?)

So you see, the reason that I am here today to write to you – and so The Wounded Healer Journal – is all because of a simple basket!

Do you think the weaver was thinking and praying for the people she would be passing the basket along to? I believe that is true. But I am sure she had no idea of all of the lives that would be touched and healed because of the prayers she wove into her basket before she let it go.

And I am thinking and praying for you, Little Eagle, as you undertake this difficult part of your journey in life.

If you ever think that things are so difficult that you can’t face them anymore, I want you to remember that the answers we need are often very close by, and that sometimes they can be found in the simplest of things — things we might ordinarily overlook.

Have confidence, Little Eagle, that somehow you will receive everything you need to move forward in life. I will be thinking of you and praying that this will be so.

I give to you the story of the Papago basket to carry with you as you move forward on your healing journey. Some day, when it has done its work with you, it will be your job to pass it on.

Until then, hold it close, and with it — hold close the knowledge that many here, including me, are thinking of you and wishing you well.

Linda Chapman

Copyright ©1999 Linda Chapman. All Rights Reserved.