Lad of Moss, Part 9
Notes: I hope the readers realize that I’m making up the Indian names. There is too little available about the Wampanoag language online and I didn’t want to use the names of their more famous people.
Waschteka’s wife, Ontetch, suggested all the women and children go to the pond to bathe. The day was muggy and the cool water would be pleasant. The Colonists were somewhat shy about the idea but was eventually drawn into it. They shyly removed their clothing as the native women quickly shed their own and jumped into the water.
“Be careful what you wish for,” Lydia giggled.
“Aye, I did say something about liking to be less dressed, did I not?” Alexia said in chagrin. Lydia chuckled and leaned close to her ear even as her shift fell to the ground. “If you so much as glance at one of these nude women, I shall tear your eyes out of your head,” she teased.
“Lydia!” the redhead whined in outrage, “Ye are a hoyden, just like Mary Elizabeth, I swear! Glance at another woman! Like another could even compare to ye,” Alexia said sincerely. Lydia smiled brightly at her words. The self doubt that had plagued her since last meeting the Wampanoag eased. Never had she felt beautiful growing up. It had taken this redhead’s trembling hands and awe filled eyes to begin doubting the mirror she had looked into all those years.
Turning, the seamstress looked at the laughing women in the pond, viewing them differently as well. Perhaps they didn’t follow the standard of beauty for the Englishmen, but they radiated such warmth and happiness, enjoying life as it happened. Their sun-kissed skin was darker than her own, but she had avoided the sun as much as possible her entire life. Lydia’s lips curled upwards, seeing the appeal in skin that wasn’t winter pale. Her thoughts wandered until a pinch on her bottom brought her to the present.
“Wench, tell me nae to look then stare yerself! For shame!” Before Lydia could react, Alexia stole a kiss, laughed, and jumped into the pool of water. Seeing the humor, the seamstress gave a girlish squeal and followed after her, seeking playful revenge. It didn’t take long for the entire group to join the antics.
Later, the pleasantly exhausted seamstress slipped onto the bank and put on her shift, disregarding the rest of her clothing. She spread out the wool blanket they had brought and sat under a shady tree and watched the others play in the water. Looking around, she spotted her spouse with a boy on the far side of the pond. They were bent over the water, their hands still under the surface. She wondered what they were up to. A few seconds later, the boy lunged forward and brought up a fish. He tossed it to the bank and pointed to the water. He must be teaching her how to tickle fish. Lydia heard of it but hadn’t ever seen it done before.
Fascinated, she watched Alexia patiently try over and over unsuccessfully. Perhaps one day she’d master it. One of the women walked out of the water and squeezed the water from her dark hair. She smiled as she took a large piece of leather and wrapped it around her. Indicating the blanket with questioning eyes, Lydia nodded, inviting her to join her.
“Shansa,” she said, pointing to herself. Lydia did the same and smiled. The native woman was smaller than herself and had a friendly manner. A warm smile curled her lips and never faltered. A boy of about eight joined them. The woman said something and the boy translated, surprising the colonist with his knowledge of English.
“Shansa says you remind her of her father’s sister. You have the same face,” he said. Lydia felt her stomach clench. The woman spoke again, placing her hand gently on her knee.
“Has she offended you?” the boy asked.
Lydia couldn’t answer at first, trying to deal with the emotions churning up inside of her. Finally, she managed to speak. “Nay, she did not offend me,” she mumbled. The boy translated quietly. The woman was determined to be kind. She dipped her head, making eye contact with the upset woman, saying something softly.
“You are unsettled by my words. I see pain in your eyes.”
“It is old pain, nothing new,” Lydia said, wiping away a tear.
“But the pain remains with you. Perhaps you have allowed it to fester too long. Your spirit cannot heal until it does so. Would it upset you to speak of it?”
Lydia looked up and saw the compassion in the native’s eyes. She had spoken to Alexia about some of it, but as much as she loved her, the seamstress could not tell her all of it. Perhaps this stranger would understand. The fact the boy translated was forgotten, his skill made him invisible.
“What I know is little bits I have learned over the years,” she clarified. “My mother lived not far from here on a farm. She used to play with the children belonging to one of Indian villages, your people I believe, because no other children lived nearby. When she was about my age, she disappeared. Grandfather looked and looked, and never found her. He died a few months later of a fever.” Lydia paused, swallowing hard.
“My mother returned about a year later. She was with child. When she found out grandfather had died, she went to a neighbor for shelter. She told them she had been taken by a Wampanoag man who had fancied her. She had escaped him and ran home and that it took many days travel. No one knew what to do with her. She was unmarried and about to have a baby. Many colonists disapproved of her. Some said she should have killed herself rather than allowing herself to be violated. Some whispered that she had actually run off with him, calling her a harlot. She was very unhappy. A few weeks later, she gave birth to me. The midwife said my mother took one look at me and wept before she died.
“No one wanted to take responsibility in raising me but finally one family took me in. I was treated harshly. My foster parents were very strict and I was beaten for the smallest thing. They never let me forget that I would never fit in anywhere and that my birth killed my mother.” Lydia couldn’t look at the sympathetic woman next to her, but she heard her sniffling.
“Other children were cruel as well. I was called many terrible names and I had no friends. Once I was old enough to find employment, my foster parents handed me my belongings and told me to leave. I never felt so alone.” The seamstress heard Shansa sob. It was enough to make her own tears flow. The native woman took her hand and leaned against her, crying with and for her. They clung to one another tearfully, even when another set of arms enfolded them gently.
The tears gradually eased as both women leaned against the same set of broad shoulders of Alexia. Both women were spent emotionally but Shansa asked another question, translated by the tight throated boy.
“What was the Wampanoag man’s name who took your mother?”
“Naytauken,” she murmured emotionlessly.
“Then we are kinswomen Lydia. My father was your father’s brother.”
Lydia sat there, stunned. Words wouldn’t form and she felt numb. She heard Alexia speak to Shansa although the words sounded as though it came from far away.
“Do you know what really happened? Lydia’s mother never told anyone a single thing about what had happened to her while she was gone.”
“It is considered bad luck to speak of the dead, but my father told me about his younger brother once. He had fallen in love with an English girl named Annabelle, but among our people, she was called Eshna. She knew her family wouldn’t approve of a joining between them because Naytauken wasn’t a Christian. So she ran away with him and lived in our village. They were very happy. She was expecting a baby and just before it was due, Naytauken died, killed by a bear that he was hunting. Eshna’s grief was too great, and she left to rejoin her family. We never saw her again or knew her fate, until now.”
“She wanted me?” Lydia asked weakly, the long suffering child inside needing the words.
“Yes, she wanted you very much. She spent many hours making baby items. My grandmother gave them to me for when I had children. If you’d like, I will give them to you for your children.”
“We can’t have babies,” Lydia said, her lips quirking because Shansa had forgotten about Alexia’s gender. “But I would like to see them.” Her cousin stood, promising to return shortly.
Alexia settled down onto the blanket and pulled her wife into her arms. “Are ye alright sweet Lydia?”
The smaller woman snuggled into her arms and nodded. A great weight had lifted from her shoulders. She was tired but happy. She took a deep breath and let it out, taking in the scent of her lover. Her eyes popped open.
“Alexia! You are naked!”
“I had forgotten,” she chuckled. I suppose I should put something on. Be right back.”
Shansa and the redhead returned about the same time, both sitting down on the blanket. The native woman untied a deer skin bundle and handed it to Lydia.
The seamstress folded back the corners slowly until the items inside were exposed. On top was a tiny skin shirt, soft as butter and decorated with hundreds of miniature beads. Beneath it was a folded blanket, woven from many colored felt strands. Lydia picked up a small moccasin. It too had beads sewn onto it in bright patterns. The last item was a rattle made from a gourd and attached to a handle. It was dyed a bright red. She shook it briefly, hearing the pebbles inside.
A fat tear streaked her face as she replaced everything back into the deer skin. She tied it back up and held the bundle tightly against her, wanting to absorb the love her mother had meant to give her. Reluctantly, she held it out to Shansa, who refused it. The woman pushed it gently towards her and walked away.
The couple left their property an hour before sunset. Alexia had told the natives they were always welcomed to her land and had hoped they would feel free to visit any time. After all, they were kin. Lydia gave her cousin a heartfelt hug before leaving, grateful to now have blood family, no matter how unusual.
The seamstress spoke excitedly the entire way home. Alexia just smiled, letting her wife pour out every thought and feeling.
“I understand you have a group of natives on your new property Lydia,” Ruth said, looking up from her corner of the quilt the women were sewing.
“Yes, we do. A child was injured on their way to their summer fishing grounds. We gave them permission to stay until he could travel.” No doubt the rumor began with Caleb, the man hired to do minor repairs on the cabin while his wife and Lydia cleaned it. The man had been shocked at the sight of natives there. It had taken quite a while to settle him down enough to get him to stay and finish the work.
“But why let them stay on your land! Aren’t you afraid of them?” she continued, not allowing Lydia to reply. “I know I would be. Imagine, those heathens running about, doing God knows what there.”
“Such as what Ruth?” the seamstress asked tightly.
“I don’t know. I couldn’t possibly imagine, but everyone knows they are savages. I don’t know why we tolerate them,” she said in disgust.
Mary Elizabeth spoke up before Lydia could cut into her. “Ruth, you and your husband are new arrivals here and ignorant of the history here. If it weren’t for the Indians, none of us would be here. The Plymouth colony would have starved to death if they hadn’t stepped in and taught us how to grow food and what to hunt. They befriended us.”
“That is well and good, but they are still uncivilized and heathens. They don’t believe in God the same way we do.”
“Odd, isn’t it religious freedom why we left England in the first place? Because we didn’t like being told how to worship God?” Martha inserted.
“I still think the savages should be driven away,” Ruth huffed, having no proper reply to Martha.
“Feel free to leave any time Ruth,” Lydia said between clenched teeth.
“What is that supposed to mean Lydia Browne?” the woman asked angrily. She was tired of the women of the sewing circle always criticizing her.
“I am half Wampanoag Ruth, and I find your remarks offensive. I am neither a savage or uncivilized and will not tolerate your nasty comments any further.”
The woman stood up in a huff and left. The other women sat stunned for a moment before Mary Elizabeth spoke.
“Hmmph, and all this time I thought you were a Spaniard,” the woman said with a straight face then began laughing. Lydia had never hidden the fact she was part native, always answering honestly if asked. To most Puritans, Lydia was a Christian born and raised. To be sure, some were fanatical in their beliefs but not all of them. The Colonies were a mixture of four major religions that had learned to live mostly in peace with one another. Most groups lived in separate communities but trade was what kept the Colonies running.
“Lydia, now that Ruth has left, could I ask you a question?”
“Of course Martha”
“What are they like? I don’t know any Indians but you and you aren’t exactly like them, are you?”
Lydia chuckled, “Nay, I am not like them, but I like them. That is a good thing considering one of the women on our land is my cousin,” she informed all of them.
“Your cousin! Lydia, how…?”
“We visited with them silly. When we spoke, we discovered our fathers were brothers,” Lydia said simply, not about to go into painful details of her childhood.
“What is she like?” Mary Elizabeth asked.
“She is smaller than I am, about my age. She is not yet wed. She doesn’t speak English but there was a boy who spoke it beautifully and translated for us. She is very kind and was happy to meet me. As to the others, they seemed a cheerful people. Their manner of dress is a bit unnerving but if you ignore that, they are very nice. They raise their children differently than we do though,” she mentioned.
“How Lydia?” Mary Elizabeth asked, fascinated.
“They never tell them what to do! They believe every child should learn how to behave by watching others. It is the duty of the community to live within proper boundaries as good examples. Good behavior is encouraged and bad behavior ignored. The children wish to fit in and please their elders, so they behave properly. Oh, they teach them how to work, but beyond that, they are free to do as they wish.”
The women gasped, surprised by this. After all, in their society, children were strictly raised and had little time for play.
“I know, I thought it shocking as well, but the children were happy and polite. The Wampanoag believe everyone should work for the greater good of the community, not for yourselves. They do nothing without considering everyone else first. I learned a lot speaking with them but I doubt I even touched the surface of their culture. When I sat down and thought about it, I decided they had many qualities I admired,” she admitted.
“We could learn much from them, but greed and self interest is too widely spread. A pity we couldn’t take lessons from them,” Martha commented. The others agreed.
(I wish I knew where the story was heading! LOL Maybe people ought to tell me their ideas!)
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