A Tribute to Auntie Emma
Raven Revealing its Human Face
I've begun working on my next piece in the residency. Here's a sketch...
A Tribute to Great Aunty Emma
My dear Auntie Emma Reid, our last living family from Granny Clara’s generation, passed Monday, October 20, 2020. She was born and raised in McGrath, Alaska in 1925 to Great Grandma Helen Akfakorak (Yup’ik) and Great Grandpa Charlie Konig (German). Auntie Emma and her sisters, my Granny Clara, Auntie Helen, and Auntie Ruthie were my culture bearers.
Front: Auntie Emma on the left next to little Granny Clara on the right Back: Great Uncle Eddie, Great Auntie Helen, Great Grandpa holding Auntie Ruthie, and Great Grandma Helen
While Granny Clara settled in rural Oregon, Auntie Emma and Auntie Helen made homes down the road from each other on gorgeous Discovery Bay in Port Townsend, Washington. They lived out their adult lives in that community. Auntie Emma’s home on Discovery Bay was one of my favorite places growing up. Sharing a plate of “pilot bread” (Sailor Boy crackers) at Auntie’s round kitchen table tucked into a corner of her dining room was a warm and favorite ritual of each visit. We were sat down by Auntie with cups of tea, a plate of crackers, butter dish and a knife, jam and honey. And after the plate was cleaned and cleared, Auntie would bring out stacks of “Historical and Birthday Calendars” produced by the Tochak Historical Society in McGrath and mailed to her annually from the village. Every year there was a new calendar for us to study. We combed through stacks of them looking for photos of family. I scoured the photos opposite the month and days for Granny, the Aunties, and for resemblances of myself. These grainy black and white pictures got Auntie talking, telling new and old stories. I heard about the lives of my family and ancestors this way, their lives before they left Alaska. At Auntie’s little round table in the corner, I learned about my relatives and myself, about the reasons we lived and loved as we did, as we do. I learned about Auntie Gracie’s mail running with Great Grandpa and their dog team. I saw photos, and Auntie Emma told stories, about my older Aunties who stayed in Alaska and who I spent some time with in person on their visits to the Lower '48, Heddie, Frieda (my mom’s namesake,) and Dodie, and the baby, Auntie Gracie.
I learned about how, in the mid-40s young Auntie Emma took care of my infant momma while Granny tended bar at the Ophir Inn in the mining village of Ophir, Alaska. Auntie said they lived in a tent and my mom slept in a wooden drawer that year. Auntie Ruthie and Jack Gustufson joined them, pulling their wooden cabin from Gaines Creek where they trapped beaver, mink, and martin, all the way to Ophir. Auntie Ruthie's son Lenny was born there in the Ophir tavern. Auntie Emma told stories of bundling my mom and her daughter Chris into a wooden crate in a boat and rowing them across the river. She proudly told about caring for the family little ones, and also about her hard labor as a young woman taking care “all of those white ladies’ children!” I am forever grateful for her loving caretaking of my small momma.
Young women from the left are Auntie Helen and Granny Clara who worked in the kitchen at McGuire's roadhouse in McGrath. Great Grandpa is next to Granny.
To see Auntie Emma and say goodbye one last time, Momma White, myself, and my cousin Michaila joined her mom (my cousin Kye) and my mom’s sister (my Aunt Tunie) in Port Townsend just a few days before she passed. We were four generations gathering for Auntie's next journey. To the Yup’ik songs we sang her, Auntie gripped our hands powerfully and raised her arms to row and mark the drumbeat. To her favorite hymns, she squeezed her eyes tight and vocalized. Our farewell was sweet--just as the hundreds of “Hello Auntie!”s before it, and as our knowing her was.
Before leaving Port Townsend, we drove down Auntie’s lane on Discovery Bay, made a picnic in her yard next to the water, watched sea otters play in the bay and come ashore to laze like dogs on the dock. We remembered together the fruit trees that once stood in Auntie’s yard, her well-tended raspberry bushes, the shared family crab feeds, taking in this view and the feeling of the water from the big window in Aunties living room. On our drive down the Olympic Peninsula toward home, we stopped to connect with the water, to sit with our love and sadness, to walk the shore and collect shells and rocks.
I will miss Auntie's famous sloppy kisses and her softest ever cheeks. I am more whole for Auntie's care. I am a more joyful person for her giggles remembered, for her stories, and for her words at the end of those stories, echoing in my memory now, "But anyways..."
Commissions I'm honored to have been commissioned to create this piece for a 20th wedding anniversary gift. It was inspired by photos of the couple's pandemic day trip to the woods and river and of their beautiful fish fry lunch. Wishing the Norreds many more happy days together.
I'm currently available for commissions. Feel free to reach out by email or phone to discuss a custom sculpture.
I currently have ceramic masks and bronze sculptures for sale at Quintana Galleries in Portland, Oregon and at Raven Makes Gallery in Sisters, Oregon. Please visit their websites for pictures, prices, and information.