The most influential story I have ever heard came from my maternal grandmother, my Aana Katak. Since today is her 82nd Birthday, I thought I'd share it.
She is whom I am named after, and whom I share the closest bond with in my family. She taught me how to overcome, how to be strong and how to be an Inupiaq Woman in a fast changing world. She took care of me then, and now we take care of her. Happy Birthday Aana. I love you more than words can describe.
When I was younger, I wasn't too keen on the idea of having a sister. She was sort of annoying, and always followed me around like a puppy with her big brown eyes and Dora the Explorer haircut (AKA the Finnish haircut).
She tattled on me and pretty much didn't let me do anything "fun" with my cousins.
I went to visit my aana one day and upon asking me how I was doing, I belted out, "I hate SAIMA ANNIE!"
She said to me, "you don't hate her...she's your sister. Sister's don't hate sisters."
I told her she didn't understand. So she sat me down and told me this story:
"One time, when I was about 8 or 9 me and my sister Anna, who was 16, and a few of my cousins were going to go ice skating on the (Noatak) river. We went out, the boys took their niksiks (hooks) and we tried to find a good clean patch of ice to skate on.
We were having lots of fun, skating and hooking on the ice. All of a sudden me and the boys heard a crack. It was like someone was snapping a whip and it kept happening. Crack, Crack, CRACK.
Finally, the boys were yelling around that someone was under the ice. I ran over there and Anna had fallen in the ice, but she was still about halfway up on it. The boys were trying to throw their hooks to her, and she was trying to grab the lines, but they kept busting. Every time she got up on the ice, she fell back down.
The boys were yelling to run to Noatak to get help. I don't know who ran, but someone did. I watched as she got up and fell, got up and fell.
When she hit the current on the side of the river, she kept going under the water and then we would her her bang, and I could see her long black hair under the ice. The ice wasn't that thick, so we could see her under there hitting the top of the ice.
A man came running up and banging the ice. The men and boys took turns tying a rope around their waist and jumping in after her. But, after that, she was gone.
I remember her smiling at me, and never fighting with me. All she did was take care of us girls. Because that's what older sister's do. No matter what. I miss my sister Anna."
She cried, I cried. And to this day, I have always, ALWAYS taken that into consideration when I think about my sisters. I absolutely LOVE my sisters and I completely believe it is because of how that story affected me.
So, for that, Thank you. And for an entire host of other things, like teaching me to survive in a sometimes harsh world, teaching me to sew, showing me unconditional love, and spoiling me rotten when no one else would, I LOVE YOU.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY...and Many, MANY more years to come.
(This was taken a few weeks ago at my uncles funeral. Who is resting in Heaven after a long battle with Cancer.)