Oct 27, 2021 • 11M

Gaudy Drapes and the Comfort of Snowplows

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Indigenous affairs, cultural politics, anthropology, and decolonial analyses
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I woke up this morning full-on sobbing.

Bright sun fingers poking into my Edmonton bedroom with its blood red blinds and red fabric wall hangings from Indonesia, Cambodia, and a small gold silk one from China, all gathered in travel or living abroad. I was surrounded by velvet accent pillows in shades of green and red, along with a pearly white throw and a white duvet with watercolour red, green, and gold flowers to brighten it all up.

Before opening my eyes, I had been in my great-grandmother’s living room in her little house in our hometown in southeast South Dakota. I had just visited with her briefly before she went to bed in the quiet night of my dream. She was in a peach-coloured long winter nightgown and robe. I already can’t remember what we talked about, just-before-bed banter. She was in her usual good mood, smiling and tender. My nineteen-year-old daughter was with me, but she was off in another part of the house in the moment I wished Granny goodnight.

After Granny went off to bed, I turned toward the windows. I had just had installed floor to ceiling drapes with gauzy sheer white curtains beneath. The drapes were 1940s retro and very Christmas red with an ornate forest green and gold pattern all over. They weren’t quite Christmas drapes, but they were old-timey Christmas colours. Over the gauzy curtains, I had also hung in a decorative crisscross pattern, twinkling strings of white lights. Oh my, it’s only as I write this that I realize that the drapes were the same colours in which I have decorated my present-day bedroom.

As I carefully touched and adjusted the drapes and curtains, I smiled, realizing that Granny would have thought these curtains a bit “gaudy.” She was sedate in her taste. Yet she still allowed me to have the over-the-top glitzy thing I wanted in the middle of our humble existence two blocks east of the grain elevator. She always did that. My everyday shoes in first grade were black patent leather Mary Jane’s worn with lace pattern white tights and dresses in many colours and cuts, all of which she ordered from the Montgomery Ward catalog.

As I stood at the windows, I saw flashing lights outside. I was curious; in our little town when I was a child, we rarely saw police or ambulance lights like in the many cities in which I’ve lived and travelled since then. The colourful drapes were already tied on either side of the windows with sashes of the same patterned fabric. I parted the gauzy under-curtains to see outside. There was a snowplow with its lights flashing as it scraped our street in the gently falling snow. I felt comforted.

Growing up in a town of 2,300, a snowstorm and snowplows hitting town and county roads late at night was a busy and important event. Things rarely felt busy and important in that little town. And nothing much good ever happened between bar close and sunrise, except a big beautiful snow and the plows that kept travel on icy country roads a little less deadly. The snowplows were caring winter visitors in a formidable prairie landscape that simultaneously forms and can kill us.

I deleted Facebook in January of this year. I have mostly not regretted it. One thing I do miss is my childhood friend Yvette’s winter storm and road condition updates in our home town. Her husband is a supervisor for the county road crew. He and his people are out there on snowy nights making country roads passable while Yvette is at home on Facebook telling everyone to stay home, stay safe, and stay out of the way while they do their work. She reminds me of the KREZ Radio Morning Traffic Report scene that opens the 1998 film Smoke Signals. You can always count on Yvette’s inside intel for up-to-the-minute news on what’s happening (or not) on local roads.

Back in the dream in Granny’s cozy living room, I suddenly realized that I haven’t seen her in at least a year. I looked down from the windows to the green carpeted floor and asked myself, “What is wrong with you? You haven’t visited your great-grandmother in a year?” Then I realized, she is dead. That’s why I hadn’t seen her in so long—not since our last night vision visit. How could I have forgotten? I turned toward the dining room that was brightly lit, the kitchen beyond it dark, and saw her bedroom doorway off to the right side of the dining area. It too was dark because she was in bed and Granny never did have a door hung in that doorframe. I wanted to go back into her room, sit on the side of her bed, talk to and see her again.

I would have embraced her in the living room if I’d remembered that our time was fleeting. I would have taken her in longer with my eyes. But now that she’d gone to her dark room, I didn’t know what I’d find in there. Dreamscapes are unpredictable, I find, especially if I attempt to impose my will on that world. I didn’t go back to her. Instead, I stood before the gaudy drapes and started crying hard because I miss her harder as the years go by. My daughter came into the room from wherever she had been, perhaps in the other bedroom, when she heard me crying. She asked me, “What’s wrong?” I don’t know when I will see Granny again, and I regret that I didn’t get to see her and my daughter meet and be together in the dream. Granny died seven years before Carmen was born. I woke myself up then with the crying.

At first after Granny’s death, she didn’t know she was dead. She visited me often in the second half of 1995 in a confused state. They were scary visits. I’ll write about those visits in another post I’m working on, tentatively called “Seven Stories of Energetic Remains,” to borrow Jessica Kolopenuk’s term for “spirits.” There are many questions I would ask my great-grandmother now at 53 that I did not know to ask her when I was 26. But in our dream visits it always feels like an ever-present, and I forget to get down to business—to ask for her wisdom and her stories. I simply enjoy our small moments in brief dreamlife minutes.

After Granny eased into death, we only visit a couple of times a year. She is almost always her very elderly self and I am always the age I am in waking life. We mostly meet in her little house. Those rooms are the genesis of my personal universe, the point from which my global dreamscape and the shape of my waking life emanate. If I find myself in dreams in Granny’s home, say instead of on Main Street or somewhere else in town, I never leave its walls. Perhaps if I did, the streets and lawns and all the wooden houses would change before my eyes into an abyss or a landscape of danger. Unlike in waking life, I always stay safe inside Granny’s house.

Thank you as always for reading and/or listening.

Granny’s house, courtesy of Google Maps.

*All visuals courtesy of Shutterstock unless otherwise noted.