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Pearls of Wisdom from my Mother-in-law

After weeks of life taking over my schedule I finally found some time to clean. Together the kids and I determined to sort through old toys and purge the household of clutter.

After weeks of life taking over my schedule I finally found some time to clean. Together the kids and I determined to sort through old toys and purge the household of clutter.

Two hours and ten bags later we successfully completed our mission. The bookshelf now looks inviting and Mount St. Laundry has been conquered! In the midst of cleaning I came across a box of clay pebbles that belonged to my mother-in-law, Eleanor Garlow.

I’ll never forget the first time I found them. I was bored and started rooting through the junk drawer. An orange tupperware box caught my eye.

“Elle what is this?” I asked her.

“Those? Hey, those are my toys!” she replied.

She peeled back the plastic lid carefully and to my surprise it was filled to the brim with clay figures; one looked like a hummingbird, one looked like a walnut, another was perfectly round like a marble.

Elle explained each summer the kids of Whitefish Falls go swimming in the river. Near the crest of the falls, the river meanders into a small pool with a clay bed. When you plunge your hand deep enough into the clay, you’ll reach swirlholes hidden beneath the surface. It is here the rivers flowing waters naturally whittle clay pebbles into beautiful shapes, and pulling one out was just like finding a pearl in an oyster.

Elle came from Manitoulin Island but attended Shingwauk Residential School from the time she was five years old until she was eighteen. Five years old! Sad as that is, life on the Island wasn’t bountiful either. In cooler months, she recalled waking up to her blankets covered in frost.

Yet despite the traumatic foundation of Elle’s early life she was effortlessly graceful and childlike and she brought that out in the people around her. You could imagine if you were both six years old she would be your best playmate. Likely that stuck out all the more because she was very short. My best guess is five feet tall…maybe. Her stature compounded that endearing charm and although she was my elder I found her adorable.

As I sat in my basement remembering Elle, I looked back toward the junk pile of toys contrasted by a simple box of clay pebbles. Everything has been affected for indigenous people on this continent. James Anaya said, “Historical deprivation of rights…have current manifestations.” Though he was not ready to call it genocide, I am; and we are it’s survivors.

Today my kids are safe from the extreme policy of removal but I wondered; was I trying to correct my ancestors childhood deprivation by drowning my kids in toys?

Elle was so poor growing up that she only had shoes in the winter. For the rest of the year she went barefoot, yet when she became a parent her sons had the best shoes. Elle was never cuddled at residential school if she was sick or hurt, yet she rocked her babies, praying and singing them songs just to get through nightmares.

Elle loved, despite being unloved. It was another A-HA moment. A little clay pearl that I didn’t expect to find digging through the deep muck of the old toys. Elle’s love taught my husband to love, which helped me to love even deeper and now our children are free from the threat of removal and are loved.

I don’t think I was overcompensating after all, but for sure Elle’s clay pebbles were loaded with the lesson that loving my babies doesn’t always require ALL the bells and whistles. Sometimes love is more than enough.

The truck is now loaded up with those bags of previously enjoyed toys for donation. Soon I will ride down Cockshutt Road singing, “Here comes Nahnda Claus” and laugh to myself. Then I will say a little prayer of thanks to the Creator for my mother-in-law. In the meantime I’m keeping the clay pebbles forever, and we’ll see which one of kids dolls makes it that far.

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Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow is Onondaga under the wing of the Beaver Clan of Six Nations. Nahnda has been a journalist with the Two Row Times since it's founding in 2013. She is a self-proclaimed "rez girl" who brings to the Two Row Times years of experience as a Haudenosaunee cultural interpreter, traditional dancer and beadwork aficionado. Nahnda is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

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