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Generational Memory

This misty season, the Dredge Oregon, a boxy boat whose bright lights make it look like a floating birthday cake, is working the Columbia River channel near us, its engine revving and slowing like a sewing machine in the next room.

In mid-October on the Saturday OU played Texas, Terry Mason Moore was a virtual guest of the Northern California Osage while her family watched the game in the next room. We heard about great-aunts and grandparents on and around the farm north of Fairfax and the family’s lineage back through Kansas to Missouri. Mason Moore remembers listening to her aunts speaking Osage, switching to English, returning to Osage, laughing.

One of moderator Aimee Inglis’ questions pertained to early memories of clothes. We heard about Mason Moore’s great-aunts wearing housedresses and sensible shoes each day and that her grandmother Rose Mason always wore Osage clothes.

Clothes anchor memories. This summer, the movie production of Killers of the Flower Moon recreated images from the photo albums some of us have or photographs we’ve seen with styles from the 1920s.

Terry Mason Moore talked about her great-aunt Anna Other giving her and her sister Tammy traditional Osage clothes and specific (strict) instructions on how they should be worn. I’ve been thinking about how Osage people express our love of culture in traditional clothes, but also how we express ourselves in clothes we wear every day.

Jessica Harjo, a graphic artist and jewelry designer and Mason Moore’s daughter, created a clothing collection for the opening weekend of the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City this September. Harjo had been designing fabric, but she hadn’t designed clothing when the invitation came. When she was approached, she stepped up to the challenge to design 8-12 pieces. She had recently designed “Floral Sunset,” a fabric that she used for the collection.

Over the summer she designed fabric and jewelry and coordinated with two indigenous businesses to produce the clothes, Native NoHeart Designs, owned by Marly Fixico-Hardison (Seminole), and Ribbon Roots which offers Osage Jasmine Phetsacksith’s custom ribbon skirts. Jessica’s sister, Erica Moore, created a baby ribbon dress for her daughter to wear in the opening fashion show. The results were clothes in the muted colors of sunset. Ribbon skirts, pants and tops for Oklahoma weather. Visit @weompe on either Facebook or Instagram to see Harjo’s clothes.

For Harjo, this convergence was powerful and purposeful. In an email exchange, she wrote that she wanted to “reiterate the regenerative concept of when we as indigenous people create our own clothing. It is made with special care, good intent, and love and will last through generations.”

I can picture Harjo surrounded by the bolts of fabric she’d like to design and sell in her own business. She also intends to learn to sew. I remember my mother’s black Singer sewing machine. Recently, I was using my mother-in-law’s machine, an even older Singer. When I touched the presser foot, suddenly I was back with my mother, surrounded by her machine galloping along, her mouth curled as she concentrated.

Harjo told me she remembers her maternal grandmother Bonnie sewing both clothes and things like pillowcases. Harjo said her fabrics are inspired by her grandmother’s style, the clothes and fabric she chose, “the prettiest fabrics with designs that were simple yet had a subtle elegance.” I can see those qualities in “Floral Sunset,” which looks both like delicate flowers and butterflies as well as a gentle future-scape. I’m left celebrating how we pass on our worldview in simple and profound ways from one generation to the next.


Ruby Hansen Murray

Original Publish Date: 2021-11-16 00:00:00


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Ruby Hansen Murray
Ruby Hansen Murray is a writer and photographer living in the lower Columbia River estuary. Her work appears in As/Us, World Literature Today, CutBank, The Rumpus, Yellow Medicine Review, Apogee, About Place Journal and American Ghost: Poets on Life after Industry. She’s the winner of the Montana Prize in Creative Nonfiction. She’s been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook, Ragdale, Playa, Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Storyknife in Homer and the Island Institute in Sitka, AK. She is fellow of the Jack Straw Writers Program, Fishtrap: Writing the West and VONA, who studied at Warren Wilson College and received an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s a citizen of the Osage Nation with West Indian roots.

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