My mother passed away yesterday on a day of freedom, Independence Day, the 4th of July. I know my mother has been liberated from the restraint of her aged, wretched body. After intense suffering since the passing of our father over two years ago, including the recent passing of a son three months ago, she’s now a free woman. 8 days prior, she turned 86.
Irene Loling Sarabia Lampe was born June 25, 1925 in Port Althorp, a place that doesn’t exist anymore, near Hawk Inlet. She was born during her family’s Summer fish camp to Juan and Mary Sarabia. They spent their winters protected from the cold North winds in the small village of Hoonah, near Glacier Bay. Eventually her parents worked Summer months at the Excursion Inlet Packing Co. (XIP); and in 1955 while working at the cannery, she met and married my father, William Lampe on August 20th. Nine months later, I was born. My parents dispute over my name. I would have been named Kate if I were born on June 5th, my mother’s eldest sister Katherine Mills’ birthday; or, I would have been named Patricia (i.e. Pat), after my father’s mother Patricia Rizal Lampe if I were born any other day other than June 5th. However, the day before I was born, my father dreamt a girl would be born to them and her name was Clarissa, a name he had never heard before.
Most of her adult life, our mother helped support our family by working for various state and local agencies including the State Department of Education, Department of Health & Social Services, the Department of Revenue and Tlingit & Haida Central Council. A year after she retired in 1990, she said she didn’t know how she got all the things done that needed to get done when she worked a “real job.” She enjoyed traveling with her husband, hosting her grandchildren overnight, sewing quilts, crocheting afghans, taking daily walks and getting back to her bead work. She said she learned how to bead work when she was 5 (I have that 5-year-olds’ first beadwork), and that it felt good to get back to beading after almost a 60-year absence.
One day I realized that I didn’t have a button blanket of my own. (Uh, huh. You are most likely thinking about the shoemaker who doesn’t make his own shoes and goes barefoot. Yep. That’s what I had been – over 20 years as a regalia-maker of robes for others, but not for myself nor family – yup!) Because I could create any kind of robe I wanted, from a Chilkat robe to a Ravenstail robe to a button blanket, I asked what kind of robe would I make for myself, and the answer was: “…you design the robe, coordinate the colors to match your tunic (I inherited in 1976 from my maternal Uncle Leonard Davis) and have your mother do the bead work; it will then hold special meaning for you…” – of course, why didn’t I think of that long time ago!? – The robe is made with deep red and deep brilliant blue melton cloth of 100% wool, antique, carved Mother-of-Pearl buttons, and machine-embroidered braid. The bead work and designs were sewn by my mother; I sewed the robe and did the embellishments with the embroidered braid and buttons. Below are images and details of the robe.
*(For many our clan assumed the emblem as the common Seagull, and for many years I had questioned and doubted our clan emblem as a Seagull because the beaded representation of our clan designs was a bird that had a golden beak, black markings towards the tip of its wings and if there were legs portrayed in the design, they were black; plus, there was generally two birds hovering above a nest – to indicate that the nature of the bird: both parents raise their young. Due to my sister Irene Jean Lampe’s research a several years ago, we are now on the right track of the true identity of our clan emblem of the Black-legged Kittywake T’akDeinTaan.).
When I put together the robe, I felt a need to “give back” to my mother. What could I do to repay her for the hours and talent she put into my robe? She would not take money from me. So I left the “debt” wide open until the idea came a year later when we were looking through her large box of all the bead work she had created over the course of 15 years since she retired in 1990; she had beaded flowers of all sorts and sizes and she had beaded at least 10 of the Black-legged Kittywakes. Suddenly, the idea popped into my head: “…sew up button robes for all of your Mother’s children and grand-children and place her bead work on each robe…” She loved the idea. This project ended up being a collaboration between mother, daughter and granddaughter; I sewed the robes, daughter Lily sewed the buttons, and we sewed down Mom’s bead work on each robe. We also sewed a couple more octopus bags fashioned after the one (on the right) that my mother had sewn. A weaving apprentice Julia Sai Carlson, had helped attach Mom’s bead work to the bags too. I had never sewn octopus bags before; it was fun. All the bead work was designed and sewn by our Mother. Below are the three octopus bags with Irene’s bead work.
After my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary dinner on August 20, 3005, we went to their house to do a family ceremony of “bringing out the robes.” My parent’s children and grand-children were present. My mother gave a speech; it was an emotional time for her. (She had said she is not a public speaker – not even in front of her own family.) I was proud of our Mother. She spoke of how she kept the old bead work patterns that were once her Mother’s (Mary Wilson Sarabia), she mentioned that each robe had our clan emblem, the Black-legged Kittywake T’akDeinTaan, or a beaded raven (for our brother, Robert); she hoped that each of us would keep our robes long after she was gone. Directly after her speech, our sister Irene Jean sang and drummed a Tlingit song, and for the first time in our family, we witnessed all our family members dancing together; it was a thing of beauty, we laughed together. I felt this was a significant moment in our family’s life. My parents beamed.
Also, as part of our parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, we took a 3-day trip to Excursion Inlet. Included in our entourage was my sister Dee, my kids Kahlil and Lily, my apprentice Julia and myself. We joined our brother Rick, cousins Janie, Linda and 2nd cousins Thomas and Lydia. I have fond memories of spending a few Summers in Excursion Inlet when I was a child; it was a good feeling to hear stories of my parent’s days as young adults – it was good for my own children to experience the place and to hear the stories. We tend to forget that old people were once young.
Another thing my mother incorporated into her life as soon as she retired was a daily walk. No, not just a walk around the block, but a real walk! Years of working at a “normal” job kept her in the condition of waking at 5am, so by 6am she was ready to go. From the age of 65, she began walking at least 6 miles a day. Sometimes she would walk with her friend, Lillian Austin. Sometimes she walked with another friend, Rachel Carpenter. She paced a steady rythym. I remember a time about 10 years ago, when she was 76, our brother Bunny met us at the Hoonah ferry terminal and we walked into town. At one point, we noticed she was walking way ahead of us; none of her kids nor husband kept up with her pace! The following photos are a few places where we walked…
Starting in 2005, my parents began to ask me when I would move back home, so in 2007 I moved up to Juneau for about 7 months. During this time we took a couple of ferry trips; one to Hoonah (and my father hadn’t been there for over 30 years), and the ferry to Skagway to drive up to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory (a place they would pass through when they took their annual Summer drive into the Yukon and interior of Alaska.) I also took my parents on day trips in Juneau they hadn’t been in many, many years like the Lena Loop picnic area, Auke Bay, Eagle Beach, Echo Cove, Thane Road, Evergreen Bowl, Twin Lakes and Sandy Beach; and to places they had never been like The Flume and the Treadwell Mine. I knew then what is confirmed now: Forever I will cherish the Spring/Summer of 2007 – the time I made to enjoy with my parents.
About 20+ years ago, my father, who was an avid gardener, had too many packets of daisy seeds. (I say “too many” cuz I quote my Mom.) During those years, my Mother walked Twin Lakes often with the family dog, Nick. One day she took several packets of the daisy seeds and sprinkled them on the banks between the highway and the Twin Lakes path. Over the years, the daisies have naturally spread their seeds. Right now, the daisies are in full bloom. The following two photos are of my parents during one of our walks back in 2007. During this walk, Mom and I told Dad the story of her sprinkling the seeds which resulted in the entire banks covered with daisies. As we walked the path, although my father’s response was an “Umph”, my mother and I knew he was proud of her. My Mother smiled quietly; she was very happy to be walking the path with her husband.
In 1996, I designed and created a leather button blanket style robe in honor of my mother Irene Lampe, in honor of mothers around the world, and in honor of our Mother Earth. It is called “Mother Earth Child.” The circle is the earth and the womb; inside the “womb” a mother tenderly embraces a child, the child tenderly touches the lips while listening to the mother. The circle of human hands represents the constructive and destructive nature of mankind. The robe is made of forest green leather machine-sewn appliqued upon turquoise leather with antique Mother-of-Pearl buttons. The turquoise represents the ocean and sky; the green represents the land.
The robe is currently displayed in the Hilton Hotel lobby in Juneau; it is part of the permanent collection of Native art of Goldbelt, Inc. I wasn’t sure about selling this robe to be displayed in a public art setting. Yet, as I am writing about this topic, I realize the robe in a public setting can be a reminder to all of us how important our mothers are.
When my mother turned 70 in 1995, I felt it was time to honor my relationship with her; I began drafting out this design. My mother and I were not just mother and daughter; we were friends. I cannot remember a time when we had any disputes or discord between us (except maybe when I was a teenager and she worried about me like most parents do with teenage children!). She was always respectful of me even though she did not always agree with some of the decisions I made in my life and I was respectful of her even though I may not have agreed with some of the decisions she made in her life. Our mother was kind and generous to all of us. She watched out for us, protected us, guided us and she had a great sense of humor. Like most parents, she was always “watching our back” even to her very last day. Even though she is no longer in physical form, I think she will still be watching our back. Our mother loved us.
I will greatly miss our mother. Yet, as long as I live and my memory remains good, I will continue to have a lifelong friendship with my Mamma.