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Dear Chris, Mother’s Day 2019

Dear Chris,

As I write this now, I’m in a tourist service Sprinter van whose driver wanted to pick up more passengers from Ollantaytambo to Cusco via Chinchero. It’s Mother’s Day and I’m headed for Chinchero to put flowers on your grave.

This place has changed so much in the past 42 years. I hope you can see it. We’re just pulling into Urubamba and I’m writing this on my smartphone. Everywhere it’s oarties and feria action and the driver isn’t having much luck picking up more passengers because it’s noon and everyone is heading for lunch with their moms. I got a late start due to a bunch of unseasonable rain and being unable to get it together.

I was trying to decide on a picture of you to post on social media when, again, I ran across my scan of this letter you wrote almost 42 years ago. And you know, it’s this amazing picture of a rough spot in your life as the mother of 2 little daughters. I remember this stretch of time vividly. Even through rose colores hindsight glasses, it was hard. So hard.

You and Ed had decided to build a public outhouse for use on market days, instead of just having all the human waste on a terrace off the market. We lived upstairs in Mateo Pumaccahua’s house, with no windows, and it was so cold so much of the time. You guys were working so hard to overcome the learning curve for everyone in the idea of a toilet. The outhouse was routinely filthy. You were hellbent that our family would be the good example of using it all the time. It was the middle of the day and I’d been complaining of exhaustion, didn’t even go out to play. I had to pee and I begged you to let me just use the chamber pot because I was too tired to walk across the plaza.

“Absolutely not,” you said. “The chamber pot is for at night when it’s pitch dark and freezing.”

I disobeyed you and pissed in it anyway, behind your back. You were furious, and insisted I had to carry it to the outhouse to empty it. Crying angry 5 year old tears I set off across the plaza. It wasn’t fair how you didn’t believe how bone tired I was. Or how heavy the chamber pot was. Or how weird my pee looked.

The next thing I remember I was under a lliclla on top of my sleeping bag on the thick straw pallet under the camping pad. You were holding Molly, who was crying, and holding my hand, while Ed was reading from the Merck Manual. You had looked out of the balcony window to see why I was taking so long and people were surrounding me where I lay asleep in the plaza on one of the hummocks for the market, the spilled chamber pot next to me where I had passed out.

It was three hours by cattle truck to Cusco, where there was barely any medical care anyway, not that it mattered because we were down to our last 25 soles. You were both hoping some money would come from Junius Bird at the American Museum of Natural History who had agreed to fund a project collecting Chinchero textiles woven to order. It kept not coming. The mails were so bad then.

And then Ed got sick too. Molly cling to your jeans while you tended your husband and daughter with the help of folks in town. When I eventually pulled through and Ed was on the mend we went to Cusco in hopes the checks would have come, crashing at some random anthropologist’s two room apartment with a hot plate. The money didn’t come. And then you got sick. Like, really sick, not just the mild sick you were when you wrote the letter below.

Ed would later describe that week to me many times as a turning point in his life, but you, you never talked about it. This letter to Marty and Yve, that Yve kept along wth the others and sent me after you died, is the only time I ever knew you to talk openly about how hard it was. It was only then that I realized all these things were the same few weeks, and today is the first time I actually put it together that it was all right around Mother’s Day.

I’m finishing this up now, sitting at your graveside.

The flowers, unimposing as they may be, are from me, and Molly, and Quilla, wherever they may be, and from Edward too. We all miss you so much. I’m so grateful for the chance to be here near you for this Mother’s Day. I’m so grateful for my mother. Nobody worked harder than you, and nobody ever gave a daughter more.

Thank you for my life. It is so much more than simple thanks can convey.

Love,

Abby

Chris Franquemont to Marty and Yve 19 May 1977

Chinchero, Cusco, Peru

Dear Yve and Marty,

Well I feel like I should explain why you haven’t heard from us – we have just been through a classic five-months-in-a-foreign-country, especially an underdeveloped country, period of culture shock or whatever – it starts with spending hours talking about all the foods we can’t have, etc. Etc. Etc.

Actually Molly fell off the eight-foot-high Inca wall in the plaza in the middle of the Sunday market – and everyone got hysterical, especially since where she fell on is ground where they believe the “hungry,” angry and dissatisfied spirits of the Incas dwell still, so they were certain she would die – we had to do all kinds of rituals – and to everyone’s amazement, Molly was not even bruised.

Well then we all got sick – atually I think maybe we were sick first, as we’d been low on energy for a while – with I can’t imagine what but it included the following symptoms: chills and fever, generalized body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, total anorexia, extreme dehydration and bright orange pee, followed by a period of the same symptoms only less so and specific pains in fnny places, followed by feeling better but being exhausted and quite noticeably jaundiced. God only knows what it is – Molly didn’t get it at all (she has turned out to be the strongest member of the family, me the weakest, to my surprise). Abby and I are still kind of yellow off and on, but we’re trying to drink lots and rest when possible.

[inserted in margin: viral hepatitis, I now realize, and Molly has just come down with it too]

Of course in the midst of this, we had to leave Cusco and go to Bolivia so we could re-enter Peru and get new visas – an absurd bureaucratic hassle, which meant a 24-hour bus ride to end up in an expensive and unattractive city (La Paz). We decided to come home by stages, and stopped off at Bolivia’s major ruins for a couple of days (Tiahuanaco) and then stopped in Pucara – this was sort of an ego trip as you described your trip to Bolton, Yve, as we had spent maybe a month and a half there eight years agoworking on the stone sculpture, and everyone remembered us instantly, competed for us to stay with them, and ged us great meals of their own milk, butter, cheese, and meat three times a day which I am sure was really good for us.

Today we came back to Cuzco on the train and are staying in the same luxurious room we staed in when we first cae here – and all in all, we’re feeling better. We came very close to coming home (going home) while we were sick, especially because it was awful to see Abby really, really sick – she is really skinny and talks an awful lot about the US, although now she speaks good Spanish and adequate Quechua – amazing how much you can learn when you’re five years old.

[inserted: she also has pinworms and I don’t know what other kinds of worms, I hate to think.]

We did pretty much decide to come home this summer when we run out of money since at this moment in Peruvian politics it’s IMPOSSIBLE to geta visa to work, which means Agust or maybe September as we’re thinking about going back to Pucara for a month or so where we can stay for free and do some archaeology.

Well, so a very important thing that cheered us up tonight was we stopped to get our mail and got the Tintin! Only slightly over two monts – I guess things have to be sent airmail in spite of the absurd cost. Also your letter – I think we have gotten all your letters, even the one you sent to Chinchero which showed up in our mailbox in Cuzco!

[inserted in margin: one, however, had been opened and taped shut…]

So Cuzco even feels like home, I think we have gotten over our slump – tomorrow we start back to Chinchero with renewed energy to finish up all the projects we’ve started in the short time remaining to us, dig potatoes and eat watias (they really are good) – then come home and actually publish some of our work (which will involve uncharacteristic discipline on our parts, but who knows?) and maybe someday someone will give us some money to come back.

So what are your plans? I know you will never come to see us after everything I’ve said – are you really going to stay in Branchport for another winter? From our point of view 5 degrees south latitude or wahtever, which is pretty far away, it’s hard to understand why we aren’t all still in Bolton or at least someplace together, instead of in Peru and New York and San Francisco and West Virginia and so on.

Ed is reading “The Black Island” to Abby – he will write. We miss you, needless to say – Love, Chris.

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Apples, and Where They Fall

So, I’m doing a thing.

When I set out to try to plan this venture, initially, a few years ago, I thought I was completely different from my parents. We’ll come back to that.

I guess the idea for this whole thing started at my mother’s velorio — her wake, basically. We buried her in Chinchero, Cusco, Peru, where she spent most of her child-rearing years, and we sat up all night with her casket, people dropping by and sharing remembrances, and as the night went on, one question came up again and again: whatever happened to all those notes she and my dad used to take doing anthropological field work? All those stories, all those photos, whatever did happen to them? Now that both my parents were gone, and my sister, what would become of that chronicle, that archive?

If they could be found, I said, then somehow, soon, I would do something with them. And we did find them. Or a large part of them. And in the very beginning, I did a decent job of sorting them, storing them, scanning some of them.

“You know what I should do?” I asked my husband Chad, not waiting for his answer. “I should write a book, where I start the chapter with one parent’s journal or letter or whatever, and then I tell my memory of it along with a retrospective thing that puts it in the larger context, and then close that chapter with a thing from the other parent.”

Chad laughed. “That sounds like about the most Franquemont thing I could picture doing with all of this.” I laughed too, as strange as it might have seemed to laugh, sitting on the floor, surrounded by stacks of folders and papers and negatives and slides and tiny notebooks that fit in a pocket, suitable for field notes with one of the 4-color pens my father was never without.

I wrote some outlines. I tentatively tried to pitch the book, but it was scary, you know? Maybe I didn’t try as hard as I should have. Maybe I thought, hell, nobody wants to read a retrospective by some middle-aged kid going through her dead parents’ stuff. And then life threw some curve balls — ovarian cancer for me, a heart attack for Chad, the decision to develop an electric spinning wheel as a product, that sort of thing. Bit by bit, the project got tabled. I stopped sorting files, stopped pulling out raw field notes about productive rates of spinners in 1977, stopped scanning childhood homeschool assignments to write about learning to weave and spin.

“This is all so tangled,” I said, one day. “I think, once upon a time, I thought I could separate out the stuff that would be memoir and the stuff that was about spinning and weaving; the stuff that would be travel writing, ethnography, and that sort of thing, from the stuff that was about the finer points of technique in being productive with a spindle. But I can’t. It’s just like my whole life. It’s all too intertwined. I can’t take the yarn out of the Franquemont and I can’t take the Franquemont out of the yarn.”

“Then maybe you don’t,” Chad said. “Maybe that’s the whole thing. Maybe it’s not tangled. Maybe it’s a textile.”

Maybe.

(Don’t worry. There’s plenty of yarn talk to come.)

Well, time passes. Mercilessly, in fact. And here it is, 2018, and it came to be November — the 5th anniversary of my mother’s death, and there I was, still no closer, really, to having Done Something with that archive. So I resolved that this year, we’d all go to Peru for Christmas, and I’d come up with a real plan.

The thing is… there was no plan that would allow for me, Chad, and our grownup offspring to go to Peru for very long, without everything falling apart in the USA. And so, dejectedly, I tabled the project again.

And then… one day, Chad told me they’d talked. And that they’d done the math. And looked at the schedule and the hard requirements. And… well, the thing was just this: if we didn’t do the Christmas trip, if Chad and our kid stayed home and sent me off alone, it looked like there’d be a way to send me for about 3 months. Long enough to take my outlines, my notes, and scans of my parents’ archive, and be where I needed to be to do all the research to write the book right. Where I could go follow in my parents’ footsteps.

“Yeah,” said my kid, “And you know, the funny thing is, you could have better internet there than we’ve got here in semi rural Ohio.”

“That’s true,” said Chad. “You could finally do all the livestreams and video lessons you’ve been wanting to and that our crappy net doesn’t allow.”

After much discussion, I ended up saying: “The only way it could work would be if I went, and once there, sorted out a whole bunch of stuff, and we just… totally did it all on a wing and a prayer. It’s crazy. Completely crazy.”

But then I started thinking about it seriously, which Chad would tell you is a uniquely Franquemont thing to do: look at a seeming impossibility, and then start to break it down and find some angle of attack that makes it… not unviable.

The decision was made, finally, when I sat with the tiny spiral bound notebook my father started on December 28, 1976: a chronicle of the time when, after seeking funding for 6 years and not finding it, my parents sold off everything they owned, took the cash, and moved to Peru with their 4-year-old (me) and 1-year-old (my sister), with no clear plan for how they’d use their bottom dollar to pull off the textile research project they’d proposed over and over again, only to hear a million reasons why it couldn’t work, was ridiculous, and nobody was interested.

If I were to go now, I could work on that book project — and I could blog the process. And it’s 2018. Now there’s internet everywhere. Now the electricity in Peru can be taken for granted. Everybody’s got flushing toilets. You can even have an ice cold beer that’s been refrigerated. What obstacles did I really face, as compared to my parents?

We went through the lists, and crossed them off, or set them to the side, and then ultimately, the biggest one was: how the hell do we explain this to all of our friends and customers and students and everyone?

Well, I guess we do it like this.

(Come on you guys, be serious, I’m trying to take a serious selfie here dammit)

Expect to hear lots more in the next few days, about how you can follow along, what exciting new things you could potentially take advantage of (like an online spinning lesson or scheduled livestreams about spinning and weaving, just for starters). There’s also great news from the Questionable Origin e-spinner side of things, and I’ll leave that for Chad to announce, and it will probably be much shorter, sweeter, and to the point than I ever seem to be. But for now… It’s Christmas in Cusco, the capital of the empire whose heirs claimed me to educate as a proper weaver and spinner.

(You bet she’s spinning.)

More tomorrow.

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Dear Chris: Today You Would Be 70

Franquemonts in 1975

Dear Chris,

Well, it doesn’t get any easier.

Franquemonts in 1975
Chris Franquemont, holding Molly Franquemont, next to Ed Franquemont.

They are all gone now.

Today, you would be 70.

Five years ago today was the last time I wished you a happy birthday, and the last time anybody heard from Molly.

I spend a lot of March 9ths bursting into tears suddenly, and today’s really no exception. And yeah, to be fair, it’s been a rough day ever since that birthday of yours when we all rushed to Ed’s deathbed and made you leave for long enough to go have a good solid meal. It was your 56th birthday — you were only ten years older than I am now. And we never could have guessed you only had 9 more birthdays coming.

Do you remember that nightmare I used to have, over and over? I know, there were a few. But I mean that one where one day, you and Ed decided we should get a refrigerator for the cancha at the house we lived in, Mateo Pumaccahua’s house, and then we could all have milk and maybe even ice cream, in Chinchero just like we used to on the farm in Bolton?

So, yeah, anyway, we set off (in the dream) over to the other side of Antaquilka — which by the way, you still can’t actually find notated on maps very easily. And yeah, he’s still my apu, but I guess you know that since he’s watching over your bones real close. But yeah. I was shocked, in the dream, when the other side was all pink and white stripes. Bare shale type rock in so many places, all pink and white. I’d never been there, and in real life I assumed his other side was green and steep and imposing the same way the face of him I saw daily was. But no. Pink and white shale stripes.

And down into the dream valley we walked. Well, you and Ed and I walked, and Ed had Molly on his back in a k’eparina. He stepped careful, on the downward slope, with his bad knees and his feet in wool socks inside some old ojotas. I ran with a five-year-old’s glee, down and back up and down again, tireless, faster than all of you, and I was the first one there to the odds and ends ferreteria where rumor had it there was a fridge.

Ed put Molly down, in her pink balleta culis, to run around and maybe find somewhere to go pee. I wandered after her, like the good big sister I strove to be. But then Ed called me back, to take a look at the fridge. I took Molly’s hand and made her come, too, and then you picked her up and held her on your hip while I walked around the fridge, inspecting it from all sides.

“What do you think?” Ed asked.

I took it all so seriously. Just like you told my kid, that time when he asked you what his mother was like as a little kid. “She was very serious,” you said. “She never did anything she wasn’t serious about doing.” So in the dream, I checked out that fridge like lives depended on it. I mean, they would, if we got it, and got it back up to Chinchero, and if we got to the pasteurizing milk and keeping it and then maybe even making ice cream sometimes. So many reasons you both had explained to me, about why we didn’t have milk and didn’t have ice cream and why I wasn’t supposed to just eat choclo con queso without knowing about the source of the cheese. And I thought about all these things, very seriously, in my five-year-old dream way.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, this should do the trick.”

I turned around to confirm you’d all heard me, but Molly was back in the k’eparina on Ed’s back, and the three of you were headed down the road, down the valley, down along the riverside.

“Stop!” I yelled, “Wait!” as I started to run after you. I mean, I was sure I could catch you. I was fast. So fast. And you guys would wait up.

Except you didn’t. You just looked back, and kept going. And then you laughed. You all laughed. And no matter how fast I ran I couldn’t catch you, and then laughing, the three of you disappeared around a bend and there was nothing for me but to sit by the side of the road, sobbing, sweaty, dusty, between a cactus and a rain-melted adobe wall atop an Inca foundation.

In hindsight now, sometimes I think that recurring dream was Antaquilka trying to tell me how it would be — that I would be there, taking it all so seriously, and then somehow you’d all three of you be gone, and I wouldn’t be able to catch up, and I’d be in the dust looking at an unripe tuna fruit and a much older Molly saying “no, Opuntia,” and poky needles and legless white beetles we all know hold bright red inside, the fine powdery dust of the Andes in my nose, what used to be someone’s house but now it’s all melted from rainy season after rainy season, pillaged tombs up on the steep cliff behind me, bright yellow-flowered retama shrubs, the smell of that invader eucalyptus and its blade-like leaves, the rushing river not so distant, and all of you gone around the bend and I can’t catch up.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t learned to know it was a dream, or that I hadn’t learned to wake myself from it and know it wasn’t real. Maybe then I would know what happens next. Or how many more bends the road still holds. Or if there’ll ever be ice cream where once there was none. Hell, if anybody bought that fridge, or if I ever made it home.

On Sunday, it’ll be 14 years since I put that bag of Fritos in my father’s cold, dead hands, and said I wished I had a beer for him, and then you said I should take the scarf I had crocheted for him, and I said it was his, and you said it wasn’t like we did grave goods in Connecticut. I’m glad you didn’t die in Connecticut. I’m glad that’s not where your bones lie. Fuck Connecticut. For me it’s still another word for death and despair. Maybe if it had gotten to stay quinetucket, “beside the long tidal river,” it would mean that less. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just me. I mean, it is just me, I suppose. And the apu tried to tell me. I should have prepared better. But here we are. Or aren’t.

I guess, again, I’ll leave you with this song that Ed used to sing — that we all sang.

I love you, and I miss you, and I hope you are all three of you together, held close by the apus and the rivers and whatever it is that ties it all together. That somewhere, some mountain and some river hold Molly’s long-lost bones, that it’s not the ñakaq who took her, and that you all can laugh, leaving me behind, and know I’ll be okay. And I try so hard to not just be a little girl lost by the side of the road. But some days it’s just so hard, and all I can do is cry.

Here’s to you, my ramblin’ fam — may all your ramblin’ bring you joy.