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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.