THERE IS PERHAPS NO scene more timeless than an elder telling
a group of precocious youngsters about life “back in the day.”
Sometime in the late 20th century, in a sprawling, one-story house
nestled in a hilly Southern California suburb, two youngsters gather
on a white couch in the living room. The room is arranged so that
the couch is facing a gigantic window, with an armchair next to the
couch and a table in front. The couch itself, upon closer inspection,
has flowers embroidered on it in colorless thread. There is a plant in
the corner of the room, and family pictures line the walls. The two
youngsters have just eaten dinner, and the sun is setting outside. It
is a summer evening, and the colors of the sunset cast a beautiful
shadow, almost as if the golds, reds, and pinks of the sun are in the
An elder comes in, takes a seat in the armchair next to the
couch, and begins not with a story, but with silence. She’s in her
70s, though the absence of wrinkles and a cane suggests someone
much younger. She is about 5 feet 9, with a broad nose, deep-set eyes
glasses, and short, curly hair graying at the edges.
One of the youngsters, Maya, waits in rapt attention for her grandmother
to tell her the same story she has heard since she could first
?understand words. She sits there, on one side of the couch, a mass of
dark brown curls cinched to the nape of her neck with a black hair
tie. Another girl, Tina, about five years younger, sits next to her. Her
straight black hair is pulled high on her head into a sleek ponytail.
At first glance, the two girls could not look more different; Maya
with her curly brown hair and cinnamon-tinted skin, Tina with her
straight black hair and skin three to four shades lighter. On closer
inspection, however, the similarities become more evident: the small,
slender noses, thin lips, and crescent-shaped eyes. Sisters, for sure.
Tina breaks the silence.
“Do you need anything, Grammy?” she asks, getting up off the
couch to go to the kitchen.
“Just some water,” the elder replies and again waits in silence until
Tina comes back. Tina returns, setting the glass of water on the table
in front of her grandmother. Esther brings the cup to her lips and
takes a sip.
“So how did you end up on the reservation again?” Tina inquires,
as if she hasn’t heard the story a hundred times before. Esther sets the
cup down and takes a deep breath.
“There was a flyer,” she says, and Maya and Tina snuggle together
on the couch to get ready for a long night. They love it when the
story starts here, from the beginning.