LATE BREAKING NEWS: This came in after I wrote the blog and before it went to press, so this a PS at the beginning. My editor just sent me word that Blessing of the Lost Girls is #15 on the New York Times combined physical and e-book list. Thanks to everyone who made that happen. As my mother, Evie, would say, “Whoever you are, you know who you are!”
It’s Wednesday. I’ve been on the road for a week and a half, going from hot—Phoenix, Arizona, to chilly—West Bloomfield, Michigan. I’m on my way to the airport in Detroit, where the leaves are just starting to turn. But I’m ready to be home where we don’t have nearly as many leaves, and I will be—on Friday.
What have I learned on this trip? It’s possible to take a cold shower, if you’ve run the water for ten minutes and it still hasn’t warmed up. As Roger Miller would say, “Thanks, Omaha, thanks a lot.” I’ve also learned that it’s impossible to use gel-manicured nails to open the tops of those little foil covered butter and margarine containers. In every case, I was reduced to stabbing the foil with my fork and then peeling it off.
Last week’s Wednesday and Saturday events in Tucson couldn’t have been more different but each were incredibly rewarding. The first one was at the Tucson Jewish Community Center and sponsored by the Tucson Festival of Books. It started with a dessert reception and had a wall-to-wall crowd from the moment it started. The second was also at a community center, at the San Xavier District Headquarters on the Tohono O’odham reservation. There were only around thirty people to begin with, but most of the audience arrived later on what’s called Indian Time. The first event was adults only. The second was more of a family affair with plenty of little kids rocketing around in the back of the room.
My hostess at the first event, Lynn Weise Sneyd, is a mover and shaker with the Tucson Festival of Books. My hostess on the reservation, Vivian Juan Saunders, is the daughter of Melissa Juan, who who was my initial library assistant when I went to work on the reservation in 1968. It’s been more than fifty years since I last saw Vivian, and we both shed tears when we met, even though everyone knows the Tohono O’odham are not supposed to show tears for fear of offending Iitoi, the Spirit of Goodness. But then again, maybe tears of joy are okay.
Vivian’s husband, Richard, served as Chief of Police on the reservation for twenty-one years. He’s also a talented photographer. He’s the one who told me that 60 women are now missing from the TO Nation. Has anyone in the Tucson or Phoenix media mentioned that shocking reality? Nope. Are the photos of those missing women and girls plastered on billboards or television screens? Nope. They’re not Anglos, so somehow what happens to them doesn’t count. And that’s the whole reason I wrote Blessing of the Lost Girls—to help make them count.
As I was leaving the event, Vivian gave me two tiny horsehair baskets. The plain one, she told me, is a vessel to hold my thoughts. As for the other one—the tiny doll wearing a black shawl? She stands for the Tohono Nation’s Lost Girls.
I treasure them both.
As for the best email of the week? That one came from a woman in Austin, Texas. She told me that she read her first Joanna Brady book in March of this year. She’s now read everything I’ve written, other than Blessing, and that reading my books had saved her sanity. At the end of the note, she told me that she lost her husband on March 8 of this year. At my suggestion, she has now read After the Fire as well. I’m so touched to know that my stories helped her through these past few challenging months when sleep was most likely hard to come by.
You see, that’s why I write book and tell stories. Tohono O’odham legends are “winter telling tales” and can only be told between the middle of November and the middle of March. Milghan, Anglo, stories can be told any time at all, but when times are tough stories that take us to some other place and some other reality can make all the difference.