Book I - Turning Myself Upside Down
At eight-years-old I received a rag doll with a Navajo face and body on one end, with an Anglo body on the other. The doll became a symbol for my journey into the world of the Navajo and the manifestation of a childhood prayer:
Please God, turn me upside down and make me an Indian.
The years chronicled in Turning Myself Upside Down, led to life-changing events and a new business with a mission to promote American arts through the sale of Amish quilts and Navajo weavings.
Episodes and excerpts from Book I follow:
Navajo Women Visit Lancaster County Amish Country
On the day we were expected at the home of Rebecca and Amos Stoltzfus, Sonya was quiet on the drive into the heart of Lancaster County Amish country, and all three women were hushed as we made our way up the lane to a sprawling three-story farmhouse. "It so green," Grace said as we got out of the car. 'An' huge." Her eyes were wide as a child in a toy store. "Looks like hotel in Albuquerque."
"Coool." Sonya pointed her chin at a buggy that stood next to the barn, "It's like ones we passed on the road." The Amish farm was like a picture with fences freshly painted white, manicured lawns and sparkling windows in the house and barn.
"How comes …" Sonya stopped mid-sentence. Rebecca was coming down the porch steps leading a small army of children. I counted nine—ranging in age from about three to sixteen . . . The youngest peeked from behind Rebecca's skirt.
"Welcome. Welcome." Her voice was high and shrill. "We’re excited about you coming. I let the children go late to school so they could meet you awhile." She put a hand on the shoulder of the oldest, "John, Jacob, Sarah, Matthew, Ruth, Esther, Joshua, Mary ..." After their name was mentioned, she gave each a little push to send them on their way, "and Rachael."
Rebecca had to pull the child from behind her skirt. Rachael tugged at her mother's arm, coaxing her down so she could whisper something in her ear. Rebecca gave a hearty laugh and said, "Rachael wants to know if you’re going to scalp her." Sonya stooped to the child's level, handed her a piece of hard candy from her pocket and said, "Not if you gives me a ride in your buggy."
Sonya Bitsinnie became enthralled with the Amish quilts and began to replicate those designs in her prize-winning weavings.
The weaving shown here is Sonya's Navajo version of the quilt pattern, Sunshine & Shadow.
An Adoption Ceremony
Anna Mae reached under her chair to pull out an item concealed in a flour bag. “Shiach'é'é,” the old woman said. She smiled broadly and passed the bag down the table to where I sat.
“She calls you daughter.” Crystal spoke with gravity and sincerity; it was obvious that this was an important event. “The prayer was ‘bout adoptin’ you.” Crystal paused, giving me time to absorb her words. “Grandma gives you name ‘Yahnahbah.’ which means ‘She Faces Her Enemy Directly.’ Crystal spoke as she stood to pour more water in my glass. “Grandma tells that you are to be trusted. You walk squarely an face your problems or enemies directly. You don’t circle or hide behind things. An adoption means an exchange of gifts. Grandma’s is in the bag.”
I pulled a course-textured weaving from the bag. It was small, approximately eighteen by thirty inches, and beautifully crafted. Two Ye’ii stood on either side of a cornstalk surrounded on three sides by Rainbow Woman.