Excerpt from Vows, Part Two - "Susie" (pages 67 - 70)
The i n n o c e n t g i r l - b r i d e of half a century earlier peered out the east window. She leaned against an arm of a heavily padded upholstered chair, watching the man she’d known since she was fifteen years old. He walked slowly away from the house, pulling a wooden chair, its legs scraping hard ground. Her own limbs were heavy as she pressed back on the chair.
We weren’t always like this. . .
Just before the first light snow of the season they met. Two of his uncles came to her family. One announced, “It’s time my son finds a mate.” All her family leaned forward to hear what he was going to say next. That’s what she was told.
“Three sheep,” was their first offer. One of her family members suggested hopefully, “Perhaps some other goods as well?” It was a modest sum for the day and for who they all were.
Chee’s family nodded when their discussion reached that closing point. They were far from wealthy and hers was no richer. The necessary bartering eventually satisfied everyone. It was simply a detail in a larger picture.
In exchange, Susie honored the agreement between two families, and took her place beside Chee in the hogan.
I was too shy but I was curious. . .A new part of life was coming. . .
Her family, protective because of her size, age, and innocence, met his eyes that day and held him in a tight vise, “Treat her well,” they warned. She watched the exchange between the two sides, but didn’t say much. “She’s young.” “She’s dear to us.” Quietly, but firmly, they advised about life and her and her young man’s duty to future children. One speaker, bolder than others, hinted at more private matters. Tilting her head toward one shoulder the brazen woman said loudly, “Some people aren’t satisfied with their mates and go elsewhere for company.”
I looked down at the ground. . . I was alone. . . That woman, an aunt of mine, frightened and shamed me...
The aunt added sharply, as if what she already said wasn’t enough, “Don’t be lazy either! We didn’t say you were like that!” She looked directly at Susie and Susie felt humiliated. The aunt was hefty and her booming voice made Susie flinch. Nothing about the aunt was soft. Chee told Susie sometime later, “I want to stay away from her!” Susie smiled brightly because of his observation and comment.
Almost everyone gave advice... Finally, Chee and I were alone in the small hogan at my family’s place. . .
Such a long time ago! She saw frozen ground and thawing of trees.
Still at the window, her gaze went southward. Fall had circled around again; daylight already transformed, becoming softer. Then her eyes settled again on the man sitting outside, looking toward the tipi ground.
More than sixty winters ago we were strangers. . . Immediately after their marriage, it was clear to her that Chee was what his and her families claimed. Though not at all worldly in the matter of choosing a mate for herself, she had relied on their judgment, and what she witnessed later seemed to bear out their claims.
At the time, in appearance, he was of medium height with long blue-black hair and glassy obsidian eyes. He was lean and spry. He seemed to be well taught and disciplined, showing care about himself and others. His warmth was apparent from the start.
Those qualities didn’t make it any easier for me to be alone with him the first time. . . We were strangers. . .
Vagueness flitted across her face but a pin of light shone in her dark eyes. The marriage night, they looked at each other from different sides of the hogan and made separate beds, silently reflecting upon the day’s events, and advice given. She slept soundly and forgot she had a mate when she awoke the next morning. Then she heard him moving about and she put a hand over her mouth to muffle surprise.
Now she laughed. Her laughter was whispery and in it was the girl-bride she’d been seasons past. When she got up that morning, her hair came loose and carelessly hung well below her hips. Chee sat like a boulder in front of her, staring openly; he seemed unable to move. They met each other’s eyes but that was all. The hogan was so still, frozen in the look passing between them, except for sounds of fire flicking in the stove and wind spitting through the smoke hole.
Their first days together were quiet and awkward. For answers, beside “yes” and “no,” she gave Chee a wide-eyed, head-on gaze and a tilted chin. She often caught him watching her and her face became hot and red, and she quickly fled out the door.
Inexperienced at cooking then, she did what she could, and Chee accepted what she offered.
He spent most his time taking care of my family's livestock...He wanted to help when I tried household chores I didn't know...
She ignored his offers. Then he seemed to decide that she was best left alone. Meanwhile, the men in the family waited for him outside, taunting him about being a newlywed, in fragmented English of their day.
Too bashful to really face Chee and talk to him yet, little by little, she felt more secure in his presence each passing day. Then came the morning he approached her. He slowly put his hand over hers and deftly moved it up her arm to eventually rest on her face, cupping her chin in his hand. He was a bit clumsy, laughing as if he saw that clumsiness in himself too. Then they studied each other's faces. His eyes were black pools. Deep. Deep. Placing his other arm around her small waist, he nudged her to him. She permitted the embrace but pushed back as if caught in indecision. His body was so warm, comforting and inviting. To her own surprise, she returned his embrace in a strong reach for him.
After that stirring moment, she accepted his presence completely. Then she showed him that she really did know how to talk, astonishing him with how much she had to say, his eyes shining with humor. Usually though, she was reserved, preferring solitude and observation before letting her inquisitive and curious nature show.
We have matured together through peace and storms... The world and seasons challenged us...