This blue bottle is etched with the rendering of a drawing I made during the time when I was involved in bringing forth the vision for the 1000 Hummingbird Ceremony.
In late 2007, early 2008 I began working with a group of women to create what was to become known as the 1000 Hummingbird Ceremony. As life would have it, I was pulled in a different direction. I gave what I could, how I could.
One August meeting I was unable to make it down to the park. I was in the process of moving, and my mind felt full of goodbyes, and the need to review all that this little house had brought to me and my family. I thought about the Trader Joe chicken taquitos that everyone loved having when they arrived, just before we all headed to the ocean. I walked through the sunny room which my child had so happily put dibs on when we first arrived there, ‘after all, my last room had less light than yours’ – and thought of how much we both loved watching the July fireworks from his room window.
The owner of the house where we lived on Precita Avenue was an elderly woman who had herself lived there with her husband and children. She was one of those special spirits, someone who saw possibility, and shared with me her strong sense of justice.
I later found out that this house was on the very same street my Grandma Mary had lived back in the 1930’s. I hadn’t known my Grandma Mary had lived on that street when I moved there, but I knew her father had a store right across from St. Luke’s Hospital, at the corner of Valencia and Mission Streets. That was before they moved to San Jose to escape the cold, foggy city.
Grandma Mary delighted in the fact that I lived there now, and even when she’d forget that I lived there, just the mention of Precita Avenue loosened her memories, and she’d recount how she graduated at 16 from Mission High, and how much she fun she had had, riding the cable cars after the high school football games. She said it didn’t matter whether they won or lost, the happy group would board the cable cars and ride through the city celebrating anyway, much to the consternation of the other passengers. She told me of how the Great Depression had impacted her family, how tight money was even though her father’s store was well-known in the neighborhood, and how her father didn’t have money for a new pair of shoes for her graduation. The lady with a used clothing store next to Grandma Mary’s father’s store had overheard her ask her father for a dollar to buy the pair of white shoes for her graduation, but he couldn’t spare it on such luxuries. The neighboring store owner called her over later, and said she wanted Grandma Mary to have those shiny bright pair of shoes for her graduation and gave them to her.
I came back from Toronto, Canada to be near my Grandma Mary, after living for seven years outside the country, mostly working in Mexico City. Grandma Mary remained in the home she and my grandpa bought for $15,000 back during WWII, when my grandpa was serving in the military. It was the house where I had spent summer and Christmas visits, where I would go to be ‘home.’ Grandma Mary lived in that house until only a few months ago when the dementia became more advanced. She is 96 now.
In the late afternoons, I’d stand in the warmth of the Precita house, looking out the Victorian window, watching the clouds roll in over Sutro Tower, down and around the Bernal neighborhood where we lived.
Queenie was the owner of that little place on Precita that we left behind. Over the two years we lived there, Queenie and I became friends, getting to know each other’s life more and more. When times became hard, she waited, with belief in me that I could turn things around, although we had no idea how bad things were just about to get. Even after I moved from that little house, Queenie and I talked still, not often, and only briefly, but I realized we had developed a strong connection even though we had never met in person. Queenie was confined to home, but her mind soared, and she shared her thoughts with me about life, children, her life, her children.
Queenie and I had not spoke since I suffered a nerve injury over a year ago, and lost my cellphone service. Over the holidays, and recently, I felt her name in my mind, but I was again on the move, changing residence once again. I kept thinking about her, but I did not pick up the phone. I wish I had. Today at the bus stop, I ran into a neighbor who had lived in the building next to the one Queenie owned. She said Queenie had died three weeks ago. I felt a tug on my heart, a moment I had not seized, a chance to say thank you, not taken. I felt a loss. After the neighbor left, the Cuban woman I had been talking with at the bus stop before the neighbor shared the sad news asked who had died. I told her about Queenie, and how bad I felt.
I asked as a question, but knew the answer, ‘Do you think if I thank her she can hear me up there?’ The smartly dressed Cuban woman nodded, then smiled, ‘yes, yes, she will.’
I think about Queenie, and that apartment with great respect and love for the presence of both in our lives. It was in that home that Hummingbird came to me, flying near every window in that house. It was there that I first heard the sound of a 1000 women dancing to the song of the hummingbird.
That August day I could not attend the ceremony planning meeting was the day that the Hummingbird woman drawing came to me. Another artist collaborated and improved upon my design, a joint creation, his flare to my rough sketch. This blue bottle and t-shirts with the same image are now available for sale, proceeds support bringing elders to the Hummingbird Ceremony. To order a blue bottle, please visit the 1000 Hummingbird site.
Hummingbird. Humu. All my relations.