I remember you were already stored away in your pouch; so you weren’t privy to Uncle’s parting words. I was sitting on the floor in front of Uncle’s pallet, my eyes brimming with unshed tears for what was soon to be. Uncle was bare to the waist and chalked in white like a hog caked with dried mud from a wallow. He was ready for his journey; I was not. Silent tears finally overflowed, trickled from the corners of my eyes and slid down my cheeks, leaving wet streaks like snail tracks on my face.
Uncle rarely touched anyone, but he leaned forward and placed his leathery palms on either side of my face, gently drew me forward, and kissed my forehead with his dry lips. “Niece, my precious child, I love you so much. You have warmed an old, old man’s heart. I would spare you what must be if I could. I cannot. So hear my words child, they must be with you for I will not. This is the last we shall speak face to face this side of the stars. Soon, I will be with the ancestors. Do not cry child, I have lived a long life and a full one.”
Then he placed his hands upon the top of my head and prayed “Ofvngv, bless this child. She is now a Keeper. I pass my burden to her; it is a heavy load and long must she bear it. Preserve her and guide her to the time and the place where she may at last set it down and rest.”
Uncle bid me to stand. He drew forth an otter bag from the bundle of his pallet. He withdrew a pipe bowl and stem, assembled them, and packed the bowl with tobacco from a pouch kept within the otter bag. He stood up. He lighted the pipe from one of the chapel candles. He stood to the West of me, facing towards the East. He softly chanted words beneath his breath that I could not make out, and then he blew the smoke of the tobacco upon me. He moved south of me, chanted and blew the smoke over me. He moved around me to the East and then to the North – each time he chanted then blew the tobacco smoke upon me.
Uncle hobbled back to his pallet and stiffly eased back onto the pallet. Uncle carefully placed the pipe upon the otter bag. I sat back down on the hide spread on the floor before his pallet. The haze of smoke encircled me and the pungent aroma of tobacco lingered upon me. My skin was pimply, like when I would go to water in the cold of winter and rise from the waters dripping wet into the brisk air of frosty mornings.
“Morning Light, the spirits know you have been blessed and charged as a Keeper. Those spirits of the Upper World will assist, guide, and protect you along the way; those spirits of the Lower World will seek to turn you from your path. Listen well, Niece, only you chose where you place your feet. Walk in the dark and you’re likely to stumble on roots in the path and fall flat on your face. Walk in the light and you will not stub your toes so much. You will not always know what you should do. When your way is unclear, all you can do is what you know is right and trust Ofvngv will direct your feet.
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