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Monday, January 24, 2011

I Write, Therefore I Am by Debra Shiveley Welch

We’ve all experienced it: an itch that begs to be scratched. You can try to ignore it, but it only causes the itch to increase, the desire to scratch to escalate. This is how I have
felt about writing since age nine.

Maybe it is because I fell in love with words: words like kick and wend, Llewellyn and bang. Delicious sounds, which please the inner ear and make one want to find more words – ear candy as it were. So, I began to write, mostly about a little girl who found a puppy and was allowed to keep it. My mother never caught on.

As I grew and matured, my writing branched out to poetry, essays, articles for newsletters and newspapers, and short stories. I actually had a newspaper column for a while. I loved it; I immersed myself in it, like slipping my body into a warm, fragrant bubble bath.

I married and realized the exquisite joy of motherhood.  My happiness fed my muse and I began to write books, my first being a children’s story about adoption, written for my beautiful son.

The success of being traditionally published was heady. My great uncle, Judge A.Z. Blair, was a published author, but until A Very Special Child, he held that singular distinction within our family. I had to keep on, and so wrote a murder mystery, Jesus Gandhi Oma Mae Adams, with my cousin, and then at my publisher’s request, a memoir, Son of My Soul – The Adoption of Christopher. At first, I was reluctant. My childhood was traumatic and lonely, and I did not want to revisit those times. And yet, there was my son, then 15, who I felt needed to know about his mother.

How many times have we thought, I wish I’d asked Grandma about that. I wish I’d asked my mother about her childhood. Chris would know. I would write it down for him.


I cannot give you a bloodline: a family tree of ancestors reaching back for hundreds of years. I cannot say, “You look like your grandfather,” or “You got that from me.” What I can give you is a spiritual heritage: an existence that lived long before you were born.

I will weave the fabric of my own story into yours, for although I did not give birth to you, I gave you a life. This history of mine, and of yours, interweaves into a cloth so strong, nothing can tear it.

You are my son, my love, my joy, and through my history, you will learn yours, and perhaps…your future.  It may be that at times you will look back and judge me as too stern, or too demanding.  If so, I hope you will remember these pages, and you will understand.

Therefore, my sweet son, I offer you these writings and give to you – you.

I was thrilled when my memoir won four awards.  My heart’s writing to my boy was deemed worthy of awards!  Talk about affirmation!  That was when the writing bug dug its teeth into my soul and bit hard!

As I wrote earlier, I have always loved words.  Upon my meeting my future adoptive sister, I began a love affair with new sounds, new words: the language of the Lakota Plains Native Americans.  The years followed and my sister and I grew to love each other.  Adoption, or Hunkapi (Hoon-kah-pee) or the Making of Relatives Ceremony followed, and I began to learn of her culture, beliefs and ceremonies.  I was mesmerized!  What beauty, what poetry, what wisdom existed within my sister and her people – now my people by adoption.  I had to write about it!  Cedar Woman was born.


Slowly, slowly, Grandfather Sun began his ascent.  Gliding, floating, he moved above the horizon as blue and lavender and mauve filled the sky.
       Birdsong married with fragrant air, as Wakan Tanka[1]  stretched His fingers across the sky, pushing back the night, heralding the dawning of a new day.
* * *
         Lena “bathed” herself with the fragrant fumes.  Cupping her hand, and capturing the floating ribbons of smoke, she passed them over her head, shoulders, torso, and under each foot.
       Facing the west, she extended the smoking bowl and intoned: “Grandfather of the West, this is Cedar Woman, I ask that you keep my feet true and on the Good Red Road.[2] I ask that you guide me on this day, and all days, so that I may continue on this path. I ask that you help in my daily life.  Mitakuye oyasin, we are all related.  She next turned to the north and offered the same prayer to Grandfather of the North, Grandfather of the East and then of the South.  Lifting the bowl to the heavens, she repeated her prayer to Father Sky.  
       Kneeling, the bowl in front of her, her hands on the floor on each side of her body, she sent her prayer to Mother Earth.
       Finally, she again raised the still smoking bowl to the sky and added a personal plea: “Creator, this is Cedar Woman. I ask that you keep my feet true and on the Good Red Road. I ask that you guide me on this day and all days so that I may continue on this path. I ask that you help in my daily life. I ask you that I may feed all people and that my venture here will be successful.”  Lena placed the still smoldering bowl on a table and sat, slowly relaxing, her mind, body and spirit in harmony.
* * *
“Cate sice hemaca,[3] Sunka Gleska.[4]”  Logan hung his head, too ashamed to meet the faithful dog’s eyes again.
* * *
Standing at 5’11”, with long, blue-black hair, Sonny was a striking figure in a white cotton shirt, turquoise bolo tie and jeans.  Polished Western boots and a black cattleman cowboy hat caused many a young woman present to catch her breath in awe.  His deep, brown eyes sparkled with humor and intelligence as he deftly held the crowd with his deep, resonant voice.
       “For those of you here who are not NdN[5], I will explain what is happening here today,” Sonny continued, his voice melodic, his manner regal.
       “Since the first memories, it has always been such: if a loved one was lost through death, or moved away, it was not uncommon for an individual, or a family, to adopt someone to fill the empty place left by the departed family member.  Similarly, if a person had no siblings, or family members, the situation could be remedied through the same means.
       “The Making of Relatives Ceremony, or Hunkapi, was celebrated last night, and is a rite not entered into lightly and meant to last for life.
       “Today we witness the celebration of the adoption of a daughter, and she is here today to show her thanks to her new family.”
Writing Cedar Woman was an exhilarating experience and truly caused me to become completely addicted to this form of writing: the novel.  And so…I continue.

[1] Wah-kah Than-kah – Mysterious Creator
[2] The Good Red Road – To walk in balance.  To follow the rules of Creator.
[3] Chahn tday see chay hay mahn chah – sorrowing I am
[4] Shoon kah glay shkah – Spotted Dog
[5] Preferred spelling for Indian

A Master Storyteller
"Debra Shiveley Welch is a master storyteller.  I find her writing to be very much on the order of what is considered, in old terms, a true storyteller, one that takes the nucleus and expands it to take on all the senses -- I can see what she sees, hear what she hears, smell and taste what she smells and tastes. Most importantly, though, I feel what she feels."   Linda J. Alexander