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Dinosaurs, Coal Miners, and Suffragettes: History, Legacy, and Home

I purchased a deck of dinosaur playing cards.

Each card has a picture and description of a different type of dinosaur, complete with the proper pronunciation of its name, where and when it roamed the earth, whether it was vegan or paleo, and its approximate height and weight. I intend to play a very slow game of solitaire in which I study every dinosaur before laying its card.

I also purchased a beautiful book of glossy black and white photographs of the residents of the Drumheller valley who worked in the coal mines in the 1900’s. Beside each photo is the miner’s (or miner’s daughter’s or miner’s wife’s) description of where (s)he was born, when and where he began working in the mines, what his particular job was (faceman, timberman, driver, bone-picker, etc…) His words are captured and recorded so that when I read them, I feel as though I am there in the backyard, sitting under a tree with the Red Deer River rushing somewhere in the distance, taking him in. In my mind I can see his eyes light up when he describes with pride what it felt like to come home at the end of a long day, filthy, tired, and full of pride, knowing he’d kicked ass underground all day. Or I see his jaw set as he recounts the scene of the day he marched out on the mine manager, saying something along the lines of “Eat my dust.” I don’t blame him. He did after all, eat coal dust for how many decades?

Atlas

What does a 23 year-old woman want with such things? A 23 year-old woman who sings and acts for a living?

Well, I suppose this 23 year-old woman is one of those artist types, who finds poetry in every little thing. (She did, after all, write at least 9 pages in her journal when she lost her favorite Birkenstock sandal off a train bridge into the Rosebud River – It ended up being a beautiful metaphor about grief and new life. She finally concluded that replacing the lost sandals with the exact same pair would not bring her favorite sandal back, and that in many ways, accepting the loss of something comfortable and familiar and embracing something beautiful and new paralleled her own growth as a woman.) And right now this woman lacks a home. She lacks history.

This valley meant something to those people. Like me, they came here with nothing and found a home. Imperfect and painful a life as it was, it belonged to them. They are part of a Brotherhood; they leave a legacy.

Every day I bike to work, put on a high-necked gold blouse and floor-length green skirt (a la 1914), and bring to life the legacy of Nellie McLung, who fought like hell, (along with a great big Sisterhood of fiery women), to be legally recognized as “persons” and for the right to vote. There’s almost always someone in the crowd who gets it. It is usually a woman with angel-white hair who understands something about this Sisterhood. There is a painful contrast between the glint of grateful recognition in her eyes and the bored glaze in so many of the eyes framed by stylish Ray-ban’s and Hollister t-shirts. How quickly we forget.

nellie

Like a cat, I’ve lived 9 lives. After moving here and there and everywhere, I can break my life into 9 unique sections. In the 9th section (and the 11th hour if I’m truly a cat and only get 9 lives), I finally found home. Yee-haw! I struck gold and found my Sisterhood, my Brotherhood, my Peoplehood, my Place. And I am once more being asked to say goodbye. Some force of the Universe, God, is asking me to let go. This is a great loss.

You see, I’m writing this from the windowsill I’m calling home for the next two months; a friend’s condo in Calgary. There’s a great little window nook that we’ve rigged up with a little mattress and a pillow. Following this adventure, I’ll be in countless Canadian cities on tour with a couple of different shows. I am grateful for this adventure; I am lucky to have the freedom to be a gypsy in my youth. But my heart just wants home, my Peoplehood, and my beautiful bed in my tiny Rosebud basement.

My Rosebud

I believe in a Greater Good, I believe in Hope, and therefore I choose to believe that there is a place for me somewhere. Even though I have no history anywhere, or rather my history is spread among so many people and so many places that it has ceased to resemble any picture, but looks rather like a TV screen flipping channels… Hey, I like that. Pretend you’re flipping channels on the TV, and every channel has a different show that takes place somewhere different, with different characters, except the same protagonist appears in every show. That’s what my life is like. I’m waiting to find out which story is actually mine. I’ve lived out too many.

Which book would my photo be printed in? Which Sisterhood will I leave my legacy with? If years from now, some photographer wanted to take a black and white of me in my backyard, my face scarred with every expression of surprise or anger I’d ever worn, my skin telling on me for every hour I’ve spent in the sun without sunscreen, who would be the owner of the wrinkly hand holding mine?

Coal Couple

About natalieinga

Natalie is a young actress and singer/songwriter from Alberta. She plays uplifting folk music, adores her bike (Dora), her blue spatula, and her beloved guitar, Alexander von Larrivee.