Two Old Women by Velma Wallis


This novella was loaned to me by my friend Molly.  The story is an inspirational legend published in the mid-1990s about Athabascan Indians in the Yukon River Valley in Alaska. That's in the Artic Circle, so it's pretty cold and dark there. In a particularly cold winter the chief of a clan concludes that to survive they must leave behind two old women. We are told that the two had become non-productive complainers in the group, but were not as near death as those who had been left behind in the past. 

Once they come to terms with the betrayal, the two decide to die trying, rather than sit and wait for death. The two bring back their skills of trapping rabbits, making snowshoes, tramping long distances and making camp to survive the long winter. They find comfort in getting to know each other and in the summer they gather food for the coming winter. Meanwhile the others have not thrived and have suffered in spirit for leaving the women behind. The chief sends a scout to find them and the difficult reconciliation begins. 

According to a University of Minnesota website Velma Wallis, an Athabascan Indian, left school at a young age after her father died to help raise her 12 siblings. Eventually she moved to a remote cabin and learned traditional survival skills of hunting and trapping while not abandoning her love of reading. The two old women legend was told to her by her mother and she has since published another book with two more legends.

The simple straight-forward voice of the storyteller is just right for this legend.

Velma Wallis, Two Old Women, Harper Perennial, 1993, 140 pages. Available from the UVa and public libraries and Amazon.

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