Saturday, June 13, 2009

AMORETTE DIEDERICKA SEELE GROUND

The Glacier Reporter for June 11, 2009, devoted two color pages to the graduating seniors, their senior portraits in small squares, eight across and seven down on two pages. That’s 126 kids, right? When their superintendent of schools, Mary Margaret McKay Johnson, graduated, there might have been fifty. I was there.

The photos are great. None are ugly kids. Some casual and some formal, with their horses or leaning on a mirror or with a pow-wow drum or wrapped in a Pendleton blanket or with their skateboard on their shoulder or wearing a whole garland of athletic gold medals or in their cowboy gear. I see braids and mustaches and girls more beautiful than movie stars. For me, because I have a half-century history, every face and name has a kind of shadow rising up behind it, faces and names from the past.

One took me totally by surprise: Amorette Diedericka Seele Ground. I wish I could send you the photo but they didn’t make it to the website, so I’ll try for a word picture. A young woman with a Mona Lisa smile and a perfect Plains Indian profile wearing a pristine classic Stetson, loose hair, long pendant earrings and a high-collared but sleeveless lavendar blouse. The collar is buttoned but the opening below is not. In the background is a strawstack. I do not know this girl, but I know her parents, Richard Ground who married Elsie Mad Plume, and I knew Diedericka Seele.

In the Sixties Diedericka and Keith Seele came every summer in their Mercedes and with their Boston Bull terrier, Sparky. They always stayed at Moyer’s motel which had rooms with kitchenettes. According to the Glacier Reporter of Aug. 22, 1957, Keith Seele was visiting and Chewing Black Bone named him “Sits in the Middle.” Ish-tut-sick-taupi, a real Indian name inherited from a real person. A few weeks later Gary Cooper was given the name “Chief Eagle Cloud,” a suitably Hollywood name.

Chewing Black Bone was one of the last old-time Indians, a man of rock-ribbed honor and independence and an important force in the shaping of early Blackfeet self-governance. He is the old man sitting down in Bob Scriver’s sculpture called “Transition.” Blinded by trachoma, he lived in a lodge and mended his own moccassins. Keith got to know him because he was “Ahku Pitsu” in the James Willard Schultz books, a close friend of Schultz who gave him many stories and shared adventures. Keith was a dedicated admirer of Schultz and edited “Blackfeet and Buffalo : Memories of Life among the Indians” which is a collection of short stories that hadn’t been been gathered up earlier. Schultz is buried not far from where Chewing Black Bone lived with his descendants, the Mad Plumes, on Two Medicine just past the old Holy Family Mission. The Mad Plumes are a rodeo family. The grave was originally unmarked and it remains hard to get to since it’s across an irrigation ditch and up a steep bluff. Keith was the one who finally arranged for a headstone. Sid Gustafson gets up there to pull weeds every spring.

Keith’s real lifework was as an Egyptologist. He was quite famous in that field, and charged with extracting as much information as possible from the area that would be flooded by the Aswan Dam. He had begun adult life as a missionary in Germany and while he was there, he found Diedericka. The pair took marriage as seriously as is possible, considering it sacred and dedicated.

Keith didn’t want Diedericka to have any children because if she did, he felt it would not be safe to take a child into the field so that she would have to stay at home with them -- and he couldn’t bear to be parted from her. For her, this was both a protection and a burden. But there was another element: she had a weak heart so child-bearing might have killed her. Nevertheless, a doctor explained to her that she must not hurry in life -- then she would be safe. She learned to walk with long, slow steps and got along fine. They generally lived on a boat of some kind in Egypt but during the university year, they lived near the Oriental Institute attached to the University of Chicago. Keith’s books, such as his revision of “When Egypt Ruled the East,” remains vital reading.

When Keith asked for permission to marry Diedericka in Germany, the matter was considered very carefully because the family knew, even before the wars, that she would probably not return and they would never see her again. When they agreed that Keith was promising and honorable, her mother and sisters made an album of photos and other things for her to take with her as a kind of “talismanic bundle” holding a little piece of home. They were right -- she never did see them again but there were many, many fond letters.

The couple spent many happy summer days with Chewing Black Bone and the Mad Plumes. They were happy for Elsie Mad Plume when she married Richard Ground because it united two families with old-time ties. Agnes Mad Plume and Mary Ground, carriers of the heritage as the women are, were formidable grandmothers. I knew them both, but not as closely as Diedericka did. When Keith died, Elsie and Richard invited her to come live with them as their honored ancestor. She didn’t do it, but it moved her deeply. I suspect that Amorette is too young to remember Diedericka Seele. In fact, she may have been named because her birth coincided with Diedericka’s death. I’ll have to call up and ask.

When I went to seminary at the University of Chicago, I made contact with Diedericka, who was just leaving her modest brick house and garden in order to live in a senior citizens apartment, really a rather plush one, especially with all the Oriental rugs spread on the floor. I took a box of books to O’Gara’s, the Hyde Park used book dealer, for her.

But what I remember most was a late spring evening when she suggested we go for a drive. We just wandered mostly, but as the dusk we happened upon a little nature preserve just as the fireflies began to blink. On the dirt road through the woods they were thick as stars on the prairie and we were both agog at being “lost in the stars” while they moved all around us and even came in the windows of the van and perched on us. Just a small and not unnatural moment, but never forgotten and always remembered with wonder.

Down through time come these connections. It’s why I live here.

3 comments:

Charles Ellwood Jones said...

I really enjoyed reading this, and it surfaced some Seele memories of my own. I wrote them up at Other Lives: Keith C. Seele. I hope you'll forgive my long quotation from yours.

Cathy from Homewood said...

I was delighted to find your very sensitive description of Mrs. Seele. I cherish my memories of Diedericka and "The Professor," as we called him. They lived just down the street from me until Diedericka moved to the Holmstad. A dear, kind man, he used to show me artifacts he'd just brought back and talk to me for hours about life in Egypt and Nubia.

After his death I spent many afternoons with Diedericka, going through their books and materials on Egypt and Nubia. Their influence led me to earn a BA in anthropology. Your description of her slow, careful manner was quite astute and enlightening. I didn't know about her heart.

I now live a block from their old house, and pass it daily walking my dog. It was rehabbed to preserve it's original character.

Thank you for you beautiful piece on two beautiful, unforgettable people.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Thank YOU, Kathy. This "blog" thing turns out to have a long reach and connects people over many years and miles!

Mary Scriver