In the fall of 1997 I visited my sister, Pam, who lives in Connecticut. We'd been planning this visit for a month or so, ever since I read a newspaper article about an elderly Mohican woman, Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who lived not too far from my sister and who kept a museum of artifacts of her Mohican tribe. The article remarked that in addition to being a well regarded scholar, she was in fact, a 'medicine woman', though she was modest in the extreme about all her accomplishments. It was largely through her work and that of her sister Ruth that the Mohican tribe had been able to document its identity.
Pam met my train in New London, and we drove directly to Montville where the museum is located. It is a tiny place set back from the street , and though the door was open, when we first entered, there was no one there. We slowly examined the contents of the display cases, and the various items set on tables or hanging from hooks on the walls, or from the ceiling. After a few minutes, a young woman arrived. She welcomed us and answered whatever questions we put to her, but otherwise stayed quietly in the background. Finally I mentioned the New York Times article and that I'd brought a couple of gifts for Gladys Tantaquidgeon. I offered them to the young woman to give on my behalf, and she then said that perhaps I'd like to give them to her in person.
She led Pam and me to the house and invited us inside. Soon we were seated around a table with Gladys, her sister Ruth, and, as she turned out to be, their niece, Melissa. We had a pleasant and quite ordinary conversation. Gladys was pleased with the gifts I'd brought (one was a nice orange marmelade - the Times article had mentioned she liked it.) And we just chatted about their museum, the number of visitors - some from the other side of the world - who came to see it, the newspaper article, and the attention it had brought them. Ruth remarked that for awhile after the article appeared there were so many calls she'd been tempted to take the phone off the hook.
All three women were kind and warm - generous with their time. After a bit, Pam and I thanked them all and left. Nothing special happened, but despite the quiet and simplicity of this visit, it made an indelible impression -a measure, I believe, of the quality of these women.
"In the early 1990s, she devoted her time to organizing a large collection of family memorabilia, which included correspondences and notices of births, funerals, graduations, marriages, military and tribal records — documents that proved vital to Mohegan Federal Recognition. Ruth's first trip in an airplane was to Washington, D.C., in 1995 to witness the federal government sign over the return of the Mohegan reservation lands to the tribe."
"Although she never had children of her own, Ruth raised, loved, cared and sewed for dozens of cousins, nieces, nephews, grand nieces and grand nephews."
She leaves her sister, Gladys, at 105 the last surviving full-blooded Mohegan - the last, in one sense, but surrounded by the vital community that has been nourished by her work
And it was my good fortune to meet them both.
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