The other day, I found an old negative of a picture I took of Lucy Finley back in the mid-1980s. The story behind the photograph is worth telling.
When I was a kid, I attended most of the annual powwows, especially in Wellpinit and Cusick. Like other kids my age, I enjoyed the powwow food and the carnival games, but I spent most of my time in the wardance arena. Sometimes I danced, but most often I sat in the stands and watched the others.
That was where I first saw Lucy Finley.
Lucy was a traditional dancer with an amazing style. Some traditional women danced with solemn faces and rigid, almost stylized movements, but Lucy could light the floor with her beaming smile and graceful exuberance. She clearly enjoyed the dance, but more importantly, her movements seemed to blend with the spirit of the drum as her presence filled the room. She always smiled and waved her eagle fan in a broad, sweeping motion, as if to offer a blessing to all who saw her.
Even as a child, I loved to see her dance. One time I asked my yaya Messie, "Who is that woman?"
She smiled and said, "Oh, that's my beautiful lady." For years I never even knew her name. If I mentioned the "Beautiful Lady," everyone in my family understood.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, I saw the Beautiful Lady dancing at the Cusick Powwow on the Kalispel Indian Reservation. In many ways, I was a shy and socially awkward kid, but I really wanted to take her picture. I hesitated and started in her direction a dozen times, only to get embarrassed and turn away. I laugh now to think that I fretted most of the afternoon, but I finally worked up the courage to ask.
After I made my request, she actually stopped smiling and said, "I'm really thirsty. Do you see that stand over there? Go buy me a Coke and we'll talk about that picture."
I immediately did as she said, and a few minutes later, I returned with a cold can of Coca Cola. She opened the top and took several drinks in silence. Finally she said, "OK, I'll let you take my picture, but you have to promise that you'll send me a copy." I agreed and wrote down her name and address on a small piece of paper.
As she posed for the picture, her beautiful, radiant smile returned.
Several weeks later I developed the film and sent a copy of this picture to Lucy's address, and then a few weeks after that, I received a card in the mail. Lucy thanked me and said that she didn't actually expect a young teenage boy to fulfill such a promise.
For many years after that first meeting, Lucy remembered me. She sent me Christmas cards and always hugged me when she saw me at powwows and traditional gatherings. She's gone to the other side now, but I will always cherish her memory.