A Harvest Tale


By Sarah Quint | @quint_sarah

When Nana gardened in her small city yard, Mama was required to wear a great big hat to keep the sun off of her face and shoulders. Nana didn’t want Mama to get too dark. That giant sun hat became her shield against UV rays and prejudice. Nana was fairer than Papa because of her Irish mother. As long as she stayed out of the sun she could quietly pass through the white world of Richmond, Virginia; not Mama though. She was naturally brown and one kiss of the sun turned her a brilliant copper, like a shiny new Indian penny.

Mama was the first generation to live off of the reservation and the first allowed to attend public schools. Life was going to be different. The Custalow family could hide in plain sight.



I remember visiting Nana and Papa’s house for the holidays. There were no traditional stories told. No outsiders were around to eavesdrop and discover their secret, yet still not a word. The only evidence of cultural pride and connection was hanging high on the walls. Cheap “Native” paintings and sculptures featuring eagles and “Indian maidens” posed before iridescent waterfalls; holographic hints at who we were. This was the kind of art non-Natives produce and sell on late-night home shopping channels. I was mesmerized by the color-changing filaments. These were displayed throughout the tiny house on Leake Ave.

If walls could talk, they would say what my grandparents wouldn’t ― We are Native. When my Nana walked on, I had never had a single conversation with her about our identity.

Upon her passing, Papa began to speak much more candidly. He moved back to the reservation, taking the same plot of land that his parents had cared for through decades ― our ancestral lands. He was going home.

I was an adult by then and I could ask all the questions I wanted. I began my questioning in complete ignorance and with a sting of hurt. I had felt cheated, left out of the loop ― like someone had kept the gold of my inheritance away from me. Like the prodigal son, I wanted it all now. But what I thought were pure riches was in fact littered with dirty money; things too painful for most to talk about or recollect. My previous cultural understanding was as cheap and counterfeit as the romanticized pictures that hung on Nana and Papa’s walls, or as the smiley-faced pilgrim and Indian worksheets I had colored in school.

When I began to hear stories of abuse, trauma, murders, and boarding school, I suddenly realized why Nana’s lips had been sealed. Her degree of silence was equal to her degree of pain. When Nana thought of her identity as a Mattaponi woman, it was a mixture of shame, fear, pain, and pride. The pride was in such scarcity. It was displayed on the pictures that hung on her walls, but never expressed by her lips. As if to say, “I never said I was Native; the walls did!”

As soon as Nana was safely home, Papa let loose the flood gate of his story. It’s as if a dam had burst and pride for culture flooded the land. He rarely speaks of her experiences still. Papa respects that those stories don’t belong to him and he wants her to rest in peace. A thousand stories were buried with her that will never be told. He’d talk for hours on end about the good, the funny, and the sobering. He’d laugh in giant yuck yucks as his belly kept time. His eyes filled with tears and a grin would spread across his face as he remembered all the shenanigans that went on as he grew up.

Tears appeared again and his voice would grow deep and monotone as he recalled the tragedies: Murders by the KKK; suicides from those without hope; mistreated wives and children; homes without food; and alcohol having its way with our people. No matter the nature of the tale, Papa was just going to have tears in his eyes. He speaks of his identity with both humility and pride. His silence over all the years now seems to reflect his love and respect for Nana. These things must have been too hard for her to talk about and hear.


It is the season of “taquitok”, our traditional time of gratitude in which we feast on our harvests and practice ceremony. We would gather ‘round the fire and under the autumn moon. The moon knew our stories but still, she kept silent. She’s a quiet grandmother, too. She knows us well and our secret is held safe upon her shadow side. The time of secrecy is waning and the truth of our identity is beginning to wax.

Papa tells his stories with urgency. He often speaks about how the younger generation must carry on or all will be lost. He hands us stories like someone would frantically pass off prized possessions endangered in a house fire ― one after another, after another, before they all burn up.

Papa tells stories my ears have never heard but my spirit knows well. I am alive again. These are not bedtime stories that lull you to sleep but stories of the dawning sun that awaken your soul. As he speaks I hardly say a word but giggle and gasp throughout to encourage the orator on; on to tell another and another, like second and third helpings circling around the dinner table. He seems to need them just as much as I do. I love him for these gifts. Nana had to run away from the story to survive and I love her for that as well. I love her for doing whatever it took to remain. In her silence, a part of her died but in turn, she saved us.

Nana and Papa had harvested our stories because they were beautiful and ripe. Then they preserved them away until it was the proper time to feast. The truth is we are still here because of both ― those who hid our culture to survive and those who pass it on through whispered winter tales. Kenah! Thank you, Nana. Your silence reserved for us a seat at the table. We are coming home!


Sarah Quint stands outdoors looking off screen. She is wearing a colorful scarf a gray jacket and colorful earringsAbout Sarah:

Sarah Quint is a citizen of the Mattaponi Nation of Tsenacommacah, Turtle Island (Eastern Virginia, USA). With the help of her Elders and the Holy Spirit, Sarah has been walking the decolonizing, contextualizing and reconnecting Way of Jesus. Sarah leads in this integrating journey through writing songs in her Tribe’s traditional tongue, connections to the land, writing, teachings and oral storytelling. She is currently co-pastoring with her husband and has a church plant set to launch in 2021.