Mildred and the bear

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

When Dan and I moved to our farm, we met neighbors Mildred and Dave Holcomb. Dave worked in Oak Ridge designing a spectrometer and Mildred, a born teacher, worked for years at Powell Elementary School. They were smart, interesting people and we enjoyed being with them despite the 30-year gap in our ages.

When our boys were young, my mother, a lifelong smoker, began having breathing difficulties. After a visit to the doctor, lung cancer was diagnosed. I lived much closer to my parents than my sister, and I did as much as I could to help them during this period. It was heart-breaking. After three years on oxygen and a final three months in the hospital on a ventilator, my mother passed away. It was devastating and, in my grief, I often turned to Mildred for guidance. My mother was gone, but my dear friend, almost the same age as my mother, was still there.

About eight months after we lost Mother, Mildred had an unexpected massive heart attack and died. I was inconsolable. Between raising young children and working, I didn’t give myself time to soothe my grief. I couldn’t even talk about it.

Later that year, we took a family vacation to visit our friend Michael who lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Michael was a geo-physicist and worked at the university there.

One day Michael had to go to work and suggested several things we could do. One suggestion was to visit the Acoma Pueblo Reservation and tour Sky City, since 1150, the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America. That sounded interesting and off we went.

Once there we booked a tour. Non-residents may not drive to the city but a van with the tour guide came by periodically. As we waited in the parking lot, I wandered over to several Acoma ladies’ cars; examining the pottery they had displayed there. My eyes on the pottery, I hadn’t looked up at the pottery artist.

Dan strolled over and said, “Cindy, look up.” I did and standing in front of me was a lady who could have been Mildred’s twin. It was such a shock. I said, “It’s Mildred!” and burst into tears. My mother’s death, Mildred’s death eight months later, it was too much.

Pottery bear

I walked away but later went back to explain myself. Attempting to tell her my story, I started crying again. That dear woman reached into her display, picked up a pottery bear and put the bear in my hand. Placing her hand over mine, she said that in the Acoma culture bears represent healing, strength and health and that I would get over my grief. It was a moment not to be forgotten.

Recently, Dan and I were back in Albuquerque and wandered into a jewelry store. We were there to pick out a Christmas present for me. Dan looked in the rings case and saw a bear ring. Knowing my love of the pottery bear given to me, Dan bought the ring for me. I call the ring Mildred.

There is such love in the world, such a mutual understanding that crosses all borders. Acoma Mildred saw my grief and woman-to-woman, gave me advice, strength and love. Now I try to do the same. We’re all just people, living our lives and I hope, as I wear the Mildred bear ring, it will act as a reminder of the universality of us all.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *