If you were to choose one memorable event from 2020 that would forever highlight the year for you and your family, what would it be?
Were you a victim of a natural disaster? Did you move to another town? Was there a new job? Did you add a baby to your family? Was there a death in your circle of family and friends? A wedding? A graduation? An award? A reversal of fortune?
Before the advent of written records, Plains Indians recorded one notable event of each year on a winter count, a pictorial calendar depicting a representative event selected by the group for each year.
Each band designated a member as the winter count-keeper – the one charged with painting the year’s image, caring for the winter count, and making sure the oral traditions about the year’s events remained intact. Early on, keepers painted or drew illustrations on buffalo hides; when buffalo became scarce, they substituted muslin, linen or paper. The few that are in existence today are named for the last known keeper.
The Lakota called the record a winter count since it documented a yearly event from first snow to first snow, and some events appeared on more than one winter count. For instance, Smithsonian scholar Garrick Mallery, who published research in 1886 and 1893, found that “the year the stars fell” correlated to the November 1833 Leonid meteor storm.
Now that would certainly be worth remembering.
With all this in mind, I naturally started thinking about our family and the events that would mark each year. Of course, there are the years we were married, the years we had our two kids – the years they graduated, were married and had kids of their own.
Beyond that, the year of the vacation would be 1986, and the image is a pickup and camper. We had sold our business and before another commitment loomed, we headed out for a summer-long vacation in the West that included Disneyland, San Francisco, redwoods, water parks and camping. It was also the year I learned that our then 11-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter weren’t as enamored of traveling as I was. They still aren’t.
I’d title 1990 the year of the computer as I landed my first real job – nearly 20 years after high school graduation – and used a floppy disk for the first time. Like thousands of others, I’d title 1991 the year of Desert Storm when my brother served as an advisor to the Saudi Army.
In 2005 husband Carl suffered a spinal cord injury in a horse accident and by 2008 was unable to walk at all.
And what about 2020? For our family, the image is simple: intertwined wedding rings. Our grandson Jackson married his beloved Amanda in June, and we couldn’t be happier.
But for everyone else, it’s hard to choose the one thing that characterizes 2020. What single image represents a year of a relentless virus, conspiracy theories, a messy campaign and election, divisions among friends and family, protests on every side and general despair?
I think the 2020 winter count image would be a tear rolling down a cheek. The philosopher Anonymous wrote, “Tears are how our heart speaks when our lips can’t describe how much we hurt.”
For 2020, there’s a lot of hurt to go around …