Book Review: Two Old Women a Legend with Modern Implications

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Two Old Women, Velma Wallis

“Two Old Women” is a remarkable little book. At only 145 pages and what looks like about 14 point type it’s a quick and easy read, which does not mean it is an insignificant book. It is not.

While author Velma Wallis based this book on an Athabaskan Indian legend that has been passed between generations of mothers and daughters, its theme is certainly poignant given our modern view of the elderly and how they are regarded by this society.

Two Old Women is the story of Ch’idzigyaak, 80, and Sa, 75, two elderly women whom the tribe decides are no longer of value to them, and that they no longer want to care for them. So they decide to leave them alone to die in the cold wilderness. Not even their families stand up for them when the tribe decides that leaving them behind is best for the tribe. After all, the winter was extremely brutal and resources were low. The future looked bleak.

It is not at all difficult to equate their situation with how the current Republican legislators on the federal and state levels are proposing to treat our senior citizens.  We are short on resources. Both federal and state budgets are out of balance and daily deeper into debt. We must find ways to cut spending and the best way to do that is by leaving our elders behind. We call it reforming entitlements. Presto, chang-o, reform Medicare, reform Social Security, we take care of our problems and then we are no longer responsible for the old folks. They can fend for themselves in their final years. Our (proposed) ways are no less vicious than leaving two old women on the frozen tundra.

The women go through a range of emotions when realizing they are expected to accept their lot and die. Anger, humiliation, helplessness, hopelessness. They did not feel ready to die, yet the tribe had decreed that it was their time.

Defying all odds they turned this ending into a beginning.

“Knowing that her friend was dangerously close to accepting a fate of death from cold and hunger, Sa’ spoke more urgently. ‘Yes, in their own way they have condemned us to die! They think that we are too old and useless. They forget that we, too, have earned the right to live! So I say if we are going to die, my friend, let us die trying, not sitting.’ ”

There are many lessons to be learned from this little book written by a 33-year-old high school drop out with a GED. As is often my wish, if only our politicians would read this book they could learn some valuable lessons about what they should consider as they do their jobs.

There also are important lessons for those of us who have elderly friends, neighbors or relatives and for senior citizens themselves.

You’re not dead until you give up. You’re not dead until you’re dead.

Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival by Velma Wallis (1993, Book, Illustrated)
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