We sit on my front porch, sipping tea, listening to the birds, excited, and comfortable.
Emily: What is your full name?
René: Cynthia René Locklear White (Feather)
E: Where do all your names come from?
R: My mother named me Cynthia. When she was in labor with me the nurse told my mom about the name “René” and she wrote it on my mom’s belly. So, she gave me that name. My last name, “Locklear,” is my Native American family name. We’re not sure if it was given to us by the English, or what, but that’s what’s been passed down to us as our family name. Of course, we didn’t speak English when our ancestors were found. Maybe the English couldn’t pronounce their name, I don’t know.
The birds chirp and it feels a little more like springtime. René is periodically looking out from the porch where we sit, observing the buds of the flowers and the blue of the sky. She sits in direct sunlight on the edge of my porch, her choice. She seems thankful, contemplative as we reach back to tell her story from its origin.
R: “White” is from my husband. “Feather” is from God, Spirit. Great Spirit.
E: What is the first thing you want people to know about you?
R: That I care. I feel really blessed and I feel like I’ve been given (we’re all given) tools and one of mine is being resourceful. One word to describe me I think is resourceful and there are a lot of people who are suffering, or don’t even know that there’s something they could benefit from. And I’ve known a lot of people and have a lot of ideas on how to help. I care and I want to help them.
A sip of her tea, a gentle clink of her cup on the porch, and we continue.
E: What are some ways you’ve been able to do that in your life?
R: Well, even just recently…I like to distinguish between what I’ve done and what I am doing, because what I’ve done is in the past. It would be like telling your story about something that doesn’t exist anymore. So, what I’m doing is more real to me. What I’m doing is helping Veterans. I help them know how to get their benefits and medical benefits, to better understand. I help senior citizens get their medical benefits because they think they’ve tried and they don’t want to be on welfare. So, I’m helping citizens get their medical benefits, or nursing benefits, or whatever it is they need to help themselves.
Her voice sounds ambitious, invested, and driven. There’s power in her tone, yet she speaks with softness and tenderness. Like a verbal massage, she speaks and you feel comforted, considered, loved.
E: What is your favorite part of the day?
R: I don’t know. I don’t think I can distinguish between my day like that. I don’t have any bad parts.
She smiles, her brown eyes shining with gratitude.
E: What are your favorite activities?
R: Sitting on my porch in my rocking chair. Helping people see something they’ve never seen before.
E: In what way?
R: Through art, in nature, through dreams.
E: Who are the most important people in your life?
R: The ones who know that they are.
E: That’s a thoughtful, insightful answer. I’ve never thought of that before.
R: Me either. I’ve never been asked that question.
E What are some of your favorite places?
R: Zagreb, Croatia .
She has a soft, subtle accent I can’t quite pin-point…it’s mysterious and lovely, definitely a mix of things.
R: They have huge, old trees. It felt like something that had been un-disturbed for a long time, perhaps kept sacred. Even though it was a war-torn country at the time people were holding hands and walking down the streets together. Men were arm in arm and women were holding hands. It just seemed like so much love and freedom. Their people looked like my people. They were tall, had olive skin, dark hair. I felt like I wanted to stay a while. I could hear them talking and they were speaking English. I wanted to stay and get to know them.
E: What are some of your other favorite places?
R: Under a highway bridge in South Korea…in the rain.
R: My husband and I wanted to go look around and there was this road with a bridge. So, we got our lawn chairs out and just sat under the bridge. It was beautiful. It was raining all around us and there was a creek running in front of us, so we could watch the water. I had sparklers. I always have sparklers.
E: Any other favorite places?
R: With my husband around the fire.
She takes long pauses between answers. She is comfortable and confident.
E: Any others?
R: On my mom’s bed, listening to her talk. She’s 84.
E: Do you still do that?
R: Mm-hmm. She’ll talk 'til 2 in the morning if I let her.
E: What do you love to celebrate in your life?
E: How do you do that through events, or certain times in your life?
R: I like hosting a dinner on my birthday for my family so I can thank them for being in my life.
E: What do you love about hosting?
R: Caring for people. Meeting their needs, being attentive, make sure we have enough chairs, checking to see if anyone needs anything to eat, or drink. I like being attentive to that. Conversation, atmosphere…I don’t want anybody to be wanting for anything, or missing anything.
E: Do you love to cook?
R: Mm-hmm. Yes.
E: What kinds of things?
R: I don’t like using a recipe. I find it very difficult using a recipe. I can’t. It’s a mental breakdown. When I look at it it doesn’t make sense to me the way a recipe is written out. I usually have to re-write it in my own way. I usually make up stuff. I do something that I’d like to taste, whatever I’m in the mood for. I like mixing worlds. I feel like I am breaking the rules because I will mix Asian and Mexican together sometimes. I like to cross cultures. And I feel like I’m not supposed to do that, like there are some rules written somewhere in the universe that says you’re not allowed to do that. I feel like it’s this really fun thing that everybody avoids, or something. Who says I can’t put ginger in my whatever, you know?
She smiles spryly, like she got away with something.
E: Do you use natural ingredients?
R: Pretty much. We have a garden. I haven’t had much time to plant things this year because of so many possibilities in our life, but we do like to grow our own food. There’s nothing like fresh tomatoes, or roast sweet peas. I make all my own tomato sauce with peppers. I roast the peppers and garlic in the oven, clean all the tomatoes. It takes a while to make the sauce, but then I have enough to last me all year. I like canning. I like canning jam. I made peach balsamic vinegar vermouth. I use that to marinade fish and chicken. I enter my stuff in the fair. I have blue ribbons, red ribbons, white ribbons. Last year my spaghetti sauce got second place. I was…a little bit upset.
We laugh at the same time. Upset over spaghetti sauce.
R: But, it made me excited!
She smiles, like she’s trying to regain composure.
R: There’s always room for improvement, you know?
Her smile is warm and lovely. I feel transported back to a summer fair from years past and I can almost taste the tomatoes from her garden.
R: God always manages to put me in situations to keep me humble.
E: Even with your spaghetti sauce!
We smile again.
R: Mm-hmm. My husband and I make deer jerky. We use our own meat, except for chickens. All the animals nearby wanted our chickens more than we could keep our chickens, so we don’t have chickens anymore. Is it too hot for you?
E: No, I love it. I could just melt! Is it too hot for you?
Here again, she is caring for others and their needs.
R: Something that drives me is supporting my husband. In my military job I worked for generals and admirals and colonels. I supported them and I helped them. Now that I’m retired I truly feel like I can help support and sustain him. Helping him with corporate sort of things. We have our church, so there’s a lot I can do that helps. Typing his words and things. I don’t think he’s ever had that before. I know he’s never had that before. I’m better because of him. I don’t know what my days would look like if I didn’t have him and all of his ideas.
E: What are your favorite colors?
R: Brown, chartreuse, and coral.
E: What is a day in the life of René?
R: I wake up at about 5:30, or 6 o’clock to my husband singing. By the time he’s on his second cup of coffee I’m usually getting up. We always greet each other with a kiss. I have a banana.
She pauses. I wonder.
R: …And from that moment until I go to sleep I never know what’s gonna happen. Every day is completely different.
E: Where do you work?
R: In my kitchen, or on the porch outside. I am mostly at the computer. Right now I’ve been working with a flute player and connected him with Avellino Studios, Arel Avellino, a producer, and we’re working on a music video to do on our property. And I’m working with an architect who’s drawing up designs for a structure to help preserve and protect an Indian site on our property. He’s also going to enter his designs in an international competition next year. The music video is also going to be entered into a national competition. Last week we did an NBC news interview and I launched a webpage for me and my husband's church. I’m working with a women’s group where we’re going to meet and have a ceremony, not a conference, but a women’s meeting with women from across the nation. I’m typing up a document for my husband that’s going to go to the pope, representing indigenous people worldwide. I got invited to teach some Native American art and history to some children from the Bluemont United Methodist church. I try to incorporate spiritual and physical into my class. I like it when they can see something that they didn’t see before.
Her ambition and varying passions is impressive. She’s clearly diligent and deliberate in her causes.
E: What do you believe about beauty?
She takes a sip of her tea and looks out from the porch.
R: I think there is a confusion that somehow it has to meet some kind of formula, or some expectation. That where there’s no beauty you have to create it somehow, whether that’s out of makeup, or your clothing, or what you’re driving. But, then I was thinking when you look in nature and say in nature, “What’s beauty?” it is what it is. It just is. If it’s a tree that’s been through a tornado, or whatever, it just is, you don’t go, “put another top on top of the tree, or glue something on it, or add something better to make it better than what it is.” It just is what it is and I wish that we could be that way. I wish people could all just accept each other for what we have, or what we don’t have, and not have some kind of formula by which we have to compete. Something I did recently was I had this gourd that looked like a harp, or musical instrument to me and I wanted to cover it in tree bark. I just love looking at tree bark. So, I took a bunch of pictures of it and decided on pine tree bark. I studied and studied pine tree bark and the more I studied the more I saw the pattern of what makes it pine tree bark and not oak tree bark. As I looked at it I started noticing there’s a pattern. I started making the patterns, using a burning tool to burn the design into the gourd and it took a lot of concentration to really look at it for what it was. I started realizing that every time I did something it had to be random because I made a pattern in repetition and it quit looking like bark anymore. Every mark I made had to be completely random. It took a lot of effort and I had to really focus on every random line. Every once in a while I’d start daydreaming, or something and I would just start making the same mark and it didn’t look natural anymore.. It made me really appreciate how unique everybody is. It just blew me away how uniquely everything is created beyond our natural eye. There are also no lines in nature. There is nothing created by God that is a straight line. Anything that is a straight line is manipulated by man. Even when you look at the horizon, or the waves on the ocean you look at them and think it’s a straight line, but you get closer and there is movement. The shape of the earth, you think it’s a round circle, but it’s not. A tree’s not a straight line up and down. Everything is unique. We have this idea that we’re on a path of life, and it’s not a straight road. It meanders and sometimes we may go back in life, or cross paths with someone else, get married, or sometimes you give birth to someone on your road and now you’ve got a baby to carry until they go on their own path in life. And seeing that there’s no straight lines reassures me that I don’t have to have a straight line in my life. I don’t have to get from this point to that point, and every day is a walk and a step that I take in a direction. We’re all on our own individual paths and they don’t have to be straight. I’m not saying someone shouldn’t have morals, or values, or God in their life. I think your walk is a lot better depending on what you have with you on that path. I can’t carry my house on my back. I can’t carry my children with me throughout my whole life. The only thing I can carry is what’s written on my heart and what I carry spiritually. Everything else is in the past. All I have right now is all I have right now. And everything that’s going to be in my future, I get to be a part of helping create that. But, it’s not here yet, so I’m not going to worry about it. It doesn’t mean I can’t plan for it, but I’m not going to worry about it.
E: Is there anything else we should know about you?
We pause for over a minute and a half, watching a plane go over us in the sky.
R: I feel like my life is not lived inside of myself. My life is lived on the outside with other people. I am more happy, more fulfilled when I’m interacting with people. If I were just by myself with all my stuff in a room somewhere I wouldn’t feel as alive. So, what I would like is to be that for other people. I would like for your life to somehow be fuller and your life to be more fully lived if I were able to be in it and help you in some way. If you choose to have me in your life then I would love to be a part of helping your life have more value and more meaning. I think we’re all related and I think that our relatedness transcends our culture, our skin color, our nature, that we’re all related and if we can all communicate with each other then we get more connected with each other and we live a fuller and more powerful life when we are living it together, communicating together.
I am left quite full, full of ideas and thoughts I didn’t have before. This is the general effect of being with René. You feel suddenly capable, encouraged, empowered, and strong for the tasks and dreams set before you. Her story is one of bold moves and brave days, so why not follow suit? Her tenderness and strong, motherly concern is keenly felt in the strength of her actions. “Actions speak louder than words” so perfectly describes her. Though she is able to quickly and articulately describe her thoughts and days, the true testament of her life and heart is what’s on paper, what’s online, what’s felt when you talk to her. Love. She loves in action, in tone, in her brown eyes staring deeply into your own. She is radiant. Her calm presence makes me in one moment serene, and in the next as giddy as a five year old. I am all at once awakened to the many prospects and delights of life. She is youthful, ambitious, creative, industrious, resourceful.
Introducing, Cynthia René Locklear White (Feather).