Sunday, September 16, 2007


Chapter two on a lazy Sunday

Slow Sunday. Here's some fiction from me.

r 2 rev
Over the years, I learned to travel light. It had to do, a long time ago, I guess, with being poor and deciding most things weren’t as important as they seemed to be. It also had to do with being a drunk and doing “geographics,” attempts to change my ways by changing the scene. So it didn’t take me long to follow the Doña’s advice.

I was out of Tuscon in a week. I’d sold or given away almost all of my possessions; got the treatment center to lay me off so I could collect unemployment, packed, and caught a flight (north to Las Vegas, then for some obscure airline reason to Salt Lake and finally to Spokane). I tried to do just the stuff in front of me, the stuff necessary to get “home.” Back to the ranch. Meanwhile, back at the....yeah.
From Blue Mountain airport, I rode the airport bus into town and then caught the county shuttle out to Speelyai. Once upon a time there was regular Greyhound Bus service to the rez, but no more.
Two hours on the bus; an hour and a half around the bus depot in Blue Mountain; seven hours of planes and airports from Tuscon to Blue Mountain. Ten and a half hours of travel. I was happy to get off the bus.

When I got off at Speelyai Agency, I tried to do about three things at once. I still had a lot of big city energy with me.
I tried to take in the scene, find my luggage, and remember the town. Excitement, in other words. The driver was fumbling with keys to the luggage compartment; I managed to slow down my breathing and check out how my body felt. Stiff from hours of airports and planes, buses, and bus depots.
At first glance, Speelyai Agency looked like just another tucked-under-the-rimrock small western town.
The highway followed a bench down into the valley of Tulepas Creek; the town is right at the transition from higher ground Ponderosa and buck-brush to low-land juniper and sage. Cottonwoods shimmered green down along the creek and below, along the Whitman. The highway once formed the main drag, back when I was in high school; now there was a sleek cut-off that left only the relocated Roadside Cafe and Wayne’s Chevron station as businesses that might snag tourists passing through.
A mile on down, where the creek entered Marcus Whitman River, on the flats, was the tribal sawmill, and machinery dealers, a lumberyard, used car lot, and anymore I didn’t know what else. The Whitman is the west boundary of the rez; right across the bridge is a supermarket, where we used to buy beer and wine. The rez has been dry as long as I remember.
The bus station was the parking lot of the Roadside (“Roadkill”) Cafe, next to the Chevron gas station. Someone who reminded me of Wayne Shoostrum was pumping gas. Probably was Wayne. The Speelyai Trading Post was just down a side street. Beyond that was another cafe, across the street a cut-rate gas station and a stop-and-rob convenience market, something new.
The side-street sloped off to the south, toward the tribal housing part of town, across Tulepas Creek. The government office complex was along the creek, too. Mobile homes, government cement architecture, World War Two-era wood buildings—it was definitely complex. Or it would give you a complex.
To the north, another road angled uphill; a church spire showed over the hill-side. A few more tribal housing units were up there. The ground was spotted with junipers and evanescent sage.
It wasn’t just another small town.
The cinder block Roadside Cafe had a banner across the front that said “Fry Bread and Indian Tacos.”
The men hanging out and driving by had dark skins and long black hair, and a couple of cars parked at the cafe had bumper stickers that said “This car stops at all pow-wows!” and “Support Treaty Rights.” Not just another small town at all: it was Indian Country.
Diane, the young woman who got also got off, was Indian, with a round face, high-cheek bones, and a broad body. We’d sat next to each other on the bus. Her hair was teased and moussed up in front. Her hands didn’t work too well, but she could operate her iPod.
We watched the bus pull away.
“Indian Country, Bro.”
“Feels like it,” I said.
She nodded toward downhill. In a grassy field behind the community center, just across the creek, were several dozen tipis, rows of RVs and parked cars. “People packing in already for the pow-wow. I’m glad I got here in time to go. You gonna go, aren’t you?”
“Maybe. It depends on what else is going on.” I didn’t see anyone I knew. After the years I’d been away, that didn’t surprise me. The dry air smelled spicey-dusty. Twenty miles north, up by Stoney Creek and Wanapam Lake, at the ranch, the air would smell of cedar and fir and moss. Higher and wetter there.
A battered Ford pickup swung into the lot and honked. Diane waved at it. Two people in front and a couple of kids and a dog in back. Diane looked at me and looked at her bags. I carried the bags for her. What the hell, I wasn’t her counselor and she wasn’t a “client.” Not yet anyhow.
The kids, a boy about seven or eight, and a girl a little older, solemnly looked at me. The dog wagged it’s tail and panted happily. A couple in their twenties grinned out at us.
“Sam, Marie, this is Paul, his family’s here.” We shook hands. Diane held her hand out and softly brushed mine. Bad teeth and a happy smile. There was a funny look in her eyes, though, that I’d seen in some clients. “Good to be home. Hope I see you at the pow-wow.”
I waved and watched them join the string of cars and trucks headed toward the pow-wow. A few cars rolled past on their way over the mountains. I moved my duffle and flight bag over into the shade of the cafe roof and squatted on my heels to wait. Sooner or later I’d see somebody I knew.
It took about ten minutes. Then the same old dingy Suburban I remembered pulled up to the cafe and honked. The driver’s window went down and Dorie’s weathered face looked at me. Her carroty hair was cut as efficiently and carelessly as always. I was the dark one, she was the light one. She looked sun-faded.
“You early or ‘m I late?” Dorie didn’t waste a lot of time.
“Well, we’re both here at the same time, now,” I said. “I’m glad to see you. Where’s your half-side?”
“Down at the store, buying soda pop. Throw your stuff in back, let’s go.”
The Suburban smelled of saw-dust, cigarets and sage. As familiar as an old pair of shoes. An eagle feather hung from the rear-view mirror. The dashboard was cluttered with casette boxes and empty rifle cartriges, a chain-saw wrench and a file for adjusting the chain, rocks, and all the things that rural dashboards carry. The glove compartment didn’t have a door, and a piece of cardboard was duct-taped across the bottom half to keep stuff from falling out.
Louie was waiting in front of the market, talking to some men in army fatigues. Two older guys wore Viet Nam-era camos, and three were younger and wearing the Desert Storm camos. Their boots were polished and their berets cocked smartly. Louie looked up, saw me, and grinned. The older men gave tentative nods of recognition toward me. I vaguely remembered one of them, Louie’s older brother, Abraham Tom; he’d done a tour the year before me. I’d worked in the woods with him once or twice. One of the younger ones, I realized, was a woman.
“Who’s that?” I asked Dorie.
“Abe’s daughter, Rachel. She was in grade school just about the time you left. She’s like our neice-in-law or something. They probably have a name for it. She’s pretty much the local eco-freak. The guy next to her is Timmy Smith—his dad owns the new motel down at the river. These guys are probably the color guard for the grand entry.”
Louie walked over with his heavy rolling, ex-cowboy gait. “Hey, my favorite White-Eyes! Welcome home!”
I climbed out and we hugged each other. Abe and the others came over and we shook hands all around. A light grip, one emphatic pump.
More than half the men wore their hair in braids, I noticed, something only the oldest and most traditional men had done the last time I’d been around. Even the younger ones had hair down past their collars. Abe’s hair went in a pompadour over his forehead, the way Chief Joseph’s hair showed in old photos. Wachaat people wore their hair that way. I didn’t remember Abe being particularly religious.
Louie pulled cans of soda out of the sack, the way we used to pull out cans of beer in the old days, and handed them around. Even Dorie got out and leaned against the rig and we stood and made small talk.
Finally, Abe said, “You’re a vet, Paul, we need you in the grand entry.”
I was back.


The pow-wow wouldn’t start until seven. We drove to Dorie and Louie’s house, up the hill past the Catholic church, and onto Dry Creek Flat. Their house was basic 1200 square feet ticky tack: a BIA project house with undersized two by fours and painted T-111 siding, minimal insulation. The yard had a weeping willow in front; grass grew under the willow and nowhere else. My old International Scout sat on blocks next to the garage. It looked like it had been fixed up and recently painted. I was glad to see it.
“We never did get rid of your shittin’ truck, Paul,” Dorie said. “Figured you’d come back for it someday. I almost like seeing it.”
Louie said, “I kept the block full of oil. We put a battery in it, stuck some tires on, she runs pretty fair, bro.”
Dorie shook her head. “Damn old antique truck. Y’oughtta get yourself a new one, Paul. Something doesn’t drink a gallon of gas every time you look at it.”

The inside of the house seemed almost the same. Familiar smells: sage and meat and wood-smoke. There were more Indian things around than I remembered. Pendleton blankets and bead-work. There were even some pictures of Dorie with Indian women, and of my neices in dance regalia. When she and Louie got married, a lot of Indians wouldn’t have anything to do with either one of them. But after of years of working in the tribal offices, Dorie had finally gained some acceptance. That and she’d always been a good fighter.
Louie walked over to the gun rack and took down my old .30-30 and my Sweet Sixteen. They shined with good care. He handed them to me, with a gentle smile. Then he got out my old Marlin lever-action .22; my favorite illegal deer rifle. “I still got your fly rod, too, bro. Can’t say I got much of your tackle left, after all these years, but you’re welcome to as much of mine as you want.”
“I don’t guess we’ll fish for a while.”
Louie looked at the floor. He nodded at the .30-30. “We’ll have to go out and get us some meat. Haven’t got my deer this month...Done any hunting since you been gone?”
I shook my head. Part of me felt like I’d never left. A body feeling came from my gut. It oozed through me, warm and relaxing.
Dorie zipped in close, kissed me on the cheek. Her eyes were shiny. “Welcome home, my brother, welcome home.”
That was about as much emotion as I ever remembered coming from my sis. Wouldn’t be in public; she might blow off on somebody, maybe even slug them, she sure wouldn’t show tenderness around other people. It seemed like quite a lot... I had to swallow a couple of times.
I put my bags in the spare room. There was a picture of Dorie and me and Mom and Dad, from right after I got back from the war. They looked pretty happy. I looked awful.
A brand-new Pendleton blanket was on the bed. On the blanket was a package of folded bright red flannel. I unwrapped the cloth and found a calico ribbon shirt.
Dorie said, “We figured you’d like that for the pow-wow.”
“The folks know I’m coming?”
“Mom said she’d been thinking about you a lot the last few days. Pop said he has too...They’re coming down for Grand Entry.”
“So what’s going on up at the lake? I want to know everything.”
“Let’s sit and have some sodas,” Louie said. It was a gentle reminder of the change in time zones. Indian Standard Time in Indian Country.
We took some folding chairs and sat under the willow. Louie brought out a plate of smoked fish and some crackers. A slight breeeze moved down off the mountains. I heard Indian singing from somewhere. I ate some salmon and sipped at a soda pop. Every time a car went by, the driver honked and waved. We all waved back.
Louie lit a cigaret, offered me one. I shook my head.
“Finally got clean of that one, too, eh?”
“Treatment center I worked in didn’t have caffeine or sugar or allow smoking. They figured if people wanted to get clean and sober that meant really getting clean and sober.”
“You hear about Mona Pulls?” Dorie asked in the way I remembered her using when something major was coming.
Mona. I’d dreamed about her, the night before, dozing in the Salt Lake airport. “No...”
Dorie leaned forward, glanced up at the tree as if she was looking to see what it said. “Car wreck, three years ago. Three years ago this week. They’d all been down at the pow-wow. Drunk guy hit them head on.”
My heart began accelerating.
Dorie counted on her fingers. “Dewey, the two boys, and Mona’s mom. All dead. Mona was hurt pretty bad. Crippled. Only one good leg. She still has that store, though.”
Louie was watching me out of the corner of his eye. “Dorie goes up and helps, once or twice a week, when they get deliveries. Mona gets around pretty OK.
“Used to be kinda sweet on each other, you guys.”
Dorie snorted. “‘Kinda sweet,’ huh? Ain’t the way I remember it. You two screwed your way through high school together, Paul.”
Louie finished his cigaret and shredded the tobacco out on the ground. “Good looking widow woman. Old days, she’d have had to marry Dewey’s brother, Nathan...”
“Nathan?” Dorie said, “Hell, nobody’s seen him in five years—I heard he’s in the joint down in California or somewhere.”
My heartbeat had slowed down, and another warm feeling came through me. Carefully, I asked, “She still single?”
Louie grinned. “Uh-huh, still single. She don’t know where you are, though.”
“OK. Tell me what’s going on up at the lake.”
Dorie spoke first. “The resort was leased by some outfit called ‘Mango.’ Just ‘Mango.’ They spent a lot of money, fixed up the hot springs and the pool and the cabins, even put up tipis. Jacuzzi pools. Organic garden and a little green house for tomatoes, stuff you can’t depend on. Built a sweat lodge, even. “
Louie leaned over and tapped the arm of my chair. “A Sioux sweat lodge, man.” He winked like it was a big joke.
“Sioux-schmoo,” Dorie snapped. “They turned the place into a shittin’ New Age resort. All them airheads from California and Portland and Seattle come up for ‘seminars’ and ‘workshops’ and that kinda shit.”
“Is it making money?”
Nobody answered for about ten seconds. Louie politely looked off at the hills until I realized that wasn’t what it was all about.
“What do the people on the rez think of that?” I asked him.
He pursed his lips for a moment. “We got all kinds of people here, you remember. Some Yakamas, some Bannocks, Shoshonis, Salish, Nez Perce, even some of Sitting Bull’s people who didn’t want to go back to South Dakota after...he surrendered. People married into other tribes, so we even got a few Navajos and Blackfeet... Life’s hard, just getting along’s hard...
“The old folks don’t think much about it. Too many other things to worry about. Some of the younger folks are kind of resentful—they don’t like Indian ceremonies being done for money. Some of the elders have been up there for conferences. That kinda cuts them off from the younger ones...I been there, too, for some environmental meetings about logging...We all gotta work together on this environmental stuff, Paul, Indian people and white people...”
“That’s pretty clear. So what’s this ‘Mango’ outfit like?”
Dorie shook her head and lit a cigaret. “They wanta buy the place. Dad wants to sell. The resort’s making a lot of bucks, Paul. Offered the folks a good price. They been real lavish in making sure Dad gets buzzed. Mom’s worried about hospital bills. Dad really needs heavy medical treatments...” She bit her lip.
“Radiation. Chemotherapy,” Louie spoke softly.
She nodded and concentrated on her soda pop.
Louie finally said, “There’re some political people here, though, but...I don’t know, mostly they seem to argue about who’s a real Indian. Younger people. Moved here in the last few years. Lot of them were raised in cities, or adopted out and raised white. Pretty angry about things.”
“Like Mango doing ceremonies? That stuff was coming up down in Arizona—people teaching the medicine for money. We did sweats at the treatment center, and some Indians around Tuscon had bitched. The administration got some Pima guy to do the sweats and the Sioux got mad.”
Louie nodded and shrugged. I guessed I’d come close.
The phone rang. Dorie got it, said something I didn’t hear, and then called Louie. He talked for a few minutes and then hung up.
“Winston Blue Horse. Said he heard you was back. They got a sweat going over at his house. Said to come on over—if you’re up to a warrior’s sweat.”
I shook my head. “I got some other things to do first.”
Dorie grinned. “Uh-huh, and one of them is stopping at Mona’s store.”

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