River 26 - Needles and Pins

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Okay, here is a challenge for my readers. Luckily I have been cruising through the chapters and am a bit ahead. I love that so many readers are viewing my work, and that many of you are offering kudos. But the comments have been down lately, and I really live for your comments. This past week I went back through the earlier chapters and re-read them all again, and that boosted my fragile ego enough to get two more chapters written.

So here is the challenge. If I get 12 comments, I will post the next chapter this weekend. This chapter isn’t as exciting as any of the other ones, so you can go back and comment on an older chapter and I will still count it. (And special love to Dorothy Colleen, who I think has commented on every single chapter.)

River

By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 26

So far: Nick solved the problem of a home for his new family, at least until a permanent place is completed. A delegation of the river people headed to a hearing at Stone Ledge, where Ginny’s parents were banished. Luv’s grandfather opted to move to the river reserve, while her grandmother decided to try her luck in the bigger city of Thunder Bay.

After the trauma and excitement of the past few days, River was looking forward to a quiet day ahead when she went to her parents' campsite that evening for supper. She had a note from the doctor informing her that a group from the Cancer Centre in Sudbury would be coming to the river at 5 p.m. the next day. She was less than pleased. Medical science and the mystical powers of the river would never work well together. She just hoped that the doctor would not lose face in the affair, since he had finally started working well with the First Nations people after his rough start.

Her father also voiced a complaint. One of the men in his workforce had mentioned that bow season for deer hunting was beginning on September 1 this year, and the rifle season would be October 6. More than half of his men would be away during that time, leaving Dale with a skeleton crew, if any, not to mention losing two to four weeks of time on the building projects he was working on.

“You have to understand their culture,” River said. “Hunting and fishing are a part of the First Nations way of life. You can’t expect them to work to a schedule based on the white culture all the time.”

“But I have deadlines to meet,” Dale moaned.

“It sounds like you aren’t going to meet them if all your workers are off hunting deer. My suggestion is that you don’t fight it. Join them. Close the project down for a week when the seasons start, and in return they all agree to come back after a week.”

“Yeah, but that means we work two weeks less. Are you going to be happy if you still have to sleep in a tent into November? I know your mother won’t.”

“What day does Sept. 1 fall?” River asked.

“It’s a Friday,” Alison said, looking at her calendar. “And it looks like October 6 is a Friday as well.”

“Then you will lose six days, not just a week,” River said. “The men won’t show up until the following Monday. That gives them at least 10 days hunting with each of the two seasons. What if they were to work weekends to make up the time? If they worked Saturday and Sunday for the next two weeks, and then for three weeks in between the seasons, you won’t be delayed. Plus, the workers won’t lose any wages. You could even keep their pay going during the off weeks if they have already put in their hours.”

Dale mulled it over. “That might work. They get their hunting in, and I keep on schedule. Do you think they would be willing to work weekends?”

“I think they will,” River said. “The Monday to Friday thing is white culture again, and most of them ignore it. They do other jobs on the weekends. I had a pile of them volunteering to get the store ready the past few weeks.”

“Well I’m not in favor,” Alison said. “I don’t want my husband working seven days a week until the house is finished. It isn’t fair.”

“Of course not,” River said. “He needs to take the two breaks off when the men are away. Close the project down totally. It will be a good rest for you. In fact, you should take Mark out hunting.”

“My son is only 10,” Alison huffed. “He is not firing guns. Or even going into the forest when others are shooting guns off.”

“Yeah, and I’m not much of a hunter anyway,” Dale said.

“I was thinking of the bow season,” River said. “Hasn’t he been out with Tall John a lot lately?”

“Almost constantly,” Alison admitted. “Since Paul left Mark has been with Tall John almost every day. He has been learning bow and arrow stuff. He was bragging the other day that he had made his own bow, and Tall John was going to teach him how to make arrows and stone arrowheads.” She smiled. “I like Tall John. It is like he has adopted Mark as the grandson he never had. And Mark adores him. He’s with him now. He said they would be ‘eating wild’ if they caught anything, so I guess that’s why he isn’t here looking for supper. I think there is a whole group of boys out there now.”

“All for the best,” River said. “It would be good for Dad to spend some father-son time with Mark. School starts on Tuesday of the next week, but that would still give you guys four days together in the bush. I don’t know if you can get a deer or not. With the two of you your limit would be two. More if you get Tall John as a guide, because there is no limit for First Nations members. I think you would have fun.”

“Yeah, it does sound like fun,” Dale said. “What about the second week?”

“I get you then,” Alison said quickly. “I need work done on my offices, and I was hoping to be able to get you for a stretch. Nick and I have got a lot of preparatory work done on the credit union. We will have a big meeting to elect the officers and make it official later this week. I’ve booked the gym at the high school.”

“Who can be a member?” River asked.

“Anyone over the age of 18 can be a voting member. Younger people can hold accounts though, so you will be able to participate that way. We have been toying with the official name “St. Mary’s and Ojibwe First Nations Credit Union” although that will have to be confirmed at the meeting. We need both the town and reserve working together to make this a success. I hope to get three townspeople and four reserve elders on the initial board, although the ratio could change. I really want the reserve to feel this is their credit union.”

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In the afternoon River found eight more new First Nations people at the river at 4 p.m. Three were from Stone Ledge, and the other family was from Crow Crossing Reservation, about an hour to the east. They had heard about the river through the Internet videos of the totem and the Goldberg machine, and had taken a day off and brought the whole family. After River’s session with them they were enthused at having learned Ojibwe and the history of the people, and promised to tell others in their reserve to come and visit.

While talking to them, a convoy of two luxury cars and a van fitted out for the handicapped rolled up to the river. There were five scientists or doctors, Dr. Mitchell, and another five people in the van, along with three nurses or orderlies. As her new First Nations friends said goodbye, Dr. Mitchell walked up and spoke to River.

“These are the people I told you about,” he said. “We are hoping you can show us some of your magic.” Several of the scientists snorted at the word ‘magic’.

“The river is free for all to enjoy,” River said hesitantly. “I have some First Nations healing experience, but I don’t know that I can help you at all with this. I’ll just stand to the side and watch, if you don’t mind.”

“Okay Fred, show us what to do,” one of the older scientists said. “You claimed that this river cured you. How did it do it?”

“I just stood in the middle of the river with River, the girl. I started to feel better immediately, and over the next few hours I felt better and better. When I was tested back at the hospital, there were no traces of cancer.”

“Hours?” one of the younger doctors snapped. “This is going to take hours?”

“Oh, which cancer treatment do you know of that takes less than an hour?” River couldn’t resist sniping. The man went silent, and the older man ordered the patients into the river.

A nurse stepped in first, and immediately jumped out of the water. “That is ice cold,” she said. “We can’t put the patients in there.”

“Poppycock,” the older doctor said. “I just saw that young girl in there with that whole group of Indians.”

“We prefer the term First Nations,” River said, moving back into the water. “I have the ability to stand in the water for hours on end. Your patients will find it cold at first, but in time it can be bearable.”

The patients entered the river, with the water moderated a bit, although it was still extremely cold. There were four older patients, aged 70 or 80, three men and a woman. The fifth patient was younger, a woman about 40. River started getting a feeling from the river as soon as she entered the water.

She is Dawn Winter, an author and mother of a 14-year-old girl, the river explained. She is terrified that the cancer will take her, and leave her child alone in the world. Her husband, the father, died when the girl was only two, and the woman took up her writing to support them.

Dawn Winter, River thought. Where had she heard that name? After a second it came to her. Her friend back in Toronto, Ricky’s friend actually, Lisa Stromen had a bookshelf in her room with more than a dozen books on it with the name Dawn Winter on the spine. The woman was the favorite author of her old friend.

She merits saving, the river said. The others are old and have lived their lives. But the woman, and her daughter, deserve more. I will save her.

Not now, River suggested to the river. I don’t want those men to think that this river can cure people. They will have thousands coming and destroying your beautiful natural wonders. Can you allow me to talk to her, without the others hearing?

Yes. Think thoughts to her, and she will hear.

The other patients were already scrambling out of the river, trying to get away from the cold, and the younger woman also started towards the bank when River called out to her mentally. Dawn, she said. The woman turned back and stared at River. Yes. It is me. The river can, and will cure you, but not now. Not today. I know that when you get back, those guys will come up with some other treatment for you. A drug or chemo or something. As soon as they start you on it, come back here, without telling them. The river will cure you, and they will think it is the other treatment. We can’t have the river and our people inundated with thousands hoping for a cancer cure. But the river has chosen you, if you do this.

“Come on, Mrs. Winter,” one of the orderlies said. “Get out of that cold water. This was a fool’s errand. Imagine, standing in an icy river as a cure for cancer. If we hurry we can get back to the hospital before it is too dark.”

In the next few minutes the group got into their vehicles. River gave a look of ‘I’m sorry,’ to Dr. Mitchell, but she had warned him that nothing would happen. He looked embarrassed to ride back with all the others, who were already teasing him about faith-healers and medicine men.

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The next day Rod, Ria and Shelly headed off to visit two reservations to the west. Since they couldn’t go by canoe to these places, Kyle had found a camper top back in his scrapyard, and it was now on Rod’s truck, and Kyle and George had built another entire pickup from parts, and Kyle had designed a special unit for the back. It opened out into a trailer, like those tent trailers that were popular in the past.

Rod’s camper was just a cap that covered a mattress on the truck bed, but this one could be set up as a full tent where all four of the Prophet’s crew could sit under canvas and eat, even if it was raining. They shouldn’t need the feature often, since most trips in the next few months would be an hour or two away at most, and the band they were visiting would host them. But it was a neat feature, and designing it was sufficiently cool to spark Kyle’s interests. River decided to have pictures of it taken and placed on the website after they returned. It could be another good product for the reserve to sell online. Of course, when the group started longer trips after Christmas, then the camper feature would become more important, unless by then they got to use Nick’s RV.

There was an addition to the crew now. Marilyn could no longer be a singer, having been promoted to the full-time position as mother to Beloved. The river had chosen a replacement, Jennifer Cedarbow, a woman Ria had gone to school with. She turned out to have a voice that harmonized perfectly with Shelly. Shelly missed having her sister around, but quickly bonded with the older girl during the few rehearsal sessions before the trip.

Also new was that the high school had provided them with a stack of 50 ‘intent to enroll’ slips to be filled out by any students who wished to come to St. Mary’s high school. The principal assumed that the stack would last for several months. Rod was just happy that there would be enough to last for the trip. Their first destination was Moose Portage Reserve, which was even bigger than the local reservation. Then they would head off to a smaller place called Copper Stone Reservation. They planned on a day at each, with the option of staying a second day if they were invited to.

April Audette had put together a 15-minute video about the town and reservation, featuring the river and including clips of a Sunday service in the river. The Rube Goldberg machine, which had been nicknamed ‘The Rube’ locally, was featured prominently, and there were clips of the high school, which would look massive to the teens from reserve, although tiny compared to the big high schools in Sudbury and Thunder Bay that their parents and older siblings may have attended.

There was no big ceremony for this departure. River was there, along with Kyle, who had brought the new camper-truck in and had shown Shelly and Jennifer how to set it up. He then handed the keys to the truck to Shelly. Just as they were packed up and ready to go, Silver the wolf loped into the clearing, sat down in front of Rod’s truck and howled.

Ria laughed, and then opened the door to the truck, so that the wolf could sit on the bench seat between Rod and her. Except that once inside, Silver wormed his way back to the window and forced Ria to the middle, so that he could stick his snout out the window as they drove off.

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The next day, River came to the river with a small parcel. She had a complete sewing kit that she had bought up at the store, along with a collection of beads and sequins. The river had complained the morning before that she needed something to keep her occupied when she was sitting in the water for hours each morning, and suggested she learn sewing and beadwork.

She brought one of her less ornate denim midi dresses, planning to do some beadwork on it. As well, she had a pair of Mark’s jeans that had been completely demolished in his hunting and archery work with Tall John. A second pair had somehow torn down the inseam as well. She hoped to be able to make one good pair out of the two, which her mother had said were beyond her repair.

That morning River spent a half hour with the river, getting caught up, and then it told her to get her supplies. She sat under the water, completely submersed, and used her knife to unstitch the worse pair of pants to make patches. Then she started to sew the tear up on the other pair, and soon was making good time hand-stitching the inseam back into place. She added patches to the knees, which were feeling quite thin, and then added five additional pockets to the legs, so Mark could store his knife and other tools. The river suggested the design, and River merely sewed. And she sewed well, too. The river imparted the skills needed to her, and after the first few minutes she was sewing rapidly and precisely, with stitches evenly sized and close spaced. She realized that it was hard to see where the machine-sewn parts of the stitching ended, and her stitching began.

She even had an hour just before dawn to do some beadwork on her skirt, and started on a design of Night, the wolf that hung around Wayne. She had quite a bit of it done in an hour, but then an idea hit her and she spent a few minutes completely removing all her handiwork, leaving the dress as plain as it had been when she brought it.

She went back to the family camp and was surprised to see that Mark was up before his parents. Apparently Tall John had told him that sleeping in mornings was not the way warriors acted. When he saw his sister had repaired his beloved old jeans, Mark gave out a whoop. When he discovered all the other pockets that she had sewn into the legs, he whooped again.

“What’s all that racket?” Alison said as she stuck her head out of the tent she shared with Dale, who could be heard moving about inside.

“Mom, River fixed my jeans. They are even better than before.”

Alison took the jeans from her son and looked at the stitchery on them. “This is really good work, River,” she said. “Whose machine did you use?”

“No machine. Just a needle and some sturdy red thread,” River said.

“Really? This looks machine-made. How did you learn to do this?” Mark snatched the jeans from her and went back into his tent to change out of the stiff new jeans he had thought he had to wear today.

“The river, of course,” River said. “I was kinda shaky at first, but soon I got the knack and was able to go pretty fast.”

“Well, you are now the official seamstress for this family,” Alison said. “I suck at sewing, and hate it. Now that I am a lowly credit union manager instead of a Royal Bank manager, I won’t be able to just throw things out when they get a rip or something. Now you can mend them for me.”

“No problem,” River said. “I have a lot of time in the river each morning, and I’m planning to take up beadwork too. I started on a project today, but changed tack midstream and plan to start over again tomorrow. I’ll go into town with you this morning. There are some more things I need to get at the store.”

In town River got more supplies from the Darrin Hooper’s general store, noticing that the place looked busier than it had in the past. She ran into Ben Stormcloud at the store, and he offered her a ride back to the reservation. She decided it was time that she got her daily dose of Luv, so asked Ben to drop her at his place, or Marilyn’s RV to be more specific.

When they got there they found that Nick had left, but copious amounts of giggling and high-pitched squealing were coming from the RV. She entered to find that Marilyn had a gaggle of young girls thronging about. Liesl and Carla were in the forefront, along with several other girls who looked to be Liesl’s age, although one was her younger sister Marta, and another girl of Marta’s age. Ben claimed Luv from Carla, and gave her a cuddle.

“Dad, I’m glad you are here. We all need a ride over to Old Fred Rivermark’s house,” Marilyn said. Can you cart this lot over in the back of the truck?”

“Fred’s place? That’s been sitting empty since he died last year.”

“Almost two years now,” Marilyn said. “The band council said that Neil Audette could have it. But it is a mess, and this lot seems to think that being a mother is just fun and holding babies. I’ve challenged them to help me clean the place up for Neil, since he is alone now.”

“That place is a mess, and needs a ton of work,” Ben said. “Hang on while I get my tools, and some scrap wood from the shed. Neil’s going to need help fixing the place up, let alone getting it clean. That’s a task I will leave to you.”

Less than an hour later the truck pulled up to a dilapidated cottage with the former Stone Ledge member on a ladder working at trying to repair the front porch. River had decided to help out, and had come along, sitting in the cab with Marilyn and Luv while the girls sat on the lumber Ben had piled in the back.

“What’s all this about?” Neil said clearly confused as a half dozen squealing preteens piled off of the bed of the truck.

“We are here to help,” Marilyn said. “Even your little granddaughter is here to see her grandpa’s new house.” She handed the baby to Neil, who again got tears in his eyes, along with a huge smile.

“I wanted to get the place cleaned up a bit before inviting you all over,” he said, bouncing the happily gurgling infant on his shoulder. “It’s not a fit place for a baby, not yet.”

“That is why we are here,” Marilyn said. “We girls will start to clean up the place inside, and dad is going to help you on the repairs.”

Neil choked up. “Twenty-seven years I lived up in Stone Ledge and not once did anyone other than kin come by to help out. Now, my first day here and all you lot come by to help. It’s your doing, isn’t it?” He directed the latter to River.

“Nope. It is all your new daughter’s doing,” River said, nodding at Marilyn.

“My daughter?” Neil looked confused.

“Well, if my daughter is your granddaughter, then you must be my second father,” Marilyn said. “I call the big lunk over at the truck ‘Dad’, but if you want, you can be ‘Poppa’.”

Neil was fighting hard to keep the tears back. “I’d be honored if you would call me that. I lost a daughter last week, and nothing will ever replace her. But if I am to gain a new daughter, I’m glad it is you.” He sniffled. “Now if you don’t mind, I need to get to work again. I seem to have something in my eye.”

The girls worked hard for the rest of the day. At least hard for pre-teens. Marilyn started off by telling them that they would get half-hour long shifts looking after the baby, with the girl who was working the hardest getting first chance. That certainly motivated them. Marta got first shift with Luv, as the new aunt, since her older sister Liesl had many other opportunities in the past. At the end of the first half hour, when the girls wanted to know who was next with the baby Marilyn announced that River had been working hardest, to a chorus of groans.

“Don’t worry,” River said. “She is teasing. But I think I know who gets the baby next, although I don’t know if it is a blessing or a curse. I smell a certain aroma that tells me that Luv needs a new diaper. Carla has been scraping the kitchen floor for the past half-hour without complaining once. Do you want the job?”

“Yes please,” the older girl said, pulling off a soiled apron. “And changing her will be a pleasure. Liesl and Marilyn showed me how the other day.”

At noon Helen Stormcloud pulled up in the family’s second car, carrying a feast of hot dogs for the girls, as well as bowls of chili and biscuits for the adults. After an hour break, while Helen got her Luv cuddles in as the others ate hungrily, the crew went back to work. It was nearly five when they finally stopped working, and Neil came inside to inspect.

He found a clean and tidy place that Marilyn said was now fit for Luv to visit. Nearly a dozen garbage bags of old litter and newspapers were outside, ready to be carted to the dump and recycle centers, as well as boxes of bottles and tins, also ready to recycle. Floors and walls had been washed, and the kitchen cupboards were lined with paper and ready for supplies.

“You need to get to the store to buy supplies,” Marilyn said. “You don’t have anything in the cupboards or the fridge. You need to stock up.”

“That will have to wait a few days until my first welfare check comes in,” Neil admitted.

“Nonsense,” Ben announced, pulling out his wallet and peeling off twenties. After five he looked at Marilyn, who shook her head until he peeled off three more. He handed them to Neil, who took them in shock.

“I can’t keep these,” Neil stammered, nearly speechless. “I mean I already owe you for a pile of wood that you brought over, and a day’s labor.”

Ben laughed his hearty laugh. “It is a loan, not a gift. You need money now, and I know you are good for it. You will be getting a check from Stone Ledge in a few days for your share of the house. Pay me back then. The wood is a gift. And we don’t keep track of labor down here. I know that if I need help you will be there for me.”

“You people are just so good. I don’t deserve this.”

“And you seem to be getting something in your eye again,” Marilyn noted. “Tell you what. You drive River and I to the store with you and we will help you pick up a few things. The store should be open for at least another half hour. Then you will come to dinner at our place tonight. I’ll not have my new father eating alone on his first night in his new home.”

“What about us?” Carla said.

“Dad will drive you home.”

“But tomorrow. We want to come back tomorrow.”

“Well, you can all come over for a bit in the morning. It just won’t be all day. You have your own families who will want to see you occasionally. Now scoot.” With that she and River got into Neil’s truck, with Luv, while the girls headed off giggling with Ben.

“That is quite a crew you have amassed,” River said as they drove. Neil was quiet, still bothered by that something in his eye, but the girls chatted and Luv cooed.

“Yeah, they seem to appear every morning with one or two more each day. I suspect the numbers will be smaller tomorrow, after we made them work all day.”

“I don’t know,” River said. “They seemed to be enjoying themselves. And they were certainly learning something. It is funny how doing chores at home is deadly boring, but doing the same thing with friends is fun. I wonder …”

“You are thinking again. I can tell,” Marilyn laughed.

“I think that you should form a club for those girls. Something like Girl Guides (the Canadian version of Girl Scouts). They could have fun, and learn interesting things. And at the very least you will train a few babysitters you can trust Luv with as she gets older.”

“That sounds promising,” Marilyn said. “Luv is a handful right now, but once I get the hang of things I know it isn’t going to be a full-time job. But I don’t want to take part time work away from someone else that really needs it. The ones without rich lawyer husbands. And when Shelly left on her latest trip, I kinda felt left out and useless. A club for girls might be what I need to keep active.”

“Plus if you organize it, you will be able to control it better,” River said. “They will probably hound you daily for the next week, until school starts, but after that you can schedule it. Maybe one evening each week, between school and supper. That will allow you to control it better.”

“What would we call it? Girl Scouts is used already, and it really isn’t a scouting thing. It will be more of a girls club. Like Young Mothers or something.”

“What about Ojibwe Princesses?” River asked. “Every girl wants to be a princess. I know that Tall John has started a group with the boys and they are calling themselves the Young Warriors. Learning archery, bow and arrow making, traditional hunting and trapping and such.”

“Oooh, that sounds good too,” Marilyn said. “I want to join that. I wonder how many girls will try to get into it.”

“Not many, if I read Tall John correctly. He isn’t into women’s liberation, and I don’t think he would take girls into his group. And you probably won’t get many boys wanting into your group. The interest in a baby does not seem to cross gender lines.”

“You know, River,” Marilyn said thoughtfully. “What we need to do is to build a Ginny’s House here. A place for the young people to meet.”

“Wow. That is a great idea. Let’s put together a presentation for the band council for their next meeting. They will have to give us land for it, and maybe they can even put some money into building costs.”



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