By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric
Sorry this has been so late. I got sick last weekend, and then sidetracked over other things. See my blog post for more: Dawn
Chapter 37 – Celebrations
So far: Miners try to take the reserve as their own, and a small war erupts as the First Nations decide that they will no longer let the white men take what it theirs. The river keeps the war bloodless, in a way, and eventually it is resolved.
The town and reserve were abuzz for several weeks after the miners’ war ended. It was nearly the end of November when River realized that her birthday, or Ricky’s birthday, as odd as that now felt to her, was nearing. On November 24 she would turn 15. She was reminded of the fact by her sessions in the river, which was continually announcing that it had a ‘present’ for her.
Fall had turned to winter, and there was snow on the ground. The first few inches came days after the war, and it was a threat of a blizzard that got the last reporters to flee the area. The blizzard didn’t come until mid-month, but then it dumped eight inches of snow on the reserve, and the locals warned that that snow would still be there, at the bottom of a much bigger pile, at the end of March.
That was new for River. In Toronto there were usually only two or three significant snowfalls a winter, messing up traffic for a day, and then taking another two or three days for the works crews to clean up the streets. Then there would be a warm spell, and the snow would disappear. Dale said that in his youth there had been snow on the ground all winter, but River didn’t remember it. Global warming, probably.
But north of Lake Superior, snows came and snows stayed. In St. Mary’s there were works crews that tried to keep the streets clear, but in the reserve there were only a couple of men with snow-blowers who cleared paths through the reserve, mainly to allow the students to get to the bus stops. Another path was made down to the meeting place near the river, although after each Sunday the hundreds who came to River’s services widened the path.
The river was still open. It told River that it would remain so until after her birthday, and then would freeze up. The water was so cold that it could freeze several inches thick overnight. The river told River she should still perform the services after it froze, but could stand on the ice instead of in the water. Sure enough, no matter how much snow fell during a week, before services the wind would blow the ice clear, as well as a space for the people to stand. It got to the point where there was a series of hockey games along the river on Sunday afternoons, with boys (and girls) of various ages playing in pickup games with their peers.
The service before River’s birthday would be the last one where she stood in open water. Her birthday was on Wednesday that week, and the river promised that she would be able to visit it that morning. It also let her know that she could continue to visit each morning, even after there was ice on top. She would still be fed sustenance and information by the river, although it was not as efficient as through the water.
That Wednesday she felt trepidation as she entered the water for the last time of the year. The river was still warm around her, in spite of the snowy surroundings.
Where will the animals drink when you are frozen? she asked the river.
There will be cracks in the ice near the banks in several places, it replied. And many of the animals will just eat snow to get water.
Good, River said.
You didn’t think I would let my charges go thirsty, did you?
No. I guess not. You are Manitou, and all depend on you, don’t they.
Yes. And today I have a birthday present for you.
Just talking to you: being with you, is enough of a present for me, River said.
This is not a present you can hold in your hand. It is one you can hold in your heart. Have you ever wondered why you were chosen to be rivertalker?
Many times, River answered. I always wondered why you chose me and not one of the people.
That is the thing, the river said. You are one of the people. Your mother’s great-grandmother was Ojibwe, and your father’s great-great-grandfather was also one of the people. You, and Mark, are 3/32th Ojibwe. Your mother is 1/8th, and your father is 1/16th. You are all of the people. The government men will not accept such a small amount, but for Manitou any trace makes you one of us.
That is amazing. Wonderful, River said. I wonder why I never knew this before?
Your ancestors were of the common people, the river said. To them, marrying a member of the people was acceptable. But a generation or two later they had moved up in society, so they tended to hide their native blood. Eventually, not even the family remembered the past.
So is that why Mark is getting to look so much like an Ojibwe? River asked.
Partially that, and also because I had to make him grow so much to avoid the problems he faced in Toronto. His size makes him more appropriate as the Protector, and looking native also helps. In your case, I decided to keep the Nordic parts of your past alive, so you remain blonde like your mother. I could change you, if you wish.
No, River said. I kinda like the way I look now, although a year ago if you told me I would be a girl with long hair and breasts, I would have laughed out loud. I probably would have also laughed if you told me I would be standing chest deep in water, talking to a river. Thank you, this has been a wonderful present.
It is not the entire present, the river said. There is more.
Yes. You have been misinformed that a rivertalker must be a virgin. That is not so. The reason that Edith Freedove lost the right to be rivertalker was not that she married, but because she married too young, and without my consent. She defied me in favour of her man, and this cost her the connection she had with me.
So I will be able to marry? To have children?
Yes to both, the river said. But not yet. I approve of your gentleman friend down in London. The difference in your ages is large, but in time it will not be. He has proven to be faithful, even when he feels that he will never be able to consummate his love for you. Not many men would do that.
When? What can we do?
I want you to continue as you have been doing. You haven’t even kissed him on the lips, have you? River shook her head. You will continue that way for another year. On your birthday next year, or the first time you meet after that, you may kiss him. The year following, you may kiss him in the way that Mark was kissed last month. And the year following, you will be eighteen. That is when you can do anything you wish, so long as you do not allow yourself to become with child. If you decide you wish to marry, you must ask me first, and be aware that I will not consent until you are at least 22, and possibly as old as 28.
Oh my, oh my, oh my. River was almost giddy with the news. Can I tell Wayne?
Of course. Make him aware of my limitations though.
River left the water soon afterwords, and headed to Marilyn’s house. No one would be awake in hers, but Luv had a habit of getting someone up in the next door neighbors house early. River often visited, and would use the key they had given her to creep in. Then when Luv woke and started crying wet or hungry, she would get the baby and let the Summerstorms sleep.
But today Marilyn got up anyway, and smiled as she watched River diapering her daughter as she suckled on the bottle of expressed milk that had been in the fridge.
“You look so natural at that,” Marilyn said. “It is a shame you can’t have one of your own one day.”
“But I can,” River nearly crowed, as she told Marilyn what the river had told her. When she finished, her older friend hugged her closely.
“You realize that it might not be Wayne,” she told River. “I mean you might meet someone your own age. Or he might meet someone at college.”
“Hah. Fat chance of me meeting anyone better than Wayne around here,” she said. “I do worry that he might meet someone at college. Someone he can date and make love to. But if he does, then he was not the right one for me. I will cry for a month, but it will be for the best.”
“But if he does wait for you …” Marilyn prompted.
“Then he is perfect for me,” River crowed. “Even the river feels that he would be good for me: that he is special.”
“Well, I think he will wait. Everyone can see what there is between the two of you. And if it is just a matter of time, I’m sure he will wait. After all, he has been willing to wait so far, when he thought that it was forever. He really does love you, River.”
“Do you think so? Oh, I hope you are right. I just want to call him right now and tell him the news.”
“You can use our phone, if you want,” Marilyn offered.
“No, I will call on Skype tonight,” River said. “I want to be able to see his face when I tell him. Oh, I just want to see his face. His last class ends at four today. I will call him right after that.”
“So tell me about the party,” Marilyn said.
“It is just going to be a small one,” River said. “Me and Mark, Mom and Dad. You and Nick and Luv. She needs to be at her Auntie River’s 15th birthday. A couple of girls from school are coming over too, I think.”
That turned out to be as far from the truth as possible. Alison served cake to the family at five after River got off of Skype with Wayne, but after six there was a steady stream of people coming to the door, bearing gifts and food. The result was another First Nations feast day that didn’t end until midnight.
The gifts River got were wonderful. The women of the band had seemed to go out of their way to try and outdo one another. Some made elaborate pow-wow costumes that would be suitable for services. A larger number provided skirts and vests that were more suitable to school, where River insisted on wearing native clothing. There was a large collection of jewelry, almost all in a native motif.
There was a special gift from Dawn Winter. It was a hardcover first edition of her newest book. The inside cover was autographed in Dawn’s flowing text with “To River Waters, who made this book possible. I can never repay you. Dawn Winter.”
“Look inside,” Cindy urged, leafing through to the dedication. This was the printed one that would appear in every book printed. It read: “To River, who introduced me to a new and wonderful world that I never want to leave.”
“That could be me, or the river,” River said. “I will assume it is the river. When did the book come out?”
“I had most of it written before I got sick,” Dawn said. “I have been editing like crazy since the river cured me. I finished three weeks ago, and sent it off to my publisher. They had thought I had disappeared, so it wasn’t in their fall catalog. When they got it they called Nick to confirm that it really was me, and then went all out to get it to print. There are a lot of grandmas and aunts who always buy a copy of my book as a Christmas gift for my fans, and I’m so glad they won’t be disappointed. There is a paperback coming out in three weeks, just before Christmas. Apparently the advance sales are through the roof.”
“Wow,” River hugged Dawn. “That is so great. I am so thrilled for you. And this was a really special gift. I guess this means you will be staying around here?”
“I hope so,” Dawn laughed. “Your Dad just told me that my house is finished and I can move in whenever I want. It will probably be over the Christmas school break, when the girls are back with their parents.”
“And then we will be next door neighbors,” Cindy squealed. “You and I can walk to the bus together.”
“Along with Wendy Jean and Galena,” River noted, nodding at Dawn’s two boarders. “You three may not be so pleased at having to ride a bus every morning.”
“We will love it,” Wendy Jean said, and Galena shook her head in agreement. “I just hope I can get to the bus stop with my wheelchair.”
“If you can’t, I can always take you in the van,” Dawn said. “One of the advantages of working from home. I usually do most of my writing in the early morning, so I am up when the girls roll out of bed. It is going to be heaven in the new house with three makeup sinks.”
“Three?” River asked.
“Yes, Cindy has an en-suite, and there is a double sink in the main washroom the girls use.”
“Dawn made them make one of the sinks wheelchair accessible,” Wendy Jean said. “I can’t wait.”
“The entire house was designed to be accessible,” Dale said. “There are a lot of features that we are carrying over to the other houses we build. They may not have people in wheelchairs in them, but as populations age the accessible house will be more and more important in time.
It was Mark who came up with the idea of a Longest Night Celebration. While he had missed visiting the river with River on her last night, he still went with her about 80 per cent of the time, even now that the river had iced up. He remembered Manitou telling him of Longest Night celebrations in the old days, when he was writing his story, and suggested that it was a tradition that needed to be continued.
River agreed to talk it up with both elders and her classmates, and everyone was thrilled by the idea. The students loved the idea because it meant they would get out of school two days earlier, since solstice fell on December 21 and school didn’t let out until the 22nd. The elders loved the idea because it would be restoring an old tradition that was before even their time.
There was even talk that it should replace Christmas entirely, as an Ojibwe version of the holiday, but in the end it was decided that this would be difficult. So many young children were too invested in the idea of Christmas and Santa Claus to have that tradition broken. Instead River decided that Longest Night would be a less commercial time when only handmade gifts would be shared, and usually only with loved ones. River added the last bit in hopes of preventing the women of the band from inundating her with more clothes.
The celebration went off without a hitch, save one. One of the teachers at Mark’s school was upset when he learned that all the First Nations students would be leaving two days early for Christmas break, and he decided to have a special class on the 21st, with a test on that material on the 22nd to punish the absent students.
Unfortunately, it backfired on him. The remaining students were too wired up on the second last day of classes to absorb new material, and having a test two hours before the start of vacation resulted in a class average, among the students who wrote the test, of only 18 per cent. Parents of A students were outraged, and demanded that a rewrite be made. In January he repeated the class, expanding it to three days from one, and then offering the rewrite. The class average rose to 78 per cent, and Mark was the only student to get perfect, infuriating the teacher since he was one of the students who had missed the initial class.
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