By Dawn Natelle
So far: River had a productive Monday, visiting many of the artists on the reservation. Tomorrow she and Liesl would visit some of the crafts people. River is heading back to the campsite to see how her mother and father made out in their days.
River arrived at the campsite in time to help clean up the dishes. The boys had spent the day at the river, running wild, claiming they were fishing. They did catch one, in the traditional way, not River’s bear-style. According to the boys it was a huge beast, that needed both their efforts to land, but then Alison pointed out that that the result was only a portion of a small meal for the two of them; each needed a hotdog to fill up. This told River that the fish would not have been that large. At least she was glad to know that the boys were back to having fun. They said that Night had spent most of the day with them, only running off for a short time while they fished, returning soon after, licking blood off his muzzle.
“Probably caught a rabbit,” River noted.
“Yuck,” Alison said.
“Don’t be squeamish,” River giggled. “Night probably thinks you and Dad are insane for throwing perfectly good dead cow onto a fire.”
“Dead cow?” Paul questioned, and then suddenly made the connection to the steaks that Alison and Dale had eaten for dinner. “Yuck, yuck, yuck. I’m going to be a vegetarian. No way will I eat dead cow.”
“You know that your hotdogs are probably at least partly beef, and dead pig otherwise,” River teased.
“Oh. I never thought about that,” the boy said.
“It is important to know where your food comes from, and I don’t mean Loblaws or Dominion (Canadian grocery chains). Manitou, or God, if you are talking to people back in Toronto, put the animals on the earth as part of a system, where one animal is the food for another. Cows and pigs, for instance, would be rare animals if humans were not tending and feeding them. In return, they feed us. It is all a part of the cycle of life. But almost all our food is dead-something. Plants are alive too, and a part of Manitou’s plan. They feed us too.”
“But we do not feed them,” Mark said.
“Don’t we? Do you think the crops in the field just grow that way naturally? Or does a farmer plant them and tend them?” River asked. “I spoke to an elder today, and she told me that the people of the River decided that when the pulp mill was built in 1960, the people would not let the loggers clear the land. Instead they restricted them to certain areas, and then replanted the areas after they had been cut down. This let the animals still have a place to live, and those trees planted in the 60s are now being harvested. It keeps the plant open to this day, while Terrace Bay and other plants have been closed because there are no trees close enough to harvest. Here they are able to continue to harvest trees economically. That is why the Junior Rangers plant trees to this day. ”
“I did not realize that,” Alison said. “I spent the day walking up and down main street, and I don’t think that many in the town know that the band is the reason the plant still exists here. Mostly they complain about the ‘lazy’ natives. Mr. Churchill at the liquor store certainly isn’t a fan of yours in particular. He claims his sales for the week are way down, with hardly any of the natives buying liquor or beer with their welfare checks. He’s got this great huge store, but only uses a tiny corner of it, and says that he isn’t making money anymore.”
River perked up: “He has extra store space? I mean, an empty space?”
“Yes, mostly boarded off so he doesn’t have to heat it. Apparently it was a Northern Store and Outfitters at one time, but closed down after Y2K because it was so close to the Terrace Bay branch. Mr. Churchill said his wife was the manager, and she got transferred down to Sault at the time to work in a Hudson’s Bay store. I heard others mention later that their marriage had been pretty shaky anyway. But Nelson, Mr. Churchill that is, got the building for a song, and kept the liquor agency going, making a good living. At least up until now, that is.”
“It sounds like you picked up more gossip than facts,” Dale joked.
“No, I have all the data I need. Not that this isn’t a gossipy little town. But I’m going to need to get it all written up into a report, and a presentation. I’ve already called the bank and I have a meeting downtown with Mr. Winslow, the Vice President in charge of properties, on Tuesday after we get back in the Toronto. I just need some time on the computer to put everything together before then.”
“Hmm,” Dale said. “We should have bought a second laptop. I am using it all day designing trusses and ordering supplies for the houses we are building.”
Alison looked disappointed. “Surely you don’t need the computer all the time. I mean, you have to be managing … stuff, don’t you? I could use it between times.”
“I don’t know,” Dale said. “I really do only spend about 10 percent of my time on it, but I need it with me at those times.”
“Well,” River said. “Why doesn’t Mom set up shop at one of the construction places and work there? It has to be better than working here in a tent on a battery. She can stop when you need to do something, and then take it back when you are done.”
“That would work,” Alison said hopefully. “But what about the boys?”
“They looked after themselves today, didn’t they?”
“Yes,” Alison said, ignoring the cheers for the boys at the idea of another unsupervised day. “But they did have the wolf looking after them.”
“Night will look after them tomorrow,” River said.
“How do you know that without asking?” Dale said.
“I did ask.”
“How … never mind. I’ll never understand you anyway,” Dale said.
“You two head off to the construction site tomorrow. I have Liesl taking me to some of the other people in the reservation tomorrow. The boys will be fine with Night.”
The next morning River was in the river before dawn, as normal. She reviewed what she had done on the day before, and the river agreed with many of her ideas. It also gave her some suggestions for the day. For one thing, she would be with Liesl, and on foot, and should try to stay in a concentrated area. The river suggested that the far eastern edge of the reserve was a good place to start, with about five families in that cluster. Wayne could drive them out before he needed to start work with the JRs, and come back and get them at lunch time and drive them to a place at the east end, but nearer to the highway. From there they would be able to walk back. The river warned that the girls were not to travel alone, even on the reservation, and River looked up and saw one of the wolves on the bank. It was Kemosabe, which one of the wags on the reservation had named after the Lone Ranger. Apparently it was not a show well liked by the First Nations peoples.
Just prior to dawn, River and Kemosabe walked to the Stormcloud home, where she found Liesl was already up and eating her breakfast. The young girl was clearly excited at the idea of spending a day with River, and had been up for an hour, to the dismay of her mother, who had also gotten out of bed before dawn. That meant that there were eggs and biscuits for River’s breakfast, which she ate slowly as they waited for Wayne. The river had said he would pick them up there, and he did, rolling up at about 8 a.m.
“I was told that you wanted me,” he said to River.
“Just a ride over to eastern edge of the reserve,” River said. “And maybe at lunch a quick trip down to near the highway?”
“Sure,” Wayne said sniffing the aroma of his mother’s biscuits. “Are we in a hurry?”
“No,” River giggled. “Take your time. Just remember that you have to get back to your JRs by nine.”
“Lots of time,” Wayne said as he stuffed himself with bacon, eggs and those delightful biscuits. “Food is pretty good at the JR camp, but nothing like Mom’s.”
Helen beamed, and managed to put together another full plate for her eldest son before the others in the family followed their noses into the kitchen. Wayne grabbed a final biscuit, and mopped his plate clean with it as he called the girls out to the truck with a full mouth. Kemosabe jumped into the bed.
“Totally worth it,” he said. “Consider your taxi fare paid by Mom, in full. She makes the best biscuits in the country.”
“Uhm, I made those biscuits,” Liesl said shyly. “I was up early, then Mom got up and it was too early for breakfast, so Mom taught me how to make them. Did you really like them?”
Wayne stared at his little sister for a second as he drove, and seemed to notice that she was growing up. “Yes sweetie, I did. Those were just as good as Mom’s. I’ve tasted Marilyn’s, and they aren’t horrible, but Shelly keeps mistaking biscuit for river-stones. You could lose a tooth on hers. I guess you are going to be the next great Stormcloud baker.”
Liesl beamed the rest of the quick trip. As they approached the reservation edge, River could see a big factory in the distance, spewing smoke from four chimneys spaced along it. “What is that?” she asked with a grimace.
“It is the pulp mill,” Wayne said. “Most of that is just steam coming out. It is on reserve land, and the lease says that they cannot pollute the air or the water. The real border of our land is on the other side, but we all consider this the edge, because this is the last area with people living here.”
River sniffed the air, but didn’t smell anything unusual, so had to agree with Wayne’s assessment. The early morning wind was from the east, so if there were anything noxious, she was pretty sure that she would smell it.
She got out of the truck at the end of a lane. Wayne refused to drive all the way up to the tiny house, saying that there was often rusty metal in the road, and he didn’t want to have to replace a tire. Kemosabe jumped out after them. As River and Liesl walked the short distance in, River could understand his concern.
The land was several acres, with a tiny cabin about 8 by 10 feet in size, and a larger building behind. But almost every inch of the property was covered by junk. There were old fridges and washing machines, old cars, and parts of cars, even an old school bus or two. River thought she recognized some of the debris that she had helped pull out of the river when she had cleaned it up. Was this a home, or the town dump?
They walked to the house, and then heard clanging coming from the barn behind. River tapped on the door, not really expecting an answer, and then the girls walked around to the back building, where the clanging had ended, but a grinder was apparently in use. They walked in the great open barn door, and saw a tall, thin native boy, or man, about Wayne’s age, using a grinder on … something. There was a trail of sparks running across the floor from the grinder, lighting the barn up enough that River could see another man in the back, facing away, and operating a welding torch by the look of it.
“Hello,” River shouted once the grinder shut down. The man-boy looked up and grinned from ear to ear. Howdy Doody, River thought with a giggle. He looks like a First Nations’ Howdy Doody. She had once gotten a coloring book about the old-time puppet from a relative when she was little.
“Welcome, welcome,” the man said. “Hi Liesl? How are the parents?” Liesl nodded. Among the people on the reserve, there were no strangers. But River felt she needed to introduce herself.
“Hi, I’m River Waters,” she said.
“Oh I know, the rivertalker” he said. “I’m Kyle. Kyle Audette What brings you out to our little shop? George and I own this place. Welding, fabricating, and auto parts supply, if you can find what you need in the grass. And if you can’t, we can usually make something else fit.”
He said ‘George’ in a loving way that made River think that the pair were partners in more than a business relationship. They would be the first same sex partners that she had met on the reserve, although the River had explained to her about Two-spirited people and she was fine with it.
“Liesl is taking me around to meet some of the people. I guess you all know me, from the ceremonies and such, but I want to get to know you folk, and what you all do. The people in town all think the natives just sit around and wait for welfare checks, but I am finding that is not so.”
“Ha! Not here,” Kyle said. River wondered if it was possible that that grin might actually split his face. Is this where South Park got its depiction of Canadians? “They know to come up here when they have something broken. I’m pretty good at fixing anything. Rod Ravensclaw is pretty good with cars and stuff, but I’ve got the equipment to beat even him.”
“I see,” River said, but Kyle just kept rambling on.
“George and I were at your ceremony at the river. It was so inspiring to hear you speak, and for the river to teach us the language. George and I talk Ojibwe to each other a lot. It is especially sexy in the bed, you know.”
River was about to note that no, she didn’t know. Apparently her guess about the pair had been correct.
“Oh my. My manners. George,” Kyle shouted. “George. GEORGE.”
The welding stopped, and the man took off his welding helmet, showing long dark hair like many of the native males sported. But then he turned to face them, and River was shocked. George had breasts. Huge breasts. She was more than a little overweight, and from the back, in coveralls, she had looked like a man, a bit, but River realized now that there was too much hip for a man. Her face was round and cheerful, and definitely female. She spoke with a voice that was deep for a woman, but nothing like that of a man.
“Kyle,” she said. “Who … oh, it is the rivertalker, and Liesl. Welcome to our little shop. I can’t talk much now. I have to keep this bead going. Have Kyle show you around, and I’ll get to you when I finish.” With that she turned back to her work and slapped the helmet down.
“George?” River said.
“Short for Georgette, my partner,” Kyle said, unclear about the confusion.
“Oh my. You thought …,” Liesl giggled, unable to continue.
River shot her a stare. From now on she would have the girl brief her on who they were going to see. Kyle never did catch on.
“Is there anything I can show you?” Kyle said.
“Well, I am just interested in getting to know you, and what you are doing. What is this?
River pointed at the odd contraption that Kyle had been working on when they came in.
“It is my golf ball extractor,” Kyle said enthusiastically. “You can run it along a river or pond at a golf course, and it will scoop up all the golf balls. Then you can sell them. I’ve almost finished it.”
“I see,” River said. “Are there many golf courses around here?”
“Not really. A couple in the Sault, and some in Thunder Bay. None really close.”
“And how much does a used golf ball get you?”
“Only a dollar or so. Maybe 50 cents.”
“So how do you make money with this?”
Kyle looked a bit dejected. “I guess it isn’t really that practical. But when I get an idea for something, then I just have to build it. I’ll probably take it to some golf courses to show, and if they are interested I’ll just give it to them, maybe get a dinner or so for George and me.”
“It looks just like a Rube Goldberg creation,” River noted.
“You know Rube Goldberg?” Kyle said, the huge smile returning. “He is my hero. I absolutely idolize him. Someday I will build something worthy of him.”
“Why not now?” River said. “I have an idea. What if there was a real Rube Goldberg kind of thing on main street in town. It would be completely powered by people, maybe with a bicycle to raise a billiard ball, and then using gravity to take it from there. People who are driving through would see it and stop to let their kids play on it. The kids get tired and grumpy from just sitting in a car, and getting them moving again will make them happy.”
“I like the idea of making kids happy,” Kyle said.
“It would make the parents happy too,” River said. “They wouldn’t have grumpy kids anymore, and they might even stop and buy some things in town, or at least have lunch here.”
“That sounds so cool,” Liesl spouted out. “My friends would love it, and I bet the town kids would too.”
“Oh gawd, oh gawd, I have to get some paper. Ideas are just erupting out of my brain and I have to get them down,” Kyle said, rushing off to a messy work desk in the corner.
“What have you done to my man?” George said with a giggle as Kyle rushed off to his desk and started sketching. “If you’ve broken him, I’ll make you pay,” she joked.
“Maybe we’ve damaged him. Or at least turned him on. I just gave him an idea …”
“No ideas,” George laughed. “Definitely do not give that man any ideas. He has more than enough of them. Has he shown you around much?”
“Not really. He showed us this thing, and I mentioned it looked like a Rube Goldberg creation. And I suggested he build one for the town: a Rube Goldberg device. I don’t know what we could use a golf ball extractor for.”
“That explains that,” she said, glancing lovingly at the man. River then explained her mission and asked about arts and crafts.
“We do that,” George said. “We get a lot of cars in here. Any wrecks on the highway at least, or ones from the town. Mostly the reserve folk just run theirs until they fall apart. And then we take the parts. A lot of the metal gets used in projects. We just make what we can from the bits and pieces. Like this fellow.” She pointed to a huge structure in the corner of the barn.
It was about 25 feet tall, and was a kind of a Pacific First Nations totem pole, but built entirely of auto parts welded together. It was massive, and River could immediately see that it would be a great showpiece for an auto dealer or auto parts store down in southern Ontario.
“That could sell,” River said. “How many hours of work are in that?”
George thought about it for a moment, and said: “I couldn’t really say. We both worked on it for months, around our other jobs. Kyle designed it, and pulled the parts from the wrecks around the yard. I just welded it together using his mad plan. I guess there are maybe 500 hours between the two of us.”
River calculated in her head. Because there was a lot of equipment involved, she used an hourly rate of $150 for the shop. “It could sell for $75,000,” she mused, not realizing she had spoken aloud.
George’s mouth dropped. “You’re kidding? We’ve never made more than $200 a month around here, and that almost all goes back into welding supplies.”
“Oh? What do you sell?”
“Over here,” George said, taking them to another corner of the barn. “These are mostly made from old tires. We get a lot of them, wrecks and retreads. We make them into these.”
There were about 10 different products in a pile, with multiples of most, all made from old tires. Planters, steps, chairs, wishing wells and, catching both Liesl and River’s eyes were toys for little kids. There were swings shaped like bugs, rocking horses made out of a halved tire, sandboxes, a snake creeping through the grass made of staggered half tires, and especially a thunderbird/dragon shape made of a tire with the bottom half of the tire being the body, and the top half cut apart to form a head and a long tail. River looked closely at it and saw that it would be perfect for a toddler, since the two side beads had been left and would cradle the child so it couldn’t fall out.
River wondered how old a child would be interested in this, and soon learned, as Liesl tried to crawl into it, and found herself wedged. “I’m too big,” she whined.
“For that one,” George said, helping her crawl out. “We have made some from truck tires in the past. I think there are a few bigger tires out back. Tell you what, I’ll make you one for bringing the rivertalker out to talk to us. Your Dad is handy, he will be able to put it up for you.”
Liesl’s eyes went wide. “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you. My little sisters and brother will love it too.”
“How much do you get for making these?” River asked.
“We get $10 per tire used,” George said. “$15 if we supply the tires. There is a guy from Barrie who comes up every couple of months and buys whatever we have and gives us tires he has collected. He sells them in flea markets down south,”
“For a lot more than $15 each,” River guessed. “Next time he comes up, tell him there is a new pricing. For the basic stuff, you get $30 each. And he gives you the tires free. He is collecting a disposal fee from garages and such on the way up, then selling them to you for $5.”
“But for the dragons, I’m sure he is selling them for $100 each. They are gorgeous. He deserves to make a profit, but 50% is more than fair. Sell them to him for $50 each.”
“But what if he refuses? We need the money for welding supplies,” George complained.
“He won’t. He needs stuff to sell. He is just going to have to pay a bit more for it. He might try to con you by driving away. If he isn’t back in 15 minutes, have Kyle take your pickup truck out on the road to Sault. He won’t take those tries back south, and will try to dump them somewhere, I bet. Kyle can just load them up and bring them back here, and we will sell your stuff direct through the web page we are building. But I think he won’t go more than a half hour out of town before he comes back and accepts your deal. Does he deal in cash?”
“Yes, always,” she said.
“Then he will probably complain he doesn’t have enough money. If he does, then take what he normally pays, but give him a bill for the rest. Let him know that if it isn’t paid in a month, it goes up by 2%. And if he doesn’t pay at all, he will need to find another supplier. Don’t sell him anything until the account is clear.”
The girls chatted a while longer, and then River went over to peer over Kyle’s shoulder as he excitedly explained his sketches. River made a few more suggestions, and watched as Kyle’s face lit up as he saw what she wanted and started brewing more wild ideas of his own.
“You broke my man again, didn’t you,” George laughed as River walked back. George then walked with River and Liesl to their next house, which was apparently Anna Audette.
Thanks again to Eric for a tremendous editing job. Another chapter is complete, so look for it next weekend after he finishes working his magic with it.
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