Lenore Stiffarm: Reflections from Dry Lake

Lenore StiffarmIt is night time in the winter at Dry Lake. There is a full moon out. We are riding through the snow. Dad has hooked up the team of horses, Prince and Cooney, to the sleigh. Blankets are thrown on top of us. It is as if we are floating through the field. We can see our breath in the moonlight. It is cold, but we are warm. There is excitement of floating through the snow.

“Dad, go a little faster.” He snaps the bull whip to the team and they began to trot, flatulating at each step.  There is a rhythm to the movement. We are floating…We are floating…in the moonlight. This is how it was at Dry Lake in the winter time.

They were long winter nights. My Mom would say, “Don’t go out into the night. There are tramps going through.” We never questioned what our Mom said. We never were able to see the tramps. However the next day when we would walk to the road to wait for the school bus, which was one mile to the south, we would find the evidence. Old piles of clothes would be left in the snow, left by the tramps. To this day, I do not know where the tramps came from. I do not know where the tramps were going. I only know that they always came through on a cold winter night. They left piles of clothes laying on the road where we walked to catch the school bus for school.

Some winters there was so much snow, the snow banks would be as high as the windows. We would have to stay in the house because it was too cold, too windy, to go outside. The older boys would have to get up early to chop waterhole for the cows and the horses. The older boys would have to haul water. My brother Carl and I would have to saw wood, chop wood, and haul wood into the house for our wood stove.  Sometimes we would have to milk the cows, separate the milk from the cream, churn butter, prepare the milk for cottage cheese. Each of us had chores to do. We did this because we all had to work together so that we could eat, be warm and rest. Each day had a purpose.

On Monday, our Mother would wash clothes. Thus, we had to haul water in a tub so that she could heat the water; we had to saw, chop and haul wood so that the wood stove would heat the water. Our Mother made beans and baked bread on Mondays – wash day. On Tuesday, she would make pies. It was always good to come home from school and have a slice of pie before we ate supper. My Mom would take naps because she would get tired. She always held my two younger brothers in her arms while she slept. I would try to snuggle her back so that I could be close to her, to feel her warmth. I would try to be quiet so that she would not get mad at me.

Na Aa, Mother, pay attention to me…

Na Aa, Mother, I want you to hold me…

Na Aa, Mother, tell me that I am important to you…

Na Aa, Mother, why are you so silent?

Na Aa, Mother, there is a faraway look in your eyes…

Na Aa, Mother, what are you thinking?

These are questions that were never answered. In fact, there are so many questions that were never answered. My oldest brother told me recently that my Mom loved me very much. He said that when he came back from the Air Force, she told him that she was really worried about me because I had gotten very sick and would be sick the rest of my life, according to the Indian Health Service doctors.

The Whistling….

As the train whistles its warning…

A call of leaving, aching, eternity…

We leave the train station going to boarding school….

I wave to my Mother…

I wave to my Father…

There is a look of pain in my Mom’s brow…

There is a look of longing in her brow…

It is the look of someone trying to be strong when there is something about to happen…

She waves.  She waves.  She waves.
The train turns the bend.

 I cannot see her anymore….

I did not know it would be her last wave…

That was September 1959…

You see, she went to the Other Side Camp on April 19, 1960.

 

 

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