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So She Took the Sun With Her
Damn, that sun is hot! It’s too early for the sun to beat down that hard. The water comes out of the pump feeling like ice, but the metal of the milk can is warm, causing it to sweat and be slippery. I hated hauling water! Fill up the tub, fill a pan for cooking, fill for the sake of having the can full. My sister was an ole pro; she filled the can without complaint, and dragged me behind her. I hated that!
Every morning it was the same thing: wake up, go outside, listen to the birds sing, scope out the footprints in the dew, and look for something to eat. On good days Mom was there, and the smell of powdered eggs cooking or French toast, sometimes with a little vanilla in the mix. She’d hum while cooking, stopping only to yell out the goals she set for us that day. It always included a good house cleaning first. If that didn’t take too long we’d have an adventure, finding giant snails in the creek, or swimming to the island at the far end of the lake. It was fun to see what it looked like after a year of seasons.
Then there were the gray days. Big billowing gray clouds floated in the sky. Fog slowly retreated back to the brush. Birds didn’t sing as loud or maybe they slept in. It seemed too cold to look for tracks in the dew, and the outhouse seemed a mile away. On those days, no eggs were cooking, no one hummed, and worst of all my big sister was in charge. This always meant we (the younger, less powerful) had to do the cleaning. We never bothered with hauling water, because no one cooked, no one made us wash up, and there was enough to drink. My sister bossed us around for a few hours before she’d get gussied up to go off with friends. She told us to stay there and behave. Who was she to tell us what to do? She wasn’t there. She didn’t know what was going on. It was just me and my little sister. I was the big sister for the day. We could play all day long, anything she wanted. Instead of a sit-down meal with veggies, we could eat commot fruit out of the can while watching TV. My favorite show was on at 6:00 pm, and I could watch it without being interrupted to bathe in that damn wash tub that made me smell like metal. There was fun to be had!
It’s 1:00 pm and we are still in our jammies. “C’mon, Sister,” I say, “shall we go swimming?”
“No, I don’t wanna; it’s too gray out,” she tells me. “The water must be cold and dark. You can’t see the turtles.”
“Oh that’s an old story; there ain’t no turtles,” I protest. “Mom wouldn’t have us swim to the island if there were killer turtles in that lake.”
“How do you know? Why would people make up stories about turtles snapping off toes if it never happened? I don’t want to go swimming, and you can’t make me!”
Boy, what a ruckus! It was just an idea. Our big sister would make us go. She made things sound exciting. She turned something you shouldn’t do into something you had to try! If that didn’t work there was always brute force. I decide we can try something else. “Let’s go outside; get dressed, okay?” We play house, but her babies keep crying; that is no fun. We climb trees and use the skinny ones to lower ourselves to the ground. We race and I pretend to lose. We draw elaborate homes in the dirt and pretend to be rich. We call each other “Dah-ling,” but end arguing who is richer.
After a while we go inside to eat. She has the fruit cocktail; I have the plums. We watch TV, fall asleep. I wake up and notice the sun peeking through the clouds just above the lake. Just that small ray of light seems to warm things up a bit. My little sister is still sleeping; she looks so cute. Geez, she is hard to entertain though. My older sister is outside, I can tell. I can hear her giggling. She would be batting her long eyelashes no doubt. She probably has some young fella hanging on her every word, wishing she would show him the slightest interest in a kiss. I steal a peek out the window. “Get back in the house!” she yells. There she sits, with her long brownish-blonde hair and green eyes. Bossing me again. Oh well, I’d better straighten up the house before she comes in. I need to clean up my little sister, the commot cans, and the mess we made in the bathroom. I think I’ll try to heat up some food left in the refrigerator, too. The sun will be going down soon, so I put my little sister in her pajamas, warm up some food, and settle her down at the table. My big sister comes in the house and looks in the kettle to see what is warming up. She takes a plate, and begins telling me and my little sister all about her day. We cuddle up on the couch with a blanket while she spins stories about handsome boys and pretty Menominee girls laughing and talking. They played games by “The Roots” and teased each other with silly jokes. I wish I was older.
The sky is filled with pinks and purples now. Tomorrow will be a good day, I think to myself as I doze off to the voice of Johnny Carson and a car coming up the driveway. It must be Mom.
Delores Tourtillott-Grignon is a member of the Menominee Tribe of Wisconsin. She was born in Chicago 42 years ago. She is the proud mother of four children, and wife of 17 years to one of the best men she has ever known. When she wrote this memoir, she was beginning her third year of college at the College of the Menominee Nation (CMN, Keshena, WI). She has been teaching early childhood students for 11 years.
“My mother and father originated from hardship, but led a colorful life, and continue to have impacts on my life choices today,” she says. “My father held close connections to the Warrior Society during ‘The Take Over’ in the 1970s, and nicknamed me after one of the participants, one of strength.”
She adds that during her early childhood, hers was a close-knit family. Eventually, her parents divorced. Her father became an absentee father and her mother raised four children on her own. “My mother’s main focus was to keep me and my siblings close to one another,” she says. “These events inspired my memoir.”