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Published June 11, 2009, 07:50 PM

Linda Grover: Drinking tea at the 'Sweetgrass' cabin

An excerpt from Budgeteer columnist Linda LeGarde Grover's award-winning collection of short stories, “The Road Back to Sweetgrass,” which was recently recognized by the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.

By: Linda LeGarde Grover, Budgeteer News

The following is an excerpt from “The Road Back to Sweetgrass.” (See below.)

Michael’s father got to his feet when the girls walked into the cabin, picking up his blanket from the wooden chair next to the woodstove (the warmest spot in the room). He chivalrously spread the blanket on an old green velvet sofa — over the stuffing and springs that were coming through its cushions — and pulled it closer to the stove.

“Biindigen, namadabin,” he murmured, nodding toward the sofa. “Come in, young ladies, and sit down. Here’s a place for you.”

His smile was almost as big as his head, thought Margie. What a nice old man. She stepped over the chainsaw that was lying on the floor half-wrapped in a rag rug.

“This is Theresa, and Margie,” Michael introduced them, indicating with his version of the old man’s nod who was who. “This is my father: Joe Washington.”

“I’m happy to meet you, Mr. Washington,” Theresa said, offering her hand to shake.

The old man glanced with appreciation at her high color, her nose and cheeks flushed with the cold and her long, long black hair. A beauty; feels good on old eyes, he thought.

“Boozhoo aaniin. Likewise,” he said, shaking her chilled and slender hand. “Everybody calls me ‘Zho Wash.’”

He regarded the other girl, the bashful one, gently, indirectly. Margie smiled sideways at the old man.

“Boozhoo,” she said, then, tongue-tied, she smiled down at the floor, back up at the old man — then again at the floor. The old man was in his socks, she saw; one toe stuck out of a hole in the side. She looked away — he quickly bent to pull the sock away from the foot, hiding his toe. All the while her eyes avoided Michael while she watched him with her unusually good peripheral vision.

He thought, This one is crazy about my boy: “Aniin, my girl,” he said. “Here, you sit on the couch there; you’ll warm up. Take your girlfriend with you. I’ll make some tea.”

While Michael was out on the steps skinning the rabbit, Margie and Theresa sat on the couch with Theresa’s coat over their laps watching the old man make tea. He lined three cups up on the table and filled them with hot water from the saucepan on the woodstove, then from the shelf above the table took down a box of Salada. He dipped a teabag up and down several times into the first two cups, which he handed to the girls.

Zho Wash used the teabag for himself last, the hot water in the third cup was all but colorless and at that point not really tea. To get all that he could out of the bag, he lifted it out with a fork and wound the string around and around, wringing the last drops into his cup. “Minikwen, don’t wait for me,” he said to the girls as the string separated from the bag, spilling most of the bled leaves into the hot water.

The girls sipped like ladies in the presence of gentlemanly Zho Wash. They could hear Michael outside on the steps, dressing the rabbit. Margie pictured his motions from the sounds she heard, listening until he walked up the wooden stairs and opened the door.

He carried a board that he held like a tray; cold, stinging little bits of ice and snow blew into the room and melted on Margie’s face that the heat of the stove and the tea — and her thoughts of Michael — had thawed from frosted yellow to peach pink.

“Nice and warm in here.” The brilliance of Michael’s smile was the white of enamel against the darkness of missing teeth; it was the pleasure of preparing rabbit meat with skill; it was love for his father; it was stepping from the cold sun of outside into the woodsmoke-scented comfort of the dark cabin; it was light on Margie’s face.

“Meat’s ready,” he said.


Grover wins Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas 2008 First Book Award for prose

Linda LeGarde Grover (Chippewa, Bois Forte Band of Minnesota, Nett Lake Reservation) is the winner of the 2008 First Book Awards competition in prose from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas.

Grover, an assistant professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and monthly columnist in the Budgeteer News, wins the award for her collection of short stories-in-manuscript titled “The Road Back to Sweetgrass,” an inter-connected series of stories of several Chippewa women on a northern Minnesota reservation. This week’s column is an excerpt from that collection.

Grover is also a poet. Her poetry collection “The.Indian.At.Indian.School” was the 2008 selection for the Sequoyah Research Center (University of Arkansas-Little Rock) Native Writers Series. As well, her poem “Casualty Days” won honorable mention in the 2008 War Poetry Contest sponsored by Winning Writers. (It is easily accessible on the Internet.)

She has also published fiction, historical research and a children’s family history guide. She is a traditional powwow dancer, storyteller and a grandmother.

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