Word Prompt: Heat | Story Prompt: from the book “Keeper ‘N Me” by Richard Wagamese

Write It Out: Instruction Video

***WARNING – possible trigger for residential school survivors and their families***

“Now according to Ma, learning to live by the clock sure was a hell of a lot tougher than living by the sun and the seasons the way they’d been used to. Finding work was tough. You gotta understand that northern Ontario around the middle 1950s was a pretty uptight racist community and Ojibways weren’t exactly the toast of the towns then. So Ma and Pa spent lotsa time away from the small shack we lived in at the edge of town and we kids were left in the care of our granny who would have been about sixty-five then.

Now, Indians got a whole different way of looking at things like family. When you’re a kid around here everyone’s always picking you up, feeding you and generally taking good care of you. Sociologists call it the extended family concept. When you’re born you got a whole built-in family consisting of ev’ryone around. So it was natural in my parents’ eyes to leave us with the old lady while they were out trying to make a living. But the Ontario Children’s Aid Society had a different set of eyes and all they seen was a bunch of rowdy little Indian kids terrorizing a bent-up old lady. Now anybody who knows anything about Indians knows that if there was any terrorizin’ being done at all it was being done by the old lady. We were being raised just fine, but it wasn’t long before they showed up with a plan for all of us.

According to my sister, Jane, who’s the oldest of us and the one who remembers the most from those days, they showed up one afternoon, a young woman and an older white-haired man. They pulled up while we kids were playin’ tag and swinging from an old tire hung from a tree in the front yard. Anyway, they called us over to this big green station wagon and handed out chocolates all around. Well, for some wild little bush Indians raised on bannock and beaver, chocolate was pretty close to heaven, so when they offered us more if we hopped into their car, well, we all piled in.

We wound up in a group home on a farm outside of Kenora, in the custody of Children’s Aid.”

***

excerpt from “CJ School – Part I” – MEC 2013

As I reach the bottom of the road where the gravel pit widens, I’m suddenly aware of the inviting sound of kids playing.  I slow down just a little and follow the sounds, and I see them all playing along the edge of the pit.  I slow to a stop and just watch them, nervous and self-conscious now. They are obviously having a great time; there are about a dozen or so girls, all my age it seems like, and they have dark hair like me. There are a couple of older girls who are obviously “in charge” and remind me of my big sister, Anne. They are leading the way; not taking over but making sure that everyone is safe.

I keep standing there, stuck to a spot on the road, waiting for someone to notice me and then I’ll know what to do. It doesn’t take too long before one of the girls calls out to me, “Hi!”

“Hi!” I call back, “Can I play, too?”

A few other girls stop, to watch. They laugh and look at the first girl, who called me – she is laughing too, but I’m not sure… are they are laughing AT me?

“Can you climb up?” she calls back.

“Yep,” I answer, and I am already half way up the side before she changes her mind.

It’s hard running up the side of the pit; the gravel is loose and fills up your shoes pretty quick if you’re not careful. But I have lots of practice and I know that if I run on my toes, the gravel doesn’t have a chance to get into the back of my shoes. I go right up to the girl who first called out to me. She’s maybe a little bigger than me, but that’s hard to tell because she’s up higher on the side of the pit.

“Hi, I’m Monik,” I say.  “What’s your name?”

She smiles, and twists her long dark hair in her fingers. “Dorothy,” she says.

“Can I play too?” I say again, just to be sure it’s okay.

“Sure!” she says, and with another laugh, she breaks away from us and runs straight down the hill, back down the way I had just come up, her legs moving like windmills around and around so fast it’s amazing she doesn’t fall right over. I hesitate only a second before I follow her, shrieking all the way down, like everyone is now.

Up and down we go – laughing and panting all the way up, and shrieking all the way down. Sometimes someone will fall, and whoever is close will reach down and pull them back up with no big deal and the game carries on. I take them to the edge of the pit and show them where some birds are nesting – up too high for us to get to, although we’d like to try, just for a better look. I show them the spot where my brothers and me found some clay that one time, enough to make a little clay bowl and dry it in the sun, but today there is no clay. They don’t seem to mind.

On and on it goes, one game changing into the next without pause; I never knew it could be this easy to play. All these girls, going to school just up the road from me and I never knew, never even saw them before. We’re not even talking, just laughing and running, running and laughing. I don’t ever want this afternoon to end.

***

There’s lots in the news right now, about residential schools, racism, and Truth and Reconciliation. Maybe it seems like there is too much. Maybe you are sorry that you see my prompts this week because it makes you feel bad, or feel guilty or feel however you feel (don’t get me wrong, I have my share of feelings and emotions about this too).

The thing is, the only way to move beyond this is THROUGH it. We must ALL deal with this. We must think about it and write about it, and read what others are thinking and writing, so that we can all better understand. There is NO place for hatred in my world, for any kind of hatred. Learn and understand. Listen and connect.

Remember what it was like to be a child, when we didn’t know colour or class, when all we knew was play. Start there. Share your thoughts below – and be kind. I won’t tolerate anything less than kindness, and anything that is offensive to me will simply be removed.

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