The House 27

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The House

By Dawn Natelle

A quicker turnaround on this chapter. Another one on Monday or Tuesday, I hope: Dawn.

Chapter 27 – Father Snow

The next day was Sunday, but there were still chores to be done. Red fed and brushed down the horses before breakfast, and after the entire house gathered in the Great Room, where Cooper took off his teacher hat (figuratively) and put on his pastor robes (literally). Since he had joined the house Daisy and Lois had stopped going to the little church in Tweed, and now attended his services in the house.

It was a mixed-style of service. The hymns sung were Christian, but the sermon was based on more of the First Nations culture, with prayers to Manidoo, the sun, and the moon. More Christian hymns ended the service.

After lunch Red and Dary babysat, and the boy got his first experience changing diapers, much to his displeasure. But when little Flint giggled when laying naked on the changing table, it made it all worthwhile.

The two passed their young charges over to Sun as it was time for them to be fed, and Red was amazed to see the big woman casually take out a breast and begin suckling Flint. The babies were big enough, and active enough that Sun no longer tried to feed both at once, so Dary was holding Mimihaha while her brother fed.

“Stop staring, Red,” she told the boy, who looked at her with a startled look.

“It is fine, Dary,” Sun said as she nursed with a huge smile on her face. “You stared too, the first time you saw it.”

“Yeah, but I am a girl, and he is a boy.”

“That doesn’t matter. It is a natural thing, and it is why women have breasts. It is good for a boy to know that. Looking, and asking questions is a good way for a boy to become a caring man,” Sun said.

“What does it feel like?” Red said. Sun had said questions were okay.

“It is hard to say. I know that it makes me so happy to do it, and the babies seem to enjoy it as well. Once I got used to the feeling it just became like a natural bodily function: you don’t think how it feels to pee, do you? Not that this feels anything like that. It just feels right. It will start to hurt a bit if I go too long between feedings, but this little vacuum’s don’t let that happen very often.”

“Thanks Sun,” the boy said.

“Here, take Flint. He’s done,” Sun said handing the baby to Red. There was a pop as his lips let go of the nipple. She buttoned that breast up, and then let down the other as Dary handed Mimihaha to her. The girl offered to take Flint from the boy, who refused, setting the baby to his shoulder and patting his back to get a burp.

The burp came, with more than a little spit over his back. “I offered to take him,” Dary said with a smile. “Now you have been christened.” She now took the cooing boy while Red ran off to change his shirt.

After the feeding was done, Sun took both babies. She worked so much during the week, she saved Sunday’s for Momma time.

Dary and Red spent most of the rest of the afternoon sitting in the Hall, working on their books for the babies. Red would remember a tale that Grey had told him at the camp, and Dary would write it down in her feminine handwriting. After several hours they finished the fifth tale, and Dary was bored.

“Tell me a new story, Red,” she begged, pulling her legs up under her like she had the night before.

“A new story,” Red sputtered. “I don’t make up the stories. They are Grey’s. And he said his spirits told them to him.”

“But I want a new story,” Dary pouted, and that completely defeated the boy. He would do anything for the pretty little girl.

“Well, during church I was thinking about Christmas, and how it is a Christian holiday. Santa Claus is a part of it, and it really isn’t a part of the Ojibwe tradition. So I was thinking of something else: Father Snow.”

Dary clapped her hands in glee. “Yes, that is a proper story. What does Father Snow look like?”

“Not like a fat man in red velvet,” Red said. “He is an Ojibwe elder. Tall and thin but very, very old. He wears deerskins, with long fringe, and a headdress of many feathers. Not just eagle, but of all birds, twisted into a beautiful beaded head band.”

“Does he have elves making toys at the North Pole?” Dary asked, and the boy thought about it.

“No. His base is on Turtle Island, the place where all the peoples came from originally, and where the happy hunting grounds are for those who die. He doesn’t have elves, but animals making the toys. The beavers cut down trees and shape them into pieces that the other animals can work with. Birds carry the bits of wood from one place to another. Raccoons have nimble little hands that shape and assemble the wood into toys, and then the squirrels paint the pieces with colorful dyes that the chipmunks gather and mix. All of the finished toys are placed into big bags, and piled on the backs of several moose. Father Snow has no sled: he walks in snowshoes from place to place and delivers all the toys to the children.

“On Christmas Eve?” Dary squealed with glee.

“No. On third night. The Ojibwe do not have a Christmas, or didn’t until the white man came. But they did have a celebration for Longest Night, or the solstice as Cooper calls it. The first night after Longest Night is when the elders are honored by all the people. The second night is when the parents and caregivers are honored by their children. And on third night, which usually is December 25, the children get their toys from Father Snow, and from their families as well.”

“That sounds very much like what happened 400 years ago, according to Redoak,” Grey said. Red looked around and saw that everyone in the room was staring at him, as well as Dary. “There was no Father Snow, but there were several days of celebration after Longest Night, which was one of the holiest days of the year for the Ojibwe and other tribes.”

“Well I think it is a wonderful idea,” Daisy said. “I think that we should forego Christmas this year, and follow the Father Snow traditions instead. When Sun and Grey came here and we had that first Christmas, with only gifts that were hand made, it seemed so special. I think this will be more special.”

“What about stockings?” Dary asked. “Do they hang stockings up on the mantle?”

“No,” Red said. “The makizin boots are piled by the door, and Father Snow puts small toys and treats in them. There is no Christmas tree either. Instead the snowshoes for the family are piled up, and decorated on first night, since the people don’t go outside until after third night.

Dary had been sketching while Red told his story, and held up her sheet. “Does this look like him?” She had sketched a tall, older native elder in buckskins, leading three huge bull moose with bundles and packages on their backs. Red declared the picture perfect, and proposed that it be a cover of another book for the babies, explaining the new Ojibwe feasting time.

----------

It was about 10 a.m. on Monday when the compact car pulled into the house. Red was working in the mill with Sun and Grey, refurbishing an old school bus. She mainly worked on the engine and transmission, but set Red to working on the seats. Sun wanted the quality seats of Greyhound busses, and not the sad, uncomfortable seats that had been in the bus originally. Grey worked with Red: he wanted to make several of the seats fold down into beds for longer trips and was working out the mechanism as well as supervising the boy.

A small, wide woman got out of the car and looked around in confusion. Sun noticed her first, and got the men to go out with her to the woman.

“Can we help you,” Grey asked. The woman approached him and held out her hand.

“I am Saralynn Volders, CSC,” she said. “Correctional Services Canada” she clarified when she saw the blank looks on the other three.

“I am here to inspect this facility,” the woman said. “I understand that you have a prisoner serving his restricted bail time here. I’m to evaluate security, inspect the cells, and assess the facility.”

“Run and get John, Red,” Grey said, and the boy darted off. Sun and Grey led the woman into the house.

“Can I see the cells first,” she asked, and they headed down to Red’s bedroom. “We don’t call them cells,” Sun said in a somewhat snide voice. “This is his room.”

The woman entered the room, and was amazed at its size. “I’m surprised you don’t house more than one in a room this size,” she said. “You could easily hold four in a room this size. But I don’t see the toilet.”

“There is a toilet just down the hall, on the inside,” Grey said.

“But how does the boy go it he needs after the rooms are locked down?”

“There is no lock down. Red is free to use the bathroom at any time.”

“But …” the woman shrieked. “He has a knife.” She pointed to the 12-inch woodsman’s knife sitting on the dresser.”

“Several knives,” Grey explained. “There is also a smaller whittling knife around somewhere, and a jack-knife.”

“But the boy committed a crime with a knife,” the woman said. “How can you be sure he will not attack you all and escape?”

“First of all, until sentence has been passed, you cannot say he committed a crime,” John said from the door. Red stood next to him. “And the entire principle of this place is trust. We trust that he will not harm anyone. And he will not leave because this place is the best possible place he could be in, of all the correctional facilities in the province.”

“Madness,” the woman muttered. “No cells, no lockdown, access to weapons. At least there are guards,” she looked up at Sun. “I see you don’t wear a uniform though.”

“No, and I don’t consider myself a guard,” Sun said. “This morning I was acting as a mentor for the boy, who was doing upholstery on the bus we are refurbishing. There are other mentors for the boy.”

“One is our blacksmith, in the stables,” Grey said. “Red? Can you run out and harness Pierre and Madame? I want to take this lady to the Grove.” Red darted out of the house.

“Do you have the time?” Grey asked. “I would hope you can have the chance to have lunch with us.”

“Yes, I have nutritional areas to fill out for my report. Joining the noon meal would be an excellent way to do that.”

“Then I would like to take you to a special place on the property. I think it will help you understand us better.”

As they left the house, Ms. Volders looked at the stables, and the road. “How can you be sure that he didn’t run away? The road is as close as the building. Do you have a leg monitor on him?”

“No. We trust him,” John said. “If he ran away he would be caught quickly and placed in a far worse place than this. He likes it here. See, there are the horses, all harnessed up and ready. This is only the second time he has harnessed the team.”

Grey inspected the harness, and pronounced the work perfect. The woman noticed the glow of pride on the boy’s face when Grey complimented him. Red then helped the woman up to the wagon seat, while Grey climbed up on the driver’s side.

“My. They are big animals, aren’t they,” Ms. Volders noted as they started off to the rear of the property. “I know that several facilities use animals to develop trust in inmates. Do you find it so here?”

“We don’t think of Red as an inmate,” Grey said as the horses trotted off to the Grove. “We think of him as family. Sun, the tall woman, has two babies not yet a year old, and Red is allowed to handle them. In fact, last night one barfed all over him, to his surprise.”

“And he didn’t act out?”

“Red does not act out. He loves those babies as much as if they were his brothers and sisters. I know he thinks of Sun as his second mother. His problems all started when he was four, and his mother died giving birth to another child who also died. Red was sent to an uncle, who already had six children, and the boy didn’t get much attention there. He wasn’t molested as such, unless you consider starvation of love to be such. When he was nearly 13 he ran away, and the uncle didn’t do much other than notify the authorities.”

“He was lucky, and was found on the streets of Toronto by a transvestite hooker, who took him in and fed him for over a year. Then the woman was attacked by a ‘client’ and was put in hospital for several months. Of course Red had to live rough again, and eventually wound up in Peterborough, where he eventually robbed the store to get food to live on. You know the rest from the reports on him.”

“He has had a hard life then,” she said.

“And you can understand how we don’t need to constrain him. This is the first place in 10 years where he has had love, except from an elderly transvestite. There is no way he would leave us, and I know for a fact that when he finally is sent away to atone for his crimes there will be a lot of tears in that old house.”

“You can support him in jail,” Ms. Volders said. “Visits and such.”

“We are already trying to work out a schedule amongst the adults. We intend to visit him weekly, although it is hard not knowing where he will be.” Grey pulled up the horses in the middle of the Grove.

“This is the Grove. About 100 years ago the First Nations people of the area planted the trees here to pay back the people of the mill for their kindness. A forest fire destroyed all the trees on the other side of the river, and as a result there were no animals to hunt, and most of the gathering places were burned. This resulted in a famine that year, but the entire band was invited to camp in the backyard of the house and were fed daily. It wasn’t great food, but it was what the household ate. No other house or farm in the area would feed the natives: most chased them away.”

“Ever since that time the Ojibwe looked after this Grove, with the exception of a few years before I took over the task.”

“You care for this?” the woman said. “It is so peaceful. The only time I ever felt like this was when I spent an hour alone in an 800-year-old cathedral in England. This place is just as holy as that was.”

Grey sat for another half hour, and the woman did not seem to mind, looking up at the great trees, and occasionally noticing birds or wildlife, often after Grey pointed something out to her.

“One more place, and this will give us a chance to pick up some passengers for the ride back to lunch. One is Red’s teacher, and I suspect you will want to talk to him.”

“The boy is receiving schooling?” the woman said. “How nice.”

At the camp Hawk took the horses and Grey led the woman to the canoe that Cooper and Hawk had nearly finished. Grey pointed out the work that Red had done over the weekend, impressing the officer.

On the way back Hawk drove the team, and Grey sat in the back where he could hear Cooper explaining how much the boy had improved over the past few days. “I wish I could have him for a year, instead of a week,” Cooper said. “I’m sure I could have him back to his grade level by then.”

Back at the house Ms. Volders sat at the table as the cooks, along with Dary and Red, brought out the food. It was only the leftovers from the Sunday roast, but it was a full, tasty, and healthy meal. The woman was impressed when, at the end of the meal, Dary and Red cleared the table and did the dishes as the older women and George left to go to their naps.

“I need to leave now,” Ms. Volders said. “I appreciate the wonderful meal that was served, and can assure that there will be no points lost on the evaluation for nutrition. In fact, I think that a very positive report will come of this. I have to admit I was leery of the security at the facility, but in the end I can see how the trust factor could make this one of the most successful facilities in the system.”

“And if the report is approved, you will be in the system. You will be a class E facility, the lowest security level, and you will receive a payment of $400 a day for housing Red, backdated to last Wednesday. Just don’t count on the money coming quickly. The CSC is notorious for delaying payments. It will probably be two months before your money comes.”

“We don’t need any money for looking after Red,” Grey said.

“But we will accept it,” John said. “We can save the $6,000 for when Grey is finally released. He will need funds at that time.”

“No,” Red shouted. “The money must go to the girl at the store. I messed up her life: she should get it.”

Ms. Volders left the house and drove back to Kingston trying to see how she could write her report to help the generous boy who had so greatly impressed her.



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