Passage To The World
Category: EntertainmentBy: kavika • 5 months ago • 47 comments
With all the means of communication and entertainment available to us today reading a book seems to have taken a back seat to TV, movies, social media including the internet.
I still love to read a book, not a Kindle but a real book made of paper. The feel of the book in my hands, the smell of it, and the comfort that it brings when reading it and having my imagination give the story many different dimensions. That is a feeling that social media cannot give me.
Let's go back in time to the 1940s and set the stage. I was born and raised on an Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. There was no tv, no social media, and no computers, a few people had radios, but we did not. If there was a sidewalk it was made of wood. Most roads were dirt. Indoor plumbing (toilet) was not the order of the day. The heating was a pot-bellied wood-burning stove in one room of the house. If we were lucky lumps of coal would be available and that was found walking the railroad tracks where we would hope to find lumps of coal that fell off the ore trains that were heading to a distant place called, Duluth. That meant in northern Minnesota that the other rooms were cold, sometimes very very cold. Twenty below zero was not a rare low and snow that reached the roof line of your house happened every winter. Air conditioning, never heard of it. If it was that hot in the summer it was a block of ice with a fan pushing the cold air about 5 feet.
Toys! If you were lucky enough to have a toy it was made of wood and you treasured it like it was gold. Money was scarce as was food, heat, and most other things.
The winters were long, cold, and difficult. The interesting thing was that we didn't know that it was a rugged life, we thought that it was that way everywhere.
The closest town was twenty miles away and not very accepting of Indians, in fact, it was a ''sundown town''. The rare trips there could be quite ugly for us but, again we thought it was the same everywhere. The town library was off-limits to Indians as were most of the stores in town.
Our rez school didn't have much in books, in fact, it didn't have much of anything and damn it was cold in the winter but it did have an indoor toilet, well kind of indoor. It was a wooden room attached to the side of the school and you had to leave the school and run around the corner to get into the toilet door. I guess you could say it was a ''modified'' indoor/outdoor toilet.
What school never taught us was how to track game, hunt, fish, and choose the right plants and wild fruits in the forest that surrounded us. In other words how to survive and live with nature and become part of nature. Our parents/grandparents and all members of the village watched out for us and taught us. I learned how to speak Michif Cree and Anishinaabe from them. We learned our history and culture and how to survive and also how to play, swim in the lake and river and play Lacrosse, the Creators Game. Actually, the school was nothing more than teaching us to work in the fields and the girls to become maids. But that is another story which perhaps I'll tell you at a later time.
One April, I believe that it was 1948 or 49 it was my birthday and Dad would make us a toy or something that was useful and mum would make our favorite food from what she could scrape together.
On that day my Nookomis (grandmother) gave me a present for my birthday. It was wrapped in butcher's paper. For those of you who don't know what butcher paper is, it is the heavy white paper that butchers wrap their meat in. Today it's mostly plastic, but then I don't even remember if there was plastic. We sure didn't have any.
I unwrapped the present and was stunned to see a book. A real book just for me. My dad had a couple of books that I had read numerous times. Both were Zane Gray novels and I loved them. But here was a book that was mine, just for me.
The book was ''Call of the Wild'' by Jack London. It wasn't a new book, used at best and I don't know where or how my Nookomis could afford it or where she got it but she did. I had no idea who Jack London was or anything about his book. Later in life, I learned that she could not write in English, and reading it was at best difficult. She was fluent in Ojibwe, Michif Cree and French. She could speak pretty good English though. She looked at me and said something that I'll never forget. Animikii, (my Ojibwe name) this is your passage to the world. I didn't really know what she meant by that at the time, but looking back I now understand what a wise Nookomis she was.
I read that book dozens of times and enjoyed it each and every time. Lying in my bed on cold winter nights, the wind howling outside, lost in the book. I knew that I was there with Buck and we were fighting the forces of evil and we would always win. And we returned to the wild, just the two of us against the world.
Soon after that we got our first radio, but still, the book was my prized possession. It had opened an unknown world to me and I never wanted to lose that connection so I would read any book I could find, it didn't matter what it was. I never lost that wanting and decades later I still read numerous books of every description.
Let's jump to the present. I'm now in my seventh decade, many say the autumn of my life. I still love to read and my taste has spread out to a number of areas.
The other night I was sitting in the great room of our new house, looking out over the mountains and lake. The trees turning colors and losing their leaves. Our great room is larger than the whole house that I grew up in. I thought to myself, you sure have come a long way Animikii. Then for some reason, I remembered the book. I still have the copy that my Nookomis gave me, old tattered, and worn, but it's my connection to my past and my Nookomis. I took the book off the shelf and opened it. It sits right next to my collection of Jack London's writings. White Fang, The Return of White Fang, and The Sea Wolf among many others.
As soon as I turned the first page, the memories came flooding back from my childhood. A wonderful experience it was. Once again I realized what that gift from Nookomis did for me. It took me from a reservation in northern MN to places around the world, it educated me in a way no school ever could. It was my Passage to the World and contributed to any successes that I've had in my lifetime. It opened my mind to all things are possible and by reading you grow and when you grow your successes in life grow as well.
So, is there a moral to this story? Yes, there is we are our own educators, we are our own teachers, with the help of books.
Yes, that book opened a passage to the world for me.
Miigwetch Nookomis (thank you grandma)
Kavika 2012. All rights reserved.