Thanksgiving|On the Rez

     My favorite Thanksgiving was one I spent on the Indian reservation where I lived a long time ago. One of my favorite students invited me over to her house. I know teachers are not supposed to have favorite students, but come on.
     Lucy lived with her mom and six brothers and sisters in a little wood and adobe house with a dirt floor. She was the oldest, so there were a lot of little kids running around, not to mention the chickens and the skinny Indian dogs, who for some reason are always medium-size, short-haired and brown. Perhaps there is just one such dog and he is immortal.
     Lucy and her sisters were in charge of cooking, which was done outside under the huato, which is an open-air place next to the house, with a roof of ocotillo ribs and no walls, unless it shares a wall with the house.
     They cook big Indian tortillas on a sheet of beaten iron under the huato. The tortillas are big as a big pizza, and thin as a thick sheet of paper. They are the best tortillas in the world, warm, aromatic and stretchy, with a dry, powdery feel in the mouth.
     I presume we had turkey, but I don’t remember it. I remember the tortillas, and the delicious beans, cooked with just enough fat and salt to be sort of intoxicating.
     I remember the chickens running around the house, and the littlest kids watching TV in the next room, but what I remember most is how calm things were, despite the seven kids and the other folks dropping by.
     Lucy’s mom sat in a chair in the corner with a man’s belt in her hands. If a kid got out of line she would lean over and flick the belt in the kid’s general direction. She would never hit a kid with a belt. It was an idle threat and the kids knew it. But that house was the calmest, most well-ordered place I have ever seen with so many kids in it.
     Thanksgiving is a day when we’re supposed to thank Indians, but most Anglos never get around to it. I liked it that the Indians were feeding me for Thanksgiving. They certainly knew how to feed me better than I could have fed them.
     The Indians I lived with called white people Anglos. It was neither good nor bad, in the way white people use words to describe people who do not look like them. It’s just the word they use.
     One of the brothers brought home a half-tame horse and tried to get me on it. He sat on it bareback, controlling the animal with the reins as it danced sideways and backward, not at all resigned to having a human on its back.
     “Come on, Kahn, you can do it,” he said.
     But I knew better. I like a joke as much as the next guy – more, maybe – but I don’t like being the joke.
     Another thing I remember is the conversation Lucy had with one of her friends who dropped by. Lucy was a sophomore in high school, so the conversation, of course, was about who was going with whom, and who had broken up and who was getting back together.
     They mentioned the son of the Presbyterian preacher, one of the few Anglos in the school. I forget who he was going out with, but I believe it was more than one Indian girl.
     Sitting in her chair in the corner, Lucy’s mom pressed her lips together in disapproval. Now, Lucy’s mom could have claimed membership in two tribes, and she was part Mexican. She spoke at least three languages fluently, one Romance, one Germanic, and one Uto-Aztecan. But she shook her head sadly.
     “That’s not right,” she said. “A Presbyterian going out with a Catholic.”

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