Manataka American Indian Council

 

 

 

 

Rez Winter

Author Unknown

In the night, a winter wind screams and howls around the plywood and tar paper shack that is their home near Wounded Knee.


Elders, two Lakota old ones lay on their bed covered with blankets and one star quilt that was given to them by their daughter who has moved to Rapid City.
Shivering, Grandmother tries to console her thin sick husband of over 60 years by softly telling him that the storm will be over soon.


A three day blizzard from the North creates drifts four feet deep while a few flakes have found their way under the door as cold air snakes across the room seeking out anything that is warm.

Cracked single pane windows completely covered in frost and ice, the floor feels like a frozen lake...a single light bulb on the ceiling flickers and then goes out.


Must be the storm Grandma says quietly. In a little while I'll get up and put more wood in the stove yet she knows the last of it was burned away yesterday. The stove is cold and dark.


Our Grandson will be here tomorrow won't he, Grandpa asks once again? I heard him say that he was bringing commodities out for us.


I'm sure he will be here, she answers....he is a good young man. She decides against telling him that storm has made their Grandson two days late.

Do you remember that hot summer day when we first met at powwow, she asks? Do you remember how the sun warmed our skin and we were so happy?
Yes, says Grandpa from under the blankets, I do. It was a good day, a very good day. We were young and you were so pretty in your new jingle dress.
 

I can still see the sunlight on your shiny black hair she said, and that sly wink you gave me in front of my Mother.
 

He managed a weak smile even with his wrinkled lips stiff from the cold. Ha!, he said. She didn't like me very much then.

Thirty-five below zero with banshee winds that drive a deep cold into their home like spikes from a giant's hammer.
 

Outside, horses and deer stand still with their tails to the bitter wind, some nearly losing their grip on life as the temperature falls.
 

Neighbors, homes, only five hundred yards apart....in this storm they could just as well be miles away.
 

No smoke from the stove pipe, no light in the house, no way to stay warm. How does this happen?

Ice forms in a bucket used to melt snow for water and yesterday's morning coffee.
 

Old plastic stapled over the windows heaves in and out as the cold finds every opening, invading everywhere.
 

The propane tank outside has been empty for a week...no one came. A small wood burning stove has done it's best with pieces of wooden pallets and half rotten corral poles.
 

Wolves of winter continue to claw and bite at the walls.

It must be almost morning Grandma says to herself. Even in the darkened room she can see her warm breath mix with cold heavy air.


Surely Grandson will be here soon. Someone will come for us. In the old squeaking bed she moves closer to her husband for warmth and pulls the quilt up to her eyes.

 

Are you ok she asks him? Yes, he replies very slowly, but I am feeling colder...did you put more wood in the stove?
 

Hesitating she whispers...yes, just a minute ago while you were sleeping. It'll be warming up soon and in a few hours I will make you a good breakfast. Go back to sleep now.

It all seems like a long hazy dream...into sleep...no cold, waking up....the cold again. The roar of a freezing wind that enters your soul and then cries for release. Even in their dreams they hear it, there is no escape.
 

Why are we here alone at this time? Will we live through this? How are all the animals doing? Is our family thinking of us? Are they as cold as we are?
Time goes by so slowly, how much time?....Grandma can hear the ticking of their old wind up clock nearby. Grandpa dreams of Sun Dance.
 

Then, in a glowing light they see each other and realize that they are warm and the wind has stopped.

A day later the big yellow road grader fights it's way out to their home. Behind, a propane truck and Grandson driving his old Ford pickup.
 

He breaks through the drifts and opens the door.....snow on the floor, quiet, cold, then fear.
 

Grandpa, Grandmother! Are you ok?
 

Silence...is all that greets him.


Postscript.
Old Ones die in the cold every year on the rez. Much of the housing is in terrible condition. Many run out of propane and can't get their tanks filled. Some have wood stoves but maybe little or no wood. Thin frame houses and trailers are often no match for powerful and unforgiving blizzards. Sometimes their families have moved away or passed on and for one reason or another, they are left alone.

 


 

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