What My Father Wrote for Me by
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(23 Stories)

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The Gloves in the Title

Back in the 1980s I asked my father to write about his family. This is his first story. It was written on a cruise ship up the Inland Passage to Alaska, and the total of the stories he wrote was about 80 pages, single-spaced in longhand. I’ve written some about his mother, about whom he speaks, on this site. She’s the one who survived being struck by lightning and bitten by a rattlesnake.

How and why my [grand]mother was cooking on a ranch in Montana in the summer of 1918 is one of the stories I shall never know...

“Gloves”

How and why my mother was cooking on a ranch in Montana in the summer of 1918 is one of the stories I shall never know.  The two daughters, six and two, that she brought with her cannot remember, and she would never talk about it.  I do know that she had been deserted on the North Dakota prairie the previous spring and could not prove up the children on the homestead that she and her (absent) husband had settled.  In any event, by summer 1918 she was cook and caretaker of a subdivision of the Kuhr ranch which was known as the Edwards place in northwestern Montana, near Chinook She ordinarily cooked for about six or seven range-hands, but in the harvest seasons she was cooking for fifty.

On a Sunday in the spring after she arrived, she took my younger sister to a nearby meadow where they picked choke-cherries.  As they were filling their pails, a tall Indian came up behind them and demanded, “What are you doing on my land?”  My mother said she was sure that she and my sister were on land that belonged to the Kuhr Ranch.  She had, after all, seen the hands running cattle and sheep through that meadow dozens of times.

The Indian said, “This is not Kuhr’s land.  Kuhr leases it from the Belknap tribe, and I am Belknap Fox, Chief of the Belknaps.”

My mother introduced herself and protested that, had she known, she would certainly have asked permission to pick Belknap Fox’s choke cherries.  Fox took her hand and said that she had perpetual permission to pick choke cherries, buffalo berries, sarvis berries, gooseberries or any other wild fruits that grew on the Belknap reservation.  Then he turned to my sister and said, “Who is this.”

“This is my daughter, Jean.”  Belknap Fox put out his hand to the three-and-a-half year old girl.  Jean hid her face in my mother’s skirt and whimpered, “No, no, his hand’s dirty.”

Fox replied, “I am not dirty.  I am a different color from you.  I am Indian.”

After some urging from my mother – Fox knelt down so he could look directly at the little girl – Jean offered her hand and Fox told her she was a pretty girl and strode off over the hill.

On the next Sunday, after she had made chokecherry jelly, my mother and Jean walked the mile or so to the reservation settlement.  She found Belknap Fox’s cabin, knocked and was greeted by a large Indian woman.  She asked for Belknap Fox, who came to the door where my mother gave him six jars of jelly.  In the ensuing three years she always took him a gift whenever she picked wild fruit on the tribal lands.

My father sent for my mother to come to Wyoming to marry him after he had left the ranch to take a job in the oil fields in Wyoming.  Many of dad’s old associates from Montana came down from the Milk River country to attend the wedding.  Belknap Fox did not come, but he sent a beautiful pair of fringed buckskin gloves with beaded gauntlets that reach up to the elbow.   They were obviously made for a woman as I cannot get my hands in them.  They are a beautiful example of the beading art.  Fox sent them with Six Cylinder Jack McLeod, so-called to distinguish him from the dozens of other John and Jack McLeods in the Chinook area; he owned the first six-cylinder car ever to appear on that stretch of the Milk River.

Profile photo of Mister Ed Mister Ed


Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Ed for this wonderful story about your amazing grandmother!
    The gifted gloves are beautiful, what a unique and cherished family heirloom!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    What an amazing and satisfying story, and beautifully told. Are you sure it wasn’t written by Edna Ferber? Just kidding, of course, but the texture of the story and its evocation of the period are simply breathtaking. To say nothing of the heartwarming ending — made even more so by the fact that the story is true and, as such, that there actually were people of such good will and humanity in a time and place and racial context not exactly known for these virtues.

    I hope you share more of your father’s stories — even if it’s not Father’s Day.

    • Mister Ed says:

      Thank you John. I always enjoy your comments. I’m sure my father and grandmother would be very gratified. I’m happy to have shared the tale. And how right you are about the time, place, and racial context surrounding it.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    What a remarkable story of respect and cooperation between your mother and the Belknap chief, Mr. Ed. This could have gone sideways so easily, but each side spoke with each other, listened and was respectful. I love that Belknap Fox said, “I am not dirty. My skin is a different color from you. I am Indian”, then got down to look the little girl in the eye and tell her that she was pretty. That was a great move. And your grandmother showed respect by always sending jars of the jam she made with any of the berries she picked on tribal lands.

    If only we could learn to be so wise today and practice the wisdom these elders knew.

    • Mister Ed says:

      Thanks, Betsy, for your comment. I’d heard my father tell the story long before he wrote about it, and I’m glad he did. I thought about turning it into a children’s book, which would honor my father, grandmother, and Belknap Fox. I have warm feelings for him, even though we never met.

  4. Susan Bennet says:

    I am enchanted by your story, Mr. Ed, and don’t want to say too much right now for fear the spell will break. It has a Laura Ingalls Wilder quality to it, a picture of a place and time long gone, an unseen place and special person. I hope you will publish your father’s essays. I have long urged my good friend to do so with his (equally enchanting) stories of his youth. As I say to him, please! please! I hope you can share more with us here. Thank you.

    • Mister Ed says:

      Thank you for your high praise of my father’s work. This story would go well with an illustrator, which would of course add another level of complexity to the process. But … could happen. Just another item to add to my long-term to-do list before I depart this planet.

  5. Dave Ventre says:

    Sweet and well written. The gloves are indeed beautiful.

    What is the sort-of-T-shaped object to the left of the gloves?

    • Mister Ed says:

      It is a ceremonial pipe, the common term is a “peace pipe.” It’s made of a soft stone I understand is called Minnesota Pipestone” and was given to my grandmother in about 1930 or so by a sheepherder who found it on the Wyoming prairie. The man who found it said it had some dirty feathers and other stuff on it which he discarded when he found it. My father and grandmother spent several hours searching for it in the place where he said he found it, but to no avail.

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