Freefall Home

It was a long time ago in the early 1950s, and I was visiting great-grandma in Freefall. I watched her peel and slice apples. I must have been pretty small; I stood on a stool to see what she was making. 

She nodded at me; her eyes were quick behind the thick lenses of her glasses. Grandma rolled out dough, filled it with apples, and put it in the oven to bake. 

Then I went out back on the porch to watch an orange-black garden spider, her web a zigzag of silk, right above my head. The cousins gave me more reasons to notice spiders. My legs were long and thin, and they called me Spider Web. I imagined myself a spider sitting in my parlor awaiting visitors.

In the little town, Freefall, on the edge of the reservation, laughter comes in handy.

Every Sunday went spent the whole day at my grandparents house, and often we stayed until way past my bedtime. I loved being in a house filled with relatives. It meant cousins to play with, lots of cousins. The uncles talked politics, shouting out their rock bottom opinions, while the aunties gossiped and the kids played together like a pack of wild pups.

Although I didn't know what it was called when I was young, I was raised in what is now known as the mixedblood fiddle tradition. The uncles played fiddle and grandma took out her teeth, dropped them into her apron pocket, and played the harmonica. She could step dance too and do the Bluegrass Clog. Often the kitchen was alive with fiddle music, banjo and guitar playing and grandma’s feet tapping. 

Grandma was actually my great-grandma. But I didn't know this when I was a kid. She was just grandma to me. I also had two other grandmas, my dad's mother and my mom's mother. I had three grandpa's too, my dad's father, my mother's father and great-grandpa.

Sometimes instead of music, we watched westerns on television. Since grandma and grandpa and dad and I, and all of the aunties and uncles and cousins were all Indians, I thought it was rather funny that the black and white movies on television showed Indians sitting on horses at the rise of a hill, with their faces painted and living in tipis. All of the Indians we knew drove trucks or cars and lived in houses, like we did.

After dinner, a sweetness of cinnamon and steaming apples brought the uncles into the kitchen. “Grandma’s making apple pie.” Somebody said. I’d never tasted apple pie, but felt positive it would be the best dessert ever.

A few minutes later more relatives arrived. Nobody ever went away without eating. The aunties, apron-bound, brought out platters of fried chicken, biscuits crusty on the outside and soft inside and broiled cracked corn, and everyone gathered around the big table. So much food was pushed onto my plate. Afternoon sun poured through the window onto the table. Tiny dust particles were floating in the sunlight.

“Child, you eat like a bird.” Grandma said. “If you don’t eat more than that you’ll never get fat.” My older, round-faced cousins always cleaned their plates. My family thought it was necessary to eat lots of food to grow up the right way. But I couldn’t eat more, so I plainly could never hope to be normal and healthy.

Finally the pies were brought out.

“There won’t be enough pie to go around.” Someone hollered. 

I smelled sweet, browned piecrust. My heart pounded. I wondered since I hadn’t eaten very much, maybe I would not get a piece of pie. 

A clatter of plates was passed, with a bunch of forks, sugar and cream stirred into coffee. I grabbed my napkin by two corners and shook it out onto my lap and sat on the edge of my chair, my back bony, my elbows sharp, waiting.

Before anyone else, Grandma, all smiles, lifted a large triangle sized piece of apple pie onto my plate, I took a bite, tasted its warm crusty apple goodness, and I felt lucky and special.

First published
in Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers Native Realities