The Main Course

Article excerpt

"Where do ya think you're going?" Grandma asked.

"Partridge hunting with the boys!" I yell as I fly past her, grabbing my coat, taking the steps two at a time so that I wouldn't get left behind.

"Ah! Go on den," she waved in disgust, "but I ain't cleaning dem damn birds!" she hollered.

I was so excited, despite my great grandmother's obvious lack of approval, because my reserve cousin, Fred, promised to show us city Indian kids how to snare partridge. However, it didn't take long before my enthusiasm wore as min as the designer blue jeans he told me weren't warm enough to wear.

Once the enthusiasm wore off, the cold, the boredom, and the hunger came on. My cousin set in place the snare, the end of which we held in waiting for the unsuspecting feathered feast. We each took cover under the low-lying Christmastype trees and waited, and waited, and waited.

Afraid my fingers were going to fall off, I rolled out from under my tree a few hours later, declared defeat, and told them I was heading back to the house before I got frost bite.

"Yeah, yeah, just follow the tracks back," Fred said, and off I went back to Grandma's house with the sound of machismo snickering lashing at my heels, my older cousin's influence apparent on my younger brother.

"Well, did you bring dinner, den?" Grandma asked without looking up from her knitting, socks of course.

"Nah, I almost froze to death before we even saw one bird!" I plopped down on her old faded couch.

"Now you know," Grandma said, concentrating on her purl stitch.

"Yeah, I'll know too dress warmer next time!" I exclaimed.

"What next time? Didn't you learn your lesson?" Grandma asked me.

"Huh?" I asked.

"Put the kettle on, girl, we gonna talk while you thaw out."

Grandma finishes the sock she was working on as I steep our tea, the heat soothing my red fingers, bringing them back to life. She waves me over, which means she needs help out of her rocking chair. I comply. In her worn out moccasins, she shuffles to her spot at the head of the worn oak table where our tea sits.

"Mmm, good tea," she said. "You know, it didn't taste any different than when I used too grow and pick the mint myself," she says with a smirk, her eyes meeting mine for the first time since I dragged my frozen butt through the door.

"Oh," I say, "you'd think the fresher the better."

"I said different, not better." I was puzzled.

"You know, I didn't want you going out looking for partridge today because if you had too, you wouldn't want too," she said, with a hint of nostalgia in her voice.

"Want too what?" I asked before thinking.

"If you HAD too hunt and gather your own food, you wouldn't WANT too," she explained shaking her head ever so slightly before sipping her tea. "You see dem drumsticks over dere on that counter top thawing?" She pointed with her lips, as only an Ojibway woman can. "That is dinner, or at least it will be once you get to it. And I didn't have to lie, ears deep, in snow, under a tree to get it. In less than the time it took you kids to plan your meal, let alone kill it, I was out to town and back, and I ain't freezing neither," she said, proud of herself.

"I know Grandma, but it's just chicken. The boys are going to bring home fresh partridge!" I said as if I knew the difference, while silently hoping Fred and Jesse didn't make a liar of me.

"If they do happen upon a partridge, what do you think needs to be done with it before we can eat?" she asked rhetorically. "I'll tell you. Its neck needs to be wrung and its feather plucked before it can be gutted and pieced. And you know what all that hard work is gonna taste like? Chicken, of course!" she declared.

"But, Grandma, shouldn't we be traditional, I mean we are Indians. Why not hunt and stuff?" I asked innocently. …