Mother of the year

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

This piece is fiction, yes. At least a fictionalized account of how a woman I know ended up living with an Indian family.


Mom got the award. I got the invitation today. First they just had “Mother of The Year”. Then they decided to have “Mothers of the Year” from all the races. This diversity thing is out of hand.

And, for this year’s Indian–excuse me, Native American–“Mother of the Year”, they picked Gloria, my ex-foster mom. She’s about the only Mom I know.

She treated me OK, I guess. Better than my real mom, whoever she was, or those earlier foster moms; they were some real cookie-burners.

Gloria already had four kids: Billy, who I’d known at Washington High and later met on the street (and who dragged me home), Bonnie, Belinda, and Breath (her Indian name was Breath-of-Life-I’ve heard in the language a million times, but I can’t ever remember it).

Billy saved my can one time when I was 14; I was really broke and I’d already quit school-they threw me out and my mom-of-the-month didn’t much care. I’d seen Billy around the school: a big Indian kid who got in a lot of fights and smoked dope every chance he got.

I was crashing around where I could. One night I was hanging around the bus station, thinking some guy might give me a place to stay. The guy that night turned out to be a cop and had me stood up against the wall and was slapping me around.

Billy came running down the street, carrying a big cardboard box. He stuffed the box down over the cop’s head and shoulders. And gave him a shove.

Billy was big, like I said, and played some football at Washington, before they’d kicked him out, too. I went one way and Billy went the other.

That made us friends. A few nights later, smoking dope down in Old Town, he said, “You know, my mom works for social welfare; we always got people crashing over there. Why don’t you come over and live with us? She knows how to do that foster-mom stuff.”

So I became one of Gloria Little Soldier’s foster kids.

It was better than hanging out at the Greyhound. Lot better than that. Old Gloria had her finger in every pie that had to do with Indians. Most of the time she was off on one crusade or another.

Billy and Bonnie and I got along pretty good. Bonnie was fifteen, and she was really wild. Sometimes we’d sneak beer in the backyard and drink and play around a lot. Sometimes other Indians would come over with a drum, and we’d sit out back and drink beer and play those funny songs they call “Forty-niners.”

Breath of Life was the youngest. She was nine, then. I thought she was sweet. She’s my little sister. She used to get picked on, and you could see her face just kind of crumple up and then a couple of tears would run down her cheeks, and she’d bust out bawling.

Then she’d run upstairs and we wouldn’t see her for hours and hours. Life isn’t fair, but I didn’t see any reason to pick on Breath. I liked messing around with Bonnie, but I didn’t do that with Breath.

One day I saw Tommy Standingfar grab her. I pounded him. A week later he and a couple of his brothers did the same to me, but he never again bothered Breath.

When Gloria found out about it, she made a big fuss and had a ceremony for me, gave me an Indian name and “adopted” me. Something like “Fights for his Sister Little Soldier.” I was embarrassed, but it was pretty cool, really.

Belinda was twenty and going to city college. She drank a lot, let guys take her out to bars and get her drunk. She thought she was somethingbecause she was going to college and lots of white guys chased her.

The girls slept upstairs in a little bedroom next to Gloria’s. Billy and I, and anybody else who was crashing there, had mattresses we pulled out in the living room or slept on the couch.

Summer time, we slept out back. Gloria put up a tipi every summer. We liked that, cause we could sit in there and drink and smoke dope and nobody would see us; if anybody came out the backdoor, a bellon the
screen-door tinkled.

I don’t know that Gloria really cared what we did out there: she was always busy with some cause, like writing to Indian guys inside prisons, or trying to run down foster homes for native children.

She did-and does-good things for the Indian community.

Back then, she was married to an Indian guy named Leroy. He was a serious drunk. Leroy used to buy us beer on payday, and would sit out in the tipi with us, drinking, teaching us forty-niners, and trying to
make up to Bonnie.

Give Leroy about six beers and every time he would start sidling up to Bonnie. She’d ignore him for a few minutes, till he touched her, and then she’d shove him away or pour beer on his pants.

One time he tried to cop a feel on the back porch and she shoved him down the steps. He broke his leg.

I didn’t feel jealous of Bonnie. After about six months, she said since we were pretty much brother-and-sister, we shouldn’t do anything with each other. Wasn’t the Indian Way. I thought that was kind of weird, from what I’d seen, but what the hell. I went along with it.

There were a lot of Indian girls who came around and most of them, after a couple of joints and some white port and lemon juice, were willing to play around.

There were even some white chicks, but most of them were looking for Indian dudes.

Gloria was always getting awards, like this mother of the year crap. She’s really held up as a model of tolerance and non-prejudice.

That must be why she always introduced me as her “little adopted white boy.” I was five-ten: I didn’t feel “little.”

Trouble was, there were always lots of full bloods around and they were ready to tell me I was honkie crap. Talk about racist-they were as bad as the black dudes. About the only time the ‘Skins and I were on the same side was when we were fighting black guys. I was lucky that was before everybody started packing.

It was weird over there at Gloria’s. She’d been around the city for years and years, after she came out from Montana. She was one of the regulars the schools called on to come and talk about Indians. She organized Indian student clubs in the schools, and a community center downtown, regularly went to see the brothers down in the State Pen-Correctional Institution, excuse me- and she went back to Montana several times a year, and had her picture in the paper about once every six months.

Whenever there was a council or something about minority students, she was right there. All those white liberals, teachers and students–they loved her. She let some people build a sweat lodge in her back yard
(after the tipi rotted away in that shit-ass climate), and a lot of white people
came to sweat.

They bought her all kinds of appliances, ran errands for her, “just such a sweet woman,” they always told me. Uh-huh. “How lucky you are to have a mother like Gloria. There isn’t a prejudiced bone in her body.”

Yeah. They never heard her go off about white people and how greedy and dumb they were.

You know, I think she’s right.

Bonnie kind of ran the house, since Leroy was usually off with his buddies, getting drunk. By the time Breath was eleven, running the house was her gig.

Bonnie got involved with some American Indian Movement folks and ran off to Oklahoma. She went with some thirty-year-old guy wanted by the Feds for a bomb threat. It turned out he was a drunk, and beat her up a few times. Then he joined the peyote church and got religion. He still beat her up.

Bonnie moved up to Pine Ridge and married some Sioux who didn’t drink. She’s still there, with four kids, teaching in the tribal college.

Billy joined the marines after he got his G.E.D.. It was that, or probably go off on a career of stealing cars and getting in bar fights.

He was tall enough; they gave him embassy duty in Peru. A cigar-store Indian in dress blues. That was right about the time that some Indian marine in Moscow got in trouble with a Russian spy chick.

Apparently, Billy didn’t get the message–he was messing around with some Peruvian girl who belonged to a secret guerilla outfit. Billy got kidnapped, and all anyone ever saw of him again was his head. That didn’t make the papers, though.

When they shipped his head home, there was a big Indian ceremony over at the VA cemetery in Camas Prairie.

Breath-of-Life became a Christian-one of those fundamentalist kinds who don’t like anybody who doesn’t belong to her church. That was right after she had a baby. The father was a Creek guy who gave her a song and dance.

He already had about six kids. A week after the baby was born, he got killed in a car wreck on some Nevada reservation.

Gloria took in a few more foster kids, after I got my G.E.D. and joined the army. When I got out, a couple of them were still there. They were pretty tough adolescents, scarred up and covered with tattoos.

Leroy finally drank himself to death. But Gloria’s still at it, lecturing the white folks about how awful they treat Indians and letting them drive her all over the place.

So, here’s this invitation to the banquet for the “Mothers of the Year”. I called Bonnie and she laughed, said she’d got one too. And she’d blown her nose on it.

You know, Gloria was maybe the idea of a Mother, rather than a real one. Sometimes I think she’s just a hustler, but she’s done some good things. I just can’t always remember them.

Skinny Butt

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