Ma’hashta

If you have the same routine every day for too long, you begin to think that nothing new will ever happen. That was my mistake. When Dad said that Grandma was coming, I almost fainted. I did not think that it was possible that my grandma, who I haven’t seen in 11 years, would be coming to visit. I refused to believe it until the day her Jeep pulled up in front of the house.

I remember the day perfectly. I was just about to start my hunting when I heard the engine of a car. I knew that it must have been her, and I only stopped to put on a parka of beaver-skin before I went out the front door and started trudging along the snow-covered ground. My dad had also rushed outside to greet her, and together we ventured towards the snow-covered Jeep and toward my grandmother. The few moments that we waited seemed like an eternity before she appeared out of the car. She pulled a large wad of money from her pocket and handed it to the driver before she shooed him off. Then she lumbered towards us with her walker, made of wood and animal skin.

“Well, don’t just stand there! Help me to the house. This snow makes it difficult to walk,” Grandma exclaimed. She shivered violently and her teeth chattered. “Honestly!” she cried. “I do not want to have travelled west hundreds of miles from the Yukon just to not be able to make it to the house. Help me, please!”

We held her hand in hand as we slowly travelled to the house. I opened the door with my foot and we stumbled inside. Automatically, I started for the heater, the only warm place in the entire house. She followed me and started asking me annoying questions that old people always seem to ask.

“Now, Sarah,” she spoke, “how old are you now?”

“12,” I said meekly as I looked down. I didn’t care whether we were blood relatives or not. This woman was not my grandmother. A grandmother sees you more than twice in your life.

“Ah… I see. And you are in sixth grade?” she asked. I merely shook my head. “Are you in the seventh, then?” she questioned, obviously surprised. I gave a quick nod. “Well, you do have the height for it!” she exclaimed. What is that thing around your neck?”

“This?!” I said as I pointed toward my headphones. “It’s just an IPod.”

“Why do you listen to that? You have Eskimo blood, and you should take advantage of that. You should live an old fashioned life style.” Her look showed her extreme disappointment.

“Like I want to have Eskimo blood! I get teased every day for it! School is already bad enough without being teased about it,” I yelled. For the first time, Grandma looked at me with some sympathy.

“Don’t let that get in your way,” she said softly. “I expect great things from you. All you need to do is stand up for yourself and not hate school so much. I am disappointed in your behavior.” She looked at me with eyes filled with wisdom and knowledge. “Oh, and get rid of that Izod,” she muttered with a slight smile as she left the room.

The rest of the day, I waited on my grandmother while she had her long conversation with Dad. She could never seem to stop talking and let Dad say something. He just stood there, trying to absorb the information as I served them lunch, and later dinner.

“If you ask me, retirement is harder than leading an Eskimo tribe,” she said as she waved a beaver leg I had served her. “In the tribe, there was a lot of responsibility, but I don’t know what to do all day now. All I do all day is hunt! It’s the only fun thing in life left.” This surprised me, since hunting was also something I very much enjoyed, and because she was over 80 years old, but I continued stewing a rabbit for dessert.

“I see,” Dad said lamely.

“And also, the girl,” spoke my grandmother, switching the topic completely without any warning. “She does not appreciate the fact that she is an Eskimo, and she plays with modern things like Igods. I don’t know what an Ifrog is, but it is electronic and not at all traditional. Why would she play with something like that? She took in a puff of smoke from her pipe. “I’ve always said that you shouldn’t interfere with a young person’s life, but she has something seriously wrong with her. She is disrespecting her Eskimo ancestors and me. She even has a modern name. She should have a traditional name. Ma’hashta has worked fine for me.”

I was mortified at her comments about me. Obviously, she thought I had gone to bed already and was saying these things behind my back! Suddenly, I noticed the rabbit stew was over-cooking. I quietly went to turn the burner off when I slipped. It was just a piece of bad rabbit that hadn’t reached the trash, I don’t know how I tripped on it. But the important part was that I did, and when I did so the pot of boiling stew toppled over, clattering against the floor loudly. In seconds Dad and Grandma were there.

“Honey, are you okay? Sarah, answer me!” My grandma expressed a look of pure concern.

“Fine. I’m fine,” I said. But I was not fine, and even as I got up one could easily notice the blood in my hair.

I felt the top of my head, and my hands came out red. My Grandma stared at me, wide eyed, and my dad had been reduced to tears. I suddenly felt very weak at the knees, and I tried to hold myself up with my hands, but soon my whole lower body was numb. Then, I collapsed onto the floor.

I awoke to the sound of Grandma begging, begging for me to come back. I squinted my eyes open, and saw myself in my room, with various herbs. My Grandma was putting a piece of cloth on my head and tried to wash out the infection. Then, I spoke.

“How long have I been out?” I asked. My Grandma turned towards me, eyes wide with surprise. There was a gasp from the other side of the room. I bent my head and saw dad, more surprised than I had ever seen him. Then they rushed to my side.

“You’re back!” Grandma gasped, a huge smile across her face. “I was sure that you wouldn’t make it, with the amount of blood you lost!”

“Why? How could I almost have died from slipping on a piece of rabbit?” I asked.

“The angle at which your head hit the ground… it was one in a million. You should not have survived the accident.” She looked guilty, though I didn’t know why. Then, exhaustion overcame me and I once again fell into a deep sleep.

The next time I woke, all my bandages were off and they did not look surprised in the least to see me. I was seated at the dining room table, and there was a plate of food in front of me.

“See!” Grandma said as she ate a piece of deer. “I told you that she’d come back in exactly one day, and here she is. I know my way around illnesses. I assure you, she is now completely healed, except for…” She then stopped herself, and Grandma, Dad and I stood in an eerie silence. Grandma finally broke it. “Time to eat!” she exclaimed. “I took the liberty of hunting a deer for you. You need some food in your body. I started to dig into my food, but still asked the question I had in mind.

“What isn’t better about me,” I asked with my mouth full of deer.

“Nothing, nothing. There are just some tiredness problems. Suddenly being too tired to move after getting 10 hours of sleep the night before,” she acted like it was a small problem, but I was no dummy. However, I decided to let it go for the time being.

“So, you hunted this deer?” I asked hesitantly. She nodded. “Perhaps we could go hunting together later.” She smiled, and then nodded again.

“Wait, wait!” Dad interfered. “Perhaps we should let her heal more first.”

“She is healed.” Grandma said with her mouth full. “As healed as she will ever be.”

So we began hunting first thing after breakfast. Today was warmer, and there were signs of an early spring. With her walker and I still only partially recovered, we went very slowly. As we walked to my favorite spot, she asked me all sorts of questions. However, this time I wasn’t annoyed in the least. “So, tell me what you don’t like about school,” she huffed while she struggled with her walker.

“The teachers are strict and unfair and the other students going there are just awful,” I whined. She just nodded, completely out of breath. I gave her a few minutes to huff and puff before she answered.

“In my opinion, the only disadvantage of being raised as an Eskimo is that your education isn’t all that good. Be glad you have school. And as for the other students, the only way to stop them from bothering you is to stand up to them.” Grandma was obviously wiped out from saying those few words, so we continued in silence until we reached my hunting spot. But I was thinking. Perhaps I had misjudged school, perhaps it wasn’t that useless after all.

We continued walking until we came to a lake, my favorite hunting spot. My grandma was slow, but she was quiet. I realized we had snuck up on a rabbit, not 20 feet away. I handed Grandma a bow, though I doubted a frail woman like her would be able to use it, whether she says she got a deer or not. I took my bow and took careful aim. Just as I was about to let the arrow fly, another arrow came whizzing by me and hit the rabbit, killing it immediately. I turned around and saw Grandma, laughing out loud. “And that, my girl, is how you hunt,” she chuckled. I was about to return her smile, but sleepiness overcame me and I collapsed right into her arms.

When I woke, I was back at the house. I saw Grandma smiling over me. “You carried me back?” I asked. She nodded. Then I remembered her kill. “And the rabbit?”

“It is on your plate,” she said, nodding at the dish in front of me.

The next few days were a blur. All I remember were the fun-filled days hunting with Grandma. During those days, I realized something monumental. I realized that I liked talking with her more than the hunting. I don’t know how she carried me back, but I swore that she would never have to do it again, and I got 12 hours of sleep every night, and in doing so I avoided my… problems. However, just as winter break was ending, the whole situation changed completely unexpectedly.

School was just a day away, and I wanted to make the most of the day. Because of that, I got up early and planned to go right to making breakfast. However, when I got to the table, Grandma and Dad were already there, talking in hushed voices. When I came, they both turned to me and Grandma said the bad news.

“The tribe wants me back, Sarah. The car is coming in two hours to pick me up.” She was on the verge of tears, and as I began to understand I was too. “I couldn’t stay forever, you know that. However, we should make the most of the remaining time, shouldn’t we?” Then I really did start to cry. Tears covered my vision, but I knew that Grandma was crying too. “Sweetie, it is my duty to rejoin the tribe. I don’t want to do this, but I must.”

I know that I should have said yes, should have made the most of my remaining time. But I was angry that she was leaving, and instead I stormed off to my room. I wept silently for about two hours, while my grandma tried to calm me down. But I couldn’t hear her, I could only hear my terrible sounds of weeping and see the tears in my eyes. Then, I heard something else.

It was a car honking. It was the car that would take her away. With a pained expression, she let go of me. She had no choice but to leave. I just sat there, for about five minutes, petrified. Then I pulled myself together. I remembered the car, her leaving, everything. I raced down the stairs to see my dad, also crying softly.

“Is she still there?” I asked. He shook his head. But I refused to believe it. I raced outside and ran through the powdery snow. I saw a car in the distance. I raced towards it, but I was too slow.

“Come back!” I screamed. But it did not come back, and I walked back to the house slowly, howling with the volume of a crazed wolf.

Grandma never did come back, but I started liking school. I started making the most of every day and later taught my children to. I learned the traditions of the Eskimo people. I only was with her for a few short weeks, but I will always remember her. I will always remember her as the person who changed my life.

Samuel Wolf
Age 13, Grade 7
Packer Collegiate Institute
Silver Key

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