Every Angry Ojibwa Woman has one true love. She is taught from early on what it should look like, how it should feel, and when to throw it away. Her grandmothers, mother and aunts told her what it takes to meet their strict standards. The said, “Don’t play with it because it will get hard!” Also, that if you do it right, it will be fluffy, moist, and hard on the outside. Hard enough, they said, so when you tap on the outside it sounds hollow. Then you will know.
The Angry Ojibwe Women in your life told you over and over that, “You will fall in love early and often!” I knew the very moment I fell in love. Grandma would pull the bread pan off the wall. She would get the flour out and her apron on while talking to me about life. She would add baking powder, salt, and sugar to the flour and mix it all up. My brown little face would be resting my chin on the white enamel kitchen table. I knew, if I stayed there long enough, love was coming my way.
She would make a well with the flour. Showing me how it has to be done; never veering from the process. She would pour her milk, add her eggs, and then warm lard into the well. Taking a fork, she would mix the wet ingredients and then slowly but certainly mix it into the flour. I knew it would only be a matter of minutes until it was time and I would fall in love again.
She always sang the same song while making her bread:
Oh, I wish I had someone to love me, Someone to call me their own.
Oh, I wish I had someone to live with, 'Cause I'm tired of living alone.
Oh, meet me tonight in the moonlight, Please meet me tonight all alone.
For I have a sad story to tell you, It's a story that's never been told.
I'll be carried to the new jail tomorrow, Leaving my poor darling alone.
With the cold prison bars all around me, And my head on a pillow of stone.
Now I have a grand ship on the ocean, All mounted with silver and gold.
And before my poor darling would suffer, Oh, that ship would be anchored and sold.
Now, if I had the wings of an angel, Over these prison walls I would fly.
And I'd fly to the arms of my darling, And there I'd be willing to die.
(The Prisoner’s Song, Dalhart, 1925)
I always thought it was a sad song, even when I was a kid. What was her life like to make her so sad? She would look at me and smile as she formed the dough into a perfect ball. I thought, “Why is she saying she was in a prison and how come she wanted to be an angel?” She would take a knife and cut markings into the bread and place the bread in the wood oven. I knew it was only a matter of minutes before I would be happier than I would ever be in my life.
She would sit with me by the kitchen table playing solitaire looking out the kitchen window. What was she looking at out that window? Who was she looking for so longingly? She would play another game.
As she grew older; we would have less and less times like that together. Her cards were dusty sitting on a shelf in the kitchen. The wood stove was replaced with an electric one. Commodities were being stockpiled in the pantry waiting for them to be sung into a magical moment of love which seemed to never return.
One day, my brother made a batch of love. She was sitting in the kitchen rocking in her chair. She had a big quilt wrapped around her. Mad, mad as hell. He said she could only have one slice of love. Her sugar was high and he was trying to control it. Meals on Wheels only gave her one slice of wheat bread with one pat of butter! Yes, she was mad as hell. He went into the living room and watched her. She watched him. I watched them.
Thinking she could make a break for it, she ran to the breadbox, grabbed the love and ran out the door yelling to the neighbors, “Help, I am being held prisoner!” My brother rushed out to the yard to grab her and the love fell on the ground.
Now, if I had the wings of an angel,
Over these prison walls I would fly.
And I'd fly to the arms of my darling,
And there I'd be willing to die.
The moral of the story is, you never know what people mourn for in life or whom or what they really love. That sadness can be carried a lifetime and played out daily through a deck of cards. Life sometimes holds us as prisoners through our memories. As we grow older, our memories grow weaker, but our love never wavers.
This story is written in honor of my Grandma Betsy Allard Wilkie Davis who gave me a lifetime of love.