Note: I am pleased that this piece of creative non-fiction is featured as a Show Us Your State American Vignette, hosted by reader, blogger, and essayist Andrea Badgley. Scroll to the bottom of the post to see one of the diary entries upon which this story is based.
Feathers and Horses
November 15, 1932 Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota
by Lisa Rivero, adapted from the Great Plains Diaries of Harriet E. Whitcher
Thirty turkeys waited in the barn with the patience of the dead.
The morning air was a shock of cold, but the sunrise was bright enough to blind. She served a breakfast of pancakes and hamburger. She had already baked a walnut-cocoa cake, but her apple jelly didn’t thicken. Two plum pies were in the oven.
The turkeys froze, Will said, between mouthfuls.
After breakfast, she and Will hauled the turkeys into the front room in several trips. Overnight the headless birds had hardened into strange geometric shapes, wings and legs jutting out at unexpected angles. Will snapped the legs of the last five to fit them into the crates. Broken drumsticks would mean less money, but Lester LaCleary would arrive any moment with his Ford Model B pickup truck. There was no time for thawing.
With 450 pounds of turkeys on their way to Nebraska, Hattie began to clean the feathers from the floor, saving the best ones for a feather bed she planned to make for her brother for Christmas.
She fixed a noon meal for Will and Ben and Narvin, then another for John Gall and his three boys who arrived with a team and wagon just as she was drying the dishes. They had come for Red Cross Aid and to ask if they could collect cow chips on their land for heating. She gave them some groceries, which she immediately recorded in the Legion Auxiliary books as $1.95 worth of potatoes, cabbage, flour, sugar, salt, coffee and oatmeal. The boys didn’t say a word but ate two pieces each of walnut-cocoa cake and wiped their mouths with the shoulder straps of their overalls.
After supper John Sloss of Crazy Hole arrived on horseback to ask for Red Cross Flour, the last of which she’d given to John Gall. He visited awhile, talked of how no one in the area had gasoline, and ate half of a plum pie.
Horse traveling is coming back, she said to Will when everyone had gone. It’s more than ten miles to John’s place.
But Will was already asleep in his chair, a single turkey feather resting just above his ear.