Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Morning Thanks--Choteau Creek

I found this 1992 memoir in a small-town, second-hand bookstore in Oklahoma, but it's all about the world I live in--just two hours west. Joseph Iron Eye Dudley grew up with loving grandparents on the Yankton Sioux Reservation, just west of Wagner, South Dakota. Once upon a time the Yanktons used to roam the land just outside my door.

Honestly, I know of no other book like Choteau Creek, a reminiscence of Dudley's almost idyllic childhood with profoundly religious grandparents whose lives were characterized by something akin to what the rest of us might call "abject poverty" in the run-down, three-room home where he grew up. What grandpa and grandma missed in a house, however, they made up for in a home, taking Dudley in as a little boy because neither of his parents cared enough to have him. The memoir, in fine Native fashion, honors his elders and their gifts, and it does so gloriously and graciously.

Its time period is unique, or so it seems to me, since Dudley grew up in the late 40s and 50s. His grandma was little more than a child when the Ghost Dancers came to the reservation (1890), but she lived well into an age when people traveled up the road at 50 or 60 miles an hour. 

I don't know of other books or memoirs quite like it, set in this exact time period, since, for the most part, traditional Native life was, by mid-century, already the historic past. Dudley's grandparents' religiosity--Grandma is powerfully and lovingly devout--is an interesting hybrid, a sweet and fragrant mix of Native and Christian sources. 

This memoir hasn't been, nor will it ever be a best seller, but Joseph Iron Eye Dudley's Choteau Creek has to be one of the most memorable books I'll read this summer. Probably not a beach read, but a treasure for the soul.

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