A Metis Coat for Willie
"A Metis Coat for Willie"
The Metis, (pronounced May-Tee) are defined as people of Aboriginal descent. They established themselves throughout the Western Plains of Canada; and all the way South in to the Mississippi Valley. Some say there may have been people of 'mixed blood' in North America in the 1300's. They were the 'go-betweens' whom the European (mainly French and Scottish) counted on to help with the fur trade and the expansion of the West in Canada.
The following is a fictional story about a more modern Metis family.
Willie DuLac was a nine year-old Metis boy who lived with his father, mother, and little sister, Marie-Belle in a small prairie town in Western Canada. The 'town' was a pleasant village with just a couple of streets and a main thoroughfare, where most of the shopping was done and where the Bus Depot was located. There was one steepled church and one school which had combined grades in just a few rooms. The town was surrounded by mixed farms and a forested area where hunting was permitted during certain seasons.
They weren't poor but neither were they 'well-to-do' as Willie's mother used to refer to the couple of more wealthy land owners in the area. Willie and his family lived in a older home their father had built on the edge of town.
Willie's father, Jean DuLac, worked in the railway yards as a general laborer. Often times he would hunt deer or go fishing for extra food. Jean worked hard for a living and was proud that he was the third generation of his family who was employed with the Railway.
Willie's mother Anne was just proud to be a stay at home mom. She loved to bake bread and most everyone's favorite, Bannock. It was a carry over from the Scots. Some also called it "Indian flat bread". It was unleavened , thick and round. It was best served warm with melting lard or butter spread on it. It was simply made with flour, lard, baking powder, salt. water and sometimes a bit of sugar. It was great with stew or just like that by itself. One could make it special by adding raisins. That would replace fancy tarts from the bakery.
Anne DuLac was talented in other ways too. She was well known for her beautifully crafted head bands and vests with ornate bead work on them. She often said that she inherited this talent from her mother, Jane Eagle, a prominent elder in the community, who in turn inherited it from Anne's grandmother.
Anne would make extra money by sellling her handicrafts at summer fairs or fall suppers. She would give some away as Christmas presents.
The DuLacs had good reasons to be proud of Willie and Belle-Marie. Though not perfect, they never missed a day of school and kept good grades.
Anne usually stood at the door or on the front porch stoop and watched the children as they went down the gravelled road. She would make sure that they would cross the railway tracks only when the adult crossing guard the kids called Louis, assigned especially for that duty by the school board, allowed them to. He'd say, "all clear" and wave a red flag till they all crossed both before and after school.
Most of the children that crossed there were from what some referred to as "the poor side of town" There was a good mix of nationalities but most were of the Metis or Aboriginal cultures. The majority of people in town were friendly and kind, but there were those who weren't. They would tease the darker tanned aboriginals and Metis. Their cold stares sometimes made even the rambunctious Willie nervous. He would just get a hold of his little sister's hand and pull her along till they passed by them. He would tell Belle-Marie what their mother always said to them about handling people like these; 'walk proudly and smile..ignore the ignorant. This worked fine.
Every summer near the end of July, Willie's town celebrated "Pioneer's Week" This year the town council decided that there was going to be a parade down main street. It would end up near the town's ball park in a field in front of the grandstand. This would be where all the events including a baseball game would take place.
It was decided that everyone, including the students in Elementary school and High school, would were period costumes.
As "Pioneer's Week drew near, Willie and Belle-Marie had no idea what they would wear as costumes. "What shall we wear Willie? It's not like Halloween, where it really doesn't matter how weird your costume is," said Marie as she held her brother's hand as they crossed the tracks on the way home after school.
It was just a month and a half till the day of the parade when Anne brought them to visit their other grandmother, Julliette DuLac in the 'big city' as their grandfather used to say. Juliette was getting on in age and couldn't travel as well as she used to. She could sew and repair anything as she was a good seamstress as a young lady. She used to live in the country too but since her husband's death, she lived in town to be closer to hospitals and other conveniences. She was fairly strong and agile for her age. She only had a little bit of a limp when she walked.
"Oh hello there! Come on in "mes enfants" she said, as she rubbed her hands with her apron which she wore all the time because she did her own cooking and baking. Her place, whether in the country or the city, always smelled like a bakery. She was wearing her blue polka-dot dress and rawhide slippers. She wore her long grey hair up in a bun today. She summoned the kids near her so she could get a kiss and a hug from them. They loived her as much as their Grandma Jane. Later, along with snacks of cookies and milk, she displayed a folder with old photos and told them about the people in the pictures. They saw their dad when he was a little boy in knickers and barefeet playing in a homemade sandbox. Marie laughed, "That's 'Silly Daddy'" she giggled.
The kids spent the weekend there and their mother would pick them up sunday evening. Their grandmother made a bed for them on the couch. On Sunday afternoon she took them to the museum. They saw many interesting things like dinosaur skeletons, stuffed animals, and indigenous rock, but what drew their interst more was the Indian tents and pioneer village mock-up in the early prairie History dioramas.
On the way out, Willie thanked his grandma for bringing them to the museum. "That was fun grandma" he said as they got into the taxi to go back to grandma's. " Yeah that was cool grandma" added Marie.
"Oh yes my dear, ban oui! said their Grandmother with a sigh. I remember my husband and even my father...they dressed like that. Some people made coats out of Hudson Bay blankets and wrapped a red sash around the waist.
Later that evening their mother arrived to bring them back home on the inter-city bus line.
"Come again... I miss you guys. You will come more often eh?" She galanced at their mother and winked. Anne got the meaning.
They had been home about three weeks when a parcel arrived by express mail. It was a cardboard box with tape and stickers all over it. Below the address label the kids names were printed in large letters.
The kids were outside in the front yard playing catch with a rubber ball. Suddenly Willie dropped the ball and ran to where his mother stood on the porch. Marie saw the delivery van drive away and followed her brother.
"Quick, open it Mom!" said Marie as she ran towards the front porch. "Ya ma... open it, open it!" said Willie anxiously.
"Take it easy, take it easy. It's from Grandma Julliette" said Anne and she told Willie to get the scissors which were on the sewing table. She brought the box to the sewing table and took the scissors and began cutting the tape.
"Oh my, Oh my!" she said as she held up a brown and beige buckskin vest and a blue polka-dot dress for Marie. "Is that all Ma, Is that all?" inquired Willie nudging her arm. "No there seems to be another package at the bottom of the box. It's wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string." Marie grabbed her dress and was holding it against her body admiringly.
The kids were standing one on her left and the other on her right and were waiting with baited breath to see what else was in there. Anne lifted up what was in it. It was a hand made Metis jacket; yellowish brown and trimmed with colorful beads with fringes down the arms and at the pockets.
"My Metis coat! Oh wow! A real Metis coat!"
There was a note with it. Anne read it...
Dear Willie and Marie, Me and a couple of my friends got together and made you some Metis style clothes. I knew that the town was having a 'Pioneer's Week and I saw how much you both admired the Metis clothes you saw at the Meseum. God bless and come see me soon OK. Love and kisses, Grandma Julliette.
When the day came for the parade down main street, Willie and Marie looked great as they marched proudly leading a large group of Metis children.
Willie and Marie's parents and both grandmothers were in the stands watching as the parade passed by. Grandma Julliette's smile was the widest of all. Tears of pride came down her lightly rouged cheeks.
Later in August, Willie's father brought Willie and Marie to the city to visit their grandmother. They drove there in Jean's old jalopy which he had just repaired. After parking the car, they went into the apartment building and took the elevator up to her floor. They buzzed and buzzed but there was no answer. The lady across the hall open her door and asked if they were looking for Mrs DuLac. She told them that they had taken her to the hospital with a stroke or something.
When you visit her in the hospital tell her Delia wants her to get better soon cause I need my bridge partner.
"Will do Delia, thanks"
At the hospital Jean was lead to the room his mother was in. As they got closer he sighed with relief when he heard her voice. As they entered the room they saw Grandma DuLac sitting up in her bed and talking to the nurse who had just taken her blood pressure.
When Julliette saw the kids behind theior father she said, "Come here...come give grandma a kiss, mah babies!" After kisses and hugs were done they stood near the window, Jean said, "At least you have a good view from here Ma. Oh by the way Delia says Hi and hurry and get better because she wants her bridge partner back." She replied, "great view but I would rather be home baking bread." She chuckled.
Willie said "Oh yeah, thanks for the Metis coat. I will love it forever!" "And thanks for the vest and dress' added Marie. "You're welcome kids. You won't always fit them but I hope you keep them." The kids replied almost simultaneously, "We will"
That Christmas Eve, grandma Julliette was met at the bus depot in town by her son Jean. The old jalopy still ran good.
The whole family went to church for midnight mass. "The nuns sang like angels" said Belle-Marie as she sat between her grandmothers. After mass they went home to celebrate a while before going to bed. It was their tradition to open gifts at midnight but since the grandmothers were there and because of their age, they opened the presents in the early morning.
Christmas morning came and the sun shone bright making the snow glisten with little sparkling reflections of light. The DuLac house smelled like pine and spice cake.
The kids got at their presents. There were the usual small toys like trucks and dolls. They got a handmade teddy bear from their grandma Jane and some knitted socks from their grandma Julliette. Then they got into the candies and oranges.
After all the presents were handed out to the adults as well, there was one more present left under the tree. Grandma Jane brought it over to the older Grandma Julliette and said this is from me and the kids Juliette; actually they asked me to help..."
Julliette thanked them and began untying the pink ribbons that were around the wrapping paper. "My my...what could this be?"
It was a beautiful Metis sash with a tartan design and fringes at either end. As Julliette unfolded it, she noticed that photos of the kids with their Metis clothes were sewn into it. This brought tears to Julliette as she hugged them tightly.
This was the best Christmas memory that Willie and Marie would ever have.
by Ken K Chartrand