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September 25, 2023

A First Nations Perspective 17

By Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith

The Mission

I hear my sister start to whisper something, in the darkness of our bedroom. I turn towards her voice

"Christine, you gotta go to the kitchen and get us some food."

"Oh sis," I whisper back

"I don't wanna go, what if I get caught?"

"Ah, you won't get caught," my sister whispers back

"All you gotta do is tiptoe past Mom and Dad's room. They won't hear ya, it's late and everyone's asleep."

"Why can't you go?" I ask her. My voice turns to a whine.

"Because you're good at it, and I'm not," she replies.

"Fine! I'll go," I say.

I'm on a mission. I'm lying there in my twin bed with my Holly Hobbie blanket pulled up to my chin, listening to my stomach rumble. I hear the familiar growl of my sister's stomach too, and know my sister is hungry too.

My sister is sending me to the kitchen. I have to get us something to eat because we haven't been fed. The trick is to make it from our bedroom at the end of the hallway, past our parent's bedroom and down the carpeted creaky stairs and to the fridge. I can't wake anybody.

The cold air hits me as I throw my blanket off and swing my feet over the edge of my bed. I throw my pink housecoat over my nightie and stand up. I try to orient myself because our bedroom only has a small nightlight and not much light emanates from it.

I cross the floor quickly and open our bedroom door. Leaving the room, I catch a quick glimpse of the Holly Hobbie poster hanging by the door. That was my favorite childhood poster. Turning from the door, I feel the carpet underneath my bare feet. It tickles my toes. I recall that it was a shag carpet and when you walked on it, your foot usually left an imprint. My foot didn't. I was too small, barely weighing over 50 pounds.

I creep down the hallway, dragging my fingers along the wall to help guide me through the darkness. Slowly making my way down the hallway, I notice that the door to the bathroom is slightly open, and the dim light makes it less scary for me. Five minutes, and I am at the top of the stairway and I take a moment to look around me. I'm right in front of my parent's bedroom, and my heart speeds up. Their snores behind their bedroom door hit my ears.

I take a deep breath and my little shoulders tighten. I take my first step onto the stairs and realize there's no turning back. CREAK! I pull my foot back quickly. DANG! I forgot about that stair. I make a quick leap to the small and narrow ledge above the stairs and find myself balancing precariously.

"Wow!" I say to myself, " I am a super sleuth and an acrobat!"

Five minutes pass. Balancing myself on the ledge is getting more difficult. I slide myself down really slowly from where I am perched on the ledge. I better not fall, I think to myself. My feet hit the stairs again. Pausing for a second and making sure the coast is still clear, I resume my mission.

I creep down the last six stairs. My foot hits the linoleum floor, I raise my fist and whisper, Yeah! I made it!

The hallway to the kitchen is just as dark as my trip from my sister and my bedroom. I don't feel too afraid. I know making it as far as I have means I am almost there. The flooring is cold to the touch. It makes me walk faster. I hear rustling somewhere off to my left and the jingle of dog tags.

"Oh shoot!" I whisper under my breath. I had forgotten about the dogs.

My fists instinctively ball up into fists, as first the dog's growling breaks the silence, and then the dogs start barking! BARK BARK! I stop in my tracks. Our two dogs Mugsy and Duchess come flying out at me. I bend down and say, "Shh, shh, it's okay, it's just me."

I reach out to pet them, almost frantically because I don't want their barking to wake everyone up. Running my hands over their furry backs, they eventually quiet down. I break into a bit of a run to get to the kitchen.

Finally! Destination reached. Darkness plays tricks with my eyes. I see shadows everywhere. There's tightness in my chest. I gulp nervously and then take four deep breaths. I move forward. I see the outline of the kitchen table and chairs and the hulking refrigerator. The microwave's digital clock is blinking 3:10am. That time can't be right -- I whisper to myself, "There's no way I am down here this early!" Nevertheless I walk to the fridge and open it.

A blast of cold air hits me as the fridge door opens. I'm surprised the door doesn't creak. My eyes scan the four shelves laden down with food. I see various colors of cheese, a jar of dill pickles, ketchup, a package of Oscar Meyer hotdogs, and other food. I salivate as I look at the various foods before me. I know that I can only take something small though, like a roll or two, maybe a packet of kool aid. Ah! My sister and I loved to put our fingers into the packet and then lick the powder off.

I shut the fridge door and turn to the breadbasket that sits just an arm's length away. I reach up above to try and grab the dinner rolls, but I'm too short. Grr ... I eye a kitchen chair and pull it over towards the counter. I'm getting even more daring now. My desire for food is overwhelming, and overriding the need to be as quiet as possible. I throw caution to the wind.

I hop onto the chair, leaning over the counter to open the cupboard door in front of me. I've seen my parents bring out peanut butter before from here. I decide that I will make peanut butter sandwiches. I find the Skippy peanut butter right away, and I have to grab it with both hands. My six-year-old hands barely reach around the whole jar and the peanut butter almost drops.

This mission is difficult! Standing on the chair, I grab two dinner rolls and fumble for a knife in the cutlery drawer. With knife in hand, I crudely cut the rolls in half, and slather a ridiculous amount of peanut butter on the rolls. Before I close the peanut jar, I stick the knife in one more time. Smacking my lips, I take one last taste and carefully screw the lid back onto the jar. I nimbly jump down from the chair and pull it back to its position at the table.

It's time to head back upstairs. I shove the rolls into my housecoat pocket, and start walking. I don't think about the lint that will attach itself to the sandwiches I just made. Nor do I think about what may happen as I exit the kitchen and head back up the stairs.

The trip back seems to go a little faster. I feel proud of myself. I have food for my sister and me. To help navigate the stairs better, I hold my housecoat up a little. My head is down. I don't see the lights turn on in the bedroom to the left of the stairway, or see that my grandma has stepped out from the spare bedroom and is standing there waiting for me to look up. When I do, I jump!

"Christine, what are you doing? And do you know what time it is? Why are you downstairs?" she asks.

I gulp nervously. "Grandma, I wasn't doing anything."

Grandma is standing there in the dimly lit hallway. Her short gray hair is messed up from sleep, and her eyes are squinting at me, as if she is checking that it is really me standing on the step below her.

My hands let go of my housecoat, and instinctively I stuff my hands in my pockets. My little fingers clutch the dinner rolls in my pocket. I look up at Grandma, and she asks, "What's in your pockets then?"

"Nothing, nothing, I swear!" I whine back.

My grandma motions for me to come up the last two stairs, and quietly says, "Turn your pockets out then"

I pull my pockets inside out, wishing that I could make the rolls that are in my pocket disappear. The two dinner rolls I had made fall to the floor. My grandma picks them up, says, "Wait until your father finds out about this!"

I start to cry. My crying wakes up my parents, and my father comes out of his bedroom. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he squints at my grandma and I.

"What is going on?"

"Christine was downstairs. I just caught her. She stole food from the fridge," my grandma replies back.

My memory is foggy from this point on, but I do recall that I didn't sleep with my Holly Hobbie blanket or sleep in my twin bed again, after that night. Instead, as punishment, for the next month, I was made to sleep in my parent's walk-in closet with just a thin sleeping bag to cover me up. Shortly afterwards, after my grandma went home, I was moved into the spare bedroom. Locks, a bolt and an alarm were soon installed on the door. There were no more whispered requests from my sister to go to the kitchen or trips to make peanut butter sandwiches in the middle of the night.

My mission failed.


Article © Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-03-21
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