Like many of you, the Kerfoot family is gathering for Christmas. Eva’s sister, Nan, has flown in. Daughter Shawn along with Husband Kevin, Tanner and Emma drove up yesterday. We have a couple neighbors who will also be joining us for dinner tomorrow. It will be an overflowing table – just what I like to see.
Today I have been thinking about Christmas years ago at Gunflint. In remote areas like this, everyone who would otherwise be alone was invited for Christmas dinner. At Gunflint we always have dinner at 1:00. This allowed our Native American neighbors to snowshoe across the lake and return before dark.
Justine told me that about 12:00 she would see a single file line make its way across the lake. In addition to turkey, Mom always cooked a venison or moose roast. Netowance Plummer did not eat “store bought” meat. Mom figured she must have gotten sick from a bad piece of meat at some time.
Conversation consisted of lots of smiles since Netowance officially did not speak any English. Bruce told me that she would occasionally speak to him in English because he was a little boy and children didn’t count. After dinner, everyone would join around the table and play poker – a game that required a minimum of talking.
By the time Bruce and I were married Awbutch Plummer (Netowance’s daughter) and Charlie Cook, her nephew, were the only Native Americans still living full time on Gunflint Lake. Also by then they did not snowshoe across the lake, they came on their snowmobiles. We still ate at 1:00.
Neither Charlie nor Butchie could read or write but that lack should not be confused with a lack of intelligence or good manners. One Christmas I personally saw Butchie elbow Charlie as she reminded him to use his salad folk. Our friends were very polite and knew as much as we did about good manners. If in doubt as to which piece of silverware to use, they just waited to see what everyone else did.
One year we had a Chicago lawyer and his family for dinner. Bruce explained to Marlin the fact that Charlie did not read or write. He also suggested some topics that Marlin and Charlie might talked about as they waited for dinner. When those were exhausted, Charlie looked for something to read. The only available paper was the Wall Street Journal in the days when it did not have any pictures. Marlin was very surprised to see Charlie calmly looking at the Journal until he realized that Charlie was holding it upside down.
Tomorrow we will have a wonderful day and dinner but I miss having Butchie and Charlie at my table. Christmas dinner was a true treat for them. Once you learned to talk about woods topics, they had lots to say. I knew so little about the woods that Butchie pleasantly treated me like a 5th grade child. Once she told me the names of the trees and she had a story about each one. I could remember them much easier than if Bruce had just rattled off the names.
I am sure that all of you have memories of Christmas years ago. This is the time to bring out those memories and cherish them. Many of the people at those dinners are now gone but we should never forget them. I wish I had paid more attention to the stories those old timers could have told me. They were an amazing group of people.
From the Kerfoot family to your family, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.