I Once Knew an Indian Woman by Ebbitt Cutler

By Ebbitt Cutler

A memoir of adolescence summers spent in a Laurentian village and of an Indian lady who lived in accordance with her historic code of braveness and humanity. A heartwarming story.

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It was the way she did things, the care she took. She ironed cotton sheets as if they were made of silk and men’s shirts as if they belonged to a lover. Remembering those neat rows of baskets along her wall with the clothes flawlessly folded and waiting to be picked up, and thinking of the machine-washed and machine-ironed clothes our laundries send back today with, as my mother would have said, “all the good taken out of them,” I wonder if those women with summer “homes” at the big lake appreciated her.

Because of the laundry, Madame Dey’s house — both sides of it — always smelled of Javelle water and starch. Behind it, strung across her vegetable garden, long lines of sheets and shirts waved snappingly. The thin French-Canadian from the city who ran the post office-general store as if it were a short-staffed military headquarters under perpetual siege had little time for pleasantries. M. he even managed a smile and a reference to the weather; he said he could always tell whether an uncertain morning would clear or not simply by looking out to see if Madame Dey had put up her wash.

We can’t leave the boy like that for his parents to find,” she said, over and over. As we reached the door of her house, she stopped suddenly. “I’m going to bring him here,” she announced. ” my mother said, aghast. ” “I am,” she said, and we followed her back to the station, hypnotized by her plan. ” The station master shrugged. He unlocked the baggage room door and went back to his office. Madame Dey looked at the dead man, put out her hand and forced his eyes closed; then lifting the handles of the wagon, she pushed it outside.

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