Uncle Leroy’s Big Idea (Part 1)

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This is an excerpt from the book Indians on Vacation by Thomas King.

At some point in the story of Uncle Leroy and the Crow bundle, Bernie would touch on the drinking.

“Leroy was no drunk,” she would say, “but he did drink. And Mr. Nelson or Wilson was one of those born-againers. Man thought he could talk to god when he was really just mumbling to himself. Drinking, according to Mr. Indian agent, led to singing, and singing led to dancing. Man would have banned laughing. Would have made smiling a hanging offence.

“One year, this Wilson or Nelson organized a sports day at the same time as the Sun Dance, to try to lure people away from Belly Buttes. And he ordered the buffalo tongues mutilated, so that the women couldn’t use them in the ceremony.”

“You never knew the man,” Mimi reminded her mother. “You weren’t even born yet.”

“Stories don’t die. Stories stay alive so long as they’re told.”

Bernie would make another pot of coffee and break out the special chocolate-covered cookies as she worked her way to the heart of the matter.

“There was this bootlegger from around Missoula. Donald somebody. Like the duck. Drug dealer. Back then it was alcohol. Today it’s other stuff. So, Donald the Duck would bring his booze onto the reserve, and Leroy would find him or he would find Leroy. Didn’t much matter. The result was always the same. Leroy would get drunk, and when he got drunk, he would do something stupid.”

“This is where Uncle Leroy paints the guy’s house?”

“Stop getting ahead of the story. I raised you better than that.”

Sometimes Bernie would tell the story quick, and sometimes she would draw it out.

“Like I said, in those days, you had to have a pass to leave the reserve. Signed by the agent. Leroy didn’t pay much attention to that rule, and every time he left the reserve without a pass, that agent would try to have him arrested. And every time Leroy asked that agent for a pass to leave the reserve, Nelson or Wilson would turn him down.”

Even if you didn’t know the story, you knew that this kind of a situation was bound to go bad at some point.

“Nelson or Wilson had a house. Government issue. It wasn’t a big house. The roof leaked a little, and it didn’t have no better insulation than a plastic sack. It was painted white, but that didn’t last long. Cold winters and hard winds stripped the paint away until there was nothing left but the wood. You need me to draw you a picture?”

“Nope. I can see it.”

“So this one time, Donald the Duck brought his wagonload of booze onto the reserve, and before long, Leroy found him. And not long after that, Leroy got his big idea.”

You can read part two of this story here and learn more about Uncle Leroy’s big idea.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Indians on Vacation – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Meet Bird and Mimi in this brilliant new novel from one of Canada’s foremost authors. Inspired by a handful of old postcards sent by Uncle Leroy nearly a hundred years earlier, Bird and Mimi attempt to trace Mimi’s long-lost uncle and the family medicine bundle he took with him to Europe.

By turns witty, sly and poignant, this is the unforgettable tale of one couple’s holiday trip to Europe, where their wanderings through its famous capitals reveal a complicated history, both personal and political.

Copyright © 2020 by Thomas King.

More details on Goodreads can be found here.

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