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Borders Thomas King
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So I was surprised when she bought two new tires for the car and put on her blue dress with the green. and yellow flowers I had to dress up too for my mother did not want us crossing the border looking like. Americans We packed sandwiches and put them in a big box with pop and potato chips and some apples and. bananas and a big jar of water, But we can stop at one of those restaurants too right. We maybe should take some blankets in case you get sleepy. But we can stop at one of those restaurants too right The border was actually two towns though. neither one was big enough to amount to anything Coutts was on the Canadian side and consisted of the. convenience store and gas station the museum that was closed and boarded up and a motel Sweetgrass. was on the American side but all you could see was the overpass that arched across the highway and. disappeared into the prairies Just hearing the names of these towns you would expect that Sweetgrass. which is a nice feeling and sounds like it is related to other places such as Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw and. Kicking Horse Pass would be on the Canadian side and that Coutts which sounds abrupt and rude would. be on the American side But this was not the case, Between the two borders was a duty free shop where you could buy cigarettes and liquor and flags. Stuff like that, We left the reserve in the morning and drove until we got to Coutts. Last time we stopped here my mother said you had an Orange Crush you remember that. Sure I said That was when Laetitia took off, You want another Orange Crush. That means we re not going to stop at a restaurant right. My mother got a coffee at the convenience store and we stood around and watched the prairies move. in the sunlight Then we climbed back in the car My mother straightened the dress across her thighs leaned. against the wheel and drove all the way to the border in first gear slowly as if she were trying to see through. a bad storm or riding high on black ice, The border guard was an old guy As he walked to the car he swayed from side to side his feet set.
wide apart the holster on his hip pitching up and down He leaned into the window looked into the back seat. and looked at my mother and me, Morning ma am, Good morning. Where you heading, Salt Lake City, Purpose of your visit. Visit my daughter, Citizenship, Blackfoot my mother told him. Blackfoot my mother repeated, It would have been easier if my mother had just said Canadian and been done with it but I could see. she wasn t going to do that The guard wasn t angry or anything He smiled and looked towards the building. Then he turned back and nodded, Morning ma am, Good morning.
Any fire or tobacco, Citizenship, He told us to sit in the car and wait and we did In about five minutes another guard came out with. the first guard They were talking as they came both men swaying back and forth like two cowboys headed for. a bar or a gunfight, Morning ma am, Good morning, Cecil tells me you and the boy are Blackfoot. That s right, Now I know that we got Blackfeet on the American side and the Canadians got Blackfeet on their. side Just so we can keep our records straight what side do you come from. I knew exactly what my mother was going to say and I could have told them if they had asked me. Canadian side or American side asked the guard, Blackfoot side she said. It didn t take them long to lose their sense of humour I can tell you that The one guard stopped. smiling altogether and told us to park our car at the side of the building and come in We sat on a wood bench. for about an hour before anyone came over to talk to us This time it was a woman She had a gun too. Hi she said I m Inspector Pratt I understand there is a little misunderstanding. I m going to visit my daughter in Salt Lake City my mother told her We don t have any guns or. It s a legal technicality that s all, My daughter s Blackfoot too.
The woman opened a briefcase and took out a couple of forms and began to write on one of them. Everyone who crosses our border has to declare their citizenship Even Americans It helps us keep. track of the visitors we get from the various countries. She went on like that for maybe fifteen minutes and a lot of the stuff she told us was interesting. I can understand how you feel about having to tell us your citizenship and here s what I ll do You tell. me and I won t put it down on the form No one will know but you and me. Her gun was silver There were several chips in the wood handle and the name Stella was scratched. into the metal butt, We were in the border office for about four hours and we talked to almost everyone there One of. the men bought me a Coke My mother brought a couple of sandwiches in from the car I offered part of mine. to Stella but she said she wasn t hungry, I told Stella that we were Blackfoot and Canadian but she said that that didn t count because I was a. minor In the end she told us that if my mother didn t declare her citizenship we would have to go back to. where we came from My mother stood up and thanked Stella for her time Then we got back in the car and. drove to the Canadian border which was only about a hundred yards away. I was disappointed I hadn t seen Laetitia for a long time and I had never been to Salt Lake City When. she was still at home Laetitia would go on and on about Salt Lake City She had never been there but her. boyfriend Lester Tallbull had spent a year in Salt Lake at a technical school. It s a great place Lester would say Nothing but blondes in the whole state. Whenever he said that Laetitia would slug him on his shoulder hard enough to make him flinch. He had some brochures on Salt Lake and some maps and every so often the. two of them would spread them out on the table, That s the temple It s right downtown You got to have a pass to get in. Charlotte says anyone can go in and look around, When was Charlotte in Salt Lake Just when the hell was Charlotte in Salt Lake. This is Liberty Park It s got a zoo There s good skiing in the mountains. Got all the skiing we can use my mother would say People come from all over the world to ski. at Banff Cardston s got a temple if you like those kinds of things. Oh this one is real big Lester would say They got armed guards and everything. Not what Charlotte says, What does she know, Lester and Laetitia broke up but I guess the idea of Salt Lake stuck in her mind.
The Canadian border guard was a young woman and she seemed happy to see us. Hi she said You folks sure have a great day for a trip Where are you coming from. Is that in Montana, Where are you going, The woman s name was Carol and I don t guess she was any older than Laetitia. Wow you both Canadians, Really I have a friend I went to school with who is Blackfoot Do you know Mike Harley. He went to school in Lethbridge but he s really from Browning. It was a nice conversation and there were no cars behind us so there was no rush. You re not bringing any liquor back are you, Any cigarettes or plants or stuff like that. Citizenship, I know said the woman and I d be proud of being Blackfoot if I were Blackfoot But you have to be. American or Canadian, When Laetitia and Lester broke up Lester took his brochures and maps with him so Laetitia wrote to.
someone in Salt Lake City and about a month later she got a big envelope of stuff We sat at the table and. opened up all the brochures and Laetitia read each one out loud. Salt Lake City is the gateway to some of the world s most magnificent skiing. Salt Lake City is the home of one of the newest professional basketball franchises the Utah Jazz. The Great Salt Lake is one of the natural wonders of the world. It was kind of exciting seeing all those color brochures on the table and listening to Laetitia read all. about how Salt Lake City was one of the best places in the entire world. That Salt Lake City place sounds too good to be true my mother told her. It has everything, We got everything right here, It s boring here. People in Salt Lake City are probably sending away for brochures of Calgary and Lethbridge and. Pincher Creek right now, In the end my mother would say that maybe Laetitia should go to Salt Lake City and Laetitia would say. that maybe she would, We parked the car to the side of the building and Carol let us into a small room on the second floor I. found a comfortable spot on the couch and flipped through some back issues of Saturday Night and Alberta. When I woke up my mother was just coming out of another office She didn t say a word to me I. followed her down the stairs and out to the car I thought we were going home but she turned the car. around and drove back towards the American border which made me think we were going to visit Laetitia in. Salt Lake City after all Instead she pulled into the parking lot of the dutyfree store and stopped. We going to see Laetitia, We going home, Pride is a good thing to have you know Laetitia had a lot of pride and so did my mother I figured. that someday I d have it too, So where are we going.
Most of that day we wandered around the duty free store which wasn t very large The manager had. a name tag with a tiny American flag on one side and a tiny Canadian flag on the other His name was Mel. Towards evening he began suggesting that we should be on our way I told him we had nowhere to go that. neither the Americans nor the Canadians would let us in He laughed at that and told us that we should buy. something or leave, The car was not very comfortable but we did have all that food and it was April so even if it did snow. as it sometimes does on the prairies we wouldn t freeze The next morning my mother drove to the American. It was a different guard this time but the questions were the same We didn t spend as much time in. the office as we had the day before By noon we were back at the Canadian border By two we were back in. the duty free shop parking lot, The second night in the car was not as much fun as the first but my mother seemed in good spirits. and all in all it was as much an adventure as an inconvenience There wasn t much food left and that was a. problem but we had lots of water as there was a faucet at the side of the duty free shop. One Sunday Laetitia and I were watching television Mom was over at Mrs Manyfingers s Right in. the middle of the program Laetitia turned off the set and said she was going to Salt Lake City that life. around here was too boring I had wanted to see the rest of the program and really didn t care if Letitia went. to Salt Lake City or not When Mom got home I told her what Letitia had said. What surprised me was how angry Laetitia got when she found out that I had told Mom. You got a big mouth, That s what you said, What I said is none of your business. I didn t say anything, Well I m going for sure now. That weekend Laetitia packed her bags and we drove her to the border. Mel turned out to be friendly When he closed up for the night and found us still parked in the lot he. came over and asked us if our car was broken down or something My mother thanked him for his concern. and told him that we were fine that things would get straightened out in the morning. You re kidding said Mel You d think they could handle the simple things. We got some apples and a banana I said but we re all out of ham sandwiches. You know you read about these things but you just don t believe it You just don t believe it. Hamburgers would be even better because they got more stuff for energy. My mother slept in the back seat I slept in the front because I was smaller and could lie under the. steering wheel Late that night I heard my mother open the car door I found her sitting on her blanket. leaning against the bumper of the car, You see all those stars she said When I was a little girl my grandmother used to take me and my.
sisters out on the prairies and tell us stories about all the stars. Do you think Mel is going to bring us any hamburgers. Every one of those stars has a story You see that bunch of stars over there that look like a fish. He didn t say no, Coyote went fishing one day That s how it all started We sat out under the stars that night and my. mother told me all sorts of stories She was serious about it too She d tell them slow repeating parts as she. went as if she expected me to remember each one, Early the next morning the television vans began to arrive and guys in suits and women in dresses. came trotting over to us dragging microphones and cameras and lights behind them One of the vans had. a table set up with orange juice and sandwiches and fruit It was for the crew but when I told them we. hadn t eaten for a while a really skinny blonde woman told us we could eat as much as we wanted. They mostly talked to my mother Every so often one of the reporters would come over and ask me. questions about how it felt to be an Indian without a country I told them we had a nice house on the reserve. and that my cousins had a couple of horses we rode when we went fishing Some of the television people. went over to the American border and then they went to the Canadian border. Around noon a good looking guy in a dark blue suit and an orange tie with little ducks on it drove up in. a fancy car He talked to my mother for a while and after they were done talking my mother called me over. and we got into our car, Just as my mother started the engine Mel came over and gave us a bag of peanut brittle and told us. against the wheel and drove all the way to the border in first gear slowly as if she were trying to see through a bad storm or riding high on black ice The border guard was an old guy As he walked to the car he swayed from side to side his feet set wide apart the holster on his hip pitching up and down He leaned into the window looked

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