Summary and Analysis
Over a year after Christine receives Dayton's letter informing her that Lee is dead, Christine travels to Lee's funeral on the Montana reservation where her mother lives; the military has finally released Lee's body for burial. With Rayona lying on the passenger's seat, Christine reflects on her previous travels to and from the reservation, and she sees a vision of Lee, which unnerves her. When she finally reaches the reservation and Ida's home, Christine proudly displays Rayona to Ida, who seemingly ignores the fact that she's now a grandmother.
During the wake at Ida's, held the day before Lee's burial, Christine routinely goes through the motions necessary of her, but she realizes that everyone blames her for Lee's death: She's the person who manipulatively forced Lee into the armed services. When she asks Aunt Ida why Dayton isn't at the wake, Aunt Ida coldly responds, "He knew you'd come." Aunt Ida even goes so far as to ask Christine, "Who asked you here? . . . Who wanted you?" Lee's death doesn't bring Christine and Aunt Ida any closer emotionally.
Following the symbolic and ceremonial burial of Lee — because it's winter and the ground is frozen, Lee's body will be buried in the spring, once the ground thaws — Christine and Dayton go together to a local bar, where they talk. However, Christine is very confrontational toward Dayton, and she makes more of her Seattle life than there really is.
The next day, the tribe veterans hold a flag ceremony for Lee. During the ceremony, Christine tries to compliment Aunt Ida about how "Indian" she looks, but Aunt Ida spurns the compliments. When a man named Willard Pretty Dog approaches Aunt Ida and tries to cajole her into dancing, Aunt Ida refuses and then suddenly jumps up and joins Willard. Christine seems emotionally removed from all that's happening.
Christine's decision to attend Lee's funeral on the reservation is a signal of her growing maturity. Knowing that she will be criticized for Lee's death because she emotionally blackmailed him into enlisting into the military, she nevertheless bundles up Rayona and heads to Aunt Ida's. As she states at the Chapter's beginning, "My brother's death was a place I had to go, a thing I had to do." Her growing responsibilities include facing her painful past and her less-than-stellar treatment of both Lee and Dayton.
Another sign of Christine's growing maturity is the mixed feelings she has while traveling to Aunt Ida's. Although she has traveled the stretch of road many times before, "Today was different. The land drained the life from me, pulled me apart in all directions." Ironically, her comment "drained the life from me" reminds us of why she's traveling: Lee has no life left to drain. Resolved to act responsibly as a mother to Rayona, a sister to Lee, and a daughter to Aunt Ida, Christine acknowledges her lonely position in life yet determines that she will meet all challenges head-on: "I was alone in the world, except for my child, and she didn't even know it. I had to do the right thing and drive us through."
The mystical vision that Christine has of Lee while she's driving to the reservation underscores the fact that she is not alone in the world, no matter what she thinks. However, her vision of Lee, mounted on a flight of golden stairs, seems overly dramatic given the stark reality of her existence. Lee's appearance, especially his hair braided "in otter pelt and hanging thick to his waist," is a powerful image for Christine. Ironically, though, Christine so wants to join Lee that she consciously chooses to kill herself — and, by extension, Rayona: "This must be scaring the shit out of Ray, I thought, but I didn't stop. . . . [T]he world disappeared. I let it go with no regrets." Steeled from the experience, Christine rationalizes that one-year-old Rayona is old enough to manage for herself.
When Christine and Rayona finally reach Aunt Ida's, Christine is struck by the similarities between Rayona and Aunt Ida. Both grandmother and granddaughter have a suspicious look about them, and Christine notes that the two share physical traits as well. What is most important, however, is Christine's reaction to her mother's and daughter's similarities: "For a split second I felt betrayed by my own child." No matter how mature Christine might be, she still has the same clinging possessiveness that she demonstrated concerning Lee. Aunt Ida continues to be Christine's most dreaded enemy.
Perhaps Christine and Aunt Ida don't get along because they are so much alike. No matter how much the two women battled for Lee's affection and still battle about who owns his memory, Christine cannot overcome her dependency on Aunt Ida. Faced with the emotional void of Lee's absence, Christine searches for the only person who can help her through her suffering: Aunt Ida. "My eyes reeled to every corner for help," Christine narrates, "but finally the only thing I saw was Aunt Ida, and it was like looking into a mirror. We stared at each other over time, over Lee."
During the ceremony in the Mission gymnasium, we get our first clue about who Lee's father is. Willard Pretty Dog approaches Aunt Ida for her to dance a ceremonial dance with him, but Aunt Ida rejects his advances. However, finally she gives in and dances with him. Christine notes, "There was something going on between them that I couldn't make out, some silent argument, and it shocked me to see Aunt Ida lose." Only in Aunt Ida's narrative section will we learn who Lee's father is.
like a gaff like a large hook.
hoarfrost frozen dew that forms a white coating on grass on frosty mornings.
pinochle a game of cards for two or four people, played with a special deck of forty-eight cards.
calico brightly colored fabric.
Purple Heart a military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces who are wounded in battle.
to spell me to relieve someone from a chore for a short time so that the person can rest.
the Consecration the sanctification of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ for use in Communion.
missal a book containing all the prayers and responses for celebrating the mass.
Requiescat in pace Latin, meaning "rest in peace."
the can the bathroom.