Posted on April 9, 2013 by Visionkeeper
“When ravens gather, a carcass is near.”
— Native American proverb
The four of us faced a threshold none of us wanted to cross. My sister Amanda held the door key, while we held our collective breathes as she inserted it into the lock and turned it. I was the oldest sibling, so it fell to me to open the door.
Our father had died two weeks before. Heart attack, they said. He had lived by himself in this ancient log cabin overlooking the Montana mountains for at least two dozen years by my reckoning. Over those years, one by one, his four children had gone their separate ways into distant lives. We rarely called our father or each other. Now his funeral had brought us all together to rekindle tenuous bonds and ignite old animosities.
Over dinner last night we had agreed to spend today pawing through dad’s belongings and taking whatever mementos we wanted. I had my heart set on an old pair of wood and rawhide snowshoes Dad hung over his fireplace. I had watched a beautiful Indian maiden make them when I was a boy and still treasured the memory of the spell they cast on me as they took shape before my eyes. She gave them to dad as a gift and he would never part with them, but now dad was dearly departed, leaving the snowshoes to whoever snatched them from the mantle first. My selfishness struck me as horribly shallow. I didn’t care.
Late October rain falling from low dark clouds leaked through cracks in dad’s porch roof. The four of us huddled under his small overhang, water puddling around our mud-caked boots, wrestling with our varying degrees of guilt.
But as soon as I opened the door a crack, all thoughts of remorse and snowshoes disappeared. The smell assaulting us was a mixture of damp wood ash, rotted animal skins, old age, and a house that had never met a bar of soap.
“Oh my gawd,” Amanda drawled, “The stench.”
Middle brother Tim, and the youngest, Lucy, stood silently behind us, maintaining the established sibling pecking order. I eased Amanda aside and entered dad’s mudroom. I’m not a large man, just short of six foot and thinly made, but I could barely sidle through the narrow aisle made by stacks of paper piled nearly ceiling high, front to back, wall to wall, and on top of every available surface. Shelves, counters, tables, chairs… nothing escaped the burden of paper towers laid out like a miniature city of white skyscrapers.
It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the dim interior before I could see what all this paper meant. I selected one from a stack and my heart stopped.
“Randy,” Amanda urged from behind, “Move!” Her small hand tapped my shoulder. “Let us in.”
I moved forward to let them enter the house, enduring another “Oh my gawd,” from Amanda as she spied the stacks of paper. Somehow I didn’t think Gawd had any part in this.
“What is this?” Lucy cried, head swiveling around on her thin Barbie neck.
“Looks like we have ourselves a real live pack rat,” Tim replied.
“Not funny, Tim,” Amanda scolded.
Tim was an accountant and quickly picked up what all the stacks represented… thousands of financial statements, from brokerages, banks, investment bankers, retirement funds, mutual funds, commodity firms… He thumbed through a stack with quick accountant fingers. All he could say was, “Oh my gawd.”
I’ve always been the pragmatist of the group. My second thought, the one following behind the realization that my father was obscenely rich, was whether or not he’d left a will. He had never mentioned one. I had never bothered to ask, but then there had never been a hint he had a reason to make one. As far we knew, all he owned was this run-down cabin and a few acres of property more fit for a weekend hunting cabin than a homestead. How had all this happened and none of us had known?
I wandered through the cityscape of paper, mesmerized by what they represented. A deep sadness wrapped around me like an oiled canvas duster; for all the things dad could have done, the places he could have seen, the life he could have had.
Then followed a most uncharitable thought; that I would not squander all this wealth by living in a dank cabin in the middle of nowhere, a cabin so old sunlight leaked through holes of long missing log chinking. Magnificent material fantasies rushed through my head, like a rerun from all the times we dream of what we’d buy after winning the lottery.
But my siblings were way ahead of me. “We’re rich!” Lucy cried! Always the blurter of the obvious, she was already spending her share on vacuous hairdos and tacky jewelry. “I can have a mansion!” she said, “and a pool!” And we all just ignored her like we always did.
The cabin settled around us like a dark obsession. This was all wrong. There was something missing, and it wasn’t just the snowshoes I noticed were no longer hanging over dad’s mantle. That was a clue, and there were others, but we didn’t see them right away. We were too busy absorbing the fact our father was someone none of us had known.
We spread out, navigating through the debris of paper wealth. We’d grown accustomed to the odor by now; dirty dishes piled in the sink dwarfed the detritus of decay. “He could at least have afforded a maid,” Amanda muttered to herself.
I spotted a sepia photo in a birch wood frame atop one of the paper stacks. I recognized the face immediately; it was the Indian maiden (I’d always thought of her as a “squaw,” although in later years I understood this to be a derogatory term) who had made dad’s snowshoes. She had braided her long hair in typical Indian maiden fashion. I recalled she was from the Blackfoot tribe and had grown up on the reservation near what is now the eastern side of Glacier Park. Her smile was soft and winsome, yet her dark eyes betrayed an impenetrable sadness. Still she was beautiful, and the photo captured a memory identical with my own.
“Who’s that?” Amanda asked, peering over my shoulder.
“A Blackfoot girl dad knew. She made snowshoes,” I replied, realizing that was all I knew about her.
“What was her name?” Amanda asked.
“White Dove,” Tim replied, looking up from one of the bank statements.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“JTWROS,” Tim said.
“Is that some stupid blog thing?” Lucy snipped. “I never heard that one.”
“No Luce, it means Joint Tenants With Rights Of Survivorship.”
“Ut oh,” Amanda said, snatching the paper from Tim. She scanned it quickly, then grabbed another, and another, noting the name White Dove appeared on every one of them. “We’re screwed!” she cried. “He left everything to a squaw!”
“Now wait…” I said.
“We’ll fight this tooth and nail,” Lucy cried, brandishing her long red fingernails like a cat. “Tooth and nail!”
“Good luck with that, Luce,” Tim said, dropping the rest of papers to the floor. “We haven’t a single legal leg to stand on.”
“Damn it, Randy,” Amanda muttered, then turned to me with fury in her eyes, “How could you have let this happen?”
“Me? I had no idea…”
“You knew about this, this squaw, didn’t you?”
In my peripheral vision, Tim and Lucy’s heads followed our argument, a scene that had played itself out so many times in our lives that it felt like a Groundhog Day moment. I was the oldest. Everything bad that had ever happened to us was always my fault.
I glanced up to the mantle where the snowshoes should have been, then scanned the small cabin looking for evidence of a woman, but other than the photo, the place was a total man cave, devoid of color, fabrics, beadwork, or anything indicating the artful presence of a squaw. I noted how easily I had reverted to calling her that, now that she owned the incredible wealth that should rightly have been ours.
So where was this White Dove? She hadn’t been at the funeral. We certainly would have noticed her; there were only the four of us, the minister, and the EMT who’d discovered dad’s body. None of dad’s relatives came and even if they had we would not have recognized them. Our mother died giving birth to Lucy, a fate we burdened her with in inscrutable ways, and after that dad became more or less a mountain hermit. Once again I wondered how I’d allowed this mysterious White Dove to slip under my radar.
That afternoon I left my siblings to pick through the cabin flotsam and drove across the divide to the Blackfoot reservation. I had no idea how to find White Dove, but my plan was to simply ask around, figuring how many Blackfoot could there be? White men are not received with open arms on a reservation, I soon found out, but the prospect of untold wealth makes people do wondrous and foolhardy things. I endured nasty glares and downright rudeness with a bland smile, until finally I found a white guy who knew of a White Dove who lived in a trailer “past Two Medicine on the right,” by which he meant the lake. Late afternoon found me following a hilly dirt road through an aspen grove on the edge of utter wilderness.
Tentative sunlight through golden aspen leaves imbued the rundown trailer with a welcoming warmness it did nothing to deserve — bald tires and rusted metal scraps being the main yard decorations. A small brown puppy tied to a rope yelped at me as I pulled up and got out of my car. A pall of wood smoke hung in the air. If this was White Dove’s home, it made dad’s look downright pristine and prosperous.
I knocked on the scarred front door. A window curtain fluttered, followed by the sound of scuffling feet, and the door opened. A wizened face haloed by a cloud of white hair stared out at me.
“I’m looking for White Dove. Does she live here?”
“I’m White Dove,” the face answered. Only a tattered gray housecoat gave the hint I was looking at a woman.
“My name is Randy Oglevy,” I said. “George Oglevy’s son.”
She looked me up and down, expressionless, weary, and not particularly interested. She said nothing.
“You knew my father?”
A slight nod, taking in the past tense.
“He died two weeks ago.”
“I know,” she said.
At this point, I had come to end of my plan. I had been so focused on finding White Dove I had failed to consider what I would say once I found her. I had driven over a hundred miles, across a steep mountain pass. If White Dove and my father were such close friends, why did so many miles of empty wilderness separate them?
“How did you find out, way over here?” I asked.
“My son told me.”
“How did he know?”
“What do you want?” she asked, weariness finally getting the better of her civility.
“My father had a lot of money. It apparently belongs to you now.”
Eyes clouded by age moved up and down my body, taking my measure, conjuring my angle, assessing my veracity. A lie detector would not do as thorough a job. Then she closed the door, leaving me standing on the stoop, stupefied.
A moment passed while I thought about what to do next. Just as I was about to leave, the door opened again and a pair of snowshoes appeared. I took them from gnarled hands. They looked just like the ones from dad’s fireplace.
“This is what you came for,” White Dove said. “And it’s more than you deserve.” Then she stepped back into the gloom and closed the door.
We hired a local lawyer to handle dad’s probate. There was no will, so the cabin and land passed to us and eventually sold with a minimum of bickering. White Dove received what we learned was in excess of $8 million. We took turns calling the account executives named on the various broker statements, but none of them would tell us how dad had acquired all this money. They all agreed, however, that it all belonged to White Dove.
Years later, whenever I would think about my father’s death, it seemed as though the money itself had sprouted white dove wings and flown off in a snowy winter wind, while I stood watching helpless, pasted firmly to earth in my magic snowshoes. By: Raven
Thanks to: http://oneworldrising.wordpress.com