Our final guest author is the talented western and mystery author, Paty Jager, with her gifted short story. Enjoy!
Catch a dream and hold it in your heart.
Shandra Higheagle stirred her cup of tea and reread the letter written in her grandmother’s scrawling penmanship requesting Shandra attend the drum ceremony after her funeral. Shandra knew nothing of the drum ceremony her grandmother requested she attend. For that matter she knew little of her grandmother other than she was a Nez Perce elder, grieved her son as much as Shandra grieved her deceased father, and Ella, Grandmother, had touched Shandra in a way she didn’t understand as a teenager twenty years ago.
Memories of that summer emerged as Shandra thought of her grandmother.
Shandra had been angry with her mother and stepfather. They’d chosen to take a month long summer vacation and leave her home with the housekeeper and ranch hands.
Shandra had other ideas.
After her parents left, Shandra asked for a ride to Missoula from a ranch hand. There she boarded a bus to take her to Brewster, Washington. From there she’d hitchhike to the Colville Indian Reservation where her grandmother and aunt lived. With forty dollars in her pocket and a backpack carrying her music, art supplies, and two pair of clothes, she’d stepped out of the bus at the station in Brewster.
A woman with a gray braid tucked into a beaded bun wrap, weathered skin, and wearing moccasins, jeans, a white blouse, and silver earrings and necklace walked up to Shandra.
“Welcome, Shandra. I am your grandmother.” The woman extended her hand and smiled.
“How do you know who I am and that I was arriving?” Shandra knew by the woman’s features she was her grandmother. She only had one photo of her father and his family. Over the years she’d spent countless hours staring at the photo and then herself in the mirror, trying to learn more about her side of the family that her mother and stepfather refused to acknowledge.
Grandmother, or Ella as her grandmother told her was the word for grandmother in Nez Perce, smiled and said softly. “When a bird returns to the nest, the mama bird knows.” She motioned. “Come we must return by dinner time.”
Shandra fell in step beside her grandmother, taking furtive side-long glances at her. She walked straight and tall with an assurance Shandra remembered in her father.
“Really. How did you know I was here? I didn’t tell anyone I was coming to see you.” Shandra thought hard. She’d told no one and had caught a ride to Missoula after telling the housekeeper she was spending the night with a friend.
“But you dreamed. Your dreams go into the air and anyone who knows how to look can find them.” Ella stopped at the driver side of an old, faded green pickup.
Shandra stared at her grandmother. “You didn’t know I was coming from my dreams. I don’t dream.” The comment was partially true. She didn’t know if it was because she’d had a dream about losing her father before he died or because she didn’t sleep soundly enough, but she rarely had dreams.
Ella slid in behind the steering wheel and motioned for Shandra to climb in. “You do not have to be asleep to dream. Many dream of their futures as they walk down the street or sit outside staring at the stars.” The vehicle revved, and they shot away from the curb.
Shandra clutched the door handle as Ella punched the pickup into the traffic. Luckily, they soon turned off the busy road, traveling over gravel roads. The pickup rattled and clanged making conversation hard. Shandra didn’t feel like yelling to be heard. She pulled out her CD player and stared at the scenery. They drove through country covered with sagebrush and juniper. The two plants her stepfather hated most. He paid good money to make sure not a sagebrush or juniper grew on his Montana cattle ranch.
They traveled for two hours over gravel roads, passing through woods and finally other than an occasional building, she spied what looked like a town.
“That’s the Trading Post store and gas station.” Ella pointed to a long building with gas pumps in front of it. “Over there is the agency buildings. That grassy area on the left is where we hold powwows once a year.”
Shandra had known coming to the reservation would be different from what she was used to, at the moment fear had started to override the anger she’d used to get her this far. She instinctively knew her grandmother wouldn’t hurt her or let anyone hurt her, but that didn’t stop the swelling of unease that she shouldn’t have come.
They entered what appeared to be a small town. Ella waved to several people. The men had braids, the women wore long skirts. Little kids ran around the dirt and weed yards.
“This is Nespelem. Your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather are buried here,” Ella said.
“What about my great-grandmother? Isn’t she buried here?” Not that she wanted to know, but she didn’t like how Ella only referred to the men. In her short thirteen years, Shandra had yet to run into a male who warranted special treatment.
“Your great-grandmother is buried alongside your great-grandfather. She would be pleased you have come to visit.” Ella swung off the main road through town and guided the pickup down a bumpy gravel road. “Your Aunt Josephine is excited to see you. The last time we saw you, you were very small.”
The pickup veered down a road. After fifteen minutes of bumping slowly over ruts through the pine trees Shandra saw a large barn with corrals and a small two story farmhouse.
“This is the ranch where your grandfather and father spoke to horses. They trained many and we still breed good stock today.” Ella stopped the pickup beside the house. Three large dogs came bounding around the side of the house. Ella talked to them in a language Shandra didn’t know and all three dogs stopped and sat, waiting.
“What did you say?” Shandra patted each dog on the head as she and Ella walked by.
“I told them to show respect. If you show an animal respect, they will give it to you in return. Same with people.” Ella opened the back door of the house.
Wonderful smells circled Shandra’s head. On the trip she’d only purchased junk food and water. It was another way to rebel against being left at home. At least that was her way of thinking.
A younger version of Ella stood in the middle of the kitchen. Her face glowed with good humor and steam from cooking. “Welcome! I’m your Aunt Jo.” She wrapped her arms around Shandra and hugged. Her stomach was round and hard. Her aunt was pregnant.
Shandra stood still, her arms at her sides. She didn’t know this woman. They might be family, but it was a family Shandra knew nothing about. She didn’t even hug the family she knew.
“Shandra is hungry and tired,” Ella said, motioning for her to sit at the table.
Shandra looped her backpack over the back of a chair and sat. Aunt Jo set bowls and platters of food on the table. Shandra noticed the table was set for four.
Within minutes, stomping at the back door ushered in a tall, broad-shouldered man. He had dark braids hanging down the front of his chest, a big smile, and friendly dark brown eyes.
“This is my husband, Martin Elwood.” Aunt Jo’s eyes shone like stars as she looked at her husband. “Martin, this is our niece, Shandra.”
Her uncle held out his hand. “Welcome. What brings you out for a visit?”
Shandra shook his hand and stared at her grandmother. Never one for lies or tales she said, “Mother and Adam left for a month, and I didn’t want to stay at home with the housekeeper.”
Ella smiled. “I’m glad you came to visit.”
Shandra had expected questions and reprimands for heading out on her own. Instead they started passing the food and talking about their day and the horses that were yet to foal.
After dinner, Ella led Shandra upstairs to a room at the end of the hall. “This was your father’s room. It will now be yours whenever you visit.” She opened the door and Shandra slowly walked into the room. Belt buckles, photos of her father holding up a trophy, and two pairs of silver spurs shined on the small bookcase beside the bed. “It is time you discover your father again.” Ella turned to leave.
“Wait.” Shandra’s heart raced in her chest. She didn’t want to sleep in her father’s room. “Can’t I have another room?” she asked.
Ella peered into her eyes. “Your father’s story never finished. You are part of that story. There is no other room you can sleep in.”
Shandra wasn’t sure what her grandmother was telling her, but she wasn’t as scared about staying in the room. “Okay.”
Crossing the room, Ella stopped at the head of the bed and tapped a circle with what looked like a spider web in the middle. A feather hung down from the circle. “This will catch the dreams and only allow the good dreams to slip down the feather and into your head. Sweet dreams.”
Ella grasped Shandra’s hand as she passed and muttered words in what Shandra now realized were Nez Perce.
Shandra spent the next hour reading all the inscriptions on her father’s things. Her eyelids lowered, and she could no longer stay wake. Leaving the bedside light on, she slipped between the covers and immediately fell asleep.
Dreams of her father floated through her head. He held her on a horse, played with her, and teased. She was small, but she understood his love for her and his joy to show her everything around her.
Knocking woke her.
“Time to wake. There’s work to do.” Ella’s voice carried into the room and soft footsteps moved down the hall.
Shandra stretched and felt rested. Her dreams remained fresh in her mind. All the faint memories of her father were bright and reminded Shandra he’d loved her.
Downstairs she ate breakfast of eggs and toast. Uncle Martin headed out to do the chores. Aunt Jo cleaned up the dishes, and Ella motioned for Shandra to follow her outside.
Her grandmother walked slowly toward the barn. “We raise good horses. Many people come to us for trained horses.”
“Who trains them? Uncle Martin?” Shandra said.
“We all work with the horses. It makes them more accepting of who buys them. You will help us while you’re here. I feel you are like your father. A horse talker.” Ella opened the barn door. There were stalls on one side of the barn. A couple of heads poked over the stall gates. “These fillies are expecting their first foals. Martin is keeping an eye on them.” Grandmother petted each on their noses.
Shandra reached out, allowing them to sniff her, then pet their soft noses. “Will they have their foals while I’m here?” She’d never witnessed a foal being born, only calves.
“I believe Fancy, this one—” Ella stopped at the last stall “—is ready.”
The mare stared at Shandra. Her big, brown eyes peered into hers. There was a slight dullness to the mare’s eyes. “She’s in pain,” Shandra said.
Ella smiled, nodded. “You are to stay with Fancy today and help her.”
Shandra stared at her grandmother. “I don’t know anything about a horse having a baby.” Her hands shook thinking about what could go wrong.
“Stay with her. Ease her stress. Martin and I will check in on the two of you often. If she begins birthing, come get me or your uncle.” Ella motioned to the gate. “You can go in. Fancy is gentle and only wishes company.”
Shandra unlatched the gate and walked in. Fancy was a bay appaloosa with a well-defined white blanket and large black spots on her rump.
“Fancy, I see you’re in pain.” Shandra stroked the horse’s neck and whispered the story of how she came to be in the stall. She spent several hours talking to, petting, and brushing the horse. The longer she remained with the horse, she understood the animal’s actions. When the mare hurt she needed reassurance.
Fancy lay down and curled her neck, looking at her tail.
“I’ll get Ella.” Shandra climbed the stall gate and ran to the house.
“Ella! Ella! Come she’s in pain and the foal is coming.” Shandra found Grandmother sitting in a small room beading a round circle.
She calmly set her needle and the circle down, then put a lid on the tray of beads.
“Come! She’s in pain!” Shandra wanted to get back to Fancy.
“I’m coming. Always put things away. You do not know when you may get back to it.” Grandmother stood and headed to the door. Shandra wanted to run back to the barn, but Grandmother stopped at the kitchen. She filled a bucket with warm water.
Shandra grabbed the handle of the bucket and headed to the barn. At the stall, she looked back. Grandmother was strolling along with a leather bag that looked like a shoulder purse in her hands.
“What is that? Are you going to town for a vet?” Shandra asked, unlatching the gate.
“No. This satchel has medicine to ease her pain and help with the birth.” Grandmother stepped into the stall. She said more words Shandra didn’t understand while sprinkling herbs and powders into the bucket of water.
“Make her stand to drink this.” Grandmother walked to the gate and stood.
Shandra looked down at the horse and then at Ella. “She is more comfortable on the ground.”
Ella nodded. “But she needs to drink the water. Get her up.”
Placing her hands on the animal to get her attention, Shandra felt the animal tremble. “She’s scared.”
“She trusts you. Get her up and make her drink.”
Shandra curled her fingers around the halter on the animal. “Come on, Fancy. You need to drink the water. It will help.” Gently, she pulled on the halter. “Come on. You’ll feel better.” The horse stared into her eyes then stood. Her legs shook, but she put her muzzle in the bucket and drank the water.
Shandra stared at Grandmother. “She trusted me!”
“When you care about someone they will trust you.”
A loud bark and whimpers drew Shandra from the memory. Sheba wanted in. Crossing the room to let her large, furry sidekick into the house, Shandra smiled. Grandmother’s gift that summer had taught her if you respect you will be respected. She touched the round, beaded barrette in her hair. “Thank you, Ella for teaching me respect and to dream.”
This story sets up how after her death, Shandra’s grandmother comes to her in dreams and helps her solve mysteries in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series.
Author bio. Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All Paty’s work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story.
You can learn more about Paty at
her blog; Writing into the Sunset