Gathering of Flowers: Stories About Being Young in America

Gathering of Flowers: Stories About Being Young in America


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780064470827
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/28/1992
Series: Trophy Keypoint Book Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 4.16(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.64(d)
Lexile: 890L (what's this?)
Age Range: 13 - 12 Years

About the Author

Joyce Carol Thomas is an internationally renowned author who received the National Book Award for her first novel, Marked By Fire, and a Coretta Scott King Honor for her first picture book, Brown Honey In Broomwheat Tea. Her other titles include I Have Heard Of A Land, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book; The Gospel Cinderella; cCrowning Glory; Gingerbread Days; and A Gathering Of Flowers. Ms. Thomas lives in Berkeley, California.

Read an Excerpt

Almost A Whole Trickster

Gerald Vizenor
Uncle Clement told me last night that he knows almost everything. Almost, that's his nickname and favorite word in stories, lives with me and my mother in a narrow house on the Leech Lake Chippewa Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.

Last night, just before dark, we drove into town to meet my cousin at the bus depot and to buy rainbow ice cream in thick brown cones. Almost sat in the backseat of our old car and started his stories the minute we were on the dirt road around the north side of the lake to town. The wheels bounced and the car doors shuddered and raised thick clouds of dust. He told me about the time he almost started an ice cream store when he came back from the army. My mother laughed and turned to the side. The car rattled on the washboard road. She shouted, "I heard that one before!"

"Almost!" he shouted back.

"What almost happened?" I asked. My voice bounced with the car.

"Well, it was winter then," he said. Fine brown dust settled on his head and the shoulders of his overcoat. "Too cold for ice cream in the woods, but the idea came to mind in the summer, almost."

"Almost, you know almost everything about nothing," my mother shouted and then laughed, "or almost nothing about almost everything."

"Pincher, we're almost to the ice cream," he said, and brushed me on the head with his hard right hand. He did that to ignore what my mother said about what he knows. Clouds of dust covered the trees behind us on both sides of the road.

Almost is my great-uncle and he decides on our nicknames, even the nicknames for my cousins who livein the cities and visit the reservation in the summer. Pincher, the name he gave me, was natural because I pinched my way through childhood. I learned about the world between two fingers. I pinched everything, or almost everything as my uncle would say. I pinched animals, insects, leaves, water, fish, ice cream, the moist night air, winter breath, snow, and even words, the words I could see, or almost see. I pinched the words and learned how to speak sooner than my cousins. Pinched words are easier to remember. Some words, like government and grammar, are unnatural, never seen and never pinched. Who could pinch a word like grammar?

Almost named me last winter when my grandmother was sick with pneumonia and died on the way to the public health hospital. She had no teeth and covered her mouth when she smiled, almost a child. I sat in the backseat of the car and held her thin brown hand. Even her veins were hidden, it was so cold that night. On the road we pinched summer words over the hard snow and ice. She smiled and said papakine, papakine, over and over. That means cricket or grasshopper in our tribal language and we pinched that word together. We pinched papakine in the backseat of our cold car on the way to the hospital. Later she whispered bisanagami sibi, the river is still, and then she died. My mother straightened my grandmother's fingers, but later, at the wake in our house, she'd pinched a summer word and we could see that. She was buried in the cold earth with a warm word between her fingers. That's when my uncle gave me my nickname.

Almost never told lies, but he used the word almost to stretch the truth like a tribal trickster, my mother told me. The trickster is a character in stories, an animal, or person, even a tree at times, who pretends the world can be stopped with words, and he frees the world in stories. Almost said the trickster is almost a man and almost a woman, and almost a child, a clown, who laughs and plays games with words in stories. The trickster is almost a free spirit. Almost told me about the trickster many times, and I think I almost understand his stories. He brushed my head with his hand and said, "The almost world is a better world, a sweeter dream than the world we are taught to understand in school."

"I understand, almost," I told my uncle.

"People are almost stories, and stories tell almost the whole truth," Almost told me last winter when he gave me my nickname. "Pincher is your nickname and names are stories too, gega." The word gega means almost in the Anishinaabe or Chippewa language.

"Pincher gega," I said, and then tried to pinch a tribal word I could not yet see clear enough to hold between my fingers. I could almost see gega.

Almost, no matter the season, wore a long dark overcoat. He bounced when he walked, and the thick bottom of the overcoat hit the ground. The sleeves were too short but he never minded that because he could eat and deal cards with no problems. So there he was in line for a rainbow ice cream cone dressed for winter, or almost winter he would say. My mother wonders if he wears that overcoat for the attention.

"Gega, gega," an old woman called from the end of the line. "You spending some claims money on ice cream or a new coat?" No one ignored his overcoat.

"What's that?" answered Almost. He cupped his ear to listen because he knew the old woman wanted to move closer, ahead in the line. The claims money she mentioned is a measure of everything in the reservation. The federal government promised to settle a treaty over land with tribal people. Almost and thousands of others had been waiting for more than a century to be paid for land that was taken from them. There were rumors at least once a week that federal checks were in the mail, final payment for the broken treaties.

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