Excerpt: 'Home,' by John Edwards

We saw my father often, though, at the third house, a sheep camp where the family stayed during the early spring of each year to lamb and shear our flock. This was a one-room house measuring about 10' x 15', with a wood-burning kitchen stove, a fireplace that we never used, and a large homemade table with benches. There was a makeshift cabinet that held the kitchenware, and against a wall was a bedroll for my parents, who slept on the floor. Children and whoever else was there helping with the flocks would sleep outside in the open on homemade mattresses or pelts. When my father's siblings consolidated their flocks for lambing and shearing, there could be fifteen people staying together. Given the ratio of people to space, the sheep camp house was mostly used for cooking, eating, and shelter from the wind and cold. After the lambing and shearing season, our father and the older children would take the flock to a higher elevation and greener pastures. The children returned home just before school started in mid-August.

Growing up on the reservation was very structured -- our parents and our tribe had high expectations. From a very early age, we had chores to do before we were allowed to play -- chopping wood, going for water from the village pump, hoeing in the garden. We learned that we should never have to be asked to help, nor should we expect to be paid. We were taught to respect our elders, and always to address them according to their relationship to us -- Uncle, Brother, Grandfather.

It was a lot of work at the sheep camp, but we had fun, too. Every day we would compete to see who could find the most bird nests and arrowheads while herding. At the end of each day we'd gather at the kitchen table to show each other the arrowheads we found, each of us judging the legitimacy of the others' findings and tallying up the "credits." Some nights, we'd have pudding, made in a container lined with cornhusks, and everyone would want their share so they could chew the leftover pudding that had dried onto the husks.

The smells of pinto beans cooking on the stove, freshly baked bread from the outdoor oven, and fresh tortillas sifted through the house as my mother cooked. She never made a big deal of it; she never complained about all that she did for our family day after day, and nothing was easy. To wash our clothes, for example, she'd have to trek them down to the small creek that ran below the village.

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