Outspoken 17-year-old Cory Knutson faces the most difficult year of her life -- dealing with the death of her beloved mother and the racism she discovers in her own hometown. Friends and neighbors in her small Wisconsin town have become bitterly divided over Indian treaty rights, and when Cory starts dating an American-Indian boy, Mac, she becomes a target of the townspeople's bigotry.
Eight hundred people lived year-round in Summer, Wisconsin, and most of them knew Cory Knutson. Or knew her family, or knew someone who worked with her mother or with Mike at the window factory, or had gone to high school with her brother, Rob, or was related somehow to Mike’s ex-wife. Most people knew the story of her father’s death in a hunting accident. Cory had been three when he died and seven when her mother married Mike. A year later Mike adopted Cory and she took his last name. But Rob, who was seven years older and could still remember and love his father, didn’t want that change. So, until last year when he married and moved to southern Wisconsin to work on the state road crews, there were two names on the mailbox—Kranz and Knutson.
That was the family history, and, just as the people of Summer knew it all, Cory knew theirs. She knew about the deaths, the romances, the church affiliations, the school problems, the babies, the new cars. She knew something about everyone.
Almost everyone, she admitted now. Eyeing Roxanne in the rearview mirror and listening to the women share an animated, girlish conversation, Cory realized she couldn’t say she knew very much about any of the American Indians who lived around town, or the few who were in school. She could count on two hands the Indian students in any of her classes and could picture them sitting at their own table in the lunchroom. The Reservation, some of the kids called it. Always the same table, right next to the one she always shared with Tony and Sasha and Karin and the others. Tables side by side, every noon. Throughout any day there were never more than a few words exchanged; however, at least there were never any bad ones.
Not like in Ashland or Hayward, larger towns near the reservations. Cory knew that in those places bad feelings often boiled and spilled over into real nastiness. She had heard from Mike’s youngest child who lived in Ashland with her mother that there were plenty of fights in and out of school and plenty of tire-slashing and name-calling.
But in Summer it had always been calm just living side by side. A different world, Tony had said. A parallel dimension, Cory added to herself as she recalled a science fiction movie she had recently watched. And apart from visits exchanged with Roxanne, or Peter Rosebear, who worked with Mike and sometimes came by on Fridays for an end-of-the-week beer, her family, like others, didn’t mix. There was distance, but anyone would have to believe it was caused by habit, not hate.
Cory parked the car at the edge of the crowded armory lot. Roxanne opened the door, and Cory could hear drums. People streamed into the cavernous building’s open doors, as though drawn by the relentless pounding. A parallel dimension, and she suspected she had just crossed over.
“This is a competition powwow,” said Roxanne as she led them to the armory. “There’s some good prize money, and there will be dancers and drum groups from all over.”
Roxanne seemed to know everyone, but after stopping a few times to introduce her guests, she gave up. “This is no good,” she said. “We’ll never get in at this rate, and Paula is probably already frantic. Do you mind if we meet people later?”
Margaret laughed and pushed her friend forward. “Your rudeness is just barely forgivable.”
Once inside, their progress was slowed by a seemingly impenetrable mass of people. Looking around, Cory twice came face-to-face with young men in full regalia: feathers, beads, face paint.
Not war paint. She willed herself not to think of it as war paint. And the drum—she didn’t know if it was actually called a tom-tom. The drum song had intensified in volume and rhythm, and she could feel her heartbeat adjust its pace. She saw several dancers in traditional dress: a man wearing a huge feathered bustle, two girls in fringed buckskin and beaded ribbons, women with elaborate and colorful shawls. Then, stepping at last into the main hall and seeing a sea of men and women and boys and girls in fantastic, puzzling, beautiful dress, Cory knew she would be content to be quiet and watch.
Roxanne dropped her nylon bowling jacket on a folding chair. “Let’s take these seats. I told Paula to find me by the host drum, and that’s these boys here.” She waved at a group of men sitting around a large kettle drum. Several of them raised drumsticks in response. Cory dropped her own coat on a chair and looked around the room. Rows of chairs had been set up on two sides of the hall. At each of the open ends there were two drum groups. One of the circles at the far end was drumming and singing. Cory watched the rhythmic action of the rising and falling arms and she was mesmerized by the white-tipped sticks, which caught the glare of the fluorescent ceiling lights as they streaked up and down.
“Mother, where the hell have you been?”
Cory, attention diverted from the drum, swallowed a smile as Paula pounded Roxanne on the shoulder. Evidently mother-daughter exasperation was universal among cultures.
Roxanne handed her daughter the box she had guarded as a treasure. “You have time.”
“Right. Ten minutes.” Paula took the box and flipped a wave to her mother’s guests. “Glad you came, meet you later.” She pushed past a few people and disappeared into the crowd.
The persistent drumming was lulling, and Cory again focused on the rhythm. A different drum began its song, and she shifted her attention to it, away from Roxanne, who was introducing friends and relations to Margaret. All around her, there was talk of road conditions, the weather, jobs, tribal politics, and the winter’s new babies. Most of the talk spilled into a single, nonsensical stream of voices punctuated occasionally by the familiar sound of her mother’s laugh.
People were lining up between two of the drum circles. Cory guessed they were preparing for what Roxanne had called the grand entry. A microphone crackled, catching the attention of the crowd and sending a signal to the drum to stop. It crackled again, then cleared, and a deep voice boomed out a welcome. After several minutes of introductions and joking and applause, the speaker signaled and the drumming resumed. The line of people waiting between the drums began its slow procession.
The entry was headed by several Native American princesses and a color guard of military veterans. Behind the flags, the line of people was four across and appeared endless in length. Most of the dancers were wearing traditional dress and they danced with a series and pattern of movements as individual as the decorations on their clothing. Some high-stepped with arms raised, some kept feet low to the ground, some moved face forward, always tall and unbent, some turned and leaned in wide arcs.
The chain moved forward and began to circle around itself, snaking into a spiral. Cory supposed it all had meaning, some age-old significance, but of that she understood nothing, sensed nothing. Still, she thought that the stream of dancing color was perhaps the most stunning thing she had ever seen.
A flash of orange caught her eye, and she noticed a single dancing figure. She laughed, catching her mother’s attention and earning a frown.
“Be polite,” her mother said in a low voice.
“That boy,” Cory said, pointing. “It looks like he couldn’t wait to join the party.”
The dancer who attracted her attention was twirling and dipping at the edge of the chain. His arms were raised as if to take hold of some personal music, and he danced as if the drum played for him alone. No feathers, no fringe, no traditional dress at all. The boy wore a marine corps T-shirt, orange Zubaz pants, and sneakers. Every now and then his arm would drop from its dance position and he would push up his glasses.
“It’s all quite a spectacle,” Margaret said.
Cory nodded as she watched the orange Zubaz dance away. “It’s wonderful.”