Apache Frybread


Margie sat quietly on the back seat of the car, her dark eyes staring out at the city buildings whirling by in the soft evening light. The weight of her sadness felt like a stone on her chest. How she wished she could have moved to Chicago with the Petersen family. They had seemed as unhappy as Margie when the unexpected word came that Brother Petersen had to report at once for his new work. She had spent two school years with them, and it was almost like parting with her own family in Arizona when she had to say good-bye. The Petersens had taught her much about their ways, and they had been eager to learn of her Apache world.

“Well, Margie,” said Brother Randall, the Church social worker, interrupting the girl’s thoughts, “a week from tonight is Christmas Eve.”

Suddenly Margie realized that she had no gifts for her new family. She had given beads she had made and a few things bought with her allowance to the Petersens. Now she had no money to buy gifts and no time to make more.

“How many children did you say the Strattons have?” she asked Sister Randall who was sitting beside her.

“Four. Vicky is ten years old—the same as you. Paul is seven, Ted is five, and the baby is the age of our Tricia.” Sister Randall reached down to pat the baby, who laughed and then grabbed the bracelet on her mother’s wrist.

“We’re in Reseda now, Margie,” Brother Randall said. “Look at the tall palm trees on both sides of the street. We turn right at the next light.”

Margie felt her heart beat faster. What if the Strattons don’t like me, she thought, and what if I don’t like them? She wondered if she would ever see the Petersens again. Then, longing to be back on the reservation, she closed her eyes and could see her mother frying bread and hear her gentle voice talking to the little ones.

The car pulled into a driveway and stopped. When Margie opened the car door to get out, she heard a shout. The front door burst open and six people rushed out of the house to greet her. Margie remembered to look into their faces as the Petersens had taught her, but it was hard to think of anything to say. Quickly her bags were carried into the house, and she waved good-bye to Brother Randall and his family.

Vicky showed Margie where to put her clothes as she unpacked in the room they would share. Before prayers and bed that night, there was time to admire the Christmas tree. There were already some brightly wrapped packages under it, and Margie saw that her name was on some of them.

Later in bed, Margie lay listening to Vicky’s quiet breathing and let the tears run silently down her cheeks. She felt sad because she missed her other families and because she had brought no Christmas gifts for this new family who had so warmly received her into their home.

The next morning Margie stood at the bedroom window watching Paul and Ted playing games on the back lawn. Vickie had already gone downstairs. There was a light rap on the open door, and Sister Stratton asked, “May I come in?”

Margie nodded and smiled shyly.

“Margie,” Sister Stratton explained, “we have a Christmas tradition in our family that we have followed for several years. Each Christmas Eve we have a special program where we learn something about the cultures of our brothers and sisters in other lands. This year we have not prepared anything, hoping that you could share with us some of the traditions of your people.”

Because of her shyness, Margie was tempted to say that she couldn’t, but seeing the kind and expectant look in Sister Stratton’s eyes, Margie nodded that she would.

On Christmas Eve Margie wore the beautiful squaw dress her mother had made for her last summer. When they had bought the trim for the yards and yards of material, Margie had remarked that it must be a mile long. Now she smiled with satisfaction as she looked into the mirror. She divided her long black hair into two sections and tied each strand with yarn to match the dress.

When it was time for the Christmas Eve program, Vicky started the record for Margie’s part, and all the other Strattons smiled their pleasure when she entered the room. Slowly, rhythmically, Margie moved with grace and ease to the beat of the drum and the chanting voices. After the dance was over, the Strattons clapped enthusiastically and then Margie told them about her family in Arizona and the customs of her people. “Now,” she said, “if you will excuse me for just a minute, I’ll make you some Apache frybread.”

In the kitchen Margie stretched the dough she had prepared earlier and dropped it into hot oil. She could hear the children’s excited chatter in the other room. Vicky and Paul were eager to learn the Apache dance. Ted insisted that he wanted to play the drums and “say” the songs.

Brother Stratton came into the kitchen and put his arm around Margie. “Margie, this has been one of the nicest Christmas Eves we have ever had. Thank you for giving us so much!”

Margie smiled shyly and handed him a plate of frybread.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ginger Brown