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A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris

Chapter 18

Chapter 17

Chapter 18, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary: Chapter 18

The nuns at the motherhouse in Denver are very impressed by the story of Clara’s rape, and as she embellishes her story more and more the nuns begin to make her out as a saint or martyr. Posing as Clara’s sister, Ida pays for their room and board by doing manual labor for the nuns. The nuns want Clara to give up her baby for adoption and become a nun herself. Ida looks forward to returning home, resuming a normal life, and getting a chance to rest. Ida receives one letter from Pauline, on the back of which is scrawled a quick note relating how their parents are fighting and how Pauline hates living at home.

Clara has a baby girl whom the nuns name Christine. When the nuns come to bring Ida the news, she pretends not to speak English well enough to understand, which she has been doing since her arrival at the motherhouse. The nuns explain that she is “Aunt Ida” now. Ida demands to see Clara, and although the nuns object, Ida is unrelenting. Clara tells Ida that she is planning to give Christine up for adoption, but Ida rejects the plan. When Ida threatens to tell the nuns the truth about the baby’s father, Clara lets Ida take Christine home and promises that she will soon return home as well.

Father Hurlburt picks Ida up after her bus ride from Colorado. On the ride back to Ida’s house, he shows off some of the Indian phrases he has learned. He tells Ida that his grandmother was Native American, and Ida can tell from his appearance that he is telling the truth. Ida realizes that this must be why she saw Father Hurlburt as more than a priest on the night that he paid his first visit to Ida and her family. Father Hurlburt also tells Ida that Pauline is no longer living with their parents because Lecon’s drinking has become a problem. When Ida and Father Hurlburt arrive at Ida’s old house, Lecon comes out to greet them. He is visibly disappointed that Clara is not with them and also disappointed that his child is a girl.

The next two and a half years are monotonous for Ida. Her mother’s health gets worse. Although Christine is not a pretty child, her fearlessness makes her special. Ida makes Christine call her “Aunt Ida,” because this name allows Ida to distance herself from the child. Ida knows that one day Clara will come and that she might try to take Christine with her. Father Hurlburt makes regular visits to Ida’s house during this time. Ida and Father Hurlburt play with Christine, and while he helps Ida with her studies she helps him practice the Indian language. Ida enjoys Father Hurlburt’s visits but does not want to let it show because she worries that he will stop coming if she lets on how much his presence means to her. One day, Father Hurlburt stops by to say that he won’t be able to make the visit the next day. Ida says it does not matter to her, but Father Hurlburt says it matters to him. He says he can stay if Ida has time, so she invites him in for tea.

Clara finally shows up at Ida’s house four years after her last visit. The two women hardly recognize each other. Clara has come to see Christine, so she goes into Christine’s room and wakes her up. Ida stays in the kitchen and is so distracted by the idea that Clara is with Christine that she accidentally puts a hot ladle on her cheek, burning herself severely. When Clara describes herself as Christine’s mother, Christine accepts it without question, not understanding the word “mother.” Lecon, who is away working when Clara arrives, comes home drunk on Friday night. He has been in a fight and is behaving unreasonably, but he straightens up when he hears that Clara has come back. Clara and Lecon avoid each other around the house. Lecon takes Ida and Christine to church, and then they all have dinner with Pauline’s church family, the Crees. Ida can tell just from looking at Pauline that her sister is in love with Dale Cree.

Clara tells the story of her life in Denver with resentment. The nuns evicted Clara, and she then held and lost a string of jobs. Clara has stopped by the reservation as a break between her life in Denver and a new life she is planning in a new city. One night, Clara tells Ida that she has found a wealthy family who wants to adopt Christine, and that the family has paid Clara’s way to the reservation to bring Christine back. Ida is reluctant at first, but tells Clara she will agree to the plan if Clara gives her until the following Wednesday to say goodbye to Christine. The next Monday, Father Hurlburt comes over. Ida suddenly tells Clara she cannot take Christine. Clara objects, claiming ownership of her daughter, but Father Hurlburt produces a paper that lists Ida as the child’s legal mother. Clara is furious but powerless. She leaves that night. Ida sees Clara only twice more in her life.

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