A Yellow Raft in Blue Water
Summary: Chapter 3
Rayona and Aunt Ida do not really know how to live with one another. Rayona lives in the room that once was her mother’s, which is just the way her mother left it. Even Christine’s old posters of celebrities like Elvis Presley are still up. When her own clothes get dirty, Rayona wears Christine’s old ones. Rayona looks through Christine’s old things, finding a notebook in which she wrote how her own first name would look paired with different boys’ last names. Rayona finds a box of old pictures of Christine, including her high school graduation photo. Rayona studies the picture, trying to find resemblances between herself and her mother, but concludes that her mother looks far more saintly.
Aunt Ida watches TV on most days, primarily soap operas and The People’s Court. The stupidity and ignorance of the characters in both shows infuriates her. Ida plans her work schedule around these shows and follows the same schedule every day. Ida speaks to Rayona only in her native language, which Rayona calls “Indian,” but Rayona suspects that Ida also knows English.
One day an elderly man comes to visit Aunt Ida, and Rayona overhears them talking. They are discussing Rayona and her mother. Apparently Christine is living with Dayton, her old boyfriend. Seeing Rayona, the elderly man introduces himself. His name is Father Hurlburt, and he is a priest at the Holy Martyrs Mission a few miles away. Rayona is surprised the minister speaks Indian. Father Hurlburt knew Rayona when she was a baby, and comments on how she has grown so tall and thin. He asks her if she has been brought up as a Catholic, and concludes that she should join the “God Squad,” a group of young people that meets at the mission regularly.
Two days later, Father Tom Novak, a talkative and enthusiastic priest who is new to the Holy Martyrs Mission, picks Rayona up for her first God Squad meeting. Two old Native Americans outside the mission mock Tom in their language, then quiet themselves as they realize that Rayona can understand them. Only two other children are inside the Mission when Rayona and Tom arrive. One is Annabelle Stiffarm, the other is Kennedy Cree, better known as Foxy. Foxy is Rayona’s cousin. Foxy and Annabelle are both rather cold to Rayona, and Foxy makes a point of mentioning that Rayona’s father is a “nigger.” Foxy and Annabelle swiftly exit the mission. Rayona and Novak wait an hour, but no one else comes.
Rayona starts school the next week. She feels stupid in her mother’s too-tight clothes and is made fun of for being half black. Rayona realizes that Tom is going to take her under his wing, as has happened so many times before. Tom is proud that he has learned some Indian from a member of the tribal council, but the council member has actually played a joke on Tom and taught him to say something obscene. Rayona is glad to have someone who seems to care about her and becomes rather friendly with Tom. In fact, she becomes the only regular member of the God Squad. Although every God Squad meeting is supposed to have a theme, Tom always ends up talking about “The Wonders of the Human Body,” his euphemism for sex. Rayona does not have much knowledge on the subject, but knows that it has changed other kids her age “for the worse.” When driving her home from one of the meetings, Tom asks Rayona if she has ever had any sexual dreams. Rayona doesn’t know what he is talking about, but Tom says that she needs guidance, since she is growing into an “attractive young lady.” He drives off, leaving Rayona somewhat baffled.
Analysis: Chapter 3
Living in Christine’s old room, Rayona is exposed to the popular culture of her mother’s generation. Celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Connie Francis firmly situate Christine’s childhood in a distinct time period. This information is more than simple background, as we later learn that the culture of Christine’s era profoundly shaped her life. The pop culture evident on the walls of Rayona’s new room furthers her immersion into her mother’s culture and upbringing. Living on the same reservation where her mother grew up is a big first step in Rayona’s understanding of who Christine is, and living in a room of Elvis posters shows Rayona the other big influences in her mother’s life. Nonetheless, seeing how Christine grew up does not immediately alter Rayona’s opinion of her mother, and she still does not identify with Christine. When Rayona looks at her mother’s graduation portrait, for example, she finds little physical resemblance between herself and the picture, which mirrors how emotionally unalike Rayona and her mother are.
Rayona frequently thinks that other people might accept her more readily if she were more pleasant to look at, which reveals how she feels physically marked as an outsider by her dark skin. Rayona thinks Annabelle and Foxy are both quite attractive, and this fact makes Rayona feels like an outsider when she is with them. On the reservation, Rayona’s foreignness is jarring, as she is racially different from everyone else. When other people look at her, especially her peers, all they see is Rayona’s black heritage. Even other half-Indian children crack jokes about Rayona’s dark skin. Being much smarter than most of the kids in her class does not help Rayona fit in either, as the nuns at the mission school constantly single her out for praise. Ironically, although Rayona finds it hard to relate to other people her age in Seattle, she has an even harder time with the youths on the reservation and is lonelier than ever.
Rayona does find a kind of acceptance in Father Tom. In some ways, Father Tom is even more of an outsider than Rayona. He is the only person on the reservation with no Native American blood, since even Father Hurlburt is part Native American and can communicate with his parishioners. When other Indians make fun of Father Tom in a language he cannot understand, Rayona sympathizes and eventually even helps him out with the language. With no other place to belong to, Rayona finds acceptance as the only member of the God Squad. Father Tom seems to be the only person on the reservation who thinks Rayona worthwhile, so even though she sees him as somewhat foolish and ignorant, she enjoys Father Tom’s company.
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