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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.
When Ida’s relationship with Clara turns sour, it is Ida’s
first experience with betrayal. Clara, whom Ida believes is her
close friend, turns out to have been looking out only for herself.
Clara thrives on the attention the nuns give her and shows little
or no concern for Ida. Ida’s indignant attitude toward Clara now
seems largely justified, but Dorris’s technique of eventually revealing
why each character behaves the way she does makes it hard to pass
judgment on Clara. In the same way that Rayona’s indignation toward
Christine seems baseless once Christine has the chance to tell her
story and Christine’s indignation toward Ida seems misplaced now
that Ida is giving her viewpoint, we cannot help but wonder whether
Clara might also be vindicated if she were given an opportunity
to tell her story. It is difficult to exonerate Clara completely,
however, because after Ida tells her story Dorris leaves no room
for Clara to explain her own motives.
In this chapter Dorris illuminates the origins of several
details that appear in Rayona and Christine’s narratives, and once
they are explained we realize these details demonstrate Ida’s genuine
affection for Christine. One such detail is Ida’s scar, a mysterious
discolored mark on her face that Christine first notices the evening
she expects the world to end. Ida does not notice the ladle burning
her face because, as she is so deeply attached to Christine, any
contact between Clara and Christine completely distracts her. Ida
has previously tried to avoid or deny her affection for Christine
by making Christine call her “Aunt Ida,” as if putting some distance
in their family relationship would bring about emotional distance.
However, as we see in the narratives of Christine and Rayona, Ida’s
insistence on the title of “aunt” is only partly successful and
even backfires. Ida’s command that Christine call her “aunt” does
not prevent Ida from feeling like a mother to Christine, but because
the burn mark and other signs of Ida’s love are difficult to interpret, Christine
never understands that Ida genuinely loves her. Ironically, Ida
openly shows signs of her love for her adopted daughter, but because
these signs cannot be understood without knowing Ida’s story, Christine
never realizes that her presumed mother does care for her.
Ida’s relationship with Father Hurlburt reveals that
Ida is constantly plagued by the fear that the things and people
she loves will be taken away from her. Her close connections to
Christine and Father Hurlburt frighten her. The priest is the one
person who truly treats Ida with respect, and because he is a party
to Ida’s family secret he has the ability to at least partly understand
what Ida is going through. Even so, Ida has the irrational fear
that Father Hurlburt will stop visiting her if she lets him know
how much she enjoys his company, and she even tries to push him
away so she will not mind losing him. Such fears prevent Ida from
forging any strong relationships, especially during the two and
half years before Clara returns from Colorado, and they cause her
to turn inward and avoid depending on anyone other than herself.
After trusting Clara and her parents only to see them betray her,
Ida now fears to show affection toward anyone.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Yellow Raft in Blue Water!