At the request of other members of the Oak Lake Writers’ Society, we reprint here with permission of the South Dakota Humanities Council, a piece of prose called “That Time of the Year,” by Gladys Hawk. Though not able to be a part of our regular Brookings meetings, Gladys was a member of the mini-retreat that was instrumental in finishing This Stretch of the River. Her work on that manuscript and as a contributor to others throughout the years makes her an important part of the Oak Lake Writers’ Society’s 25 years of culture-based writing. While this is a piece about Christmas and her Episcopalian congregation, it opens with a quiet acknowledgement of the impacts still felt from flooding of the Missouri River for the dam. We wish Gladys well on her spirit journey and remember all her relatives during this time.
That Time of the Year
by Gladys Hawk of St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church, Wakpala
The area where the old meeting house once stood is now covered with water. It was located below what is now the St. Elizabeth Church. Just west of the meeting house was a log cabin where women cooked for the festive occasion of Christmas. I remember so well the smell of fresh apples hung on strings from the ceiling, and the ladies peeling apples and rolling dough for apple pie, while the men brought in armloads of wood for the kitchen stoves. I can still hear the joking and laughing, which seemed to never end as they worked.
I also remember running away from the chickens as their heads were chopped off and they flopped around, and the smell of the feathers as the ladies dunked them in tubs of hot water to make it easier to pluck their feathers. Everyone pitched in to help with whatever was needed. We kids just had fun watching and finding ways to keep ourselves occupied.
When I went outside in the dark of night, I could smell fresh hay and hear the horses as they crunched on the and the occasional whinny of a colt when it strayed from its mother. I remember I always went to the outhouse with my mom so we could watch the door for each other. An old pump was used to water the horses. Sometimes it was late at night before we started for home.
We children could hardly contain ourselves as we watched the adults getting ready for the big day. I remember than an uncle, Zidol Red Horse, Big Sis Nora’s dad, brought the pine tree in his sleigh, and it seemed to be the biggest Christmas tree in the world. The men folk then brought in their gas lamps and made sure they were in working order. I can still see them as they pumped the lamps and put fresh mantels in the globes. The potbelly stove stood in the middle of the meeting room with a big coffee pot on top of it, and the aroma of fresh coffee permeated the room. Someone played the pump organ and we sang hymns in Lakota. The walls of the old meeting house seemed to sway with the swell of the songs. Those oldtimers could really sing.