People will think I’m crazy if I tell them what I am about to do. That would even include my husband. He understands a lot about me, but not in matters such as this. One day – maybe soon, he will.
The house we are thinking of buying is just what we want in so many ways. It’s old enough to be classy, but not so old that it needs or will soon need repairs done. It’s in the countryside, near town, so we won’t feel crowded like in the apartment we live in now, but still be close to town to easily go to see movies, buying groceries, and visiting family. There is a small, wooded area in the backyard, with bird houses already set up in the branches. It is just this one creepy element that I am worried about. Without resolving it, I don’t want to buy the house.
So I’m going to go to the library to do some research in old newspapers. What I am thinking about maybe took place in the sixties, maybe a little later.
The couple who are selling the house are nice enough, but there is a way about them that makes you feel like they are hiding something. I think it relates to what I think that I have seen at the very end of their backyard, almost in the woods. Both times that we were there I saw it, or perhaps ‘them’ would be a better word to use. The second time I was looking for them.
At the Library
At the library they have copies of all the front pages of the papers back about 60 years. I hope that what I’m looking for, and will recognize when I see them….again…would be front page news. Not much happens in this town. I should know as I grew up here. Opening a new bakery is sometimes considered front page news.
As I arrive at the library, the librarian, who went to school with me, asks me if I need any help. I oblige by telling her that I need to see newspapers from the sixties, perhaps the seventies.
She asks me if there is anything in particular that I am looking for. I can’t tell her the truth—too strange, she would tell our former classmates--although I would like to. I pause for time, and tell her that I am writing a piece in creative non-fiction that I am submitting to a contest, and a little local history could help me out. I tell her that “I am fishing for something.” In part that is true
What I saw
When we first went to visit the house I was as excited about the backyard as I was about the house itself. We went there after work, so the sun was sinking, and my ability to see clearly was reduced somewhat. Still, I saw them. At the very back of the yard they appeared in a kind of dull glow. They were two children, by their height looking like they were less than ten years old, like our kids. Their hair was very dark, and long. Their faces and naked arms were a light brown in colour. In short, I saw them as being Indigenous children, not the biological offspring of the couple who owned the house.
One of my first thoughts, owing to an Indigenous History course I had taken at night school a short time ago, was that these were images of children who had been taken away from their parents in what was known as The Sixties Scoop. In that decade, and later, provincial and federal authorities snatched (that the teacher used) many Indigenous children were ‘snatched’ from their parents, their broader family, their reserve, and sold to white people. Often they were transported out of the country and adopted in the United States. The results were often disastrous.
Could these images be of such children? But why was I seeing them? The second time we went there, I went straight to where I had seen the children. This time it was a Saturday, so we went there during the day, when it was much lighter. I thought that I might have been hallucinating in the semi-dark, not a new experience for me.
I wasn’t. There they were again, appearing with the same dull glow, then disappearing.
Back at the Library
Back at the library I started looking at the local newspaper from 1960. For several hours, as I proceeded forward in time, I search but had no luck. There were a lot of pictures of mayors and councillors, and new businesses openings, including a few bakeries, but nothing on any Indigenous children. Maybe this was a bad strategy.
Then, in 1968, I saw something. The names and pictures of the couple who owned the house were on the front page. They reported that the two “Indian kids” that they had adopted had disappeared. Had anyone seen them? They said that the kids were originally from a reserve many miles away, and has been taken from their biological family, as a local welfare agency had deemed the children ‘under-housed’ where they lived.. Perhaps they had tried to return there was the theory presented, without any investigation. Nothing appeared that related to this story in the rest of the papers I read for that year.
As I got up to leave the library, my former classmate asked me whether I had found an idea for a story. I told her that I had, the disappearance of two children, that appeared never to have been found. “So it probably won’t be a happy story then,” was all that she said in reply. I didn’t say anything more, just smiled mindlessly.
Going Back to the Couple
So what should I do now? Should I ask the couple who owned the house what happened to the Indigenous children? That would just be reminding them of a tragedy in their lives, a time that they would not be happy to bring back to mind. Should I tell them about the visions? They might then think that I am crazy, and not to be trusted to pay for their house.
I came up with a middle-of-the-road strategy. The next time we went to their house, I indicated to the owners that we (I had convinced my husband) were interested in the house, but that I wanted to know the history of the backyard, as there was “just something about it” that fascinated me.
So the woman took me through the backyard, telling stories about when some of the trees and bushes were planted, and how quickly they had grown. Then when we got to the very back of the yard, I saw the images of the children again. When I turned to face the woman, I noticed that she had the look of being startled, just like the look I imagined that I had.
This was not as surprising as the question that she then asked me, “So you have seen them too?” I could only reply with the nodding of my head. Then I felt I could tell her of my search in the library. There was a silence. Then she looked directly into my eyes, searching for trust..
“Promise that you will not say a word about this to anyone in town”. Like I used to do when I was a child, I said that I would, and crossed my heart.
She told a sad story with tears in her eyes. “We were just coming back from a party. Fred and I had a little, actually a lot too much to drink. He likes to back into the driveway. He went too fast, and didn’t look carefully behind him. The children had come out of the house to greet us, and he struck both of them, killing them instantly.
He couldn’t afford to lose his license, as he was a truck driver, so we made up the story of the disappearing children, which everyone bought, because the ways of Indian children were a mystery to them. We buried the two of them in the back, where you and I both have seen their images. I haven’t in years.
Now it was my turn to be silent for a while. Then I thought to say “We are going to buy the house. Do you know the name of the reserve that they came from?” She nodded her head, and named it slowly. “Do you know their original family names?” Again, another nod, more slowly articulated words.
“We are going to call their council office, and ask them to come here and maybe return their children to their community. Or at least hold a ceremony here. I will not tell them how the two children died. I will say that I do not know.”
That night I told the whole story to my husband. He agreed with my plans.
Returning the Children
A week later, after we had bought the house, and moved into it, members of the children’s family, including some Elders, came to our new home. With appropriate prayers they unearthed and transferred the bones of the children to small coffins. When an Elder, who was their aunt, asked us how we discovered the body, I first said, “I went to the library, and saw their pictures in an old newspaper.” She tilted her head in question. Then I told her of my visions. She smiled and took hold of my hand, and said, “They chose you to help them to return.” We drove back with them to their community, following the pick-up truck that carried the bodies. We stayed in their reserve for a night, and attended the reburial. The Elder said first in her language, then, for us, in English, “They have returned home. With help.” With the last two words, she turned and faced us, lifted her right hand, and turned it palm up.