This Book will Haunt You

sacred smokes

Sacred Smokes is available in all the usual places: Powell’s and Broadway Books in Portland, from the publisher (University of New Mexico Press) and online

Watch out for Teddy

I’m beginning to hear voices.

Ted Van Alst’s latest story about growing-up-Indian in Chicago has a captivating spirit that won me over. Completely.

His character—Teddy—gets inside your head.

Here’s a scene in the book (Sacred Smokes) where Teddy’s father won’t let him leave the house until he has memorized the Lord’s Prayer:

A photo from the ‘30s sits on my shelf at home, near to hand at my desk. It’s my grandpa and his sister and their ma. Auntie looks like a big, wide, round-eyed Dorothy Dandridge, Grandpa looks like a swanky Richard Gere as Dixie Dwyer in the Cotton Club, and Grandma Mary Josephine—well, she looks serene, but extra lively, and like she made both of them learn the Lordsprayer, with no small relish.

Teddy memorizes the prayer and takes off with his pals, who roam the streets, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, punch each other, and flee the cops.

To make the book last longer, I read only a chapter at a time.

I often pop the book in my shoulder bag and walk to a local café tucked in the shoulder of our neighborhood Library, order a coffee, and dig in.

On my most recent jaunt I bought a chocolate chunk cookie to savor the last morsels of the book.

The cookie tasted so good I got one for my husband in a paper sleeve and stuck the treat in my purse: upright, so it wouldn’t break when bouncing between my shoulder blades.

On my way home I remembered we needed liquid soap.

Being a California native, a product of the 1970s, and this being Portland, I use Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap—the lavender kind—for showering and bathing.

Our local store not only carries Dr. Bronner’s—the store devotes a shrine to the soapmaker, and you can fill your cart with “magic” soap in scents including peppermint, citrus, tea tree, and—of course—lavender.

If you’ve used Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap then you know you can lollygag in the tub while reading the label on the bottle.

You will learn nine uses for the soap and hear about Bronner’s All-One philosophy.

Teddy—in the book—reads everything: beer flasks, cigarette packages and cereal boxes.

So I wasn’t surprised that he spoke up when I was paying for Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap—the lavender kind.

The cashier asked if I needed a sack and—this being Portland—I demurred and assured her the soap would fit in my shoulder bag.

That’s when Teddy let me know that, in his story, by the time I got home, the soap would spill inside my purse and drench the chocolate chunk cookie.

I told Teddy this is my story, and the cookie will be fine.

As I walked home, Teddy kept telling me to check my purse.

And when I arrived, the cookie—and the soap—were just fine.

I hope you get the chance to read Sacred Smokes—it is wonderful book.

But watch out for Teddy.

He’ll get inside your head.

26 February 2019

Today’s blog is dedicated to my pal, Ted, who likes to read the labels


















About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in allmyrelations, american indian, authenticity, Identity, Iktomi, Indian, native american, native press, Native Science, nativescience, Redskins and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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