Read The Search for Joyful Online

Authors: Benedict Freedman

The Search for Joyful

BOOK: The Search for Joyful
Table of Contents
Mrs. Mike

Mrs. Mike . . .
is the story of the start of young love, its growth to maturity, and its acceptance of a dangerous, hard, but enthralling life. Its level of sheer entertainment is extremely high.”—
Los Angeles Herald-Express
“It is the personality of Sgt. Mike blowing through this account like a clear breeze that gives it a refreshing quality. Everyone's dream of a cop, he was also a romantic and understanding husband, the fondest of fathers; a man of honor and humor.”
The New York Times

Mrs. Mike
is an unforgettable story, not only because it portrays the deep abiding affection between a man and a woman, but because it pictures the austere beauty of a country where life is at once simple and free, yet complicated by danger and hardship.”—
Boston Herald
“The portraiture is true to life. Sergeant Mike's masculine way of talk, his ability to get on with human nature, his unending but never dramatic helpfulness, his matching the big moments with bigness, but always simply, are commonplace of men in the Force, but rare in books. The Indians are equally well portrayed. Mrs. Mike's maid, Oh-Be-Joyful, and her laconic suitor are masterly characterizations and deeply touching.”
Christian Science Monitor
“This is a book the reader will be unable to put down until the last page is read.”—
Library Journal
Also by Benedict and Nancy Freedman
By Nancy Freedman
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Berkley Book
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group
A division of Penguin Putnam Inc.
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014
Copyright © 2002 by Benedict and Nancy Freedman
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form
without permission.
For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin
Putnam Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-0-425-18833-0
Visit our website at
Freedman, Benedict.
The search for Joyful / Benedict and Nancy Freedman.
p. cm.
Sequel to: Mrs. Mike.
1. Cree women—Fiction. 2. Nursing students—Fiction. I. Freedman,
Nancy Mars. II. Title 
PS3511.R416 S43 2002

To the readers of
Mrs. Mike
who asked for this story
Claire Gerus, for making the arrangements
Susan Allison, for guiding the publication
Anne Sowards, for shepherding the manuscript
Johanna Shapiro, for her insightful literary psychotherapy
Deborah Jackson, for recognizing truth
Hartley John Freedman, for providing technical assistance
Patricia Carroll, for being there
THE WHISTLE BLEW. The train lurched forward. Black clouds of smoke obscured Mama Kathy and Connie. Only seconds before they had been repeating their advice and hugging me. Mama Kathy held to her belief that I was headed for sin city, as she called Montreal. I felt I was embarked on an adventure like her own, when as a young girl she'd traveled from Boston into the wilderness of the Northwest Territory. I was reversing this, going from the prairie to the big city—like Mama, starting a new life in a different world.
As I watched the land speed past in a blur of white drifts, I remembered the times Mama put us to bed with tales of her journey in the blizzard of '07. The train stalled for weeks, waiting to be dug out by snowplows. Wiping the frost from the window she looked out at hundreds of cows and steers blown across the icy fields, packed along the stock fence, frozen and dead.
When I wiped the frost from my window, the vista that greeted my eyes was smiling and sunny, the snow sparkling. I felt buoyant and excited. A call had gone out, and I had answered it. What would come of it, I didn't know.
I tried to disentangle exactly what it was that had propelled me toward this moment. Not one event, but many threads, twisted and woven together. Growing up with Mama Kathy and Papa was the main thing. There was something special between the two of them, kept alive by Mama Kathy's stories of how it had been.
“The Crees called me Mrs. Mike,” she'd say, “because they couldn't get their tongues around a name like Flannigan.” And I'd beg for more stories about those times. I wanted to be part of them. But the special love, the special joy belonged to her and Papa Mike. When I realized that . . . the what-ifs began. What if I was really their daughter? What if the twins were really my brother and sister?
The desire to fit in gave rise to all the what-ifs of my life. It became a game, and yet it was more than that. What if I was allowed to keep one of the kittens? What if I could go into town with Papa? What if I was a rabbit and lived in a burrow? What if I didn't have to be “included.”
was Mama Kathy's word. “Remember,” she'd say to Connie and Georges, “Kathy is to be included.”
What set me apart? We were all adopted, so it wasn't that. I didn't guess the reason because they never talked to me about it, and their love protected me from even thinking about it.
Still, I had a sense of uneasiness. In the bathtub I scrubbed my copper skin hard in an attempt to lighten it. Mama Kathy, when she understood what I was doing, scooped me up in a big towel and held me against her. “Your skin is the color of a young fawn because you are Oh-Be-Joyful's daughter. You can't believe how close we were, Kathy. She was my more-than-sister.” She told me I belonged to the First Nation people and that my band was Cree. “You are Cree Indian.”
The first day at mission school was my first real contact with Indian children. They regarded me with solemn black eyes very like my own. I stared at them, at their heavy straight braids. What if my hair grew long and was plaited, wouldn't it look exactly like theirs? Their skin was the same tone too, the tone Mama Kathy called sun-kissed.
The Indian children kept to themselves. They sent glances in my direction, but didn't speak to me. One girl fingered a pouch of some kind she wore around her neck, looking at me all the time. I did not return her glance; it was too full of things I knew nothing of.
At recess no one talked to me. I stood isolated and alone in the noisy schoolyard. Both sets of children, the Indian and the white, ignored me. I was marked as not belonging.
I watched the white girls jumping rope. I knew how to jump rope. I jumped better than they did. My feet never got tangled up. I continued to watch. Finally I went over to them. “I can jump rope.”
Several girls giggled, the rest stared, but no one said anything. There was a short line; I joined it and waited my turn. When it came I stepped into the arc of the rope. It made a fine whooshing sound each time it struck the gravel. I jumped and jumped and never fell out of rhythm.
The Cree girl, who was called Elk Girl, contemplated me with dispassionate eyes and reserved judgment.
I wanted to know more about being Indian. I got Mama Kathy to tell me again how she brought Oh-Be-Joyful from the mission to help with her babies, who died afterwards in the diphtheria epidemic. Seven years later it was the flu, born in the dirt of European trenches, that created world-wide havoc and carried off the twins' mother and grandmother too. Mama Kathy always finished by harking back to her own children. “Mary Aroon and Ralph were taken, but the good Lord gave me you three rascals to raise.” Because, when the disease was almost over and the danger seemed past, it claimed a final victim, Oh-Be-Joyful.
I didn't like this part of the story. “Tell me,” I prompted, “tell me about Jonathan Forquet.” And I recited along with her, “Jonathan Forquet loved her from the moment he set eyes on her. . . . Now tell who he was.” I knew that too, which was what made it such a wonderful tale.
“He was your father.” And we hugged each other in delight.
As she related how ill he had been, how despondent after my mother's death, a memory formed hazily in my mind. A strange Indian standing on our porch, his eyes searching me out, just me, from all the others. I was the only one he saw. After gazing at me a long time, he opened his arms.
I wouldn't go to him. I held on to Mama's skirt, but she gave me a gentle shove. “It's your father, Kathy.” She chose the word well, because while I couldn't have two papas, a father was all right.
When he held me I thought of pine trees and streams, and smoky fires. He clasped me against him a long time, until I began to squirm. He turned my face so that I looked at him, and said, “I bring you a name.”
That seemed an odd thing to say. I had a name. My name was Kathy.
He continued almost without pause. “I traveled a long journey to bring it. Your mother's spirit guided me to the Grandmothers.” His voice was taut, vibrant. “Listen to me, child. In the lodges of your people you are named Oh-Be-Joyful's Daughter.”
Oh-Be-Joyful's Daughter was my Indian name, but it had never been part of me. I wasn't that girl.
Except . . .
I think it was Oh-Be-Joyful's Daughter who showed me how to fight for acceptance at school. I used a gift I had from Mama Kathy—storytelling. Stories came effortlessly into my head, and I would spin them out for Connie and Georges during long evenings.
Most of my plots were borrowed. When I got to high school I learned this wasn't such a bad thing. Shakespeare borrowed a lot of his plots too.
An endless source of books was Old Irish Bill. He probably had the finest collection of tattered and dilapidated books in the Northwest Territory and his own library system. You could take home up to ten books at a time, but you had to sign for them. You also had an obligation to repair them to the best of your ability. I spent many hours with brown wrapping paper, paste, scissors, and sometimes cardboard. A special satchel at our house was dedicated to Irish Bill's books.
I grew up with Kim, Robin Hood, and Long John Silver. Those afternoons when I sat on the worn couch in Irish Bill's living room, he would prepare hot chocolate, adding a nip to his—“against the cold,” he would say. It was very companionable, he with a pipe, me scattering crumbs as I dunked corn bread.
Mama was a history buff and wanted us to take advantage of Irish Bill's wonderful store of knowledge. She told us she had once spent an entire winter immersed in his prized history of China, which on the flyleaf bore the inscription, “Property of the McTavishes.” Georges liked how-to books, on magic and fixing things and surviving in the wilderness. He would explain to Connie, who never opened a book if she could help it, how the world ran, what was wrong with it, and how it could be improved.
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