Not so long ago in old people’s years
- John Cuthand | May 19, 2021
It wasn’t so long ago, in old people’s years, when Indian Affairs gave out a case of twenty-four Sporks to every First Nation citizen. The Spork brand gradually evolved into Spam, which is the same thing. Every family had Spork for a year and more. We had a dog named "Spork" as he was born the same day the Spork shipments arrived. I had Spork sandwiches with mustard slathered on. Mustard was essential since Spork had a rather bland taste. At least this was my experience. There was a popular rumor, stretched some, which claimed it was made from pig lips, lungs, brains and eyeballs. Despite that, it became popular poverty food, driven more out of necessity than anything else. Most people were poor back then. Spork was baked with brown sugar, fried with eggs, chopped up in a salad and mushed up mixed with onions and spread on a sandwich. It would have made a serviceable stir fry but back then Chinese food just a rumor. I think the government just wanted to get rid of it.
We downed big black vitamin pills and cod liver oil. The cod liver oil was slippery with a ghastly taste. Thank goodness for Flintstone vitamin pills which came much later. Hardtack was a hard biscuit more suitable for a hockey puck than anything else. Rumor had it hardtack was Canadian Navy surplus which makes sense since it was most often sailor food. The sailors probably mutinied in disgust. Residential school children should have pelted staff with it. This was regular fare in residential schools along with watery soup served in aluminum bowls and cheap powdered milk on the side. The milk only resembled the real stuff and like most everything else was probably unwanted surplus from somewhere. This cheap meal was served to schoolchildren while staff ate much better in a separate room. Hard tack could only be eaten if it was soaked in milk for an extended time. The younger children couldn’t eat it as their teeth were not strong enough. A ballpeen hammer was a desirable necessity.
Indian Affairs bought glasses frames in bulk. The lenses were thick, as were the large black frames. Most everyone, unfortunately, resembled a racoon. The girls received grey rims with small horns projecting out the side. These thick-framed glasses were troll ugly. Such was the unfortunate style back in the early sixties.
Indian Affairs had us line up in a field to receive vaccines and an x-ray. Some kids wimped out and the rest of us would laugh at their expense. My needle experience was only made possible because I wouldn’t look at the needle. The x-ray machine was a hazard as far as I remember. When we were x-rayed, we clutched onto a machine the size of a fridge. There was no safety shield and everyone must have received repeated doses of radiation as the line moved along.
There was a tradition kept on Blood/ Kainai reserve: whenever cattle became road kill, a generous portion was given to the Anglican minister (as my father, Stan Cuthand, was). Once in a while at odd hours someone would show up at our place to drop off a portion of a fresh carcass. Sometimes it was nicely tenderized. I’d rather not wallow in the past but like so many pensioners, I can’t stop talking about it.