by Xavier Kataquapit
ATTAWAPISKAT – I enjoy carpentry, woodworking and construction. I like building things, renovating my home and learning how to use new tools. I like to think that I have a knack for figuring out building or construction problems on my own. I believe it is something that is in my blood and a skill that has been passed down to me from generations of builders, survivors and craftsmen that had to learn to live on their own in the wilderness.
One of the first people I looked up to as a carpenter was my Mooshoom, my grandfather Xavier Paulmartin on my mother’s side of the family. I can remember visiting him and his wife when I was very young. They lived down by the riverside in Attawapiskat close to the water’s edge. They had a small plywood covered home painted white. My grandparents made sure that it was well maintained, regularly painted and tidy. There was a large stock pile of clean split pine in front of their home. Nearby was a chopping block that was well used and surrounded by mounds of fresh bright pine chips and bark. Back in those days wood was still the main heat source.
A wide path between the front door and the wood pile led to a small shed next to the house. I recall when I stepped inside how organized everything was. All of his tools were stored in their place hung on the walls, set on shelving and kept in wood box containers hand made by my Mooshoom. The space had the scent of pine.
On one wall hung several Kwah-pah-eh-kah-nah or snow shovels that had always captivated me. They were large wooden scoops. The biggest had a scoop head about a foot round and featured a handle that was a foot long. There were three such scoops of varying sizes and each one had been carved from a solid piece of pine. I can remember thinking how much time, effort and skill it must have taken to carve out each one of these scoops.
Mooshoom died before I was ten and I can recall that his little shed didn’t change much for several years after he passed. Any time I had the chance to visit the shed I did so with the thought of Mooshoom on my mind. It almost seemed like he was still around and would be arriving any minute to start another project in the shed.
In the 1980s in Attawapiskat, we didn’t have running water in our homes so it was a normal thing in our lives to have to gather drinking water on a regular basis. In the winter time, this meant either fetching water from a hole in the ice on the river, chopping blocks of ice from the heaving frozen shoreline or heading out along the many lakes and rivers nearby to fetch clear, clean, fresh crystalline snow. Gathering snow for water was easier and more convenient than any other means. Snow was easier to get, melted faster and provided cleaner water. I can remember going out on the land with Kookoom, my grandmother Louise on her little Yamaha Bravo snowmachine. It was her pride and joy and she used it to pull her wooden sleigh in treks out on to the land into her 70s.
We never went far and she showed me how to seek out the high deep snow drifts along a lake or river shoreline. Using Mooshoom’s snow shovel in one hand, she demonstrated how to scrape away the top layer of snow to get at a middle section that was filled with pure white crystals. Over the years, like many people in the community, she had collected several blue cloth mail bags that were regularly disposed of by Canada Post. They were large enough to carry a good amount of snow and small enough for us to lift and heave onto the sled.
As I grew older and stronger, Kookoom often gave me the task of going out on my own with her prized Yamaha Bravo and Mooshoom’s hand made snow shovels. I usually filled three or four large bags as full as I could to ensure that Kookoom could make plenty of water. I always felt good handling Mooshoom’s shovel. I felt like there was still part of him existing that I could connect with.
I don’t know where Mooshoom’s scoop eventually ended up. It was long gone by the time I left for high school in the south. However, I always felt comforted by the fact that I at least held onto to a piece of Mooshoom’s memory for several years after he was gone. I miss Mooshoom and I miss his handy work and Kookoom and her teachings. Happily I have you the reader to thank for giving me the motivation to remember them again and to pass on a glimpse of their lives.