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Column: Going out to eat -- celebrating and being thankful

Linda LeGarde Grover

To celebrate our daughter Denise's birthday we went out for lunch at one of Duluth's older and historic restaurants, and took along some granddaughters.

It was evident in the girls' demeanors, in their very walks, that they felt very grownup: they looked around the dining room at the furniture and museum-quality décor as they sat, read the menus carefully, and ordered their own lunches with aplomb.

Like many other birthday partiers at the Pickwick and other restaurants, we had brought a gift for the birthday girl, which she opened after we had finished eating. Because it was Denise's birthday, the restaurant gave her a sundae with a candle on top. We sang "Happy Birthday" (very quietly, as this is a pleasantly and blessedly quiet restaurant), she made a wish and blew out the candle, and she and the girls shared the ice cream.

I wonder if the girls will remember our little party, the photographs on the wall of the restaurant from earlier days in Duluth, and the story that Tim and I told them about sitting on the curb across the street as 19-year-old spectators the time the restaurant had a significant fire. Perhaps one day they will tell that story, as well as stories of their own lives, to their children and grandchildren.

Restaurant food is much more common now than it was when I was my granddaughters' ages, but I still feel the festivity of the occasion, whether it's a celebration in a restaurant or a fast-food supper after work. It reminds me of the joy that we LeGarde kids took when our parents brought home a bag of burgers and fries, not an everyday event in those days. What fun it was to be handed a hamburger wrapped in white paper and a good handful of deliciously soft and greasy french fries! I suppose our mother thought that not cooking that night was quite a treat, too!

An appreciation for food and the occasion of breaking bread with others is part of Mino Bimaadiziiwin, the living of a good life, all over the world. We Ojibwe parents and grandparents, like everyone else, do our best to teach our children to be thankful: the values of humility, gratitude and generosity are intertwined, and at the foundation of our traditional ways.

Our teaching methods include modeling-example, storytelling, hands-on experience, and, of course, celebration. Education is lifelong, and what is learned is reinforced from time to time as we travel along our pathways of life.

As I write this column, I am reminded of one of those occasions, this one 21 years ago when I was not yet a grandmother but would soon be:

Duluth's Director of Indian Education and I were accompanying an elder, who was a recently retired educator, to St. Paul, where we would be attending a meeting about increasing the number of American Indian teachers in the state of Minnesota. We left Duluth very early in the morning, and stopped along the way for coffee and breakfast. The elder, who was experiencing health and mobility problems, was using a wheelchair, which was hard for a woman who had been an active leader in education and civil rights for decades. We were clumsy with her wheelchair, but she was patient and cheerful about that as we made our way from the parking lot to a fast-food restaurant. Inside, we got our food and brought it to the table, where we waited for the elder to begin. She opened her Styrofoam box and looked at the fast-food scrambled eggs, uniform-looking bacon strips, and little potato nuggets. She smiled, smelled it, and said, "That looks luscious."

And I saw that it did, indeed, look luscious. She had seen and experienced what many her generation had -- the difficulties and tragedies of 20th-century Indian America: boarding schools and the devastation of families; federal termination and relocation policies; the disruption of her own school education and too many indignities and broken dreams to count. Yet she stayed constant: she never stopped learning, working, and encouraging others. And this morning she showed us that the fast-food breakfast was luscious, and so was life. And she was right.


Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an award-winning writer and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. E-mail her at

Linda Legarde Grover

Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an award-winning writer and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe.