Reservation Cadillac

I was 16 and coming in from the North Dakota cold. I lived in hard country but I didn't know it then, because I'd never been anywhere else. The wind was frigid and sharp. I stepped into the arctic entryway of the house and shed my wraps – as we called outerwear at that time. I then opened the inner door and was enfolded by the warmth of the kitchen.

The first thing to meet my sight was what I will call the Most Desirable Monthly Periodical (MDMP). My mother, a relentlessly efficient multi-tasker, had placed it there as the first thing for me to see. The MDMP had just arrived in the mail that day. I was the last one into the house because I was the eldest sibling and had the most farm chores to do. Therefore, I was surprised to find the magazine available to me without negotiation or begging.

Reading was our life of the mind. Books and periodicals had great value in our household. A newly arrived magazine would be passed from hand to hand and read with great relish. In most cases, the later a sibling got into the house, the longer they would have to wait to read it.

My parents farmed and raised eleven children. My mother partnered with my father to manage 150 head of cattle and two square miles of crop, hay and pastureland. She also wrote for a local weekly newspaper and was a contributing writer for one of the largest dailies in the state. Mom used her modest author's earnings to purchase books and magazines for the family.

It was 1965 and it had been a good year on the farm. Crop yield had been plentiful. Grain and beef prices were high. My father had elected to spend disposable earnings for plumbing in our home. Now it was unnecessary to carry buckets or pull tubs of water in a wagon to supply the house. No longer was there a four-gallon pail of water on the stove heating for dishes while we ate dinner. Even so, the outhouse was still in use. We had one indoor bathroom and 13 users. Nevertheless, quick relief in the cold might beat a long wait at warmer temperatures.

That year, my folks also bought their first television, which brought both the real world and the world of entertainment into our living room. One of my siblings suggested the time we had saved from not having to haul water could be spent watching TV.

In hard country one of the greatest of pleasures is to come from the cold into a warm kitchen with a new magazine on the table. I sat down and started reading. I found an interesting story. Oil had been discovered on a Native American reservation in Oklahoma. Lease money made discretionary income available to many of the residents, who were used to leading a hard-scrabble existence.

A Cadillac dealership was opened on the reservation. Many expensive cars were sold to locals. Before long, there were abandoned Cadillacs everywhere. The new owners were unfamiliar with internal combustion engines in general and cars in particular. Many who owned these new vehicles did not know how to drive or maintain them. The article was implicitly racist and explicitly patronizing in tone. The piece posed no questions about the ethics of the dealership, but I certainly found their practices to be very questionable.

A light came on in my brain. I grasped the reason for my early access to the MDMP. The rest of my siblings were in the adjacent living room, gathered around the TV and mesmerized by some mindless sitcom. I knew then that we had our own "Reservation Cadillac" and it was called Television.

In this day and age – what is your Reservation Cadillac?