Thanks to Duncan Mercredi for permission to share this sweet memory of how Kissing Day was well and truly celebrated during his childhood in Misipawistik (Grand Rapids) on Lake Winnipeg – with lipstick, and pillow cases, and treats, and lots and lots of laughter – every year, before the community was tragically flooded out through hydro development in the early 1960s.
Duncan is Winnipeg’s poet laureate through 2022, though according to fellow Winnipeg poet and novelist Katherena Vermette, “Duncan has always been this town’s poet laureate, really, so it’s nice to make it official.” Duncan is a first-language speaker of Swampy Cree (n-dialect). Here’s his reminiscence, originally posted on FaceBook in 2017.
a new year’s day story
richard was asking when kissing day was, new year’s day, christmas was for children, day after, every house in misipawistik would start prepping for the next celebration, the beginning of the new year, when old resentments from the outgoing year would be put aside, one could step outside, glance around and every chimney would be working overtime, smoke just spewing out, young men, sawing logs, getting water, without stop it seemed, and the aromas, drifting out of every house, deep breath, “ah”, moose meat, caribou, ducks, geese, fish, beaver, muskrat, and just below that that sweet smell of pies, butter tarts, cookies and cakes, mouth watering mornings, dreaming of full pillow cases, and finally the day, waiting impatiently for the priest to finish his sermon, he always had an extra long sermon on new year’s day, knowing how it drove us crazy, peeking out the window, watching the non catholic boys and girls already making their rounds, finally we were out, running home, dressing warm, new moccasins or mukluks from nookum, grabbing a pillow case and out the door, auntie louise’s place first, then auntie josephine’s, friends and cousins coming and going from house to house, grown ups being feasted and entertained at each house they stopped at, “wachea, wachea, neechiagun, wachea neechimoos”, not quietly, making young woman and old ladies blush, with that old way of placing their hands over their mouths and laughing, giggling, holding out their hands for a handshake, “moch, moch, ochamin”, they’d say, quick peck on lips and cheeks, then sitting down at the table to be fed, we’d be on the trails house to house, filling our pillow cases, heading to auntie agnes’s place, she made the best pies, then heading across the river, passing people yelling “wachea, wachea”, you could feel the happiness, it drifted across the river and back agin, stopping at each house, each kiss, each handshake, old resentments taken by the woodsmoke to disappear until the next time, and finally, each young boys worst nightmare, Mrs. D’s, place, not that she was a bad person but every year she would put on the most deepest darkest red lipstick she could find and wait for the young ones to stop by, visitors laughing and giggling as the boys crowded at the door, until one is pushed to the front, Mrs. D would grab you in a bear hug and remembering those red red lips slowly coming at you, that toothless grin, then clamping down on your cheek and that audible plop as she let go, “wachea, wachea, neechimoos”, she’d say, blushing, holding out the pillow case, first one always got the most butter tarts, she made the best, cheek with fresh lipstick stains the others wouldn’t let you wash off until you got home, visitors would drop by until dark, you had to be thirteen to sit with the adults, then as evening set in , the village would settle down, then uncle george would tune up his fiddle and he’d play, we’d listen from our house, i never got to sit with the adults, hydro arrived and what was, was no longer. kissing day, i’ll send you all one on new year’s day.
SRO equivalents of Cree terms used:
- misipâwistik – Grand Rapids
- wâciyê/wâciyî: asks a person to shake hands with you. A common greeting in the n-, l- and th-dialects that is equally appropriate to use in parting (when you likely shake hands again).
- nîcimos – my sweetheart
- mwâc – no, no way
- ocêmin – kiss
- niwîcêwâkan – my friend, companion, buddy
(And thanks to Pearleen Kanewapasikot for the photo of her nôsisim / nôcikwêsiw-in-training, standing in for the late great Mrs D!