“Pal, what’s up with that title? Who’d ya rope in this week? Winnie the Pooh?”
“Nope, got ourselves anuther writer, someone from the Keweenaw, up aroun’ World Headquarters.”
“Ya still ain’t ‘splained the title.”
“The house is The Mason House. Thet was T. Marie Bertineau’s gramma’s house, a place a happy times fer her when she was a girl. It’s also the title a Ms. Bertineau’s debut book, one thet Charli Mills suggests serves as a healing bridge between cultures. Says thet the town a Mason and Bertineau hersef could be considered as being at the ‘innersection a cultures’. Innersection— corner; get it?”
“Yep, Kid, we ain’t the first ta git ta innerview Ms. Bertineau. If ya wanna see her book launch, hosted by Lanternfish Press an’ moderated by Charli Mills, click HERE. In thet innerview Ms. Bertineau allows as how she come ta realize her book is a bridge to cultural identity, a connecting ta heritage. Thinkin’ as we git ta meet this writer we’re gonna see all kinds a connections.”
“Yep, I read it too Pal. Her gramma give her a sense a belongin’, a safe place. Like we have at Carrot Ranch. Oh, Pal, here she is! Howdy T. Marie Bertineau! Welcome ta the Saddle Up Saloon.”
“Yep, welcome Ms. Bertineau, thank you fer makin’ time fer us. I’m Pal, this here’s Kid.”
“Well, aaniin and hello there! I’m pleased to meet you and appreciate the invitation! I’ve heard so much about the Saloon, so it’s nice to finally see it in person! And please, call me Theresa.”
“I got all kindsa questions fer ya, Ms. Ber— Theresa.”
“They ‘bout her book, Kid?”
“Heck no! Pal, she’s from up there where World Headquarters is. Let’s find out if Charli Mills is fer real.”
“Course she’s real, Kid.”
“Yeah, but, she tells tales. Ms. Theresa, kin it be true, what Charli Mills says ‘bout snowfall up there?”
“Oh, yes indeed. Ms. Mills ain’t pullin’ your leg about that. There’s lots of snow shoveling and snow blowing that goes on in the Keweenaw for months on end. As a matter of fact, by time winter is about halfway through, we can barely see our small house from the road. It gets buried behind huge snowbanks. We don’t even need a ladder to clean the snow off our roof by that time. We just climb the giant snowbanks and use a long-handled tool they call a “roof rake” to pull the snow off the rooftop.”
“Reckon, havin’ seen yer innerview with Ms. Mills, that pasties is real. But are they really that wunnerful?”
“Mm hmm! Pasties are definitely a delicious, regional favorite, and everyone puts their own spin on the recipe, too. In my (humble) opinion, my gram used to make the best pasties in the Copper Country, which—in case you aren’t familiar with it—is another name for the Keweenaw. I can’t make them like she did, but my sister sure can. And seeing as pasties came over with the Cornish miners back in the 1800s, there might be others out there in the Cornwall area who are familiar with them as well.”
“Gramma’s are fer cookin’ connections fer sure. What were the special foods yer gram made fer ya?”
“Well, pasties are for sure one of the main ones. But there’s another one too that comes to mind every time I think of her. And that’s fisheye pudding. Sounds pretty gross I know, but if gramma said she was making fisheye pudding, you can bet my mouth would start to watering. It took me until I was a bit older to figure out that Gram’s fisheye pudding was really what you call tapioca.”
“Ha! Yer gram sounds like my kinda fun. But seriously, I want us ta have an honest innerview, git ta know ya an’ talk about yer book. But I still got some suspicions, mostly ‘bout Charli Mills. Like, did she put ya up ta sayin’ the unicorn song’s yer fav’rite from yer gram’s collection?
“Oh, my goodness, not at all lol! That was truly my favorite song. And one of Gram’s too. As a matter of fact, there was another song on the flip side of that record called Black Velvet Band that we liked, too. Both very folkish songs for sure. Fun to sing along with a heavy Irish brogue. But you’re right, Kid. It was quite a coincidence that Charli was coming to us live from the Unicorn Room the night of the launch party!”
“Thet’s cool thet yer family loved music so an’ sang t’gether. D’ya still have yer gram’s guitar that she played?”
“I do still have Gram’s guitar. My husband even refurbished it a bit for me a few years ago, so it looks all spiffy and new again. It had taken a beating through the years I’m afraid, and its belly swelled. I didn’t keep it properly humidified. It doesn’t play as well anymore, but it still looks nice, and I’m glad I still have it.”
“You told Charli Mills thet ‘Gramma had the stories; she was the tree, I the shoot’… How long were ya carryin’ the seed a this book? When did ya know you was gonna write it?”
“Well, I think I’ve wanted to write a book about her since I was a girl actually–as a tribute to her. I guess I’m a writer at heart, and that’s how I do things. I just didn’t know how I would go about writing it. I’ve always considered myself a fiction writer, so I expected she would become a fictional character. But really, I wasn’t sure. I had been thinking more seriously about it this past decade—sort of processing ideas in my mind. And when I came to a place in life that I could actually devote myself to the writing, I sat down and did it—except it didn’t come out as fiction at all. It came out as memoir, and I think I personally needed that at that point in my life.”
“They talk about pantsin’ an’ plottin’ a lot aroun’ here; which side a thet fence do you fall?”
“Pantsing is a term I identify with for sure. I have plotted, but I didn’t for this book. I simply started out with the idea that was strongest in my heart when I first sat down to write, and that was the day of the funeral. I knew this was going to be an opportunity to process my grief after all these years, and that’s where I knew I needed to start. Once that was out, I started from scratch recounting all the memories I could and sort of categorizing them as to their overall theme or message. I didn’t write in any order. I did all the sequencing and tying things together later. It actually came fairly easy to me, as each memory begot another. Everything fell into place eventually.”
“Well it reads real smooth, has a good gait right outta the gate.”
“Thank you, Kid.”
“All thet processin’, an’ ‘memberin’; hope ya didn’t git bushwacked. Did ya git any surprises in the writin’?”
“You know, it must be the memoir genre that brings this question up, because I’ve actually been asked that a few times. What surprised me . . . And from one day to the next I may have a different answer because really, there were many things that surprised me, and they probably all weigh differently on different days. So, today I’ll just tell you one of the most fun things that surprised me, and that deals with my Aunty Patsy, Gram’s youngest child. You see, Gram was a dramatic storyteller, and one of the stories she told involved a little girl with blonde ringlets and a beautiful red dress who got herself into a precarious situation. When my Aunty read the manuscript, she recognized that story was actually about her! Now, in order to get the lesson across, Gram did embellish the ending considerably mind you, but the basic story was about my Aunt. It took me forty-plus years to discover that!”
“Seems like though yer book starts out bein’ ‘bout yer Cornish Gramma, it ends up bein’ ‘bout you an’ yer fam’ly comin’ home ta yer other heritages.”
“That’s so true. Originally, I wanted to write a short tribute to my Gram, but in the telling of that story, I discovered it didn’t make sense—why my Gramma was so important, why I depended on her so. And that’s how the rest of the story came to be. That’s how my Native heritage came more strongly into play in the narrative, and how the other painful aspects of my family’s past rose to the surface. In the end, it was our Native heritage which promoted our healing, so it did indeed play an important role in the overall story.”
“What’d ya learn and mebbe wish you’d known all along?”
“That’s an easy one . . . I wish I had known better my Indigenous grandparents. I wish I could have learned from them. I didn’t know how close we were—through them—to the traditional ways. We grew up feeling so far apart from our heritage, when really, it was well within our grasp. I wish we could’ve learned the language from my Grandpa and Grandma Woods, original speakers of Anishinaabemowin. They had all this knowledge which they were afraid to share, or perhaps ashamed to share, like medicines and food sovereignty, and knowledge of our ancestors which we may never know. Or even just their story. We know so little. These are all things that have become so important now to Indigenous communities—that relearning of those ways. But back then, when we were growing up, we were indoctrinated into the belief that it wasn’t important, that it was history, or even that it was wrong. So, I guess to sum it up, learning that I was only one generation away from the traditional ways of the Anishinaabeg was definitely something I wish I had known. And to be honest, it leaves me sad. My siblings and I missed out on all those precious teachings.”
“Thet is sad, Theresa. Seems ta me, we should all be thankful fer our grammas an’ folks thet teach us right ways a livin’, lis’en up while we can… In yer book yer story starts out at the Mason house an’ the foundation yer Gram gave ya, and ends with ya findin’ new foundations. I’m glad yer family an’ community has the KBIC.”
“I’m glad, too, Kid. We’re all healing together, and I’m so proud of that. And though I’m building new ways of thinking and relating to the world around me, I’ll always have the foundation of love Gram provided. That will never change.”
“What’s yer next book about, Theresa?”
“It’s called “Kitchen Remodel and Cooking Again,” and it requires no writing—just a lot of work ; ) Seriously, I have an idea for a book for which I have a few bones constructed, but I must admit the work to bring the memoir to market took a lot out of me. I’m a very hands-on person and working with a small press feels very much like a partnership; I had a lot of networking, and market research, and background work to do on top of the writing and editing. Plus, I was learning so much about my culture, which takes a great deal of time. I’m taking a little time to just get my feet back under me, and then we’ll see what this idea becomes. Right now, in its infancy, it’s a work of fiction involving a diverse perspective on grief. I guess that’s a lot like THE MASON HOUSE, actually . . . ”
“Well, The Mason House is a great read an’ would make a great gift fer just about anyone. And what a gift you’ve created for yer own children, nieces, and nephews, by telling your family’s story!”
“Chi miigwech! Thank you very much : )”
“Thank you very much Theresa, we ‘preciate yer time an’ wish ya well. Thank you fer takin’ the stage at the Saddle Up Saloon!”
The Mason House is available at Snowbound Books in Marquette, Michigan, or most anywhere books are sold (please support your local independent bookstore who will be happy to order it for you if it’s not on their shelves!) It’s also available electronically through Nook, Kindle, and Apple Books. There’s not yet an audio version available.
Instagram: https://instagram.com/t.mariebertineau/ Facebook: @tmbertineau Website: https://www.tmariebertineau.com/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/tmariebertineau
Born amidst the copper mining ruins of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, T. Marie Bertineau is of Anishinaabe-Ojibwe and French Canadian/Cornish descent. She is a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community on the L’Anse Reservation, migizi odoodeman. Her work has appeared online with Minnesota’s Carver County Arts Consortium; in Mino Miikana, a publication of the Native Justice Coalition and Waub Ajijaak Press; in the annual journal U.P. Reader; and will be anthologized with the Chanhassen Writers Group of Minnesota. Married and the mother of two, she makes her home in the Great Lakes Region.
If asked, Pal & Kid will deny that they spill from the pen of D. Avery. They claim to be free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch and now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon. If you or your characters are interested in saddling up to take the stage as a saloon guest, contact them via email@example.com.
Continued success Theresa – I enjoyed your interview.
I have a similar situation with grandparents not sharing their language. When they settled here in America they wanted to fit. They did keep some of their food traditions. But It would have been nice if I learned the language too.
Thanks so much, Jules! Language is such a treasure. So important to hold on to lest we lose them completely . . .
I was having someone help me learn – but then Covid struck. So we haven’t really been able to get together. I do have the Language book and CD… but my Hubby has been working from home… I know excuses. But maybe eventually I’ll know more than Good Morning, Good Evening and let’s Eat. 😀
Jules, I’m in a similar space as far as speaking the language goes : D I am getting better, though, at listening, reading, and spelling. I think it takes years to develop, but I’m working at it bit by bit . . . Best to you on your journey!
Thank you – same to you, may we both have success in the future. 😀
Pal and Kid, thank you for introducing us to Theresa and her story.
We’re some glad ta do it, Ann. Ya’ll should check out her book launch with Charli if ya ain’t already. By the way, thinkin’ ta git you up on the stage!
It’s always important to look closely at our roots – good session!
I enjoyed this book. I recognized many of the stories, though they were not my stories, many of the family, though they were not my family. Yeah, those roots bring a person Home eventually. The Mason House is a well told tale of the ways and reasons for uprootedness and then rediscovering taproots that kept the family grounded all along.
That’s an excellent analysis, D.! Thank you!
Charli Mills moderates Theresa’s virtual book launch. It is a fun interview that you can watch via Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyh0ItLNo0A Warning- you will want to drop a dime on the book immediately after viewing. And you won’t be sorry you did.
Aaniin Theresa! So good to see you at the Saloon with Kid and Pal. Your story about fish eyes pudding seems so typical of your Gram. You capture her essence so clearly in The Mason House that I feel like I know her. I appreciate your time to interview here. Kid and Pal are great hosts. I hope your book tour (digitally) is going well. I laughed at the title of your next proposed book. Good luck with the remodeling, too! Miigwech!
“See, told ya she was fer real Kid.”
“Yeah, well, she still tells tales.”
“Yep. Reckon there’s fact in fiction an’ fiction in fact.”
Aanii, boozhoo, Charli! Thank you for hosting us all here at the Ranch! I enjoyed my time with Pal and Kid : D
Another interesting interview. Good luck with the book, Theresa.
Thanks for reading, Anne!