What Is The West?

         Kate Lebo

My grandmother gives me her favorite bracelet and says, “I bought this from a Navajo Indian at the bottom of Pike’s Peak. He was drunk, I’m sure.” 


She doesn’t wear jewelry anymore. Some of it hurts her, the rings especially. The piece she’s giving me now is too heavy—three ounces of tiger’s eye shaped like a shield and set in a sterling cuff that claws her wrist when she takes it off. It is stamped with arrows and feathers, and might be merely Indian-like, calculated to attract a tourist’s eye. When I was a child, I loved it. When I grew up, I coveted it.


“He was drunk, I’m sure,” she said because he was an Indian, and she gave me her bracelet, my inheritance, bought with money she should’ve sent to Nebraska for the baby, she said, leaving out what I already knew from snooping around—that she’d had her first son at 17 and left him behind for a short time, after her husband killed himself, when she escaped to the West.


After she gives me her tiger’s eye, she fixes us vodka tonics and makes a pile of plastic baubles from the gift shop she used to run. She gives me those too. “You’re going to think your grandma wore a bunch of junk,” she says.


I want it all, the pure gold and plastic, the diamond chips and rhinestones. I’ll box most of it away, but I’ll wear the Indian bracelet—her Western glamour, real silver from an ersatz trove.


This is what I think if you ask me what the West is: the man who unrolled a blanket on the road to Pike’s Peak and sold jewelry to a woman running from her family. The woman who accessorized her pride and shame with a slur as she passed them all down. My grandmother felt gorgeous when she wore this bracelet. Now it is my turn to wear it, the beautiful, heavy thing.

Kate Lebo is the author of two cookbooks, Pie School (Sasquatch Books) and A Commonplace Book of Pie (Chin Music Press). Her essays and poems have appeared in Best American Essays, Best New Poets, New England Review, Willow Springs, High Desert Journal, The Rumpus, and Gastronomica. In 2017, Sasquatch Books will release Pie & Whiskey, an anthology co-edited with Sam Ligon and based on their popular Pie & Whiskey reading series. She lives in Spokane, Washington.