Potlatch. That’s right, potlatch.

It’s Wednesday. This morning, on Wordsmith.org, I read potlatch.

That’s right:

potlatch. noun. 1. A party or get-together. 2. A ceremonial festival among American Indians of the Pacific Northwest involving feasts, lavish gift giving, dances, etc.

The word itself looked intimidating. I took a deep breath and popped my knuckles. Think positive, I told myself.

I researched the word elsewhere (aka. avoided the issue of writing about it). I scratched out one draft of a story that oozed dramatics. I went back to the original word, scrambled the letters, and created a list of potlatch proxies.

patch, latch, lap, hop, halt, hot

Then, I thought of Millie, a character in my WIP, and wrote a scenario that might suit her story.


The last time I posted about Millie, she was choking down a Mega-Mix vitamin. Today, she fell victim to a birthday party gone awry….

Millie suspected trouble when she couldn’t park near her mother’s house. The giant “Look Who’s Forty!” birthday banner, stretched over the front door, proved that her mother went overboard.

A voice rang out behind her. “Lordy, look who’s forty! It’s the birthday girl!”

Aunt Harriet held a large crock pot. Quinn and Brenda walked up behind her. Aunt Harriet kissed Millie on the cheek. Quinn, Aunt Harriet’s son, nodded. Brenda, his wife, carried a gift that was overshadowed by the scowl on her face.

“Happy Birthday, Millie,” Brenda growled.

Millie followed them inside and to the kitchen. She said hello to her mother then turned to see a host of nondescript faces standing in clumps in the back yard.


“What is it Millie?” Her mother mixed potato salad with a wooden spoon and a wild hand.

“Those people.”

“What people?”

“In the back yard, mother.”

Still mixing, her mother looked over at Millie and rolled her eyes. “Oh for heaven’s sake, Millie. Those people are your relatives.”

Brenda leaned over to Millie. “She’s turned this thing into a family reunion.”

“And, a few friends,” her mother continued.

“What friends? What relatives?” Millie felt light-headed.

“Brenda, go peel some carrots,” Millie’s mother snapped. “And, Millie, did you bring the cake?”

She held up a round two-layer cake under a hard plastic cover.

“That’s it? Oh my word.”

“You just said bring a Red Velvet cake. You didn’t say how big.” Millie sat down.

Aunt Harriet stared at her sister in disbelief. “You asked her to bring her own cake? Really, Katherine.”

“Well, I was in charge of the invitations, the lunch, and the party games. I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

At “party games,” Millie excused herself and went to the bathroom. She sat on the toilet and tried not to throw up.

After ten minutes, her mother pounded on the door and insisted Millie get out back and mingle. She went outside, but stuck to the porch and hid behind a pillar as best she could. At first, she only recognized a few of the younger cousins. Then, standing along the fence, she saw her two neighbors, Mr. Lewis from across the street and Mr. Millstead from next door.

Mr. Lewis saluted. Mr. Millstead grinned. Millie lifted her hand in a half-hearted wave.

After lunch, Millie’s mother blew a coach’s whistle. She thanked everyone for coming, hoped they were enjoying the food and refreshments, and invited all the men to participate in a strong-man’s competition called the 50 yard Millie dash.

“And the winner of the 50 Yard Millie Dash will win this brand new Weber grill!”

Some ooo-ed, some ahhh-ed, others stood and stared. Still, a handful of men gathered around her mother to hear the rules of the game.

“Carry Millie for 50 yards as fast as you can. Whoever crosses the finish line in the least amount of time wins the grill!” Her mother clapped to get the crowd going.

There were too many people to measure 50 yards from the porch to the fence. So, someone pulled out 50 yards of rope and figured three wide laps around the picnic table would suffice. Her mother pulled Millie to the front and center.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Millie whispered.

“Play along, Millie. Don’t be a party-pooper.”

First up was her Uncle Don from Broken Arrow. Millie hadn’t seen him since she was twelve.

“You filled out little lady,” he said as he picked her up and rested her on his beer belly. The whistle blew. Uncle Don got off to a slow start, but he rounded the table three times in 20 seconds flat.

Next up was Millie’s cousin Jackson. He strolled up to Millie in his Iron Maiden t-shirt and a Harley Davidson belt buckle. When he picked up Millie, he let her fall an inch, then smothered her in a smoker’s laugh. He broke Uncle Don’s record by 5 seconds.

Jackson brought his friend Nick to the party, whom Millie never met. But, based on his appearance, Millie guessed he was Jackson’s little toady. He eyed her up before hoisting her in his arms, and Millie swore right then that her mother must be a descendant of the devil. Nick clocked 50 yards at 14 seconds, but only because of his tuck and roll move at the end.

While Millie brushed off her dress, she overheard Brenda say, “I want that grill.” Quinn’s body flew forward and stopped short of Millie by an inch.

As a rule, Quinn never spoke, even when working out the logistics of the 50 Yard Millie Dash. He shrugged his shoulders, picked her up, then waited for the whistle. He hopped in long strides around the table and finished in 16 seconds. Quinn set Millie down gently. Brenda stormed into the house.

Millie assumed the contest was over and turned to follow Brenda. Then, someone touched the back of her arm.

“May I?” It was Mr. Millstead.

Millie’s mother responded before Millie opened her mouth.

“Last contestant! Watch out Nick, you’re about to meet your match!” She squeezed Mr. Millstead’s biceps. “My, those muscles!”

In utter defeat, Millie lifted her arms and waited for Mr. Millstead to pick her up.

“We hardly know each other, Ms. Jones. I thought I’d offer you a piggy-back ride.”

Millie climbed up. He turned his head around and whispered, “Hold on tight. These folks won’t know what hit ’em.”

Her mother blew the whistle, and Millie closed her eyes. She expected a lurch forward, but instead Mr. Millstead glided. Slow. Like a turtle.

The crowd stood silent. Millie’s mother crossed her arms.

“You won’t win the Weber this way,” Millie whispered.

“One good rainfall and that Weber is rust,” he said.

He took his time and crossed the finish after two very long minutes. In those two minutes, Millie got a good look at certain faces in the crowd, and she broke out in a smile.

At her mother’s disgust.

Jackson and Nick’s confusion.

Quinn’s delight.

And, Aunt Harriet’s satisfaction that someone showed up Millie’s mother.


11 responses to “Potlatch. That’s right, potlatch.

  1. A great exercise–especially when applied to one’s characters. I love that Millie had to bring her own cake to her party!

  2. The emailed portion of this post ended at “‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ Millie whispered.” I couldn’t wait to read the rest.

    The mom deserved to be taken down a notch.

  3. I immediately was invested in Millie as a character. Thanks for a great story!

    You’ve inspired me to take on a similar writing exercise. 🙂

  4. Thanks Cynthia, Ann, and kfbunny. I’m glad Millie’s story pulled you in kept you reading.

    And, kfbunny, you should try the exercise. It’s great for stretching your writing mind. And – as Cynthia mentioned, too – it’s great for character development.

    Two of my online word bags:
    http://wordsmith.org and http://wordnik.org
    Have fun!

  5. You know, Christi, what I’ve learned from you is that I am a lazy writer! You amaze me.

    I must say Millie did indeed have a mother from hell.

    Btw, I thought surely potlatch evolved into “potluck” and had to google it. Yes, it did.

  6. It never ceases to amaze me what you do with these words!

    You had me with the banner and I was right inside Millie’s life all the way.

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