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Dancing with Spirit of my Elders

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  • Dancing with Spirit of my Elders

    Posted by lostwolfcrockett

    When I go to powwows, I dance in memory of Digger. My
    dancing is prayer for him. I dance to say thank you. I
    dance to say I'm sorry. I dance with him. This is the
    story of what happened.
    I remember when my dad's friend was coming over, we
    were excited. Dad was looking forward to seeing his
    buddy who had been stationed with him in Okinawa and
    was coming to Cherry Point, North Carolina. As we ran
    around playing tag with the other children, we must
    have heard our Moms talking. Somehow, from Mom's talk
    with Donny junior's mom, Shirley, we heard that dad's
    friend was "part-colored" and we wondered what that
    looks like? So my brother and I were standing on the
    couch, watching the door as he walked in, and we sang
    out: "Nigga's here! Nigga's here!" and whispered to
    each other "He's the same brownish-reddish color as
    Daddy! He's not colored!" Of course we were shushed,
    and someone came and talked to us. Then it was
    smoothed over: the children misheard and mispronounced
    "Digger" a nickname, like "Crickett" etc. So his
    nickname became "Digger." His name was Denver Odell,
    which I forgot over the years. We heard that Daddy &
    Digger were "blood brothers" through a secret ceremony
    that people don't do anymore, but that was 45 years
    ago, before AIDS and all the diseases we have in our
    world now. So sometimes my brother & I called him
    "Uncle Digger."
    Digger said one of his grandparents was Irish. He said
    one of his grandparents was a child of a child who had
    escaped slavery. And he said he was a grandchild of an
    Indian. Digger said, "What's black and white and red
    all over? A sunburned zebra? a newspaper? ME!"
    I remember Digger & Daddy playing guitar and singing
    in the living room. They sang many songs, I remember
    loving "You Are My Sunshine" because they sang melody
    & harmony and it was interesting the way it came
    together with different voices. When my kids were
    little, I'd sing it to them at bedtime, and had a deep
    lonely sad feeling that I was missing or forgetting
    something, somebody, important.
    I remember I used to have temper tantrums, and I
    must've been close to four and a half years old. I'd
    throw myself down on the floor & even bang my head.
    Digger told my parents to leave me alone and let me do
    it & wait til I stop myself. They watched from the
    kitchen, but it was hard for them. When I finally
    stopped & cried myself out, he came over and asked if
    I was ready to talk. He asked if I wanted help. I said
    yes. I thought he was like a medicine man who could
    get rid of the "ghosts" who were hurting me. He asked
    who banged my head. I answered that "I did" and he
    asked whose head was being hurt and I answered, "Mine"
    and he asked who did it and I answered "Me" so he said
    "So 'I' banged 'Mine' head and 'Me' did it?" "No! Not
    you Uncle Digger! When I say I, Me, Mine, I mean
    Brenda! When you say I, Me, Mine, you mean Digger!"
    "Thank you for explaining that, Brenda" he said. Then
    he looked me in the eyes, real quiet, I saw my own
    reflection in his eyes. Finally he said, "I don't know
    how to solve your problem. There are no ghosts for me
    to chase away. But I think I can tell you something,
    if you want to hear it." I said that I did, and then
    he explained to me "Brenda is the one doing it. Brenda
    is the one getting hurt. Brenda is the one who can
    decide to stop." I sat and thought about that many
    days, it was a conversation that grew like a tree
    inside of me throughout my life.

    I remember Digger bringing a buffalo skin to show
    Daddy and it was set across the couch back while the
    adults were somewhere else talking. I was alone in the
    livingroom. At first I was afraid of the buffalo's
    face, I felt like he was alive, but knew he wasn't. I
    looked at him for awhile and felt less scared. I felt
    sad because the hair was matted and clumpy. I thought
    someone should love buffalo and fix his hair. So I
    untangled the hair on his face with my fingers,
    running my fingers through it until there were
    straight rows, going along a triangle -along the
    forehead and down to the nose and back up to the
    forehead. I fell asleep with my head against the
    buffalo's face. When the adults came in the room, my
    mom freaked! Daddy took me to wash my hands in the
    bathroom and put me to bed, while Mommy screamed about
    the "filthy beast!"

    The place we lived must have been Marines' family
    housing, because our neighbors' dad's all worked
    together in the Marines. There were some with rhyming
    names, like Dawn & Tammie's parents, Lonnie & Sheila,
    kinda rhymed with Junior's parents, Donny & Shirley;
    and there was a Marine called Jesse. I heard him say
    to my Mom, "What am I supposed to do? You don't like
    me because my parents named me Jesus (Haysoos)? Lot's
    of people in my culture name their sons Jesus because
    it is love and respect for Jesus....." His wife was
    Francie, he said it was an Indian word for "beauty"
    and he said this when he heard us kids making fun of
    her because she had dark eyebrows. He said he wasn't
    looking to marry a tv star or magazine model, he loved
    his wife and she was beautiful to him. I began to see
    that it was true, she was beautiful and I was sorry
    for joining the children's taunts. Francie saved my
    life, when I was in the field making flower chains and
    the tractor was coming. They had a nephew, who was
    also named Jesus, but they called him by his middle
    name which I don't remember, so I'm calling him "Al."
    When Al came to visit, first we had to talk about how
    he looks like a man but has long hair like a girl. We
    learned that an Indian warrior has long hair, which he
    cuts when something bad happens, like his parents die.
    Then we found out he wasn't yet a "man" although he
    was taller than Jesse & our Daddy! He was going to be
    13 and they were going to have a ceremony to make him
    a man. It must have been fall, 1961, because I talked
    with Al about how I was four-and-three-quarters and he
    was 9 years older than me, and every year there would
    be 9 years difference, I'd never catch up and I had a
    real math lesson to think about for awhile.
    So then, Digger comes to the door, and has the
    Buffalo, and politely said it was cleaned and where
    could he put it? Well Mom screamed "Get that beast out
    of my house!" and the men all went out the back door.
    I was watching cartoons on tv, sitting on the floor,
    while Mom stood by the wall phone and talked to her
    friend, Shirley. After awhile, I heard her plead into
    the phone, "Promise they won't hurt my husband!"
    Then there was a loud band at the back door, and
    Daffy, Jesse, and Al, came running in and they started
    washing Indian paint off their faces in the kitchen,
    and Mom screamed "My clean towels! I spent all day
    doing laundry!" There was banging at the back door,
    which mom held closed & locked, and Daddy yelled, Let
    Digger in! And she yelled "I won't have that beast in
    my house!" and I was hearing words that I can't write
    here, when my brother came and said "Brenda, come see
    the ghosts!" "there's no such thing as ghosts." "Yes,
    there is, come see!"
    So I followed my brother to our room and we stood on
    the bed and watched out the window. There were ghosts!
    Men wearing sheets were "ghosts" to us at that age. I
    saw the ghosts had ropes, lariated around the buffalo!
    I ran and interrupted my parents screaming at each
    other. "Daddy! The ghosts are catching Digger! You
    have to save him!" Like I thought Daddy was Superman
    or something. Daddy said, "There's no such thing as
    ghosts, go to your room." Al realised what was going
    on, and came to our room and closed the window shades.
    He looked for something to divert our attention. My
    brother's diaper was soggy. He unpinned it and I put
    it in the diaper pail. I went to the diaper shelf but
    it was empty. The laundry was on Mommy's bed waiting
    to be folded, and I wasn't allowed to go in there.
    Then for some reason we crawled under the bed to hide.
    I put my head on Al's arm for a pillow and felt safe
    although we were really scared. He said good things to
    me and got my mind off what was happening out there,
    and I even forgot for a moment. I know that because it
    was like suddenly being awoken and the whole world
    turned upside down, when someone told us to come out
    from under the bed.
    There were police in our doorway. Outside the door
    were hundreds of ghosts (men in sheets). Inside our
    doorway, was Donnie, wearing sheets with the hood off,
    across his arm. He had fancy designs on his sheets and
    said he was the dragon. We thought, wow, a dragon!
    Shirley or someone, took me aside and asked what we
    were doing in the room, under the bed. I explained.
    She said,"You are not in trouble, if you tell the nice
    policeman that Jesse molested you." So I went out and
    said the words. Which Jesse? someone asked, and I
    pointed to Al. Then they grabbed & hogtied him and I
    screamed, "Why are you doing that! He's good!" and
    someone asked, What does molested mean? I said, I
    thought it meant what we did under the bed. What did
    you do under the bed? We were hiding from ghosts! Then
    Mom screams, "He told my kids scarey ghost stories so
    he could molest them!" And my brother comes along
    without any diaper on, you know how that looked.

    There was a lady with a recording machine. She asked
    alot of questions and I refused to say anything bad
    about Al,like she tried to get me to say. Then she
    started a story for me to finish, without any names.
    She wanted a story about a man who did inappropriate
    things with a girl, and made it clear what kind pof
    story it was supposed to be. I said, Oh! I know that
    story. I told her about my 2 uncles in Maine. Then
    when I was done, she asked my mom who the second uncle
    could be. Mom said, it would be Jesse, Al's uncle. I
    heard words I didn't understand so I asked. When they
    talked about revenge, I asked, "What does revenge
    mean?" and was sent to my room. So I went to bed
    repeating the words I didn't understand and wanted to
    find out later: "revenge, reasonable doubt." It had
    something to do with Francie. One day I wandered over
    and knocked on her door, but couldn't remember what I
    wanted to ask her. I felt it was important to tell her
    something but didn't know what to say and how to say
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  • #2
    There's more. Somehow Digger got away and they lynched
    the buffalo without him. He ended up in Maine. We came
    home for the holidays, and there was ahobo, wrapped
    in blankets, who chopped some wood nad Grampa gave him
    a plate of food, saying a hobo could be an angel from
    God. One day it was a blizzard, and when grampa &
    Grammy were away, Uncle Roger let the hobo go into
    Grammy's room to sleep. But Grammy came home and went
    right in there to take a nap. Screaming! He ran out
    and looked into my face, he was scared, he was
    familiar, I knew him like my own self. Grammy said she
    had started to unbutton her own dress and was
    surprised to find a strange man on her couch, and he'd
    been startled awake and ran out. Roger tried to calm
    everyone down, explained the story of the hobo
    including the phrase "black and white and red all
    over" then my brother and I run around singing,
    "Digger's here!" and someone called the police. They
    locked the door and there was loud banging out there.
    I don't know what else happened.
    Almost 40 years later, (1998?) I saw Digger as I was
    visiting Maine. I was with my mom, and began talking
    to this man. I said I felt I knew him. Mom said, "Of
    course you do. That's Digger." I told him I was glad
    he was alive. I asked what happened to the
    Indian-Under-the-Bed, he said something to my Mom and
    she started swearing & making racist slurs that
    embarrassed me. I wanted to follow Digger and talk to
    him more, but I was just visiting Maine for my
    brother's wedding and hadn't seen my mother in 20
    years. I thought I'd see him again.
    I came back to maine in 2000, for a couple weeks. My
    grandmother, in a nursing home, told me her secret,
    her grandfather was a Penobscott Indian,that she'd
    mourned the darker skinned family that she'd lost
    contact with as she tried to pass for white, and
    that's why she always stayed indoors, not agoraphobia
    like we thought. aShe said that I would look more like
    an Indian as I grow older and my mental self image
    changed from funny looking white girl to beautiful
    metis on the spot...I thank my grandmother for that
    gift. She also asked me to give a friend a message.
    The friend was Denver Odell, and he had another name
    which I don't remember. I wrote down the name and
    promised to remember the message. Visiting my sister
    out in the country, we went to a little store and I
    was standing there and saw him. I didn't know with my
    mind, but I did know with my heart, because I picked
    up my baby and sang "You are my sunshine" and the man
    remarked on the song. I said, "My dad and his friend
    used to sing it." He said, "I remember." I hugged him,
    told him he'd made a difference in my life, and I
    wanted him to help me teach this baby boy the Native
    Ways. I said I had a message from my grandmother and
    needed to sit and talk with him, and remember exactly
    what she said. I called him "Grandfather" with respect
    and love. My son's dad was standing over there with my
    sister, watching us while they whispered to each
    other, all over each other. Digger mentioned that
    problem, and I responded that I know they are both
    attention-needy flirts and they would have to decide
    if they were willing to cheat on me, I wasn't going to
    be manipulated into acting like a jealous crazy lady.
    He said they were a problem for him, and sure enough,
    my man came over, acting all macho, "What you doing
    hugging my woman?" and some strange accusations that
    included the words "rapist! . . . child-molester. . .
    !" Digger ran out of there before I could straighten
    this out. I told my man that was wrong, and my sister,
    why are you telling my man things like that? He never
    molested me and if anyone did I should be the one
    telling my man! I ran outside to find him but he was
    long gone.
    So I'm doing the dishes at my sister's trailer,
    watching news on tv, while they try to figure out
    what's wrong with her car. There was something on the
    news, about Digger, he was looking to visit my
    grandmother in the nursing home but was chased away as
    a result of being accused of rape & stalking. I needed
    to call the police and straighten this out, but
    there's no phone for miles, we were out in the woods.
    I went out to find my sister and see where I could go
    to use a phone. It was dark and I couldn't find either
    my sister or my man. I called out. No one.
    Later, my man walked in the door, "You think I'm
    having sex with your sister? You are jealous?"

    I don't know how I know this, but here's what I heard
    Digger climbed a tree and was shot in the leg by
    police. He was being treated in the same hospital
    where my grandmother was living. They say she's nuts
    and put her on meds right away so she couldn't think
    straight and talk clearly to explain anything. Digger
    was healing, but somehow got the wrong meds and died
    in the hospital. Some one called to tell me, but I
    didn't remember the name: Denver Odell. His name was
    stolen from him in 1961. That's why I keep his name
    alive now, in my life. The man who called just said he
    was from the Penobscot tribe, but if I call them they
    don't know what I'm talking about. Call the Penobscot
    tribe. Ask any question. The response will be: "We
    aren't looking for people." I don't mean any
    disrespect. Once our grandmother's lose their relations, it is hard to get them back. We must cherish our family and friends who are here with us, while we can. I hadn't seen my brothers and sister, mother and many aunts, uncles, cousins, for decades. So
    I moved back to Maine. Too late to help Digger. I
    don't know where they buried him, or who his friends
    and family are. I go to powwows and think of him as I
    dance. At the Togus Veterans Weekend powwow, last
    year, I felt like he was there, dancing with me, and
    all the elders were watching me and seemed to feel his
    presence also.

    When I go to powwows, I dance in memory of Uncle
    Digger, Denver Odell. My dancing is prayer for him. I
    dance to say thank you. I dance to say I'm sorry. I
    dance with him. This is the story of what happened.
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