Friday, January 29, 2010

Time to visit

I used to sit in my mother’s living room and we would have long talks. She would sit in her chair, by the lamp I bought for her one Christmas, on the west side of the living room and I would sit on the couch. Of course we would talk about everything under the sun and every once in awhile she would teach me Indian words. She said in Indian on one of those visits “how we didn’t have time to visit each other, mostly because everybody is so busy.” She was right and it’s still that way. I sometimes get caught up in my work and then I go home and stay home and watch the tube. Or in the summer time I work in my yard till dark. That usually translates into not seeing many people other than my family.

Well yesterday I had to take my grandson Pat ko shuk to the clinic (For the record, I took leave and filled out the appropriate paperwork), because he was sick and as a walk-in we had to wait for awhile. This is understandable. We couldn’t make an appointment because it’s fairly hard to know when your kids are going to get sick. But the point of this that it allowed me to visit some people I never get to see much.

They talked about where they are living now and the long commute to visit the clinic. Some talked about religion, and cultural things. Others talked about their birthdays, and how old they were getting and of course their health or current state of health. It was all good listening and drinking the strong coffee they had that day.

And last week we went to Bartlesvile, Oklahoma where Royal Valley dancers contested with other youth dancers. They took first place. Again it was an opportunity to visit some of my relatives and friends.

I think at times we forget the value of taking time to visit each other. It seems like facebook or email is taking away that face to face interaction and in some cases that might not be all that bad but I know I enjoyed those short visits. I need to do that at least once a year.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Larry, Gary and Eddie Mitchell

Me and Larry came into this world on February 8 of 1951 and Eddie in May of 52.

We grew up in that old four room house with no electricity. We had old kerosene lamps, which translated into going to bed early. We got electricity in 1959. We had no running water. Our water supply came from a near-by well and we carried the water into the house in buckets. This was for cooking and to wash ourselves in a basin. I guess you would call that a sponge bath. We had a wood-burning stove and that kept us warm, during those cold winter months and we had no in- door plumbing, but we had an out-house, something people only read about now.

Our Mother was an amazing woman. Besides being a good Mother and a fluent speaker of our language, she could cook up a meal in no time. I always thought her trademark was her biscuits. I could eat just those with butter. We were poor, but always had food on the table.

When school started, Larry and I went to the first grade at the little town of Delia. It was a white school near the south-west corner of the reservation. We sure didn’t fit in there and was out of place, but it only got worse because the next year, we went to boarding school in Nebraska. This included Eddie who started the first grade. It was a traumatic experience to leave home for the first time. We rode there in a transport vehicle - an old grain truck with a tarp over the top. We rode like that for 250 miles to Winnebago, Nebraska. We missed our mom real bad. We three became close because we relied on each other during this time. It took quite a few years before I got over the being lonesome for home thing. We were young, alone and honestly didn’t think anyone cared for us. It would have been a lot harder if Larry and Eddie weren’t there. I formed a deep attachment to those two. Later in life, I realized how poor we were at home and boarding school was the only option for us, but we didn’t know it then.

The first thing that happened on arriving at the school was that we got all our hair cut off. They must have been afraid we had bugs or something. We were given clothes and shoes and later winter clothes. At least our mother didn’t have to pay for those. She was poor enough.

The boarding school experience, which lasted for six years, was good in the sense that we learned how to work and to pray. Boarding school seemed like constant praying. We prayed when we woke up, at Mass, at breakfast, at dinner, at supper, at Bendiction and before we went to bed. We did learn how to do chores –f ixing our beds, scrubbing floors, washed dishes, pots and pans, ironing, laundry and outside work. Boarding school life fostered a work ethic in me that lasted a lifetime. Prayer, too, but I did go through a time of total withdrawal from any form of prayer.

Why? I suppose it had to do with the delivery from the Jesuits, which can be mildly described as harsh. Both the priests and nuns dealt out punishment on a regular basis, and I really think they enjoyed beating Indian kids - all in the name of the Lord. I don’t know how many times I was beaten but it was a bunch of times. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way we were treated. Maybe punishment like this was suppose to teach us something, but to this day I can’t figure what. Some kids would run away from the school, but they were always caught and they paid for their runaway adventure dearly. I was too afraid to run away.

We learned how to fight there. It was always something. We might be of another tribe or whatever, but fighting was an accepted way. The older kids always had to pick on the younger ones. The fighting was done out of the sight of the priests and nuns or there would have been hell to pay, so to speak. I think I lashed out because of frustration and anger from being away from home, but who knows, maybe I just liked to fight, but we took care of each this way.

Larry was held back in the second grade so they could separate us. We stayed at that boarding school for nine months and then we got to come home. It was hard to describe the feeling we had when we got to see our Mother again. We played outside about all summer long, swimming in the creek south of the house and a pond north of the house. We would run in a pasture south of the house, without shoes of course. The summers seem to go fast and just like that, it was time to go back to school. We never went to town, least-ways I never remember going there. We also rarely went to other houses on the reservation. Maybe we were too bad.

When we went to boarding school we were issued clothes, so my mother didn’t have to pay for that extra expense. One time I remember getting a pair of new shoes for school, and I was sure proud of them. During the summer we never wore shoes at all. We had tough feet and still do. I graduated from there in the mid-1960s.

From there I went to a local high school in Mayetta, well in fact, it was the only high school in Mayetta. Our football team at Mayetta was pretty good and went undefeated. We were 8-0 that first year. I played a lot, lettered, and enjoyed the game immensely. It was the most enjoyable part of school and I looked forward to the start of every school year because of that.

Larry and Eddie joined me the next year. They eventually started. I hurt my knee real bad between my sophomore and junior years. Before I hurt my knee, everything was so easy – the running, the hitting, tackling, blocking, but that changed gradually. I had to tape my right knee from mid-thigh to below the knee and had to wear a brace over that. We had a record of 7-1 in my sophomore year; 6-1-1 in my Junior year and 8-0 again in my last year. During my senior year, my knee was so bad that I couldn’t get through a game without it going out on me. It was discouraging. I still hung in there and played anyway, but the game was no longer easy. We did well in those four years, only losing two games. The crazy thing about football was that after every game we had to walk home, about eight miles because we didn’t have a car. Sometimes we caught rides, other times not.

But the most important thing was the brothers were together again, played football together, baseball, partied and spent a lot of time with our Mother. Good memories. Eventually I graduated from high school. Larry joined the army and didn’t finish high school. I guess you could say he went on his senior trip to a place called Vietnam. Eddie later joined the Air Force and I tried to join the Marines but the knee thing was too much and I got a medical discharge. I got married and stayed on this reservation and it is here that I will die.

We three brothers parted ways for a few years after that, but we were always in contact. Larry had a rough time in the military, spending a year in Vietnam and getting wounded. His life after the military was equally rough because I think he couldn’t forget what he had gone through.
Katie said "Larry had nightmares every night. Sometimes I would wake up with scratches and bruises on my legs. Thank goodness he wasn't too violent. He said in his nightmares he was frozen stiff and really couldn't move - like he was trying to run fast in water."
Somewhere along the line after years of hard living all of us pretty much straightened up, which made our Mother happy. We raised families and that was a full-time job. We would always get together at our Mother’s house for the thanksgiving bird and Christmas. Larry moved away to Minneapolis but we would drive our Mother to see him or he would get back home occasionally. It was like that for years then our lives unraveled.

Larry survived boarding school atrocities, racism when he worked for the postal system, Vietnam but he couldn’t fight off physical problems. He died November 16, 2007 of complications from a ruptured aneurysm in his brain. When they took him off the life-support system, me and Eddie stood by his bed holding his hand. He started to jump and I held his head down and he died in front of us, only eight minutes after they took him off the support system. It was a sad and horrible time and boy, it sure did hurt inside. I know Katie and her boys along with the rest of my family was in that room too, but it seemed like it was just me, Larry and Eddie again just like when we were put that farm truck and rode 250 miles to that boarding school a long time ago. We stood by each other then. We stood by each other in life - good times and bad and now we stood by when one of our own died. I closed his eyes for him. My brother was gone. I thought about what he said when he got to Vietnam and that guy who was coming home said, "It's all over but the crying."

In the weeks after, it was like I was in a daze. I would sit in the carport, and smoke and just stare at the wall - talk about damn depression. And Voncile had a case made for his flag and it now hangs in my basement office or office corner, along with all my pictures. Dumps took a picture of Larry when they went up to Minneapolis for a basketball tournament, he looked happy- that too hangs in my corner.

Sometimes people leave before we’re ready to say goodbye. He was only 56 years old. We were no strangers to death before this. My brother Bubs died in 1984. Mom died in 2001. Mike died in 2003. Plus we lost my stepdad, Boze Wamego and my nephew Clint. All of it was hard, but at least my Mother didn't have to see two other sons die.

I guess we take too much for granted. I figured Larry, Eddie and me would live to be old guys. It didn’t work out that way. Next month, I will have another birthday without Larry. I still miss him. Me and Eddie will always miss him.