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Friday, February 24, 2012

The Only White Boy There

      Today is Friday, new story release day. It is also take Mr S. to lunch day and call my tour contacts to push for completion of arrangements day. I will probably also see if my hemitheconyx caudicinctus and my pandinus imperator want to snack on some crickets.

The weather forecast for beautiful downtown Fallon is Sunny with a projected high of 62F and zero chance of rain. Winds S at 8 mph but watch for that to jump up by evening. The weather is shockingly good for our little chunk of the country. And very strange for February at 4,000 feet elevation.

Sgt Mikki has been raging against some invisible foe for the last couple of days and I would bet that it comes with a grey tiger striped suit. I can't see it, but my "spidey sense" tells me that el gato is behind the doggie rampage. This could also explain the lack of birds around the bird feeder.

I would recommend to all that you keep your anti-virus shields up and beware of strangers knocking on your electronic doors. I have been under an unusually heavy attack by out of country (India and China) spammers and scum seeking to data mine. Just this week I have seen four Nigerian scam letters. How droll. Open nothing that you do not know the sender of, and verify offers supposedly from businesses that you utilize. The "verify your account information" scam is going around again.

My little bit of "been there, done that" wisdom for today is about accepting other cultures. When I was a boy living in South Florida it was a decidedly WASP environment, really a "cracker" culture, which pre-dates redneck. It was still the time when a man could beat his wife for talking back to him, or not having dinner on the table when he got home from work, and people would only shake their heads and say, "won't that woman ever learn." Kids and dogs had no chance.

My mother had been married before she married my father, to a man who believed that every woman needed a regular attitude adjustment and she was not likely to allow a repeat of that mistake. So no wife beating in our house. But the attitudes of my surroundings were stereotypically male dominated and racist, with ignorant beliefs about every race and culture that was not their own. I can go into the reasons in greater detail should anyone want to know, but suffice it to say that my own differences lead me to seek out others, not like my family and culture.

I credit the wonderful families of the boys and girls that I grew up with in Hollywood, Florida, with saving me from years of ignorance, and for giving me such beautiful experiences in their homes and lives. We were a regular United Nations in short pants. Among the races, ethnicities, and cultural differences that I can recall were; Seminole Indians, Cubans, Italian Catholics, New York City Jews, Black Baptists, and the occasional stray other white cracker kids trying to escape their heritage. The mothers of all of these kids treated me like I was their son and fed me and yelled at me to prove it. The different cultural lessons that I learned in their homes has served me well all of my life and I credit them with helping to keep me alive when my military duties took me to strange lands and situations.

The lesson to be learned here is simple. Different does NOT equal wrong. Your way, my way, or our way, is NOT the only correct path. Look, listen, learn.

It is fitting that the winner of the readers vote for the next story is:

The Only White Boy There

When I was about 14 years old, I spent all of my time with some Seminole Indian boys, mostly Ralph, Larry, Sam, and occasionally Raymond, when he wasn't under arrest for something, (which he often was.)

On the day that I am remembering, we were at Sam's house and a woman came up in her car to pick up her granddaughter, Scarlet, who had been there visiting with her cousins. Actually, she was hanging around with us, which I really didn't mind at all. Scarlet was very pretty and the two of us were getting along in a way that I wanted to continue.

After the woman finished visiting with the adults inside she stopped next to us and asked me if I would like to attend the Green Corn Celebration the following week as her guest. I looked at my friends to see what their reaction to this would be, and they looked shocked.

Larry said, "Grandmother (a respectful term used when addressing any elderly woman, not necessarily your own grandmother), he's not Indian. He's white..." This lead to a lengthy lecture about how good her eyes were, and how many white people she had seen in her life and did we think that she was feeble-minded or what, etc. It was a three day celebration and I was to stay the entire time. Yippee!

Arriving at the main camp in the Big Cypress Reservation the first day we parked the truck and transferred to canoes for the rest of the journey into the swamp. As we landed our dugout canoes at the small dock, I saw a young white dog tied to a stake by one corner of the camp and stopped to pet and talk to it. This caused a great deal of amusement among some of the younger children playing nearby. I didn’t know why for sure, but I figured they were just laughing at the white boy.

To describe the camp itself, there was a rectangle of Chic-kees, or open thatch-roofed structures with raised sleeping platforms. They surrounded a central, much larger structure, also open, but without the platform. Instead it had a design like the spokes of a wagon wheel and a central hub. In this center was the big cooking fire with an opening in the roof right above it to let the smoke out. The spokes were actually trees which were shoved into the center as they burned and were used for seating while they lasted, which was a really long time.

The day was filled with activities and going and doing by the young people. The older folks spent a lot of time sitting in the central hut, where a big black cauldron was bubbling away 24 hours a day and the women tended it constantly. Once I realized that I was allowed to join them and listen quietly, I found a spot next to the lady that invited me. I found out that she was the spiritual Chief of the tribe, and that they had another Chief for business. She even translated for me if they spoke in their native languages of Muskogee or Miccosukee. I was overcome with the honors bestowed upon me. Not only was I the only white
boy there, I had a Chief as my personal translator.

The second day I smuggled some meat to the white puppy and played with it before we set off. When I looked up a couple of the old grandmothers were smiling and shaking their heads at me like I was crazy. When we came back for lunch the puppy was nowhere to be found and no one seemed to know where it went.

What Larry had been objecting to before we left Hollywood, I didn't know at the time. On this day while attending the festivities, I learned that white people were not, as a rule, allowed to be present at this event. This was not only a celebration time, but also a "Judgment Day" where Indians were judged for anything from minor indiscretions up to real law-breaking, by the Tribal Elders.

A panel of judges heard the information. The verdict was rendered and punishment decided upon before the violator was even allowed to sit down. If appropriate, the punishment was carried out immediately. While I was there one young man was charged with a very bad crime that I won't go into here. (But, it was bad.) He was tied to a tree and whipped like in the old movies about slavery, and then had to live at the Big Cypress reservation until he was completely healed-up from the whipping. The young man was told that if he ever had to come before them again, it would be his final journey. And they were serious!

On the third and final day, the ceremonial part was concluded by early afternoon and the people gathered for a big meal together. The older folks were sitting closest to the fire and were served first, then the rest, down through the ages until the youngest children not needing assistance to eat were given food. Those with babies or toddlers got food for them when it their turn. Then the Chief blessed the food and the "renewed year," and gave the word to dig in.

The aroma of that food cooking had created a nearly starved feeling in our stomachs and we ate like there would never be another meal. We had sofkee (like grits), baked fish, breads, and berries. But, the best of all was the stew dished out of that big black pot! It had wonderful broth, vegetables, and the most-tender meat that I had ever tasted.

I asked Sam what it was and he just said, "Don't ask..." which puzzled me. Was this some kind of Seminole only recipe or what? So, I asked Ralph and he just giggled like a little girl, something he did when he was nervous. So I figured I'd go right to the top and asked the Chief. When she said, "Dog," Sam said, "I told you not to ask. Do you remember that white dog you were playing with? Well, you just ate it!"

Then I knew that I had to go back for another bowl of stew because everyone had been quietly listening and watching me to see my reaction. If I hadn't gone back for more, I would have insulted the Chief in front of her people. I would be effectively saying that their ways were not good enough for me, by not having more of the food provided for me. So I got another bowl full and ate it with a smile on my face, and tried not to think about what I was eating. (This is why mothers always tell you, "Don't play with your food!”)

Everybody just smiled at me and resumed their conversations, which in their way was a major sign of approval and acceptance. The Seminole people don't waste a lot of words; they leave that to the white folks.

Sometimes it IS better not to know everything.


To follow up on this story: it was years before I learned that I was being both tested, and “pranked.” We did NOT eat the dog; it was rabbit and deer meat in the stew pot. Seminoles don’t eat dogs. Those of you who know any Native Americans well, especially Seminole people, are aware of their tremendous sense of humor and proclivity for playing jokes. The entire tribe down to the toddlers, were in on the prank.

To be thought well enough of to have such an elaborate practical joke carried out on you was an honor all by itself. If the Seminole people don’t like you they won’t pull a joke; they simply will not speak to you and treat you like you don’t exist. I was invited to see how I would behave in a cultural environment outside of my normal lifestyle. Essentially, the test was to see whether I would judge, or accept. I was the Chief's “white lab rat.” Happily I passed and was accepted like a member of the tribe from then on.

Other tribes may have a different sense of humor. I can just hear the Lakota people inviting Custer to a picnic now…


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