Raised American Indian in a White Mans World a New Beginning
My first love was found on one of my runs to the mountains. She was taking a walk “just to clear her head”. It was not uncommon to talk to people you met while you were running or walking in those days so when she asked a question slowing to a walk and giving her an answer was just second nature.
Her question was “did you used to spend time on the Serrano Indian reservation?” My answer was “yes a few years ago with my grandmother.” She told me she had been raised on the reservation where most of my early childhood had been spent. As we talked she told me she had remembered seeing me with my grandmother many times.
From memory she recalled her father saying those crazy people are at it again. For years she had wondered what was crazy about us. She learned from me that the mountains were more of a home to me than any other place and that most of my time off was still spent there.She also learned that years ago my “mountain home” had been moved to private property which was used with the owners permission.
We didn’t pass on any information about where we lived or telephone numbers, we just went our separate ways after about fifteen minutes. On my next trip to the mountains she was sitting on someone's lawn waiting for me. As we walked and talked again she asked me again how my time on the mountain was spent.
My reply was “just living.” That of course was not enough, she wanted to know about what was done there that made her father say we were crazy. She told me she had taken the same walk every day for seven days hoping to see me again just to learn "what?" about my wanting to be on the mountain made me crazy. My reply to her was “it's just more of a home to me than anywhere else.“
The following weekend she was sitting waiting for me again. While we were walking she was told not to look for me during the week or the following weekend as my plans didn’t include the mountains. My mother had called and asked me to take care of her younger children so she could have a weekend off.
This beautiful young woman was waiting for me on my return trip from the mountain this weekend. She asked me for my phone number this time before we parted ways. It was explained to her that my “job” only allowed phone calls between nine and ten PM.
Every evening there was a call from her within ten minutes of my getting “off”. On Wednesday she asked me if it would be ok for her to spend time with me over the weekend. It was explained to her again that my time would be spent taking care of my younger siblings.
She said she hadn’t been around children for a while and would enjoy helping me if it was ok with my mother. Mother got a call Thursday from me asking her approval. She said it would be nice to be able to talk to this woman first. She was given the phone number and after their conversation her approval was quick.
On Friday my first trip to the supermarket alone was made. It had been a tradition for me, with grandmothers help at first, to provide the first meal upon my return home. This had started at age six. There was no time to hunt or set traps so food had to come from somewhere. My purchases included two whole chickens, ten pounds of potatoes, and sixteen ears of corn. There was not a penny left in my pocket.
It was not normal for my arrival at the house to go unnoticed. This time there was no one home. There was a note on the board saying mother had gone to pick up “my friend.” By the time everyone arrived dinner was cooking.
It was a real simple dish, just throw everything in the pot, one thing at a time and wait for it to cook. The recipe was from a friend of mothers in Mexico. Chicken was first with Salsa, powdered chili pepper and a few herbs which my memory can't recall. About forty five minutes before meal time add peeled and cut potatoes. Then about 10 minutes before the meal is to be served add corn which has been cut off the cob. When ready, serve in homemade flour tortillas. It was easy to make and by the time it was cooked everything else needed would be ready. There were still potatoes to peel, corn to husk and tortillas to make when everyone arrived.
As usual two of my siblings gave me a hand. My friend came into the kitchen to watch but couldn’t get a word in. My visits home had been few and far between since taking the live in job and everyone wanted to be brought up to date. There is no doubt in my mind she didn’t understand a single word of the conversation. Everyone had been talking in a mixture of Spanish and Cherokee.
When my mother sat down for dinner and everyone followed, she admonished the younger children to practice their English all weekend. As the head of the house for the weekend it fell to me to thank the spirits for the food. This would be done in Cherokee as tradition dictated and as it had always been done no matter who was at the table.
The hour of cooking that had gone on since her arrival and this short time at the table had given my friend a glimpse of my life at home. She was the first female invited by me who had lasted this long. The rest had never even made it to the table. Before dinner was finished my mother asked to be excused and began her weekend alone.
There were a only few words spoken during dinner and when it was finished the family routine continued. One minor change was their was an extra body helping. The table was cleared, dishes washed, baths taken, teeth brushed, and finally bedtime stories. A special treat was in store for them tonight, they heard the story twice, once in Cherokee and the other time in English.
The first twenty four hours
After the children were in bed the questions started. We both wanted to learn about the other. At this point we didn’t even know each others age. She was truly shocked to find out my seventeenth birthday had passed only a few months before. My last day of school had been five weeks into my senior year, and it had ended because all required credits and courses to graduate had been fulfilled. When she learned that having a live in job and living away from home was my choice she really didn’t understand.
After talking for about an hour she understood why her father had called us crazy. While the local Indian children were spending all their time learning to live as the white man, my training had been headed in the opposite direction, and from the time of choice my life had remained as planned.
Shocked didn’t cover what was learned about her. She was almost two years my senior and had been her own since her father died. Her father was full blooded Serrano Indian and had died of alcohol related problems. From this point on and before she had graduated high school she had been living alone. In total she had been living alone for almost four years. Her mother had left her to return to her family when she was a small child. Her grandparents and mother lived in Germany.
They had been in phone contact for years and when given the chance to go to her mother when her father died she had refused. Even though he hadn’t been the best father she couldn’t stand the idea of being so far from him so shortly after his death. She didn't feel she knew her mother after not seeing her for so many years.
When it was time for bed she was shown where everything she needed was. She was given a room to herself and the admonition to get some sleep because days started early. My half brother started his day before the sun peeked over the horizon.
As per usual when at home during the summer my day started with first one, then two more, and oops a fourth body on my belly. The dog pile turned into a hug fest as usual. This time however there was an extra body getting hugs from everyone. From the moment she touched me, she became part of everything that was my life. There had never been a touch which had affected me like this before.
A few minutes later she joined the other children and helped with everything that needed done then joined us in play when the work was finished. She was part of every conversation and even started a few of her own. She came with us as we walked around the neighborhood, even stepped in when the baby fell and skinned her knee. There were many times during the day that we would bump into each other and that feeling didn’t stop.
A call for help and its aftermath
After the evening meal and clean up the phone rang, it was a family friend with an emergency. His horse was very sick and he was not sure what to do. When he learned my mother wasn’t home he asked me to call her, as it really was an emergency. After a short call to mother, it was out the door leaving my friend to finish up and get the children to bed. The bag grandmother always left behind was grabbed on my way out the door.
The treatment took most of the night, the horse had colic and at first refused to get up. Once he was up he was very unhappy so doing the treatment had to be put off until he was in a better mood. After walking the horse for hours it was finally time for the treatment. While the horse was being treated a wrong move put me in a bad place and there was a present which couldn’t be avoided. My front side was pretty much covered with animal droppings.
My plan was to grab a long hot shower before anyone woke up but she greeted me at the door a few minutes before dawn. She backed up quick and a hand went to her nose. A few expletives in Cherokee slipped out on the way to the shower. Just before reaching the shower my English returned, was used to apologize and to ask her to return to bed.
After finishing my shower a few winks were in order, the children would be up shortly and whatever sleep came my way would be needed. When my brother landed on my belly and my eyes popped open a quick look at the sun let me know only a few minutes had passed since my eyes had closed. It was time to begin the day.
A few minutes later the girls joined in. My friend tried to shoo them out. It had never worked in the past so there was no question in my mind it would be no different today. My brother and sisters knew something was wrong when the first word out of my mouth was in Cherokee, in the past when sleep was lacking this had happened.
When they asked, they were told the horse needed me most of the night. Being children they wanted to know everything. They were told as much as they could handle.The thing they really needed to know is the horse had to be walked or it would have died.
They took it as easy on me as a nine, seven and four year old could that day. My friend stepped up and tried to pull the lions share of the load. The children had their own ideas and as usual everyone worked. Responsibility had been accepted. My duties were not shirked so by the time mother got home the only thing on my mind was sleep.
When she walked through the door one look at me told the story. The first words out of her mouth were, "your staying the night". She asked my friend it she had to be home for any special reason and when the answer was no she said "your staying too". She said :we would dropped off in the morning. Mother then took over and told me to rest, while getting ready to lay on the couch my friend asked if she could be my pillow. It was the first time we had been alone since early in the morning. There were many questions each of us had but there were none asked as sleep came upon me before my head touched her legs.
Budding relationship or goodbye?
In the morning it was life as usual, only way less room because the couch was much smaller than my bed. There were only three bodies today, no room for a forth. There was time for a quick shower before heading out the door. Breakfast had been given up to have that time.
My job was two miles away, my friends house eleven. The days started early at work so it was my turn to be dropped off first. The last words out of my mouth were "see you later". There was a deep seated fear in me that our time was over. No one had survived my family life in the past.
When the phone rang at one minute after nine, shocked didn't cover my feelings. At this point it became question of time. The whole hour was spent on the phone. During our conversation she brought up the idea of spending the following weekend with me on the mountain. She had to know what would keep me from spending time with my family who she had already began to love. As we had talked that night she told me that she wanted more time with me and knew the only way it was going to happen is if she went to the mountain with me. If she had learned anything about me she knew even though my family was important the mountain was more so.
This article was originally written as a rebuttal to the idea dates can be cheap. My first date with my first love cost me every penny which was in my possession. It is also a story of two people who willing gave up much for each other over one weekend and started a relationship which only lasted a little over a year. This story is important to me and will continue as time can be found.
© 2011 Dennis Thorgesen