This is a love letter to my folks and to all loving couples and good parents in Indian country.
Mom and Dad will celebrate their 57th Anniversary on July 21. I want to celebrate them for holding a marriage and family together for more than half a century and for raising children and grandchildren who think the world of them. I want to honor them for not drinking or being dysfunctional (and for not drowning me, even when I was 12 and 13 and should have been put to sleep).
Mom and Dad have other names. Susie Rozetta Eades and Freeland Edward Douglas.
He is Hodulgee (Wind Clan) of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Nuyaka Tribal Town and Stomp Grounds. Born in 1922 in Okemah, Oklahoma, he grew up in Newtown and on his folks' Muscogee land outside of Beggs, outside of Okmulgee, outside of Tulsa.
She is Cheyenne (Tsistsistas) and Pawnee, and a citizen of the Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes. Born in 1921 in Pawnee, she was raised in El Reno, within reservation boundaries established by the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty of 1867. The treaty's first signatory was her great-grandfather, Chief Bull Bear, a Dog Men Society leader.
They were Depression poor. Mom remembers that her family of eight had plenty to eat until her father broke his back. 'Then I saw Daddy cry at the table because he didn't have enough to feed us.' Dad's family was rich with squirrels, deer, catfish, potatoes and sofgee (corn) fixed about a thousand ways. I loved living with his generous parents, Bessie Mickey and Lige Haines, in their warm home, with its newspaper wallpaper, wood-burning stove and kerosene lamps.
Mom's family house in El Reno was the pick-up and drop-off place for the 'big, black Roosevelt cars that carried the Cheyennes to vote. The Roosevelt people gave everyone coffee and cake ? they never said how to vote, but it was their car, their coffee and their cake.' Dad's people were Republicans, because President Andrew Jackson (who force-marched the Muscogees to Oklahoma) was a Democrat, but Dad switched parties during the Nixon Administration.
Mom went to public school, where she was 'taught to be a good Indian girl.' At eight or nine, Dad went to Euchee Indian School, where he was beaten every time he would say anything in Muscogee or 'act like a wild Indian.' He and the other boys excelled at running away, almost always to their homes, where bounty hunters captured them and collected $5 apiece for their return. Dad is legendary at the Euchee reunions for making the most money for the white bounty hunters.
They met at Chilocco Indian School in 1939. She fell in love with him at first sight and wrote his name in that small space between the thumb and forefinger, with her lead pencil. She still holds her left hand in such a way as to hide the tattoo from sight.
They were movie-star gorgeous. She was very small (even when having twins in 1950, she weighed only 95 lbs.) and a looker ? somewhere between Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland -- with black hair and a silver streak starting at her widow's peak. He was tall, muscular and slim, an Indian Gregory Peck. They loved to swing to music of the big bands. She played the saxophone and he could soft-shoe and sing any kind of song.
Mom went to Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, where she earned a two-year business degree. She 'wasn't allowed to take academic courses, but they sure taught me how to cross my legs at the ankle.' Of the two possible learning paths open to her, she chose secretarial training over hairdressing, and was at the top of her class in typing and stenography. She later worked at Tinker Air Force Base as the executive secretary for the head of the largest aircraft maker in the country.
Dad went to WWII with the 45th Infantry 'Thunderbird' Division, C Company (C for Chilocco), to North Africa, Sicily and Monte Cassino, where he almost lost his legs. He still carries shrapnel, doesn't talk much about war and rejects the notion that he's a hero. I know he earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and ribbons with battle stars and an invasion arrowhead. I know that fewer than ten of the original Company C men are alive today; one of them, Ernest Childers (Creek) won the Medal of Honor.
Our family walked among the alabaster crosses and stars at Cassino in the late 1950s. Dad said the names of the men out loud and told us how he was related to them. He told us that the nearby brook 'was red the last time I saw it.'
As soon as Dad was patched together and returned to the U.S., he and Mom were married by a justice of the peace in Oklahoma City. He returned to Chilocco as a disabled veteran and finished high school, and went on to be a military cryptographer. They lived on an Army base in Red Bank, New Jersey, and danced at Roseland in New York. In all their photos from that time, they are young and radiant.
The first far-away place we lived as a family was Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii, in 1952-1954. Dad worked in cavernous buildings somewhere on the island beneath the pineapple and sugar cane fields. When air-raid sirens blasted, we ran to huge cement bomb shelters below the parade grounds that were stocked them like tornado cellars and stayed underground until the all-clear signal sounded. We kids had fun chasing the truck that sprayed billowing clouds of DDT to kill mosquitoes. The only cautionary note we heard was that the truck could stop suddenly and we could run into the back of it.
From 1956 to 1960, Dad was stationed with NATO, Allied Forces Southern Europe, in Naples, Italy. We often had guests, military and diplomatic corps families, who had left their homes in the Middle East, often with only their night clothes. Dad talked with the men until all hours, sometimes about Viet Nam, where some of them had been.
Mom hired a 'maid,' Anna, but insisted that we clean house before she arrived. Since there was no cleaning to do, Anna taught us how to cook Neapolitan dishes, showed us around town and introduced us to her extended family, who reminded us of Indians and made us less homesick.
In between travels, Mom and Dad made sure that we lived with our grandparents and knew Muscogee and Cheyenne places and ways. They taught us how to dance and pray and make and break camp fast.
Mom taught me how to read and write and add and subtract and sew and bead and quilt and cook and play jacks and make a speech. Dad taught me to hunt and fish and swim and dive and run and fight and face fear and drive. He gave me my Muscogee name, Fus Chumbi (Sweet Bird).
Dad makes great deer sausage and does all the cooking now. They have diabetes. His hearing and her memory are fading. When Mom started her newest medication, I asked Dad what it was. He said the doctor told them, but he couldn't hear and she didn't remember.
Their son, Dennis Gene, lives with them and grows their vegetables and herbs. He says he feels like 'one of the old Dog Men, taking care of the elders.' Mom and Dad have buried their parents, nearly all their siblings and their youngest child, Rickey Dean, who died on Mom's birthday in 1989. They've survived rough patches and are loving, loyal and optimistic.
Once I was upset about something in Cheyenne history and Mom said, 'It wasn't all bad, you know. They had mostly good times, camping together and hunting and fishing and telling stories and singing and dancing. It was a good life.'
Aho and mvto, Mom and Dad, for making a good life.