DEBRA LEE is enjoying retirement in metro Atlanta, Georgia. A New Orleans native, she likes writing about the city before Hurricane Katrina, expounding on stories told by visitors, and the changing times throughout the 20th century.
Apache Homecoming 2015 A Vietnam Veteran’s Story
Daniel watched June from the doorway. Tears slid silently down her face and into the crib as she allowed Isaac to play with her finger. She seemed more than dutiful to him. Adoration showed on her countenance whenever she was near the infant. But there were always tears. Was this post-partum depression? He moved away from the door and floated down the stairs to the kitchen, a big man who moved fluidly and quickly but never made a sound, barely moving the wind in his wake. Putting everything in its place and cleaning the counter, Daniel turned on the dishwasher when he thought he’d given his wife enough time to compose herself,. She bounded down the stairs. “I would have done that,” she said, eyeing the immaculate kitchen and dining area. “I know.” He lifted her finger, the one that Isaac held, and kissed it. “But Isaac was tenderizing this for me.” June moved into his arms. He rested his chin on her head and held her tenderly. “There are meds for PPD, you know. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” “I don’t feel depressed.” She answered into his chest. “We could see someone to be sure.” June lowered her arms and grasped Daniel’s hands with her own. “It’s the other thing,” she said, flipping the light switch and leading him to the French door entrance to the balcony. Daniel noticed a DVD setting on the carved round table. “I bought this today,” she said, “for five dollars.” “Twenty-Seven westerns on four DVDs,” he read aloud as he sat in the center of the porch swing. Serious talk happened here lately. Tonight, there was no preamble. “What’s a PowWow?” she asked him. “From the movies?” he asked. “They used it differently in two of the movies, so I looked it up.” “You watched twenty-seven movies today?” Daniel smiled. “There’s a website that lists all of the PowWows in the country. There were pictures and they’re not about soldiers and Indians sitting down and talking. There are a lot of games, food, and dancing competitions. Even the audience can dance. If I could dance among the Indians, I might feel something – something from the past.” She rushed on before Daniel could speak. “I’ve got Indian in me. I know it!” He doubted it. Daniel figured her doe eyes and straight hair had more to do with being Asian. Her coloring could be a mix of European and any other darker nation. The bone structure was all wrong. “Daniel, I want to go to a PowWow.” “I don’t recall ever hearing about one here.” She held his hands and looked deeply into his eyes. “There’s one this weekend. It’s just a couple of hundred miles from here.” “That’s a long drive! June….” “Daniel, I’ve never asked for anything before. I’ve never had to. You have given me everything a woman could want and more, but…” “He interrupted her. We’ll go if that’s what you want. I just don’t want you to be disappointed if you don’t feel anything.” “I’ll feel it,” she said, “I know I will.” He pulled her to him and June sat on her husband’s right leg, holding his hand to her breast. “You don’t want to go, do you?” “No, I don’t.” “If this doesn’t help, we’ll go see about PPD.” He half smiled. “Why does it matter so much to find out your ethnicity? You’ve lived with yourself all this time without seeking out Indians; why is it so important now?” “The papoose.” “I think papoose is an ethnic slur. The movies?” “What if Isaac wants to know his heritage one day?” “Isaac has a home with two loving parents. There is harmony here.” Daniel slid his hand across his wife’s abdomen, “And some company. Maybe?” He looked hopeful. June moved into her husband’s embrace. She pictured the big house the single Daniel built for no particular reason, ringing with children’s laughter and the sound of running feet. “Lots of sons,” she said. ~ June slept with both her husband’s arms cradling her. A smile played around her lips and Daniel chuckled softly as he thought, “Of all the places to be ticklish!” This minor factor was a treasure in love making. Their passion was always heightened by the tickle factor. Thoughts about the weekend and the PowWow came unbidden. He was not ready to think about the Gathering, the proper name for a PowWow, so he willed himself to sleep. ~ “Look what I bought today, Daniel, June said after supper.” Daniel looked up from planing the wood and smiled. He looked back at the wood. “I don’t think that carrying Isaac on your back is a good idea.” “Squaws always carried papooses this way.” “More movies today?” Daniel set his tool down carefully and walked around June. “Hollywood has to do things that look good on film and say things that will win some type of award. I think squaw and papoose are both racial slurs. You might not want to remember those lines. Most westerns were made a long time ago.” “What? Is it not fixed right in the back?” Daniel stood before her cradling Isaac in his arms. “It’s fixed right. I like knowing where our son is at all times. I like to be able to see my family always.” “How did you do that, Daniel? I still feel Isaac’s weight.” “Not Isaac’s weight.” “I’m sorry Isaac.” June kissed him on the cheek and he cooed at her and kicked his legs. Daniel smiled. “I’m sorry Daniel. They said it was safe and comfortable for babies. Why would they sell something like this?” June moved to put the item in its packaging so she could return it to the store. “You can wear it so that Isaac is in front of you. Your arms will be free and I will be with you. Isaac will be comfortable and safe.” “I don’t think I want it after all. I thought I would look more like a squaw. Maybe someone would recognize me.” “You know, June, there’s been quite some time between the Indians depicted in the movies and the ones that will be at the PowWow.” “But I saw pictures online. They were all in costume.” “Did you read about anything?” “You know I hate to read, especially on a computer.” “I know.” ~ Daniel rolled out of bed as soon as he heard Isaac. “I’ll get him Daniel. There’s still a half hour until the alarm sounds. I can take a nap later when Isaac does.” “Please, please, let me get him,” Daniel pretended to whine. “Go to sleep,” he whispered, then nibbled on her ear and caressed her breasts. June watched him leave the room and wondered, not for the first time, how he could move his bulk so swiftly and silently. She stretched catlike, still feeling Daniel’s hands, and wondered how she could get him back into bed before he went to work. She fell back to sleep thinking about it. When Daniel came in with Isaac, he turned off the alarm and left the bedroom. ~ As quietly as possible, June came downstairs. She stood on the landing and watched Daniel work. He was sanding wood, something that wouldn’t wake her two floors up. Isaac played in his walker, making happy noises and gumming anything he could. As she got closer, June realized that Daniel was speaking softly to Isaac, “Your mother is as noisy as a herd of buffalo thundering across the plains.” Noticing the weekender bags, June said excitedly, “Daniel, you took the day off for us! We’re leaving today?” He’d moved away from the lumber and his tools. In the middle of the floor, he waited for her embrace. Every one of their days started with touching and tenderness. After a long embrace, June pushed gently away and asked, “What does one wear to a PowWow?” “Comfortable shoes.” She grabbed a bag and bounded away up the stairs, as Daniel yelled after her. “Isaacs’s bag is already done.” ~ Daniel smiled and put Isaac in his rocking toy at the side of the cushioned window seat. He picked up his bag and Isaac’s bag and without looking at June, said, “Let’s put these in the car. Then we can have breakfast. Isaac’s already eaten.” “Take mine for me Daniel. I forgot something.” “Come on, I need you to move that tarp in the trunk, then I won’t have to put this stuff down again.” “Daniel, how did you know? I didn’t see you look up at all.” He put the bags down and turned slowly. “They’ll like that look at the Gathering. I certainly like it here. “Are those shoes comfortable?” Daniel asked, enjoying June’s golden body, bare except for a pair of canvas shoes. “You want to try them on?” “You know that I do. “ Wrapping her arms around Daniel’s neck, June lifted her legs and wrapped herself around her husband. He moved with her to the window seat, slid the cushion to the floor and placed her gently on it. ~ Later, he said, "Those shoes didn’t feel comfortable to me. They were a bit rough.” Euphorically, she replied, “I kicked the shoes of. You felt my feet, all soft and firm trying to push through your body.” “Is that how you remember it?” “Yes,” she gazed lovingly at him. “You’re sure, I had different thoughts. We’ll have to do it again to be sure. And,” he continued, “you cheated.” June looked questioningly at him. “Yes, how am I going to know if the shoes are comfortable if you took them off?” “Eeeeii!” “Ugh! What have you been eating Isaac?” “That was very clever the way you tied his rocker to the cushion.” “Only he doesn’t know an orgasm from a bowel movement. You made that same sound a minute ago.” “Oh! You!” June rolled over. Daniel stood, leaned over and picked up his son. “That rocking motion might not work when he’s twelve.” June laughed, “We might have to wait until he’s asleep – maybe even as early as eleven and a half.” ~ Daniel leaned on the door and watched his wife drive through the forest as Isaac chewed relentlessly on his finger. “They are beautiful!” June breathed. “The entire panorama is the most incredible thing I have ever seen.” June glanced at Daniel to see what he was looking at. “Wife, son, against a backdrop of quiet sentinels.” “I love you Daniel,” she said softly. Talking back and forth about the world at large – animals, plants, and minerals, the time and the road flew by quickly. “Let’s stop at Olsen’s and get Isaac something to eat before we get there. We might not find anything that he likes right away.” “Okay.” “The turn is coming up soon. The speed limit drops ten miles, then another ten, then there’s a road on the right. Take it for a few miles and we’ll be there.” June did as she was told, smiling the whole time. Sometimes she wondered if there was any road Daniel had not traveled on. Was he going to particular places or just driving around? Occasionally she thought his life might have been as lonely as hers had been, but she didn’t like talking about orphanages and foster homes, so she decided that life began with Daniel. Anything that happened before they got together was ancient history. She told him once after he’d listened to her story, “If you ever want to talk about your past, I’m ready to listen.” He never mentioned it again. Olsen’s was a real restaurant; a wooden structure with herringbone floors and fancy paneling with lattice work on the outside of the windows. “You did this, Daniel?” She couldn’t help asking. “How fortunate these people must be to have some of your work. When do you find time to create all of the amazing things you do – that you’ve done?” “My number one fan.” He kissed her hair. “Isaac, you father is a master craftsman.” June took Isaac’s hand and laid it on the smooth wood railing, then brought him over to the window to feel the wood along the frame. “City girl?” she heard a voice ask, “Never seen real wood before?” “Roscoe, this is my wife, June.” “Well now, that’s where you been these past few years. Got a man child, too?” Roscoe’s one eye studied Daniel, then he smiled broadly. “This is good, real good.” He held his hand out to June, “It’s a real pleasure meeting you. You have chosen well. “Come on in.” He led them into the restaurant. “Nell, look who’s come to dine with us!” Roscoe said loudly. Nell was as wizened as Roscoe, wearing an old fashioned hearing aid. “This is June,” Roscoe continued. Nell glanced past them. “Daniel?” her face broke into a huge smile. “You’re here.” Then she looked at June and the baby, smiled even more broadly, and said, “You’re Daniel’s wife. I’m so happy for you – both of you. “Come sit here in the middle of the floor where we can all just stare at you.” June suddenly realized that there were a lot of people in the restaurant. Where did they come from? she wondered. Theirs was the only car in the parking lot. The smile came unbidden. Life was always taking on new perspectives since she married Daniel She sat where Roscoe held a chair for her. Nell rolled a high chair to the table and Daniel moved around the room shaking hands with people. The men stood up to greet him and everyone seemed pleased. When Daniel came to the table, everyone in the room followed. “This is my wife, June,” he said proudly, “and our son, Isaac.” Some of the women had tears in their eyes as they touched June’s hands and played with Isaac’s fingers or toes. Daniel introduced everyone by name as if they were all old friends. Without ordering, Cream of Wheat arrived for Isaac, and everyone moved away from their table. He ate greedily, kicking his legs and waving his hands. Nell hovered nearby, smiling. When he was done, Nell brought apple juice in a two handled baby cup. “This should keep him busy while you enjoy your food,” she told Daniel and June. June had a healthy appetite that the onlookers seemed to enjoy. She ate as much as Daniel, enjoying the huge variety of dishes, complimenting whoever prepared such sumptuous fare. Nell and Samita, one of the other women, burped Isaac and before June could object, took the diaper bag to change him. “Who wants to deal with that after eating such good food?” Samita asked. “But you just finished eating, too.” Roscoe asked, “Why don’t you walk the food down? Come, I’ll show you what Isaac is doing.” June and Daniel followed Roscoe to the far side of the restaurant through a door that led to the sleeping quarters. A very fancy wooden crib stood near a window and Isaac slept peacefully as if he were at home. “Show June the lake, Daniel,” Roscoe suggested. Daniel took June’s hands. “Do you want to?” “I want to do everything with you, Daniel.” “Isaac’s safe.” “I know.” Hand in hand, they walked toward what appeared to be wilderness. As they got farther away from the restaurant, they moved closer to each other. “I feel as if there are a thousand pairs of eyes on us, Daniel.” “There probably are. We’ll be alone by the water.” June stopped short. “Daniel!” He watched her as she took in every sight. It was more beautiful than he remembered and he supposed it was because she was with him. “It’s breathtaking,” she was finally able to say. “Paradise must have looked like this.” They walked around for a while, then sat on a carved wooden bench that blended in with the scenery. “How many of these are there?” “I don’t know.” “Did you make them?” “No, there are other wood crafters,” Daniel said. His eyes were smiling, a sure sign that there was more than he was telling. She studied him and then smiled, too. “You taught them, didn’t you?” “Can’t put anything past you.” He was proud that she understood him so well, that she rarely needed an explanation. He was proud to be her husband. Daniel wondered time and again why she had chosen him. He couldn’t imagine the appeal, but was pleased with her choice. She stepped into his embrace and held him tightly. He reciprocated and they stood that way for a long time. “Isaac,” they both said at the same time. “He must be waking up,” Daniel spoke first. “Now that we’ve gotten off the highway, how much farther do we have to go?” “We’re closer than you might think. Do you want me to drive?” “Yes. No fair you getting to see all of the sights and I only get to see the road.” “Foiled again,” he said. “You catch on to every little trick I try to pull.” ~ “There’s not much to see here,” June said as they drove across what seemed like an arid plain. “I know, that’s why I wanted to drive. All this room, you’d be peeling out, doing donuts, and drifting into somebody’s house.” “People live out here? Where? Are they like the sand people in Star Wars?” Daniel smiled at her, but as he looked away his smile saddened. He turned at a ninety degree angle and within a half mile, she could see small huts. He turned back without saying anything. “Are we on a reservation, Daniel?” “Yes.” “And Olsen’s? Is it on the reservation?” “On the fringe.” “So all of this, this space, is Indian land, and all of that lush green and the lake is what? Not Indian land?” She unbuckled her seatbelt and slid over to lean on his arm. He lifted his right arm and tucked her gently to his side. “We can still get a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt here.” “I don’t care,” she said morosely. Once they were back on a real road, Daniel pulled onto the shoulder. “Isaac wants to walk for a few minutes,” he said. She smiled at him. “Me, too.” June attended to Isaac, making sure he didn’t have any particular needs. She and Daniel walked toward a straggly stand of trees. “When I first moved here, I drove around aimlessly, sleeping under the stars. Then one day I saw no reason to go back to my apartment. I drove until I ran out of gas. I sat in the car for days. An old man came out on the third day to see if I’d planned to just leave my junk car in the middle of his yard. “I didn’t know there were people here, either; that I’d driven to a reservation and stopped in an old man’s vegetable patch. We helped each other. He taught me how to appreciate wood. I made sure he had food enough for his old age. “I wasn’t there when my father died.” Fleetingly, Daniel remembered the government agents that took him away from his home. ‘If you ever come back, we’ll kill your grandfather.’ “Here I had another chance at living. I finished school, got a job that gave me more money than I knew what to do with. “Our home is a monument to that man.” Daniel hesitated for a long time. June could tell that he wanted to say more. There was some inner conflict. Finally he smiled and said, “If he had not found me, I would not have found you. There would be no Isaac.” He leaned his chin on her head. She snuggled her face into his neck. “There would be no love in my life.” Back at the car, June told him. “Every day I wake up and think that I could not love you more, and everyday I do. Your trust is what made me fall in love with you the first time. You are sacred to me, Daniel. Your love is safe with me.” At that moment, the sun shone brightly. Or maybe it had been shining all along. It just seemed brighter now, warming them both with a special love. He held the driver door for her and ran around the car to the passenger side. “Oh, there must be something to see, I’m stuck driving again.” “You do it so well.” “Thanks Daniel. I love to drive.” The car fishtailed onto the road. He smiled. ~ “I’m not from here either,” June said, coming out of the shower in the hotel. A smile spread across her face when she saw that Isaac was asleep on Daniel’s broad chest. “Finally! Those teeth look so close, but it’s like they refuse to come through. I hate to see him fret so. I see why parents age and get gray hair.” Running her fingers through his steel gray hair, she teased him with her breasts. “You must have a hundred children,” she said playfully, “but you seem so young.” Turning serious she asked, “Did you have children, Daniel.” “No,” he said. “The time had to be right. The woman, the right mother.” “Oh, Daniel, you should have been a poet. You always say the right things.” They rarely talked about their past lives, but for the second time, he shared something with her. She seemed to want to talk about it. He trusted her with his life, his love, his child. He tried to breathe easily and see this conversation through. “Did you move here to get away from the memories of foster care and being an orphan?” “Yes, I felt that I needed a major change.” “From where did you come?” “Oklahoma.” “Is that why you think you’re Indian?” “It’s Indian country Daniel. The Trail of Tears ended there. The Indian population is huge.” “But you weren’t raised on a reservation?” “Doesn’t mean that I wasn’t born on one. Maybe it looked like the one today. Maybe my mother couldn’t afford me and didn’t want me to starve. Maybe someone cared at some time in my life.” “Some two certainly care now.” “And that makes it all worth while.” June lay down beside her small family. Daniel asked, “Do you want to go out to the grounds this evening? See what’s going on?” “Can we?” She jumped up and headed for her clothes. “I just want to feel the ground even if I don’t see anything. We can go now while Isaac’s asleep and when he wakes up and I can feed him and he won’t miss anything either.” ~ The competitions had begun when June drove into the parking lot. They could hear drums and singing. Indians in regalia were everywhere. “How will we know one tribe from another?” she asked Daniel. “They dress differently.” They’re all so colorful,” she said as they moved slowly among the crowd. “I had no idea there would be so many people.” “You chose a national competition. I’m sure the dancers’ families and friends came with them. Also, there are a lot of divisions.” “Will we still be able to dance?” “The pamphlet says there will be intertribal dancing. You can dance then.” “But I don’t know what tribe I belong to.” “That’s why they call it intertribal. Anyone can dance; even if they’re not Indian.” “Daniel, you know so much.” Isaac enjoyed the sights, sounds, and the outdoor air. After walking the length and breadth of the field and watching some of the dancers, Daniel said, “Let’s go. There will be a lot more to see tomorrow. We can return refreshed.” ~ June and Isaac were asleep almost as soon as their heads hit the pillows. Daniel could have done the same thing, but something was different. He decided to give it some thought. It was easier to think, or not think, while running his hands over smooth wood or while carving obsidian. There was too much space in his head to think while doing nothing. There was a lot he did not want to remember. He heard something or saw something that triggered a distant memory, but Isaac’s gums were bothering him and he fretted quite a bit. Daniel focused on him so June wouldn’t notice and could enjoy the newness of the PowWow. Daniel’s mind was organized into categories. Usually he could go right where he needed to find something without wavering from the path, but tonight, every thought was marked by the pounding of a drum. Each beat seemed to want to open a different category. Trying to recover his tranquil spirit, he fell into a fitful sleep. A little beaver swam out of the water and circled an armadillo that was already on the land. They circled for so long, dream Daniel said, “Do something.” The armadillo attacked the beaver. Winning, he stood atop the beaver waving a Mescolero Apache banner. Dream Daniel heard a splash and looked to see the beaver swimming in the water. Looking down, the armadillo noticed that it was standing on a dirt mound. It dove into the water after the beaver. Armadillo swam well, but Beaver ducked under the water and did not resurface. Finally the armadillo stopped looking for the beaver and returned to shore. The beaver swam out and circled the armadillo again and again. Faster and faster, he went around and around. The armadillo gave up and surrendered. The beaver waved the Chiricahua Apache banner, then planted it in the ground and swam away. Daniel rolled over in his sleep and the dream began again with the beating of a faraway drum. Three times the dream repeated itself. Then Daniel heard a voice that said, “You can’t stay here with the dead, Little Beaver.” “This is a dream!” Daniel said. Hurling himself from the bed, he stood in the middle of the floor gasping for breath with his eyes squeezed tightly shut.. “Daniel?” June asked quietly. He moved away from her to the wall between the window and the door. “Daniel?” June approached from the side and touched his arm firmly. “It was a dream. I’m here for you.” His first instinct was to open the door and bolt. Run away from life. Run. Run anywhere. Why did he live so long? June moved between Daniel and the wall and put her arms around him. When he didn’t immediately hug her, she used her arms to lift his and place them around her. He hugged her tightly then. His nose inhaled the scent of her hair and his lips moved across her forehead leaving a trail of tiny kisses. “I love you June. I love you so much. My life would be nothing without you! You have given me a son. So much more than I deserve. And now,” he laughed softly, “you’re comforting me in the middle of the night.” “Is it the room, Daniel? Are you picking up impressions from someone who slept here before?” He leaned her away from him and looked deeply into her eyes. “No,” he said emphatically. “No, that’s not it.” “Oh, look!” June said. Daniel turned and looked where June was looking. “A bed,” she continued. “Let’s get in it and hold each other.” In the bed, she climbed on top of him and said, “I sleep so much better after we’ve made love, Daniel. How about a long, slow, screw? It tickles more when you…” She leaned down and kissed him deeply, touched him in all the right places. “And it drives you wild!” ~ Daniel awoke to the sight of the woman he loved smiling and gazing at him with tenderness and affection. “I fell asleep. How do I know that we finished?” “It’s called afterglow.” “Is that why I feel so warm and snuggly?” “Could be.” She moved into his space. He put his arm around her. June proceeded to do all of the wonderful things that made him want her intimately. “How can you always want me?” “Besides being the most intelligent woman in the world, you mean? I like feeling good, Daniel, and the closer I am to you, the more I, mmmmmmmm.” ~ “It’s the drums,” he said, as they entered the PowWow for the second time. “Do they stir a longing in you?” June’s coy look made him smile. “In my dream last night, there was a constant pulsating rhythm. It’s as if there’s a message I need to know.” She listened. “Is that it?” “No. Remember last night when the dancer in orange regalia did his thing?” “Oh, Daniel. He was magnificent. There was no way to separate the dancer from the dance. He was dance. He was music. He was rhythm. Life! If I met somebody like that, I wouldn’t even know what to say to him. He’s so far above us elemental mortals when he dances. I hope we get to see him today.” This morning, they moved among the vendors and craftsmen. June was fascinated more by the craftsmen. “Are you an Indian?” she asked each one. “Probably,” many of them said. “Don’t you know?” she would ask. Invariably they would reply, “My folks were taught not to talk about it – being Indian.” Or, “My grandfather was forced to attend the Indian schools. All tribes were there. We children were told to forget about our parents, the reservations, the freedoms we had. We knew we were Indian. After awhile, the younger ones did not even know to which tribe they belonged. It wasn’t important in the white man’s world.” She asked many of the younger craftsmen how they learned their trade. “My uncle was a basket maker. I watched him when I was a child and thought he was doing woman’s work. I did not admire his art until I was older and Wakan Tanka spoke to me. Then I learned the trade and now I treasure every basket he made and pray that one day I will be as good a basket weaver as he was.” “This isn’t an Indian craft,” a Miccosukee man said.. “This is a Viking craft. After the military, I went back to the Rez. I felt I should learn an old craft that the world would soon forget and I stumbled on a misfiled library book in the Native American section. It comes easy to me. Maybe a Norseman, shipwrecked on the shore, mated with my great grandmother and the blood that flows in me recognized this craft. If she were Indian, then I’m Indian. Now I can preserve this art form.” “Are you a Navajo?” “I don’t know, but if my great grandmother were a coastal Indian, then I would not be.” “You served in the military?” she asked. “I thought only Navajos were in the Army.” “I was in the Air Force. Many young reservation Indians chose the United States armed forces in order to survive, to send money home, to become something in the other world. Then when we retire, we come back home, or live close to home, or only come to PowWows. The blood of our fathers brings us back.” They watched more dancing, visited with more craftsmen. June bought a pair of feather earrings from a Native American vendor from the Cherokee tribe and asked more questions. The woman sported long braids that lay on her breast and were tied with leather thongs. “I tell everyone I’m Cherokee because I’m from Oklahoma,” she said, “and because I look Indian. I know there is Indian in me, but my folks said their parents and grandparents never let them discuss their Indian heritage. It was as if there were electronic flies on the wall and they would be tortured or something if they spoke about it even in their own homes. That’s some good brainwashing. So now I don’t know who I belong to.” “Does it bother you?” June asked. “Only if someone asks about it. Away from the PowWow’s, I don’t think about it.” “I’m sorry,” June replied. Studying more jewelry, she said, “I’m from Oklahoma, too. I might be Cherokee.” “I doubt it,” the vendor said. “You don’t even look Indian. “ “How can you tell?” “Because I’ve been analyzing Indian facial structures all my life. I’m an anthropologist.” “Wow! And you don’t think I look Indian?” “Not even a little bit. Not American Indian, unless maybe Aztec descendant, or a few of the South American tribes. But you would not have had Indian blood in you for the past three generations.” “What about Inuit?” The woman laughed. “Definitely not – or Eskimo, or any Asiatic tribe.” Looking at June’s concerned face she said, “It doesn’t really matter. Being Indian is a state of mind?” June moved around the table, troubled. The vendor served two more customers then walked to the back of her tent to talk to June. “If you can feel things that are Indian here at the PowWow – like the drums, or the singing, chanting, or dancing, then maybe you could talk to a tribal member and ask questions. But mostly, being Indian is a mental attitude.” “My husband can feel the power of the drums,” she said, looking out to where Daniel stood in the shade holding Isaac. The vendor laughed. “He’s definitely Indian. Apache. I can’t see the baby’s face clearly from here with the cap covering it.” “He’s got my coloring,” June said, “and I was adopted. If Isaac, that’s our baby’s name, wants to know about his heritage, I thought we might find something here.” The woman looked at Daniel who now looked at her with a piercing glance. I’m sure you’ll find something. At that moment, a note from a flute wafted on the air. “The Apaches are about to dance now. They’ve got one dancer that’s incredibly amazing. Herman,” she called a teenager behind the tent. “Take over.” “Come on Daniel, I think the dancer in orange is about to dance.” A family was leaving the field as June and Daniel approached, so they were able to move close. Isaac liked the colorful dancers and just as the one that had been in orange last night, now in red, moved close to where they were standing, Isaac kicked his legs and waved his arms, knocking his cap off his head. June bent down to get the cap and Daniel shifted Isaac higher, so their faces were very close together. The dancer stopped. So did the drum. Rhythmically, he moved closer to them, whooped and tumbled and circled, coming back to them. He continued his performance directly in front of them, his energy flowing out to encompass the masses. As his dance came to its conclusion, he moved toward the penned area where the announcer was, leaving streamers of ribbon floating on the air as he whirled, jumped, and came to rest in front of the judges. The crowd went wild and the dancer disappeared into a covered area even though the announcer called for him to come back on the field. “Wow! That was a powerful performance!” June said. “He’s so good. Here, let me take Isaac now.” As they walked away, many heads turned to watch them leave, wondering why these three were honored by the dancer in such a way. June chattered on, oblivious to it all. They ate fry bread and meat for lunch in a building with many people who were taking a break in the air conditioning. June fed Isaac while Daniel held him on his knee. “I think Isaac is having a good time. What about you Daniel?” “I could not be happier anywhere else on the planet.” June laughed. “Are you even aware of the things going on around you, Daniel?” “I only have eyes for you and our son. These two are truly the most beautiful things in my world.” They stayed inside while Isaac napped, talking about the things they’d seen. A fair skinned teen-ager in yellow regalia approached them as they turned to leave. He studied something in his hand before he spoke. “My father hopes the young chief enjoyed his dance.” The boy nodded toward Isaac. “The dancer was your father?” June asked. “He’s magnificent. We all loved his performance – last night, too.” The boy started to say something, but June continued. “Are you about to dance?” “Yes, my age group is next for the semi-finals.” “Are you as good as he is?” “One day I will take his place.” “June, I think this young man has something to say.” “I’m sorry, of course you do. You’re about to dance and you’re in here talking to us.” Daniel smiled and the boy did too, his eyes flashing with mirth. “My grandmother thinks the young chief might need some comfort.” The boy pointed to his own mouth. June and Daniel looked at Isaac, his mouth gleaming with drool. “She was wondering if you would honor her by allowing her to use something from her medicine pouch for the young chief.” “That would indeed be an honor for us,” Daniel said. “Where can we find her?” “She stands where you last stood watching my father dance.” “We’ll go there now, so she does not have to wait longer in the heat.” The boy smiled the most enticing smile June had ever seen, nodded, and backed away from them. “Was that weird, Daniel?” “This whole day seems a little unusual.” They found the woman where the boy said she would be. She watched them approach, but cast her eyes downward as they greeted her. “This is Isaac,” June introduced the baby and held him so that the woman could see him. “I am June and this is my husband, Daniel.” “You wear no ring,” the old woman said. “You are wed?” “For almost four years, now. Our ceremony did not need a ring. I belong to Daniel.” Daniel said, “And I belong to June. This is forever.” He pointed to the old woman’s ringless finger. She looked up at him for the first time, her gray eyes piercing, startlingly like Daniels’s own eyes. “My husband waits for me there,” she turned and pointed to the Drum Circle. June turned to look but Daniel’s eyes did not waver from the woman’s. A drum pounded from the Circle and Daniel broke his gaze. He reached out for June, steadying himself, after suddenly becoming dizzy. “Why does that drum sound different from the others?” Daniel asked. The old woman touched the baby’s booties. “That drum belonged to my eldest son. He has been missing for many years. It is played in the hopes that one day he will hear it and the sound will bring him back to us.” “The boy said you might have something to relieve Isaac’s aching gums,” June said, “watching the young dancers line up.” “Yes,” the woman opened a pouch that she wore around her neck and took out a small ointment jar. Dropping the medicine bag back around her neck, she held the container in the palm of her hand and covered it with the other palm. Closing her eyes for a moment, her lips moved as if she were praying. Removing one hand, she opened the ointment and dabbed a small amount on the back of June’s hand. “Now, gently rub this on the irritated gum with your finger. He’ll like the taste and suck on it. He will be well.” When June was done, the woman touched Isaac’s head, then turned to leave. “No,” June pleaded, “please don’t go. Stand with us.” “We could move to the bleachers where you can sit,” Daniel said. “Please, stay with us, at least for this dance.” “Perhaps, I could just lean on your arm.” “I would be honored,” Daniel told her. The dancers were energetic and creative. The woman’s grandson danced like his father, as if he were the dance. With the woman leaning on his arm, Daniel felt connected to the dancers. He felt as if his own feet could move in this way. The son’s drum pounded again and for an instant, Daniel remembered dancing. The world above and the world below became one with him and moved him with its boundless energies. The dance was over, the woman was no longer leaning on him and the image was gone, but Daniel felt sick. “June,” he said. “Daniel, you don’t look good. Are you feeling okay?” “June,” was all he could utter. “Daniel, let’s go back to the hotel and rest for the remainder of the day. The finals are tomorrow and we can come back, or go home, whichever you want. I appreciate your coming here and we’ve had a good time and seen a lot. “I’m glad we came, but if this is making you sick, I want to leave.” “Have you found what you were looking for?” he managed to ask. “No. And yes. No. I still don’t know what tribe I belong to.” “The Tribe of Man.” “Funny,” she said. “Several of the Indians I’ve spoken with don’t think that I’m Indian at all, but maybe it just means, not their tribe.” “They are announcing an intertribal dance now. Why don’t you dance and Isaac and I will sit here.” Daniel folded his legs and sat down on the ground. “You’ll be okay?” “Yes, I’m sitting. Isaac will take care of me.” June smiled and walked away. Daniel’s mind was screaming. Something was wrong with him and he didn’t know what it was. Last night, it was the nightmare and now he was dizzy. Every beat of that awful drum irritated him and he couldn’t imagine why. He wanted to lie down right here and never leave again and that reminded him of the night he drove his car onto the reservation and parked it there for three days. If he lay here, someone would probably call a paramedic, thinking he was ill. The drum pounded again and he looked at the dancers. June was approaching, surrounded by the old woman, the two dancers and other Apaches. He lifted Isaac’s hand and waved at them. He smiled and hoped he wouldn’t hurl while they were looking at him. Once they passed, he stood up and went to sit on the bleachers, leaning back onto the row behind while the former occupants danced around the field. Too soon, it was over, and he had to start moving again. “Let’s go that way,” June said. “We didn’t see the vendors in that corner, and it’s on the way to the parking lot.” She was not as impressed with the commercial vendors or their prices and they moved quickly through the aisle of substandard wares. The last tent was the Vietnam Veterans booth. “One of the vendors we stopped by this morning said many Indians served in the military, let’s stop there,” she said, pointing to the veterans’ tent. There were few customers. The men standing about were mostly exchanging war stories. A few of them acknowledged her when she entered and flirted with her outright. She blushed, loving the attention, but hooked her arm in Daniel’s. A man in a wheelchair was entertaining an audience with an animated story. “He come right up from under me. Seems like he’d been down there for hours and he didn’t even gasp for breath. He looked around and then floated with the rest of us. “What are you doing? I whispered to him. He said, ‘I’m dead.’” At that, the man turned to look at the men on the other side of him and spotted Daniel. He started, then his mouth worked but no words came out. This made the listeners take notice also. “Chief?” one of them said, looking at Daniel. “It’s a gosh darn ghost!” the disabled man exclaimed. The entire tent was quiet as everyone looked toward them. Daniel raised his eyebrows and June looked at him questioningly. The vet reached out and another man helped him up slowly. He saluted Daniel and when he did, all the others did, too. “Chief,” several of them said reverently. “Little Beaver, don’t you recognize me?” the man whispered. “I guess not, I ain’t got a purty squaw to keep me looking young.” Daniel looked confused now. “You still shell shocked after all these years.” The man waited but Daniel didn’t answer. “What’s it been? Forty years? You must be fifty-five now. You ain’t aged a day; just look a little more mature.” They were surrounded now by several of the older men. The others in the tent began to gather around. “Chief,” one of them said, and mentioned a Marine company name and number. Daniel pulled June closer. June said, “You must have him confused with someone else.” Looking up at Daniel’s face, feeling the tenseness in his body, she continued, “He’s too young to have been in Vietnam.” “Damn right,” the man said. “Way to young! We were just talking about him, how he saved my life and many others.” Daniel, another man said, “You might remember me, I haven’t changed as much as Grizzly Adams, here.” Daniel looked at the man. Something changed in Daniels’ eyes, but it wasn’t recognition. He doubled over. Before June could do anything, three men provided a chair and sat Daniel down. “What’s happening,” she asked worriedly. “How do you know his name?” “You needn’t worry, ma’am, none of us here would ever hurt this man. We’re honored to be in his company, even if he doesn’t remember us. He saved a lot of lives in Vietnam.” “Daniel’s too young. The conflict ended in 1975. You just said,” she turned to the man who was once again sitting in his wheelchair and stuttered, “how do you know he’s fifty five and if so…” The other man that caused Daniel to swoon explained. “He was fourteen when he got shipped over.” His hand rested on Daniel’s shoulder. Daniel looked pained. He looked at June. “Little Beaver here,” he patted Daniel, “was a renegade, a rabble-rouser. If he remained on the Rez, he could probably have stirred the other Apaches to rise up and continue the fights of their great chiefs. “So he was drafted into the Marines and shipped to Vietnam. I know. I’m the one who got him.” Daniel looked up, “Shep?” he asked. “Daven Sheppard at your service.” “And I’m the one that made sure he got back to the states,” the man in the wheelchair said. “They shipped him from Arizona in a marine uniform. No training, no nothing. They put him on the front line. He almost got killed the first day, but we didn’t lose our people. He had no papers other than the orders that Shep received, ‘Make sure this one doesn’t come back.’ “If Shep hadn’t shared this with me, I wouldn’t have known and Little Beaver would probably still be trying to get out of Vietnam.” “I don’t understand,” June said, tears glistening in her eyes. Daniel stood up and the men moved back and let him. “I’m all right,” he said holding her closely. “This is my wife June,” he told the men, “and our son, Isaac.” Daniel looked at Shep. After a moment, he said, “I think I have a hazy memory. I knew who you were, but…” he looked within himself. “Sometimes, a memory surfaces and I push it back down.” “I don’t blame you. The year you spent in Nam was not pretty.” “I remember water. I have nightmares about water.” “Of course you do, Little Beaver.” All of the men circled them now. “If you hadn’t stayed under it for so long, you wouldn’t have saved as many men as you did. “I thought you were a goner for sure. I’m Matt,” the man in the wheelchair said. “Deck Matthews.” He nodded to June, then turned back to Daniel. “You went under and you didn’t come back up. Seemed like hours.” He repeated what he was saying when they’d come into the booth. “The shelling was over when you surfaced. Bodies in the water. I was one of them, what was left of me. I guess you thought you’d play possum ‘til it got dark, but I whispered to you to get me out of the water. “You told me you were dead. You looked like you believed it. It took some coaxing, but I finally convinced you, using the stories of our people, that you were a benign spirit sent to separate the living from the dead. “Daniel, you got seventeen of us out of the water alive that day. Stopped the bleeding on some, stuffed some guts back into a couple.” “Stop, please,” Daniel said, as he buried his face in June’s hair. Shep held Isaac as June comforted her husband. “We’re sorry to dredge up these memories. We didn’t know you didn’t remember. It’s just that Matt was just talking about you and we were wondering whatever became of you. And then you walked in the door. Matt finished telling June the story. “Once he got back to the states, he disappeared off the base. He wasn’t supposed to be there anyway and there was no record of his being a Marine, so there was never a search for him going AWOL. “I sent out a few men to look for a silver haired teen-ager, but Daniel couldn’t be found. When I got out, I went to the Rez looking for him, but no one had seen him since he’d been arrested. They didn’t even know Daniel had been sent to Vietnam; they didn’t know where he’d been taken. “We tell Little Beaver’s story every time we get together – to honor him. He’s like the unknown soldier, except we knew who he was; we just didn’t know where he went.” “Why do you call him Little Beaver?” “Beaver’s can spend a long time under the water. Sometimes fifteen minutes. Daniel was like that. It was his childhood name. We used it in Vietnam.” Shep said, “His father was a descendant of Chief’s. Had our ways not changed, you would now be married to the Chief of our tribe. In Vietnam, he was the head man representing his family. We called him Chief.” “Daniel was a great warrior!” another man said. “We heard about him in our company.” “We heard about him in the Air Force.” “Other young renegades were drafted into the Marines. Daniel was the youngest. He was also the only one to survive.” “Isaac made a smelly,” Matt said. Isaac laughed showing two new teeth. “Look, Daniel,” June said. “Look, Isaac’s teeth came through.” But when Daniel looked toward his son, he saw the old woman, the wrinkles gone from her face. The vision changed into a wise old owl with his mother’s face and then flew away. Daniel fainted. ~ Daniel woke up under a sky full of stars and stood so quickly, no one could stop him. “It’s okay, Chief. You’re among friends.” “I’m here, Daniel,” June said. Daniel turned towards the sound of her voice. The drum pounded somewhere in the night and in his head and his heart. He wanted to scream, Go Away! Instead, he sat back down and held his head in his hands. “What am I supposed to do now?” He asked no one in particular. “A shot of Jack and rest,” another familiar voice said. “Is everybody here in one place? Do you hold reunions?” “We come when your brother dances. We…” “My brother?” “Even if he didn’t win every year, I’m sure he would dedicate the last dance to you.” “My brother?” June knelt gently beside him, then sat in the geometric pattern his crossed legs made. She leaned on his chest and he folded his arms around her. They sat in silence for a long time. “Where’s Isaac?” he finally asked. “Sleeping right here in the finest cradle I’ve ever seen. June says you are a master wood artist.” “June is my number one fan.” “I think she’s as tired as you and your son. It must have been a very long day for you. Why don’t you let us take you back to your hotel? We’ll come get you tomorrow for Aaron’s final dance. The whole company will want to see you.” “The whole company? Where are they coming from?” “Everywhere. This will be our first complete reunion in forty years. I think we should start a new tradition – meet every forty years.” They all laughed. Daniel smiled. “I’m sorry that I’m…” “Don’t apologize, Chief. Please never apologize to us. You’re our hero. There’s nothing you could ever do to be less than the greatest warrior we’ve ever known.” ~ Daniel’s small family was escorted to their room. The men set Isaac and his crib on the side of the bed, then bade them good night, saluting Daniel once more. “I am so tired, June. I feel empty and drained.” Daniel sat on the bed. June checked Isaac and climbed on the bed from the other side and lay down. “Lay with me, Daniel.” “There’s something I’d like to do,” he mumbled, but instead, he leaned back on her and fell asleep. ~ Isaac’s baby noises woke them both. “I’ve got him Daniel.” He responded, and “I’ve got you,” but she was out of the bed before he could keep her from leaving. She quickly changed Isaac, got his food, and brought the baby to where he sat on the bed. “June,” Daniel began, his face one huge question mark. “It was real. Yesterday really happened.” “I had a brother. He was a little guy that followed me everywhere. Daniel smiled. He wanted to be just like me.” “They say he’s a wonderful man, so he must have succeeded.” Isaac clapped the food from the spoon and splashed his parents. He smiled showing his new teeth. “That woman was my mother,” Daniel said. I didn’t know. “How could I not know my own mother? So many years have passed. What have I missed?” “Nothing Daniel. Had things been different, we wouldn’t have each other. To me, that’s worth everything.” “Did they think I ran away from them?” “No. Your friends told me your life story. Each one of them puffed up their chest as if being able to say something about you was like holding the Lord’s hand and walking down Main Street.” “Am I supposed to live up to that? Hero worship?” “You already have.” “Tell me, June, what did they say?” ~ Daniel listened as his wife recounted tale after tale of conflict and reconnaissance in Vietnam. “They thought you were a good luck talisman. Shep kept you at his side except for those times when you slipped away and came back with needed information. Then just before they were to be sent home, you were all caught by surprise.” As June talked, Daniel seemed more and more depressed. “Daniel,” she said tenderly, “I can feel what you’re feeling.” She took a long breath. “I didn’t think I could love you more, but I think that every time I take a breath, I do. “Shep said you planned a revolt among your tribe. You had followers who would have killed every white person they encountered, but in Nam, you refused to kill anyone. You empathized with the enemy. You counted coup.” Daniel smiled. She could feel his face shift through her clothes. “You fought defensively, to keep an American from being killed, to protect yourself or Shep. Even then you only wounded.” Daniel buried his head in the fabric of his wife’s blouse. “Oh Daniel! How can Isaac and I be so lucky? To have stumbled on you, the best man in the world. “How fortunate that we came here where friends and family can give your memories back to you. I had no idea you didn’t remember. I just thought your past might have been painful like mine and you didn’t want to talk about it. I could never imagine anything as traumatic as what you must have endured.” ~ Sweet love, that’s what Daniel thought. His body and June’s were made for each other. Their love making was always perfect. He hovered over her, reveling in her shivering body, knowing he made her feel that way. That, in itself, turned him on. “I love you my lovely wife.” She reached up for him and Isaac expressed his love. “Your timing is a little off,” his father told him happily as Daniel rescued Isaac from the crib. “We’ve got a big day ahead. Your mother set it up, so you’ll have to keep me grounded.” “Daniel,” June said, after they’d been dressed and packed for a while. ”You’re procrastinating.” “I don’t want to go out there, June. I’m not that man. I’m not a beaver anymore. I built a hard shell to protect myself. I enlarged it to include you and Isaac. It’s all I can handle. I’m an armadillo, now.” He turned and looked at her. “You saw me that day. In the water. I was afraid; a coward.” “I didn’t see a coward. I saw a man who trusted me, who knew no one else would ever know about that moment.” She smiled. “I’ve loved you ever since. More and more each day. “After the nightmarish hell you’ve lived through, I’m surprised that you can even go near water. Yet, when we were at the lake on Friday, you were at peace.” “It’s because you were with me.” His eyes were confused when he looked at her. “What do they want from me?” “Nothing.” “Then why?” “You know, Matt said that Shep was court-martialed for lying about most of his last year. They wanted to commend him for all he did. He insisted that had it not been for the child forced on him they would have all died at almost any time. “His was a company made up mostly of Indians. They weren’t expected to come back. All warriors. And you. There was no record you were there. Shep wouldn’t deny you. “He was stripped of his rank, decommissioned, and given a dishonorable discharge. Shep is proud and says the honor was in serving with you.” Daniel sighed deeply. “It just gets worse and worse. Look at the trouble I’ve caused this man.” “I don’t see that Daniel. I see the reason for all of those men being alive forty years later. They’ve all lived good lives because of you. They have families that they now offer you as your family for all the time you missed with your own, “And Daniel, because of them, you’ll be reunited with your own family. They’ve lived half lives wondering what happened to you and where you were. “Isaac would like to meet them. And so would I.” June stood very close to Daniel. Isaac reached for him and Daniel smiled and held him. ~ They were led back to the PowWow. The veterans, wearing celebratory armbands, had prepared a huge barbecue. Daniel and June were invited to try everything. While Daniel recognized very few people, each shared some piece of their time with him, and some of the stories evoked a memory With June at his side, Daniel handled it well. Finally, the announcer called all of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to come to the field and be acknowledged. The men closed around Daniel so he had to move with them. All veterans were honored. They put Daniel up front and stood beside and behind him in layers. The competition over, the winner spoke to the crowds. A movement of children and women crossed the field while he gave his speech. “Those who follow me know that I dance for my brother. He would have been the best dancer, the lead drummer, the Chief of our people. My father strikes his drum in the hopes that Daniel will hear the sound and the beating of the drum will connect with his heart and lead him home. “The dance is in my blood because my brother put it there. He allowed me to see that the world is in me as I am in the world.” The young women gathered close to June. One of them shyly asked if she could see the baby. The others moved closer. Daniel’s mother followed the children. She held the hand of one toddler who lifted his legs high as he walked. It caught Daniel’s attention; his brother started walking like that. The boy toddled straight to him. Daniel’s heart literally hurt as he stared into his brother’s face. Kneeling, he held out his hands and the boy moved right into his arms. Tears streamed down his face as he held the child. He stood with him and the winning dancer stood before him, beaming. “This is my grandson Daniel. He took to the water right away, so we call him Little Beaver.” The Drum Circle’s timing was perfect and the dance began. Daniel leaned into his wife and told Isaac, “This is your family.” Behind him stood all the veterans of foreign wars that were present today and before him danced his brother and the Indian nations.