February 11, 2012

White Face Woman: Introduction

Jarvis is seated in the center.
a story by John O’kute-sica, White Face Woman's nephew, 1957, found in the Saskatchewan Archives

I was doing research in Regina a few years ago when I came across this interesting story of a romance between Major William Jarvis of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a Sioux refugee in 1880. More than 3,000 Sioux had found sanctuary in Canada after Custer's "Last Stand" in 1876 and the resultant, unmerciful manhunt. It was a tense few years. The Americans were growing more and more insistent on the return of the Sioux, the buffalo were rapidly disappearing from the plains, and the Canadian Cree--pushing south from their customary hunting grounds in search of the buffalo--were growing resentful of Sioux presence competing for diminishing food resources. This short romance between Jarvis and White Face Woman is an interesting bit of personal drama in the bigger, unfolding drama of two races--one dominant, one all but conquered--caught in international conflict. Their story brings history to life in a way textbooks can never hope to achieve.

Here is the story in eight parts, as told by John O'kute-sica.

White Face Woman: 1 of 8

The trail began at the Grease Grass River, otherwise known as The Little Big Horn. General George A. Custer started the trail for White Face Woman (Iteskawin) when he attempted, once and for all, to capture the Sitting Bull Sioux on June 25th, 1876.
     The general forgot the Indian is hard to capture on his own grounds. He and his officers planned well. With 900 men armed with gattling guns and carbine rifles, what chance had the hostile Sioux with their few muskets, bows and arrows? It was all as simple as that. In fact, he thought it so easy that he, with Major Reno, attacked the Sioux camp with between 3- and 400 cavalry—cream of the US army, so they say.
     In less than two hours Custer’s Seventh Cavalry was killed to the last man, while Major Reno came near being the same. After the battle dust cleared, the Sioux picked up their killed—ten in number, nine Sioux and one friendly Cheyenne—and about twenty wounded. Those killed were White Bull and Fast Bear, brothers, Buffalo Standing Up, Elk Standing Up, Hawk, Dice, White Eagle, Counted Coupe Upon, and Ice, the Cheyenne Indian. A Catholic priest cried when I told him the above number (Sioux tradition).
     “No, no, John, it cannot be true. It’s against the law of averages.”
     I thought of Samson, in the Holy Book, who slew 1,000 Philistines with the jaw bone of an ass. Anyway, I was only telling him the number of casualties handed down to me by my people. No miracles among the heathen? That is something God alone can answer.
     General Custer, although he met defeat, accomplished a task the United States had on its hands from 1776 to 1876—a hundred years. And to conquer the Sioux Indians he also started the trail of romance for White Face Woman, a trail that led her to Major Jarvis of the NWMP at Wood Mountain, near the US boundary in Western Canada.
     Immediately following the battle of the Little Big Horse, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, also the other four bands, including the Cheyenne, slowly began to scatter. Crazy Horse, whose band is credited with destroying Custer, worked his way southeast, intending to surrender, while the friendly Cheyenne band moved south. A third of Sitting Bull’s band headed north and entered the Wood Mountain country in the late fall of that year. In May, the next year, Sitting Bull joined his band in Canada, the rest followed in June.
For five years Sitting Bull remained in the Wood Mountain country and elsewhere in the vicinity of the NWMP, who welcomed him as a refugee. The Metis, too, received him and his people as friends. Each year the buffalo were rapidly thinning and by 1882 they were seldom seen, so the Sioux were starving, living on smaller game.

White Face Woman: 2 of 8

Fort Walsh Officers
Wood Mountain was a small detachment not far away.
At the height of the starvation, several Sioux maidens consented to become wives of the Red Coats who courted them. Major Jarvis was the first to take a Sioux wife. She was the eldest child and daughter of Plant by the Water (Mai-co-ju). There were many beautiful Sioux maidens, who, when seen, would leave a lasting imprint on mind and heart. White Face Woman was said to be the queen of all. Not only her looks—her whole being was magic.
     How the major first saw her is not known, but the general belief is that he chanced upon her at a watering place where she had discarded her robe and, in a nearby stream, was washing her hair. Never a day passed that the Major did not make two or three visits to White Face Woman. He was in great difficulty because of the differences in tongue. His heart cried out to tell of the love blazing within his core.
     Through a Metis woman, an interpreter, bound to secrecy, the Major spoke and with  no long courtship he and White Face Woman became man and wife. “If this man promises to see that my little brothers and sister have something to eat twice a day, I will become his wife,” bargained White Face Woman.
     In all her eighteen summers she had known the white men as a man to fear, night and day. He was a spirit man not of this world—out to destroy her race and take away all that the Indians loved and lived for. Who knew, but that tomorrow these Red Coats, like the American Long Knives, would renew the Big Horn battle here? Was it not because of the white mean that all this hardship had fallen on her people?
     Had not the Sioux made sacred treaties with the Long Knives that were then shamelessly broken because of the red iron, gold, on Sioux land? The chiefs had lost faith in the Spirit men.
     The decision to marry the major was a terrible sacrifice, for herself and her kin, for White Face Woman. To look at the lean faces of the two brothers and little sister and to see her father return home late, empty handed, demanded something from her. So she gave that something from her heart.
     The marriage of White Face Woman to a chief of the Red Coats was the talk of the Sioux. It was the first case of its kind in Sitting Bull’s band. Speculation as to what it might lead to was rife among the people of the hills.
     A large tipi, with all the furnishing, was erected for White Face Woman within the stockade of the post. Her two brothers and her sister spent time with her there the whole day.
     Never lived a happier man than the major. Seldom a day passed that the couple did not ride out to the beauty spots in the hills—when they returned White Face Woman would be laden with flowers. When those hunting chanced upon them they would hear them laughing—their mirth was over each trying to pronounce words of the other’s language.
     There were pleasant outings when the major and his wife dressed in her finery of fringed and ornamented white tanned dresses. In his best uniform, he made round and round the great circle of the Sioux camp with her, greeting the Indians with a nod or salute. When he made such a show of his wife, the people said to themselves, “How this man must love his wife—but what a strange way to show it.”

White Face Woman: 3 of 8

Though the Sioux were in the midst of uncertainty, want, and suffering, life went on. There was love, song, laughter, and play. There was feasting, marrying, and dancing.
     The country was teeming with big game and fowl. Wild vegetable and berries still grew. Yet the passing of the buffalo, the staple of the Indian world, was the death blow that killed the Indian would and left the Indian lost.
     There were many social affairs in the Sioux nation—various kinds of dances and games. Every day some kind of social function took place. There was no time to cry.
      One of the best shows to strengthen the spirit of every Indian is the warrior’s parade. It puts hope, determination, and perseverance into the Indian.
     All the warriors, arrayed in their costumes, bearing their banners, their ponies painted, parade the circle of the camp singing their war songs and firing guns. One Red Coat said, “When Sitting Bull puts on the Warrior’s Parade and the firing of Custer’s rifles, we feel very small. Yet we stick out our chest and put on a bold face, while our knees shake and strike each other.”

White Face Woman: 4 of 8

The major and his wife had now been together a couple of weeks. He lay awake at night planning their future. The West would break his wife’s heart—the West was her heart and love her home. He would teach her to be his ideal woman and wife. He would mold her purity and innocence to make her as happy as he could. He had capital and a substantial allowance from his father in England. He would build a Western home and stock it well. Indians would be their servants.
 Poor Major—man proposes, God disposes. Laugh today, cry tomorrow. Word reached the post that a dance called “The Night Dance” was to take place early in the evening. The Major, anxious to do what he could for his wife’s pleasure, took her to the dance.
          White Face Woman refused to go into the hall, an enclosure of trees, and said she wished only to look on from the outside. So they did. There was a great crowd of Indians, Metis, Red Coats, and non-descripts. Those in the hall were dressed in their best and were restless and excited.
          The dance began. The announcer called for “men’s choice for partners” and the usual bowl of fruit sauce was handed to each.
          The lady was invited by the gent touching her foot with a touch from his foot. If the one invited refused after the fourth invitation, he or she would be splashed with the fruit. At the end of the round, if she danced, the lady had to kiss her partner. If she refused, down came the sauce on her head.
          Every Indian knew the rules of this Night Dance and those who disapproved should never have gone to the dance. It was for this reason White Face Woman went as a spectator, in spite of the major’s urgings to go in and join the fun.
          To the surprise and discomfort of White Face Woman, a young man came out and invited her for a partner. She nearly blacked out. Her husband was amused and delighted to have his wife invited and he urged her repeatedly to accept. With some confusion and hesitation, at the last moment she accepted.
How gracefully White Face Woman danced—in perfect time with the drums—was long remembered. The major moved in closer to see his wife. So did every spectator. Every eye was on her.
          The dress she wanted to save was of white antelope skin, with porcupine quill work dyed in many fancy designs and colours, even down to the skirt sweeps and fringes. As she danced, the shells jingled and sparkled in many colours. Once she had her foot in it, she went through dance, eve to kissing her partner. It is the practice of the Sioux to try the heart of a man—even so far as to court his wife. So the major was now under trial.
          He was watching only his wife and therefore did not see the other partners demanding the customary kiss and getting it. Before the kiss was over, he moved quick as a cat to his wife, half dragged her out, and directly led her home. Some of the men laughed loudly, while women groaned, and the Red Coats cursed under their breath.
          White Face Woman’s little sister and two brothers ran and clung to her skirt, but quickly let go and ran when she commanded “Kikla” (go home!). Before they were out of sight, the major, crazed by jealousy, thrust his wife to the ground twice.
          When the woman rose the second time her right hand thrust a knife against the major’s side. A fire blazed in her eyes, while a strange light shone in those of the major. There the two stood, staring at each other like fighting cats. Then the husband loosened his steel-like grip and said almost in a whisper, “Eu-pi” (come) and led her home.
          Back of them, those with understanding, read the scene and whispered, “Ho.” Many spent a sleepless night. The Red Coats did not fall asleep till three in the morning—because of their major. The night watch had a bellyache and the major lay dozing alone in the adobe building, in his office.
          When the five o’clock bugle blew, two of the tipi poles that regulate the top flaps of the tipi to let out the smoke were see leaning against the stockade and White Face Woman was not to be found.
          The major went wild. All the others tried to look innocent. The Red Coat who drew all the blame was the night guard. His only defense was his bellyache. “In less than one minute,” he said, “that woman can set her poles and climb over.”

White Woman Face: 5 of 8

In all her life, White Face Woman knew only tender love. She never knew harsh discipline—only gentle correction. That is Indian child training. The Indian completely won his child’s love and friendship without the rod. That is the best and easiest way. This form of child training became ineffective after the Indian child was compelled to attend the white school.
          Today a terrible thing had happened to White Face Woman, an adult woman. She was publicly assaulted, not by a parent, or kin, but by a stranger with whom she had bargained, when he swore by heaven that he loved her. “This very night,” she swore, “I escape, or die by my own hand in the attempt.”
          She kept a sharp watch and when the guard entered the outhouse she moved quickly. In less time than it takes to tell, she was climbing the stockade. Someone was steadying the poles she used in climbing—she did not look back to see who it was till she reached the top. Throwing her robe over the sharp pointed poles of the stockade, she rested on it, and looked down.
          There she saw a Red Coat, in his underwear, still holding her ladder and smiling up at her. Returning a big smile, she whispered, “Tokala Nehima” (the Secret Kit-Fox) and dropped over the wall. (This Red Coat, J. H. Thomson, married a Sioux maiden, Pretty Smile, and lived wit her at Wood Mountain, where both lived and died of old age.)
          Someone caught White Face Woman as she dropped. She nearly fainted. She thought it was the major. When she turned with a drawn knife, she saw the young brave who had caused all the trouble.
Without a word to the man, she quickly ran home with the man at her side. He carried a Custer rifle. When entering the Sioux camp, White Face Woman ordered him to “go get your pone and come to me. You are escorting be back to the Black Hills country.”
          Several people were moving about when White Face Woman and her escort left camp separately. The woman’s pony, Warrior, a splendid animal, a noted runner with great endurance, was acting strangely. He pranced more than usual and was constantly looking about, as though looking for someone to attack. He gave his mistress comfort, confidence, and strength to bear her great trial and lighten her heart. A mile southeast of the post, she and her escort met; from there they went with some speed southwest. The country ahead, for fifty miles, was rough, rolling hills and made good cover.
White Face Woman packed a buffalo robe, a large sheet of smoke tipi leather, and a flint bag in which sinew, awl, fire implements, and medicinal stuff were contained, also a wooden bowl, a cup, and a bone spoon in another bag.
          Her escort rode a beautiful pony, as proud looking as his master. This pony, too, had great speed and endurance and was thoroughly trained for hunting, buffalo running, and war. Along with the Custer rifle, he carried bow and arrows. His pack consisted of the same articles as that of his companion. He picked the route and called the pace. Neither carried any provision. Lightly and smoothly they lope, walked and loped, never trotting. Thus they traveled till they crossed the international boundary. Then, for White Face Woman’s sake, he called a halt for the day.
          A useful temporary shelter for an individual could be made when needed. Green creek willows were used—ten, or more, the size of a man’s forefinger and 10- or 12-feet long, the butt ends were sharpened. They were set in the ground in a circle, or an oval, to fit one’s length. The willows were bent and locked down to one’s sitting height by twisting opposite together, two at a time, lacing them crisscross. This frame was covered with a hide, or sheet, and a draw cord around the lower edge could tighten into a snug little shelter.

White Face Woman: 6 of 8

There was quite a stir and excitement when news of White Face Woman’s disappearance reached the people. Some women cried and others rejoiced. Major Jarvis went from camp to camp—from lodge to lodge—looking for his wife. He lost his proud military bearing—he had a forlorn look not good to see. Even some who hated him for his conduct felt very sorry for him. For three days he searched. When he learned that the young brave who had caused his jealousy had also disappeared, he gave up and was seldom seen. Within a year he resigned. Some said he went back to England to try to forget the woman he loved, hurt, and lost because of his weakness.

NOTE by Brenda: Wm. Jarvis did not return to England but continued to serve the Force, and was stationed in the Yukon during the 1897 Gold Rush.

White Face Woman: 7 of 8

The evening White Face Woman made her getaway, she asked her escort who he was and why he broke the rules of the Night Dance by going outside the dance hall to pick her for a partner. “You have caused me terrible trouble, unpardonable trouble, that I should make you pay for with your life,” she said, this in anger, after pondering over the affair all day. She might have killed the young man had she thought of it before.
          But he had come to believe that she loved him, too, as he loved her, because she so readily accepted his attentions. He was a handsome fellow of twenty-five summers, with a powerful and graceful build, but he was as shy as could be. For awhile, he lost the power of his tongue, surprised, and shocked at White Face Woman’s temper and questions.
          Finally he spoke. “My name is Calling Elk. I am twenty-five summers now. My father’s name is Red Eagle. He is head of the Tribal Lodge. My mother’s name is Scented Wind. I beg your forgiveness for what I have done to you. The reason I did what I have done is because of my immeasurable love—to save you form a hard and lonely life, because I love you. We Dakota people are not certain of tomorrow. Your sister and brothers, for whom you traded yourself, a thing he had rightly guessed, may be forced to flee to the open spaces tomorrow—if so, do you think you could remain behind with that chief of the Red Coats?”
          No answer came from White Face Woman, so he continued. “I am diseased with an incurable sickness—shyness. I have never spoken to, or courted a girl in my life. I could not go near you, though I loved you. But yesterday I lot my head completely and did what I did.”
          Calling Elk had his head partly turned from the woman as he spoke, so he did not see her amused smile. “Another reason,” he continued, “is because the Great Spirit made us Indians as common men, a flock to band together, to be picked and chased by another flock. So I did what I did because I love you.
          “I will not try to win you by trickery and lies. You see what I am—the outer part of me. I have nothing to interest you, but I did what I did because I love you.” The speaker cleared his throat to speak again when White Face Woman burst into loud laughter. Calling Elk flushed, his face as red as blood.
          Very early in the morning, Calling Elk awakened the woman and set before her roasted venison and a bowl of saskatoons. They were near Eagle Flock (the Plentywood, Montana country, in a direct line to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the location of the Oglala Sioux Reservation. It was safe for daylight traveling, there being rough country ahead.
          General Miles was patrolling the boundary country, on the watch for Sitting Bull. Secret Indian war parties were moving everywhere. The country was still dangerous. Calling Elk had to be more careful than usual with this woman in his care. Although the country he was crossing was new to him, he had learned the lay of all the large creeks and rivers on his route and was confident of his way. General Miles’ scouts were Indians who knew the country thoroughly and they were to be found.
          About the end of July, White Face Woman reached to the end of her trail, the Oglala Sioux Reservation. There she found her relations who lived as treaty Indians. Calling Elk, too, found relatives and went to live with them.
          White Face Woman never met Calling Elk till at the Night Dance—had never even heard his name. Yet in her haste to escape from her husband, she called on him to escort her out of the country.
She knew the moral laws of her people. Once a girl parted from her people with a man, she was considered a loose woman and nothing on earth would change their point of view. Yet, under the circumstances, in the heat of her anger and shame, hurt and desire for revenge, she did not stop to reason. Or did she have an independent mind of her own?
          Calling Elk was handsome, quiet, sensible, pleasing. She found him master of himself, a very proud looking person, but the appearance of pride was deceiving. The Indian ruled the world by a socialist form of government and wealth accumulation could not fit in. A man was considered independent when he was strong of arm, able to put an arrow deep into a buffalo and own a good fast pony. Calling Elk possessed all these—he had made a name for himself as a warrior.
Little by little, White Face Woman learned to know the man who suddenly changed her lie and she found herself drawn to him slowly., Two years later, the marriage of Constable Calling Elk, of the US Indian Police Service of the Oglala Reservation and White Face Woman was announced.
          A little adobe house stood a mile from the agency. Beside it was a garden—in the yard a flock of children. A woman dressed in calico, wearing an apron, moved busily about the home, humming a song:
          “I married him without love
           For that I suffered greatly—
           I am leaving him for you.”

White Face Woman: 8 of 8

Sioux Indian Police, 1882, Oglala Reservation
White Face Woman lay on her death bed. She was given up to die. All the medicine men for miles around had failed to restore her. Her husband, still wearing the star on his breast, sat by her bed, broken-hearted—waiting for her die.
          It was near sunset and visitors for the night would soon be coming. A stranger, covered with trail dust, stood at the door. Calling Elk greeted the man and motioned him to a chair.
          The stranger was a Cheyenne Indian, by his clothing. He was a handsome-looking man. Neither spoke for some time. Finally, the stranger spoke in very good Sioux, saying, “I am a Cheyenne. I wish to find the home of one named Come Out Like A Bear.”
          Calling Elk answered, “The man you are seeking lives near. But, friend, it is getting late. I wish you would stay over night with me—I have a tipi out there, furnished with bedding, where you can rest quietly.” The Cheyenne accepted. Calling Elk set before the man a cold bowl of pork and beans, hardtack, biscuits, and coffee—it was the government ration.
          An hour or so later the Cheyenne asked, “Has someone doctored your woman? I can see plainly the spark of life in her body is waning.”
 “Are you a medicine man?” asked Calling Elk excitedly.
          The Cheyenne answered with a nod.
          “Too bad,” said Calling Elk, “I have nothing wherewith to employ our service. I have only one horse left, but that is for police service. I must hold it in case my wife lives. Too bad.”
          Again the Cheyenne spoke. “Friend, the pay a medicine an requires is not for gain. It is part o the offering to the spirits we are commanded to ask for—I see you still have something of very great value that I will take as pay for curing your wife.”
          Excitedly, Calling Elk looked about the house, but could see nothing of very great value. “Friend,” he answered, “I love my wife. Act quickly.”
          Never before had three persons been known to live so happily as White Face Woman and her two husbands. White Face Woman had a maid—her husband’s hired man. Both husbands worked as government employees and rapid improvement toward a new way of life was made.

NOTE: The parents of White Face Woman returned to the United States and were enrolled in the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, at Poplar, Montana. There, one of her brothers, William Derby, became Chief of Police. All are now under the sod.

February 02, 2012

Six Orange Crates and Epiphany in A Fortune Cookie

Wayne and me Spring 1970
Eighteen years old and headed for college--that was years ago. At the time I was living in Mesa, AZ, and on "move in" day at Grand Canyon College (now a university), my best friend Wayne rolled into the driveway with a borrowed VW van. I had everything ready for him: six orange crates packed with everything I owned.

Since then I've moved a gazillion times, each time with an ever increasing accumulation of life's flotsam. The last time I moved, I got rid of an antique piano and six bookshelves of books,  untold bins of research, sacks of clothes I no longer wore, pictures, paintings, pots, pans, canning jars, salves and ointments that my youngest swore were around before he was born.

I'm moving again, and again weeding. I've tossed at least 300 books this time around. I've tossed hundreds of files, box after box of ever more research, garden boots, clarinet music from junior high (goaded by my youngest who says I'll never again play music so littered with black notes), even paper dolls I've been hauling around since I was ten years old and living in Northern California.

Each time I've gone through this process, I've inevitably thought of Wayne and that beastly hot day in Phoenix when he helped transport my six orange crates of belongings into a small dorm room and the rest of my life. Where did all this stuff come from? What happened to the days when I needed so little to create a corner of home for myself?

Where did all this come from?
The recession's hit a lot of people hard, me included, and from time to time I've felt a bit blue. But not long ago I found this epiphany in a fortune cookie: Accept something that you cannot change, and you will feel better. I thought of those six orange crates and how happy I'd been. Why feel blue over a recession? Especially since once upon a time, eighteen years old, I'd felt so happy, and with so little? I called Wayne. Which is why I'm selling my house for what I can get and boxing everything else up for storage: Wayne will invest what I can salvage.

People ask, "But where will you live?" I actually have three places I can go before heading for Banff the end of March to drive summer tour buses:

1--with a friend on Drayton Harbor;
2--in a cottage on Storm Lake;
3--at my youngest's condo overlooking Lake Whatcom.
Okay, 4--my mother.

The more common question has been, "But what if the market doesn't turn around?" They're asking, What if the midnight hour should strike?

I know exactly what will happen. Should midnight strike and I lose everything, I'll still have six orange crates and not just Wayne but many friends. And I'll be bouncing down some freeway or the other, off to some kind of "college"and the rest of my life, where it truly takes very little to create a corner of home for myself. 

Wayne and me, 2009, and 4 of my 6 orange crates, 2012

January 26, 2012

Guest: Lori Hutchinson, Educator

Dr. Maya Angelou: An example of life lived to its fullest.
by Lori Hutchinson
When I was growing up, I never took the opportunity to read any of Dr. Angelou’s work. I knew she was a renowned poet and writer, but I was not aware of the greatness of her personal story or her many talents. When I decided to finally read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I was blown away. Dr. Maya Angelou is more than a poet and writer; she's an all-around role model for wisdom and life achievement.
Dr. Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. When she was three years old, Angelou’s parents divorced. She and her brother were sent to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, where racism and hatred for blacks was rampant. Angelou experienced the effects firsthand, something that shaped her strong determination for peace and good works. 
When she was eight, Angelou moved back to St. Louis with her mother. It was here she experienced something that nearly stole her soul; sexual molestation and rape by her mother’s live-in boyfriend. After the family went to court over the incident, her mother’s boyfriend was murdered by several angry family acquaintances. In the aftermath of these events, Angelou stopped speaking to everyone but her older brother, Bailey.
Angelou and her brother were eventually sent back to Arkansas to live with their grandmother. To help break her out of silence, a friend of Angelou’s grandmother, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, encouraged her to read works of literature out loud. It worked.
After experiencing several firsthand events of racism, Angelou’s grandmother began to fear for the children’s safety in Arkansas. She saved up enough money to send thirteen-year-old Maya to California, where Angelou’s mother had gone to live. Angelou's teenage years, living with her mother, was when she finally began to gain confidence and courage. 
Immediately upon arriving, she was awarded a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labor School. Although she loved the arts, she dropped out within a year to become, at fourteen years old, San Francisco's first African-American female cable car conductor. At sixteen, she became pregnant—although she managed to graduate from high school just weeks before giving birth to her son.
To support him, Angelou worked as a waitress and cook, but her passion for the performing arts soon became her means of support. Throughout the 1950s, she studied dance and performed in several plays, including a European tour of Porgy and Bess. She recorded her first album, Calypso Lady, in 1957. In 1958, she moved to New York City where she joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild.
Always looking for opportunities to make a difference, Angelou moved to Cairo, Egypt, in 1960. There she worked as the English-language editor of The Arab Observer. She next moved to Ghana where she taught at The University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama and worked as editor of The African Review. While in Africa, Angelou studied and mastered several languages, including French, Spanish, Italian and Arabic. This is also where she met Malcolm X.
In 1964, she moved back to the United States and began helping Malcolm X with his Organization of African American Unity. After Malcolm X’s assassination, Angelou was appointed as the Northern Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On her birthday in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. A poignant moment in Angelou’s life. 
In 1970, Angelou’s famous bestselling book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published. This was the beginning of a momentous and historic career. Today, Angelou has published more than 30 bestselling titles. In addition to writing books, she's also written scripts and scores for television and film. Her script for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia was the first script by an African American woman to be filmed, and it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. 
Angelou has also acted, directed, served on two presidential committees and received dozens of awards and honorary degrees. Today, Dr. Angelou is a professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
It’s awe inspiring to read about this gifted teacher, role model, survivor, artist. Maya Angelou is a woman who’s truly taken life by the horns. If you’re a parent, mentor, or teacher, I encourage you to introduce the youth in your life to Dr. Angelou. She’s a real-life example of making good with the time we’re given on earth.
Lori Hutchison teaches high school English and owns the site Masters in Teaching. In her spare time, she enjoys writing guest blog posts about various topics of interest; especially teaching! www.mastersinteaching.net

January 23, 2012

Learning To Think

In going through some very old files while getting ready to move, I came across two things that meant something to me: One, a sketch I’d done of John Cabot in the late 1960s and, two, essays I’d written for my civics teacher in grade nine at Slausen Jr. High in Ann Arbor, MI.

I sketched a lot growing up and was sad when, having moved to Arizona for health reasons my senior year of high school, my mother threw out my art work. To her defense, there was quite a pile in the basement of our Iowa house. The two years I was at Maurice-Orange City High School (my sophomore and junior years), I took Drawing; and this consisted almost entirely of sketching classmates very quickly. We might go through five or six models in the course of one hour. I suppose, if I were my mother, I’d have given the whole stack a toss, too. Still, I’ve often wondered how good I was. And so discovering “Giovanni Cabot[t]o,” I was surprised to see I’d developed a serviceable skill at least.

My second satisfactory find was a sheaf of essays written for my ninth grade civics teacher at Slausen Jr. High in Ann Arbor, MI. I’ve always credited him for teaching me how to think.

He did this by handing off a list of famous quotes and requiring weekly opinion essays utilizing one of these quotes. “Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you” sort of thing. And so we’d write, he’d rebut, we’d rewrite, and he’d rebut our response. A single essay could go back and forth several times before being accepted, and not until he felt we’d sufficiently clarified and articulated our position. In this sheaf, I became intrigued by an essay using Thomas Jefferson’s “All men are created equal.”

“All men are created equal,” I began, quoting Jefferson in his preamble to the Declaration of Independence. “But what does it really mean? I believe that when Jefferson wrote this, he meant that all men were born with the desire to have liberty, an opportunity to live, and to seek happiness.”

I went on in what is clearly a very un-Republican way of thinking with respect to government. The government needed to afford opportunity for everyone, I wrote. Not just the lucky few. My teacher's rebuttal was extensive. “Why should the government supply these opportunities? What status is there in being a ‘mere working man’? If liberty is inalienable, how come some are taken away—or never granted by some governments? Why does democracy tend to not try to take them away, but rather to protect them? Or does it?”

I struggled to clarify. “It is up to the government to supply jobs, or how would anyone earn a living? The country would rot away. It is up to the government to keep it strong. One way to this is to have jobs for everyone.”

He pushed back. “Why can’t the government merely see that private industry is prosperous enough to have jobs for all? Isn’t this what we want?”

I had to rethink my position. Finally, I wrote: “I think it’s up to the government to create an environment where job opportunities abound and where everyone can earn a livable wage.” I remember being pleased with myself, the clarity ringing clearly in my brain. I’d gone from vague to specific. Government providing jobs, no, but an environment for jobs? yes—two very different things. This teacher not only taught me how to think—but how to say it.

I’m approaching sixty. These essays and drawing are more than forty-five years old. Do I throw them out? They’ve served their purpose, I know. I can’t imagine anyone else being interested. But still, their discovery reminds me of who I am. An serviceable artist. An articulate thinker. What if I forget? I am pushing sixty.

I think, if it's okay, I’ll hold on a bit longer. Maybe when I approach eighty, I’ll discover them again. And again be surprised.

Old Letters and New Revelations

People ask all the time, “How ever did you do it?” when referring to my being a single parent of three kids, ages 1, 3, and 6 for seventeen years. There's an assumption I did do it. 

The kids are grown and gone and two of them have kids themselves. Today it's January 2012 and I'm selling my house—and, consequently, going through old files. I just now came across a folder of Heather’s work. She was six when I left her dad, and she's suffered the most—her age of course, but the deeper impact undoubtedly was the responsibility I'd placed on her. Worse, because she gave me no trouble I tended to leave her to herself; there were so many other things to do. 

One of my most painful memories of her childhood was of her breaking her knee. I was gone. She was out riding her bike and was a few blocks from home when a neighbor kid, just to be mean, plowed right into her, dropping her straight down on her knee. Knee broken, she somehow managed to get the bike and herself home, hopping all the way, and get herself into my bed. She instructed her little brothers to pack it with ice and waited. And waited.

I was at a writers conference an hour and a half away. No cell phones then. When I finally returned, she’d been in pretty brutal pain for hours, watching her knee swell despite the ice and aspirin. I bundled her into the car and over to emergency, where they splinted her leg and suggested a surgeon. Amidst my sea of guilt, I was thunderstruck at how stoic and smart she’d been. 

So, no, I didn’t do it.  I couldn’t be everywhere—physically, emotionally.

In this file of Heather's today I found a pile of letters she'd been asked to write. “Are you wondering why I am writing you a letter? It’s because Mrs. Morris is making us. We have to do this every week on Friday and it has to be returned, signed by you. If we bring it back on Monday we get 25 points. For every day it’s late, we lose 3 points. I know you hate reading and signing letters...”

She’s referring to the inundation of paper work I was constantly receiving from the schools for all three of my children; everything had to be reviewed and signed and returned and, yes, I hated it. The clutter of it all in my head—while struggling to get the bills paid and food on the table and attend all the other things needing attention—was too much. I didn’t mind reading the material; it was the borage of signing and keeping track and reporting to the teachers ad nausea that I minded. Why all the falderal? When I was a kid, we did our homework and that was that. None of this running back and forth between home and school. As a kid, it would have driven me nuts. As a mother? It was all so meaningless and just one more thing to do.

But reading Heather’s letter today, away from the pressing needs of yesterday, I realize that my irritation had been hard on her. Not only did she have the responsibility of orchestrating the paperwork—her grade depended on it—she had my resistance. Stoically, she'd soldiered on. I'm bothered by this.

A second realization. “...it’s not my fault,” she wrote. She tried so hard not to burden me. A kid shouldn't be asked to do this. Parents should be able to deal with it. Plain and simple. I couldn’t. 

But if this first letter bothered me, it was the one dated October 9, 1989, that has really upset me. In the middle of her narrative, Heather wrote: “Now, I’m supposed to tell you what I’m doing this weekend. I’m going to Dad’s. I don’t think you care what we do.” Right in the solar plexus. Because I did care. The reports on weekends with Dad, though, usually triggered rage, disgust. My children’s lack of care was so profound and I so helpless that early on I’d begun to steel myself and eventually trained myself to remain passive when hearing about it. In later years? when they could fend for themselves? For instance, refuse to sleep in urine soaked sleeping bags? By then it was a habit to simply listen, to remain disengaged from their lives outside my sphere. Today I realize that Heather interpreted my passivity as “not caring.” I am remiss in the obvious and hidden as well.

Over the years I've often looked back to see if I could have been a better mother, better able to handle the crises, the mundane, the day-to-day. Every time I end up concluding that, no, I couldn't. I'd given it my best. Even though I knew at the time it wasn't enough.

So to answer everyone’s question, “How did you ever do it?” I am here and now answering anyone asking that I didn’t, obviously, and that my children suffered for my lack. 

But here’s the twist. Heather and her brothers seem to have forgiven my faults and negligence. And if I ever doubted it, one of Phil’s letters also came to light today, alongside Heather's. Apparently some really big crisis occurred in March 1999. I have no memory of it, there were so many. This one must have been a doozy, though. Phil was 21. He writes:
I had no idea this was going on, you say this started on the 30th? I have already prayed for you, and prayed again. Mum, I don't want you to scare me like that again.  You have been so strong for all of us our whole lives. I am not telling you to be strong now, because I can understand, no, I can’t, but I simply ask that you allow us to be strong for you now. Tears run down my face as I hear your distress, think about the beautiful things. Any year now you may be holding a grandchild in your arms. You can teach them to love themselves as you have taught me. Sending my children to grandma’s house is something I have dreamed of my whole life, to let them experience the love and encouragement I was so fortunate to have….Please always remember that I love you and that I, we, will be strong for you…
Their whole lives saw us lurching from one upheaval to the next while I struggled with poverty, poor health, and all the attendant worries that come with parenting. My faults speak for themselves—not keeping my distress to myself is just one. But if my children can forgive me? I didn’t single parent well to be sure, but it seems I did it well enough.

So here's my final answer to anyone asking "How ever did you do it?" My answer is simply this, "I didn't. But sometimes forgiveness intervenes."

January 10, 2012

Kezia Hephzibah--and Ana Papaionnon, Professional Squatters and More

Jacob Marley, the Christmas Carol
I wish I had a picture of Kezia Hephzibah. But I only have one of Jacob Marley from the Christmas Carol. Keziah, not to be confused with any other Kezia Hephzibah, and there are others, perfectly innocent. This one comes attached with her daughter, Ana. Both are large. Ana is quiet--but she quietly, coldly backs her mother in court. Kezia is loud--over the top aggressive and foul-mouthed. She talks swiftly, words a hurricane, in something resembling a New Jersey accent. She explodes in your face.

People in Bellingham, WA, would love to have a mug shot of her, too. I don't. We don't. And so Kezia's still ransacking peoples' lives and leaving a wake of destruction in her path, and just this week someone asked, "Hey, you ever hear any more of Kezia?" and in the mail arrives a letter from an attorney in Rhode Island, asking me to give him a call.

For all of you who're wondering what the woman and her daughter are up to now? Here's the update.

Oops, a catch-up first for those of you who've somehow missed out on this fantastic story. Here it is; I'll try to put it in a nutshell.

A year and a half ago my son advertised in Craigslist for a renter. Enter Kezia and daughter Ana. Long story short, they refused to pay rent, slapped a restraining order on Blake for going over to introduce himself and trying to see what could be worked out, and filed so many false police reports that the police finally quit coming to my door--my door because Blake couldn't live in his condo: Kezia was. The story gets worse, "same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a whole lot worse." The details can be found in the Bellingham Court House under the pleadings of Blake Kent vs. Kezia Hephzibah.

Very quickly we realized that this is what Kezia and her daughter do. Establish residency, refuse rent, slap on restraining orders, file false police reports, write threatening letters citing "violation of landlord/tenant RCW code," take you for whatever you've got, and try to get your butt tossed in the klink. For Blake, it could at times be funny. He'd cross the Canadian border back into the States and the guard might say something like this: "Theatre class in Vancouver tonight, Blake? Or was it theology night?"

"Theology, Sir."

"Well, you're supposed to be in Bellingham violating your restraining order."

Or, it's me answering the door to the sheriff, again. "Where was Blake last night?" he'd ask. A nice man, a sexy man, so nice and sexy that I'd have married him on my next trip into the court house if he hadn't have been wearing a wedding ring. So instead I'd say "Chicago." Or "Thailand." Or "Colorado." Which at any given time was where Blake was. Mr. NiceMan Sheriff would then give me his sexy smile, pull himself off my porch, and amble to his car. "See you next time," he'd say, grinning still, ducking into his car.

The whole police department eventually figured out going after Blake was a waste of time, that it was distracting them from catching the violent amongst us, like the guys who shoot the mothers of their children or beat up their girlfriends and leave them for dead. Not someone who's knocking on his own front door trying to figure who's living there.

One time Blake and I were waiting for yet another court hearing over the restraining order or collecting rent (who can keep track?) when Mr. NiceMan Sheriff and a pal sat down at a table next to us. "You ever meet Blake?" I asked Mr. NiceMan Sheriff.

This miserable story nearly ended with Blake's goose cooked. Which is what it seems Kezia was after. Blake and I were in Alaska. He was helping me install a window in my old Gold Rush cabin when he got a recorded message from the Bellingham courts "reminding" him that he had a court hearing the next morning over a violation of his court order. If he didn't show up, they'd swear out a warrant for his arrest.


Get this, by sending her a copy of the summary judgment he'd won against her for $1,000, which he was required by law to do, Blake was also by law in violation of the restraining order. Wow, who would have thought? In America?

It just so happens that when in Skagway, Alaska, I hang out with the mayor's mother. So Ginny called Tom. Tom called Bellingham. Blake sent a friend in his stead and was granted a two-week reprieve based on Tom's intervention. For the next week, though, Blake called every attorney in B'ham. He was going to go to jail, every single one of them said. He'd violated the restraining order--which, incidentally, had an addendum attached to it by Judge Mura saying that although legal technicalities hindered him from throwing out the retraining order it was unfounded. Blake carries it with him to all job interviews. Still...that said, justice could only be served by Blake going to jail it seems.

He finally called the judge who was to hear the case. How Blake secured five minutes of the man's time, I don't know, but he did, and in five minutes Blake's goose was out of the oven. He did have to fly from Alaska to Belllingham, though, his dime (more expense thanks to Kezia), and show up for court, but in court the judge threw the case out of court. Finally, a year after it started, it was over.

So now I get a letter from an attorney in Rhode Island asking me to please call him at my earliest convenience regarding a landlord/tenant situation involving guess who.

Rumor around here was that once Kezia and her daughter were removed from Blake's condo, they moved in on an old man and were suing him for a portion of his estate. Not true. Though court records do reveal another landlord/tenant issue. Another rumor floating around town was that Kezia and Ana had finally moved on--Wyoming this time. What's known for sure is that they're now in Rhode Island raising Cain.

A rental agency put Kezia and Ana, via a Craigslist ad (all starting to sound familiar?) in a rental unit of a single mother. I used to be a single mother--raising three children on my own for seventeen years. I can't even imagine tangling with such a force back then. The attorney says Keziah was asked to leave; her deposit and first month's rent was returned. But she didn't leave, of course, and is busy slapping on the restraining orders. Of course. The attorney on the case managed to get them squashed and is preparing for a hearing on January 23rd to begin the long process of having Kezia and Ana removed. Again.

Yes, I wish I had a picture of this woman. So does Bellingham. And when I called the District Court in the RI city hearing the case, asking for more information? The clerk knew instantly who I was talking about. "Oh, yeah, odd last names, causing trouble wherever they go, yeah, here's the information." So I'm guessing people on the east coast are wishing they had a mug shot of Kezia, too.

First question: How can we even begin to say we live in a free country when someone can pop hook-or-by-crook into our homes and slap  us with restraining orders, make us endure false police reports, force us to spend thousands to keep out of jail, and endure someone in our private homes?

Second question: Why can't women like Kezia and Ana be stopped?

Third question: Last week a TV protagonist asked a TV antagonist of Kezia quality, "Aren't you tired?" I ask the same. Aren't Kezia and Ana tired of moving from state to state, looking for their next mark, pouncing and choking the stuffing out of the innocent? They live in constant transiency, constant animosity, constant litigation and strife their bread and butter. When do they rest? When do they play? Laugh? Aren't they tired?

Fourth question: Who's really suffering here? Blake? The old man? This  single mother? Blake's gotten over the shake-up. In time the single mom will too. Maybe even me. But Kezia and her daughter will again be on the run, again crisscrossing the country, again singing the same song, second verse. They don't travel lightly. Each new run for fresh bait is another chain of Jacob Marley fame. Fettered to ill-gotten gain, they carry the increasing weight and length of their need to destroy, never seeing the self-imposed prison of their own sad, boring, tiresome, and shadowed lives.

Jacob Marley woke up too late and did what he could to warn Ebenezer Scrooge. Is it already too late for Kezia?

Final question: Is this why Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies? A kind of Jacob-Marley-come-back-before-it's-too-late?

I don't know. I'm just asking.

 NOTE: No, Keziah/Leslie has never paid the summary judgment Blake has against her. Maybe now he can go after her tax rebates. Or not.