Monday, December 21, 2015

Historical Information

Prior to my birth, my father was a Boy Scout Leader.  He had been a Boy Scout growing up, in the various towns and cities he grew up in.  He was the son of a military man, and as such, moved from city to city, duty station to duty station.  So, the one constant for my father was Scouting.  

My grandfather was born and raised in Southern Alabama.  He joined one of the first Scout Troops in Alabama in the 1920s, which his father - my great-grandfather - started.  He earned his Eagle award around the time he joined the Service for duty in World War II, where he served in the Pacific as a Pharmacist's mate and Corpsman to Marines in places like Iwo Jima.

When my grandfather returned from the War, injured, he met my grandmother.  My grandmother later discovered she was going to be the Troop Mom for a brand new Scout Troop that would later host my father and uncle.

In the mid-1960s, the family moved to what would become my hometown many years later.  Here, both my father and uncle would be active in Scouting.  It is here that my grandfather met two other gentlemen, one a Kiowa who had been an Army Medic in Europe during WWII, and his best friend, a Comanche gentleman.  Both of these men were active in Boy Scouts as well - teaching young men about Native culture, music, dance, and philosophy. 

This is the setting to which I was born.  

My father, upon returning from the Navy, felt compelled to give back to Scouting.  He became an Assistant Scout Master for a troop.  And the race was on!  I was then only a toddler.  But, my grandfather had moved to East Texas and became Scoutmaster of a troop there as well.  So, now there are three generations of Scoutmaster in my family before me, and me barely able to walk.  

Flash forward a few years, while I am a young boy.  I have become involved in Cub Scouts, my father was the Cub Scout Leader, and my mother was a Den Leader.  I was involved in all kinds of activities - baseball, bicycling, magic shows, animal care, and so much more. 

And then this gentleman my father seemed to know pretty well, showed up at our Blue & Gold Banquet - an annual event where the Cub Scouts celebrated their accomplishments for the year.  This man laid out furs, bells, beads, and numerous items on several tables for display.  He then commenced to telling some of the strangest stories I had ever heard of: 'How Coyote's tail became long', 'why moccasins have two tabs on the heel', 'why we wear bells when we dance', and more.  

He had this one stuffed fox that he seemed convinced - or at least was trying to convince us - was alive.  And it moved like it was alive - it even jumped at us from the crook of his arm! - but as soon as he finished his story it went back to its stationary 'life'!  This guy was a master story-teller. He had us all captured with his tales.  And my father knew him from way-back.  Which I thought was totally the coolest ever.  In a day where Star Wars was the game kids played on the playground, I wanted to be like this Kiowa man - telling stories, dancing, and singing.  Oh, I played with the Star Wars toys too, and I became Luke Skywalker on the playground as well.  But, this Kiowa story-teller had captured a different part of my imagination.

Now, my grandfather, as a younger man, had danced with Native Americans, and had learned quite a bit from them.  His knowledge allowed him to dance in Snake Dances - wherein he held a Coral Snake in each hand, and even one in his mouth while dancing.  I've seen it with my own eyes, and I can tell you, even being near one of these deadly snakes is frightening, let alone holding one in an ungloved hand or in one's mouth!  But, there he was dancing to the beat of the drum to a song I found incomprehensible at the time with three of these snakes on or about his person.  

And he also knew this Kiowa story-teller, George. In fact, they were old friends - brothers, even - since they returned from the War and became fast friends.  They had similar stories - both medical personnel for soldiers, both Scoutmasters, both dancers.  By the time I was 10, my grandfather and the Kiowa story-teller, a descendant of the Kiowa Chief, Satank, had become so close, people called both of them my grandfather interchangeably, which in 'the Indian way' they were.  

When I was 10, George put me in my first dance outfit, gave me some instruction, and sent me onto the dance floor.  To be fair, it was a demonstration for other Cub Scouts, not a full Native Powwow.  But, it was the first step into the arena.  By the time I was in High School, I had incorporated outfit pieces from my grandfather, the outfit George gave me, and some I made into my own outfit, and was dancing at monthly powwows in my town and across North Texas.

By today's standards, I might be a bit embarassed of that original outfit.  But, it was mine, pieces given me by people I loved and respected, and other pieces I made myself.

In the early 1980s a couple of things happened: a) I was introduced to a Comanche gentleman who helped guide me in better outfit construction techniques and styles, b) another Comanche family took a liking to my family for an as-yet-unexplained reason, and c) George passed away.  

Bob, the Comanche gent, also helped a lot of other Scouts - he had his own craft store he ran out of his house - Tipi American.  So, he had access to craft materials that we could not gather anywhere else.  He also had resources I had been unaware existed prior to meeting him - other dancers, other Native people who could give advice, books the local library didn't have, and so much more.  Between his house and George's I had spent countless hours learning, crafting, and absorbing like a sponge anything I could from them.

After George passed, I still saw Bob quite often, especially when he came out to Scouting events, as a member of the Order of the Arrow.  I helped promote his store and teach what I knew and he kept teaching me what he knew.  At that point, he wasn't dancing much, but he was still going to local dances and selling craft items.

Then, at a local powwow in a National Guard Armory, my mother began talking with a Comanche lady.  It turned out they worked in the same office, and didn't realize we had been attending many of the same events together.  The two have been good friends since.  Fern's husband at the time was a Head Singer, so she often sat with the drum.  But, she would come over to give hugs and say hello.  It was this love that kept me in the circle after George passed.  Even though Bob helped teach me, Aunt Fern really inspired me to keep dancing.  In fact, her son, and my younger brother often goofed off during dances while I danced and the families watched or participated.

Then I graduated High School, and left Scouting behind - I was an adult in Scouting's rules, but not yet ready to be an Adult Leader like three generations before me.  I joined the Marines instead.  And didn't look back at Scouts for many years to come.

However, I continue dancing.  At least until 1997, when my oldest daughter was born.  I didn't really think about it at the time, but I left the circle then.  She has a heart condition that is life-threatening.  You can't tell just by looking at her, but she only has half a heart - not an exaggeration.  Because of this condition, focus was put on her, and all extraneous things became less important.  I had left the circle.

In 2001, my heart-baby was now 4 and we had a newborn with no health concerns.  But, I hadn't thought about dancing in four years.  Then one day, quite out of the blue, my mother asked me if I was planning on going to a local powwow.  And I began to make excuses.  First, I didn't want to.  Then, my outfit was shoddy.  Then, I said I couldn't remember the music.  

One excuse after another until I realized what I was doing.  So, I gathered my outfit, and took my family to the dance.  My wife had no idea what she was in for.  She's Irish, Scottish, Austrian, and a whole lot of Cajun added in for spice.  She was so nervous, and truthfully, so was I.  But, my parents insisted we go.  So we did.  And we had a great time.

Much of that outfit was my pieces of my original outfit.  It was, as we say, still growing.  But, I was an adult, now, and outfit styles were changing.  Those fads left my outfit in the dust.  So, it was time to modernize.

But, that dance made me realize I was missing something else.  It took me a couple of weeks to realize what it was - Scouting.  Apparently, I was ready to take on the mantle of Scout Leader, like three generations before me had done.  So, I did some web-searching.  Websites weren't great in that day, but I found one for my old chapter of my old lodge in the Order of the Arrow and reached out.  Not only did they like the fact that I wanted to come back, but they put me to work immediately.  I contacted my grandparents, and let them know - and let me tell you, my grandfather was so happy.  He asked me to come out to his place, and of course, bring the babies, where he handed me a couple of boxes of his old Scout stuff - patches, sashes, photos, neckerchiefs, craft items he'd made over the years - and a few more dance outfit pieces.

I was immediately put to use in the Chapter as the Dance Team Advisor, and the next year I was promoted to the Lodge Dance Team Advisor.  Teaching boys Native American dance and singing, educating on authenticity and craft skills.  And all the while making dance outfits for my kids, for the boys in the OA, and others.  

But, in the intervening years, Bob, that old Comanche man - one of my two 'adopted grandfathers'  - had passed away.  The Lodge made an award in his name - which is exceedingly cool.  And a couple years after I returned to Scouting, my blood-Grandfather also passed away.  I took his ashes to Camp Pioneer in Arkansas to spread there.  While I was there, the Old Timers took me to this museum they had established.  In the museum, they had some items on display they wanted me to have - all of which belonged to my grandfather.  Several of the items I did not recognize at all - had never seen them in his hands for that matter.  But, one item stood out like a beacon to me.  He had worn it when he danced with those Coral snakes so many years before, and they would not let me leave without it.  I was the only person who had any knowledge for which this fingerwoven sash was intended.

I told my 'Aunt Fern' about this a time later.  She said she was happy that my grandfather was able to leave me something so significant.  Then she invited me to a Wardance in Oklahoma.  I explained to her that I didn't have clothes for a wardance, and she just smiled.  I had been taught that when an elder invites you, you do everything in your power to go - no matter what.  So, I set about making Southern Traditional clothes based around this fingerwoven sash my grandfather had once worn.  And went to the dance.  And the rest, as they say, is history.  

I've met some interesting folks since then - all of whom have given me good advice, some have become mentors, and others friends.  I'm proud of what I have done and continue to do.  And I so very much love teaching what I know - carrying on a tradition given to me by three preceding generations of Scout Leaders in my family, and by two specific Native American men, who became grandfathers to me in their own way.  All of my daughters dance, my parents, and my wife as well.  And, they love it as much as I do, respecting all the traditions we have been taught by friends and family.  

I spend a lot of time singing and dancing, teaching young men like I was taught, and passing on some of those 'why' stories I learned as a young man.  I'm not near as good a story-teller as George.  But, I try.  And I remember.