Savage is a term that was both good and bad. “You’re not dressed for church. You don’t have your “Sunday go to meeting” clothes on. Neither do you have on your shoes. You can’t go barefoot. You look like a savage.”
Savages to Grandmother were the painted Indians who ran around scalping the helpless folk. She rarely mentioned the atrocities committed by those who stole Indian lands, killed women and children while the braves were away. It was only when she was mad that she muttered “Indian Giver”, an insult directed at politicians, and other higher ups, a most distasteful term. “Indian Givers” were the whites who solemnly pledged their word and signed peace treaties, knowing full well the treaties were lies and were worth nothing. “Indian Givers” was a term worse than “savages”. “Indian Givers” spoke with a “forked tongue”.
Grandmother knew I couldn’t go dressed like that. Church time was very important. It meant wear your best after getting cleaned up. It meant being attentive and listening quietly to lessons from the Bible. It meant no funny faces at the preacher or the girls who giggled because I was misbehaving. It meant sitting straight without any fun until the preaching was done. It meant my world had to stop until my parents heard the lesson for the week.
The quiet time gave me time to think. How could God expect me to be quiet when birds were singing, cows were mooing, babies were crying, and Mom was hushing me? God also liked lots of music, with voices singing His favorite songs. Yes, even the savages chanted and sang songs. On Saturday night, Dad told Indian stories, Cherokee and Choctaw mostly, because he and Mom believed they had “Indian blood.” After those stories came card games and the adults played with intensity, their voices loud and clear. During those games news of kinfolk and news of the world were exchanged.
It was easier to be poor during those hard days. The Dust Bowl and World War II were over but supplies of food were limited. Mom and Dad grew gardens, bartered, or worked extra jobs to maintain the family. We lived outside of reservations so we weren’t entitled to Indian rights but we also were free of many of the government restrictions. The only proof of Indian blood we had were a land grant certificate signed by a President, a box of arrowheads made by an expert warrior, and a few stories handed down orally. The certificate and arrowheads disappeared while we were in the process of moving, and the stories were shared by strangers and claimed to be part of another tribe.
I took pride in having Indian blood related to one of the “five civilized tribes”, a name given to the five largest tribes that were squeezed into Oklahoma. I could see with an inner eye, follow the stars in the sky, and knew I belonged in the world.
I saw little difference between those of any color, any culture, any language. At times, all people were savages. All had to stop and sit up straight and listen to the lessons of the week. Then and now, after the lessons, then came the fun time when I could wear comfortable clothes and run barefoot.
July 9, 2017