Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chapter 18: The Tall Indian

"Indians came riding on the path that passed so close to the house. They went by as though it were not there......

"I thought that trail was an old one they didn't use any more," Pa said. "I wouldn't have built the house so close to it if I'd known it's a highroad.'"

Autumn hangs over the prairie. Nature is busy preparing for the long, cold winter to come, and the Indians are busy making preparations, too. Many, many Indians ride past on the little trail that goes right past the house. It makes Ma nervous and it makes Jack very angry. Jack believes that the trail belongs to Pa, and he tries very hard to keep the Indians off of it.

One evening, the family looks up and sees a tall Indian standing in the doorway. Jack jumps at him, but Pa catches the dog just in time. Pa ties Jack to a bed post and goes and squats by the fire with the tall Indian. They sit there together while Ma finishes supper, both friendly, but neither one speaks. Ma gives Pa and the Indian their suppers on two tin plates and they eat right there by the fire.

After supper, Pa shares his tobacco with the Indian and they smoke their pipes. When the pipes are empty, the Indian tries to say something to Pa, but Pa can't understand. He shakes his head and says, "No speak." They sit a while longer and then the Indian stands up and goes away without a sound.

Pa says the tall Indian is probably an Osage.  He thinks the Indian tried to speak in French, but Pa doesn't speak French. Ma is worried about the Indians and hopes they keep to themselves. Pa tells her that the camps around the little house are friendly and if they treat the Indians well and watch Jack, they shouldn't have any trouble.

The very next morning, Pa looks out the window and sees Jack standing on the Indian trail. There is an Indian on his pony and Jack will not let him pass. The Indian raises his gun, but Pa grabs Jack and pulls him out of the way. After this, Jack has to stay chained to the house in the day time and to the stable door at night. There are horse thieves around and Pa wants Pet and Patty to be safe.

Winter is coming and the animals are all wearing their thick, winter coats. Pa goes out and sets his traps, bringing back wolves, foxes, beaver, muskrat, and mink. He dries the skins and piles the hides in the corner.

One day, while Pa is hunting, two Indians walk into the house. Jack is chained up, and the Indians help themselves to all Ma's cornbread and all Pa's tobacco. They know that Pa is gone because his gun is missing from the hooks above the fireplace. One of them grabs all the furs sitting in the corner. Ma stands there with the girls close to her. There is nothing she can do.

The other Indian argues with the one holding the furs. Finally, he drops the furs and both Indians go away. Ma sits down and hugs Laura and Mary. Ma's heart is beating fast, but she smiles and says, "I'm thankful they didn't take the plow and seeds." Laura is surprised, but Ma explains that the plow and seed for next spring is in the bundle of furs.

When Pa comes home and hears the news, he looks sober. But he says all is well that ends well.

I'll bet Ma wanted to clock him one when he said that! A mother always has a harder time being pragmatic about the risks to her kids. But it was an era of risks. A mother could only hope to keep all her kids alive through childhood; many didn't make it.

So for this chapter I attempted something very dangerous. Something that I doubt I will ever try again.

I invited my family over for a silent meal.

I thought it would be a fun and interesting to experience an evening of non-verbal communication. What a challenge it would be, especially for the kids! But we're a creative bunch, so I figured we'd come up with some great ways to communicate.

We sounded like a bunch of deranged squirrels.

The evening got off to a late start due to the delayed arrival of our guests. My carefully prepared meal languished on the counter, but some of my righteous indignation evaporated later when I discovered that it hadn't even finished cooking all the way. That's OK, I like crunchy french fries....

My guests arrived and had a shocked, yet stunned reaction to the news. And then I got my camera out. So they had to re-do shocked-yet-stunned several times before I got a photo I liked. Authenticity, baby!

"Pa dragged Jack to the bedpost and tied him there. While he was doing it, the Indian came in and squatted down by the fire.

Then Pa squatted down by the Indian, and they sat there, friendly but not saying a word, while Ma finished cooking dinner."

The idea was that we would all get our plates, pose for a few squatting pictures, and then relax into a comfortable dinner on the floor. The process was hampered by the fact that nobody but me knew what was going on.

Everyone milled around like sheep in the kitchen. 

I motioned for everyone to get their plates.

People started to get their plates. And eat from them.

Noooooo! Don't eat from them, pose with them! Communicated through shrill, deranged squirrel squeaks.

My guests looked understandingly puzzled. First, I invited them for dinner, then motioned them to get their plates, then squeaked at them shrilly when they tried to eat.

Let's try this again.

I led them boldly into the living room.

They sat on the floor.

Squat! Don't sit! Shrill, deranged squirrel squeaks.

After many rounds of squirrel charades where I demonstrated taking my plate, squatting, and smiling for the camera, most of the group caught on to what I wanted. So I pushed the timer and hurried to get in the picture.

Note to self: if you ever want a flattering self-portrait, do not squat in front of a camera.

By this time the kids had caught onto the possibilities of our situation. Somehow Noni and I didn't inspire awed obedience while frowning fiercely and squeaking. So the kids started running amok. After all, if they got in trouble, they had plausible deniability. "How was I to know you didn't want me rappelling from the ceiling? You didn't SAY so!"

Finley began to see the potential of having all the plates down at nose level. If we didn't want him to poke his snout in hopefully, we would have been at the table, wouldn't we?

The actual meal went rather quickly. After all, if you don't pause to converse, you can do a lot more chewing.

"Laura and Mary were close together and quiet on their bed in the corner. They couldn't take their eyes from that Indian He was so still that the beautiful eagle-feathers in his scalp-lock didn't stir. Only his bare chest and the leanness under his ribs moved a little to his breathing."

My guests were supposed to get up and leave after the meal, just as the Indian had done. However, nothing so far had gone according to plan, and this was no different. Having eaten, the kids were ready to play.

Devon showed us a few of his new wrestling moves. Noni kindly allowed herself to be taken down. Devon has not yet attained, shall we say, heavy-weight status as a wrestler.

Then everyone tried a round of Indian leg wrestling. This was a bit of a challenge since some of us (mainly me) had forgotten just how it worked. I found squirrel squeaks less than adequate in explaining the process, so I was unprepared. Of course that was the reason Damon beat me. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Caleb got a nice ego boost by wrestling Devon. I wonder who's going to win????

At last, the company left. Noni had to squeak very sternly at them, but eventually even the last stragglers trickled out. It was so nice to be able to speak again! Not talking is WAY more tiring than talking.

All in all, the evening was fun and definitely memorable, but I still don't want to give up speech. I don't know how parents that can't talk manage....they must have some very obedient kids! Or some very forceful sign language.

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