Sunday, October 17, 2010

To Indian Pow-wows and First Loves

Up until the age of 13, I lived on a small farm between two small towns, here in Minnesota. The small town to the south of us was where we went to school. Most of our winter activities took place somewhere between house and town, sliding on Old Baldy, or ice-skating on Mud Lake. Some winters, we'd use the frozen pond that formed in the hollow of our yard, where my sister and I vied for our rightful place next to Peggy Fleming. In the summer there was swimming, riding our horses - sometimes with saddles, but usually bareback - and playing "Kick the Can" late into the evening, with our cousins who lived up the road. We spent most of our time outdoors.

When I was 8, our parents bought a small cafe in the town five miles to the north of us, called the Chat N Chew. That's correct (it's now defunct, but I know of others, including one in NW New Mexico, which I always passed en route to the canyons of Utah). We, "us kids," only went there occasionally, for dinner after church mostly, dinner being the noon meal. The evening meal was supper. The other event was Thursday evenings, which I'll get to in a minute. When I turned 12, this was where we spent many of our summer days. We met new friends to hang out with, and we swam. We'd hang our swimsuits to dry in the storage room behind the cafe, where they sometimes never even got dry before we put them back on in the afternoon and headed back down to the lake. We lived in the water for a good part of each summer.

Thursday evenings there was an Indian pow-wow, held as a tourist attraction, this being a town dependent on them. Remember, this was the early 1960's. It was an evening of running around with friends, acting like typical adolescents, stopping long enough to watch the pow-wow. A small group of drummers would sit in a circle in the middle, drum and sing, more of a chant, really, while the dancers moved in a circle around them. Some of the men wore spectacular feathered headdresses that captured my attention and my imagination. There was an elderly Indian woman  (quite possibly younger than I am now), who always wore a dark green dress with intricate beading at the neckline and along the sleeves. Jangly silver bugle beads circled her skirt, and real turtle shells hung from the hemline. Her dress mesmerized me. I wanted one.

These pow-wows were the highlight of my summer week. It was partly the pow-wow and partly because a boy named Billy was always there with his parents, both of whom were teachers at our school, ten miles to the south. They also owned a resort on a nearby lake, so they coordinated and emceed these evenings. I watched the dancing, while keeping an eye out for Billy. In the cloak room of our third grade, murmurings of marriage had taken place, and so I had daringly written in one of my reading books, "Teresa Enger + Billy," then, "Billy + Teresa," (just to keep things even in my mind) inside two hearts.  I kept an eye on him not out of serious expectation, although there may have been some of that, but because he was just so nice to look at: black hair, with a certain sadness in his dark brown eyes that I found mysterious and appealing. Ah, young love.

When I returned to school in the fall, Billy was not in class. He had moved away just before school started. I didn't know where, which left me feeling a bit adrift. My parents, unaware of my unrequited love, made vague references to Arizona. I didn't see him or hear anything about him for over thirty years.

Then, I read where his father, Bill, Sr., had written a book about his own growing-up years in northern Minnesota and I decided to buy copies for myself and members of my family who had expressed interest in it.  In a review of the book, I had read that he was teaching at a university in Idaho. So, I got brave and called him there. We had a very nice visit, remembering a bit of shared history and catching up on family. I inquired about Billy. He had never married, and was living out west, not too far from his parents. He spent his summers as a fisherman, on the Queen Charlotte Islands of northern British Columbia.

A week after our conversation I received the books I'd ordered, which I gave to my parents and other members of my family as Christmas gifts.

Life went on.

A few years ago, Bill, Sr. passed on while they were at their summer home in Bemidji, the town where I had graduated from college back in the '70's, and where Bill, Sr. had received his Bachelor's degree. When I heard the news, I sent a card to Billy's mom expressing my condolences and we began a correspondence, which culminated, two summers ago, in a plan to get together for lunch, along with my sister, Judy, while I was back from Santa Fe for a visit. We would meet in the same town where the pow-wows had been held, all those summers ago. She said Billy would be home from the Queen Charlotte's for a couple of weeks and would join us.

We planned to meet at a local church luncheon, put on during a celebration that had been held in this small town for as long as we could remember. When the big day arrived, I was a bit anxious. It had been over forty years since I had seen either of them.  But, the anxiety melted away, along with the years, as we sat down to lunch. During our visit, I told them how I had been at that same local church for a rummage sale a few years earlier, where they were selling a few old, "discarded" school books, readers for a younger age. I had recognized the blue cover of one and opened it up. There, on the inside cover, I had written, "Teresa Enger + Billy," then, "Billy + Teresa," inside two hearts. Needless to say, I bought the book and still have it to this day. We laughed as I recalled this, and marveled a bit at the way life moves sometimes.

We talked only a little about the past. Mostly, we talked about the world we inhabit now. He told me about his life among the Haida Indians and the friendships that had grown during his summers there. His sensitivity to these native people - their creativity and their way of life - was apparent, and very inspiring. One had created a beautiful ring for him, which he took off to show me, then encouraged me to try it on. The simple workmanship was beautiful. It felt nice, like the energy from its creation was still very present. It was nice to know that throughout those years we had shared a deep appreciation for Native American culture, he on the islands of northern British Columbia, and I in the canyons of Utah.

No, this is not a silly love story, with a Notebook ending. It's waaay better. It's the story of a childhood friendship that had a chance to come full circle; it was a gift, for which I'm very grateful.

I spoke with his mother recently, and Billy is still spending a few weeks each summer on the Queen Charlotte Islands, fishing, among his Haida friends.

And we keep moving, down the river of life.

                                                    Queen Charlotte Islands, BC

The pictured artwork is from the Haida culture, both past and present, and is courtesy of  google, along with the final image of the islands. The reader is, of course, my own.


  1. Positively a piece of literature. I like the photos of Indian totems. The early activities of your childhood mirror so many of mine and others I know. You have woven so many fine themes here, but the one I like the most is the recovery of the hearts with your signature inside. I would spend hours at swimming pools in Brownwood during the summer. The meeting of a friend from long past that we admired and liked is an act that we would like to have. Some regrets can be healed like that. Hope your week goes well because you have started it off very well with this piece. (Jack, Sage to Meadow)

  2. I love that you found the book again, and that you were able to tell him about it. Friendship is a wonderful thing!

  3. What a delightful story...really, really, enjoyed it. It's amazing to me how different, yet similar, our lives have been.

  4. This is such a wonderful story..a little bit of me wanted it to be a love story I have to admit. What a wonderful childhood and loved to hear about the powwow. I have only once heard Indian music. There was a tribal group visiting the Maori Queen at Turangawaiwai in NZ several years ago. ..and visited our school. The drums and dance were so thrilling. Thank you Teresa Evangeine.

  5. Oh.. and Fancy coming across the book again! A circle closing for sure.

  6. ha ha ha...I also wanted it to be a love story. What a bunch of romantics...

  7. You know how, sometimes, you click on a blog and you start reading, then you scroll down to see how much of a commitment you need to make to the post? And you only want it to be so long? I rode you all the way to the end. Thanks for the ride.

  8. Well it seems a love story to me, but not that kind, for friendship to me is love, so wonderful you found the book and could share it with Billy.

  9. How beautiful life is when you allow the river of time to gently move you along so that you can connect with the beginning again. I like it that you felt the energy of the ring's creation. My daughter bought a First Nations ring when she was living and working in Canada and I love it.
    I am not sure if I told you that I have an American ancestor and others researching this line say that he was Native American. I can neither prove or disprove this but I would be very happy if it is correct. I find their music and art very spiritual.

  10. This is such a beautiful story. What a lovely childhood you had. While reading I was so excited to know more about Billy that I could hardly resist to read the end of the story first! It was wonderful that you found both your book and Billy . Your meeting where you shared the ring was so sweet. He seems to be a very special person. Thank you. You are a great story-teller, Teresa.

    An accidental circle happened here today, where Joan and I talked about the Maoris and the Native Americans.

  11. Dear Friends: I tried to write a thank you to each one of you, but words felt so inadequate to express how very grateful I am to each one of you, and I do mean that, each one of you, for taking the time to read and leave such thoughtful comments.

    Our circle of friendship speaks of the circle of life....our Oneness. The indigenous people from the Americas to the Maori and all over the world had a deep understanding of this, of the Earth and the cosmos. It's a wonderful well-spring from which we can draw.

    Murr, Thanks for visiting. You are a great writer. I really enjoyed reading your blog.

    Linda, Yes, a love story of friendship. Absolutely.

  12. You describe the rich fabric of this experience so well and the enduring possibilities of friendship.

  13. Thanks, Paul. Welcome Home! I enjoyed your trip through the western U.S. What wonderful things you saw!

  14. Teresa, you are the best, the absolute best. And this story is your best (remember the 4-H motto, To make the best better? just when I think WOW, it doesn't get any better than this, you reach unimaginable heights.)

    I didn't think this was going to be that kind of love story but knew you'd somehow reconnect with Billy. It warmed my heart when the book reappeared. Yes, the circle of life moves on, a circle begun by the indigenous people. Friendship is the strongest love, even in marriage.

    Thank you for a beautiful post!

  15. I was there, swimming with you. What a memory as I, too, spent every summer in a Minnesota/South Dakota lake. (Only many years earlier). Kick the can, that, too, every evening until we heard our bell. Each mother had a bell and we all recognized our own sound.
    Finding that particular book was the love story. What would be the chance of that? You picked it up for a reason. But ..... I wanted black haired Billy (with now a few handsome strands of silver in his hair) to whisk you away. And that ring. For a moment I felt let-down, that by my reading your story, I was the cause of each of you going your way. Boy, Teresa, I was really into your story. Huh?
    I can't think of a better spot for a childhood. Thank you for writing it.

  16. Teresa,
    I'm not techie at all. Those pictures were sent from my son's camera and I'm sure there's a very simple way of getting them on my blog, but the right "trick" escapes me. He said he'll stop by this week and I'll have him show me. Are you on Facebook? Another friend put a picture on my wall.

  17. HI Kittie, My, My, thank you, so much for your comments. Yes, the 4-H motto! : ) "We pledge: Our heads to clearer thinking, our hearts to greater loyalty, our hands to greater service and our health to better living." I wonder how many times I broke That pledge over the years... :)

    Manzi, I love that we share similar stories from our past. Fun times.

    I still marvel at finding that book, as there were no other books like it, just a very few younger readers.

    Yes, Billy is still handsome with his dark hair and eyes. Sometimes the story is about finding answers to lifelong questions, of whatever nature. This was a nice way to have my questions answered.

    re: the picture's of Calvin's statue in front of the new stadium - we all look forward to whenever it gets resolved. I am not very techie either, so I understand. I deactivated my FB account about ten days ago. Time for a break... I may make it permanent this time.

  18. What a happy story, Teresa. I especially loved that you found the book, again!

  19. I'm so happy you included this link. It is quite interesting that you found the same book all those years later--the universe is such a delightful mechanism. And it was so nice that you got to reconnect with Billy decades later so you knew what he had done with his life. so many times we never know and always wonder. What a beautifully written post, too. Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Rita, Thank you so much for taking the time to read the linked story here, and for commenting. The universe is a wonderful place, where incredibly beautiful and magical things can happen. Seeing him again and having that opportunity really was a great gift. Thank you.