Heritage Story

My mom was not a great storyteller. She didn’t read books or magazines or even the daily newspaper. She did watch television news, but only those stories that weren’t about war or killing.

There was one death that intrigued her, that of Princess Diana. For some reason, the tragedy of her death touched my mom.

I think she saw in Diana heritage lost. A genetic pool which would not be carried on. And that was important to my mom.

From the time I was a little girl, my mom bragged about her Native American roots, although she did not use that term. According to my mom, almost everything she did could be attributed to her being “Indian.”

She loved bread because she was Indian. She tanned easily because she was Indian. Her hair did not turn gray and she did not wrinkle because of….

The foods she fixed were, according to her, based on her Indian roots. Her rhubarb pie was a good example, as well as her apple dumplings and fried chicken.

When pressured, she could not name the relative from whom her heritage came. She believed it was from her great-great-great grandmother on her mother’s side, but that person had no name or place of birth.

No matter the lack of concrete evidence, I believed her. I loved the idea of being part Native American, no matter how tiny that part was in reality.

When I was in fourth grade I discovered that the nonfiction part of the library held a treasure trove of information on Native American tribes from all over the country. One by one I devoured the books, looking for any similarities between my mother and a specific tribe.

When I read about the Shawnee, a tribe that lived in the same Ohio region where I did, I was elated. Here was my connection to the past. My heritage that I could pass on to my children and grandchildren.

I drew out a map of their homeland, memorized Shawnee terms, dreamt about their foods, and romanticized their lifestyle.

When looking at old black and white photos of the Shawnee people, I saw a clear resemblance in my mother’s face. Satisfied, I grew up believing that I was part Shawnee.

Well into my twenties I attended my first pow-wow, something in the keening of the songs and the pounding of the drums resonated deep within me. I felt a kinship that I had never felt before, and I really wanted to join in the dance.  Until I realized how very white I was compared to all the other dancers.

I continued to be intrigued by all things Native American. Several years ago I began collecting artifacts. None of them have any historical value, but I love the dolls, the vases, the baskets and the jewelry. I have enough stuff that it fills an entire cabinet and enough black and white prints of old photos that my walls are covered.

My daughter began researching our genealogy several years ago. As she delved into the past, she was unable to locate a single relative that appeared to be Native American. This was disappointing in so many ways!

Over a year ago she asked me to submit a DNA sample for study. Because I was still interested in finding the familial link, I did so.

A few weeks later the results came in. I have zero percent  Native American heritage! This was a disappointing discovery.

It destroyed my beliefs about who I was. It meant that all those years of reading and dreaming were wasted. It also meant that there was no truth behind my mother’s stories, which was devastating.

I hated losing that part of me because it was ingrained by sixty years of believing.

Sometimes I wish that I had not done the DNA test. If I hadn’t, I could continue to naively believe that I was Native American. However, even though I lost a huge part of what I saw as my link to distant peoples, I am glad that I did the test.

It is better to know the truth than to be spreading falsities.

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Dapper Doesn’t Do

Wolfgang Von Schmidt, thinking himself the cat’s meow, combs out his wiry whiskers and brushes his bright, white teeth.  Taking his favorite top hat from his closet shelf, he places it between his lupine-like ears, taps the brim with one hand, and smiles.  Pulling on the lapels of his tuxedo jacket, he examines himself in his full-length mirror, thinking himself quite dapper.

He saunters through his penthouse apartment with practiced grace.  He picks up a mahogany cane, taps his right dress shoe three times and leaves.  While he waits for the elevator, Wolfgang hums a happy tune, a seductive tune, a winsome tune.

He walks jauntily through the front doors, waving good-bye to the doorman.

“Out for the evening, sir?’

“Of course,” he replies with a wink and a grin.  “If I’m lucky, I’ll return with a beautiful woman on my arm.”

“Good hunting,” The doorman bows goodbye.

Wolfgang strolls over to a sleek black limo. Wolfgang taps the brim of his hat at the driver before he slithers inside, smiling a wolfish grin.

“Where to, sir?” the driver asks.

“The usual.”

“Your woman’s waiting?”

“Of course.”

They head to the street of lights running through downtown Las Vegas.

Wolfgang knows that Rosa, his current girlfriend, is waiting at Jayto’s, the hottest nightclub in town.  He told her to be there no later than ten, knowing that he’d intentionally arrive thirty minutes later because he loves the grand entrance, smirking as all heads turn and stare while he struts his sexy body across the floor.  Wolf laughs as he imagines the men glowering while women squirm, unable to resist his animal attraction.

Wolf had told Rosa to order champagne and an appetizer to tide her over. But what Wolf had not counted on was that Rosa had little patience for sitting alone, a spectacle, a laughingstock of epic proportions.

Before they started dating, Rosa warned him, “I know your reputation. You should know that I have a rule: You have three chances to impress me and if you don’t meet my expectations, I’ll dump you.”

“No worries, my dear,” he said with a tip of his hat. “I”ll never disappoint you.”

“You’d better not,” she said as she inhaled her cigarette. “I’m not kidding.”

Wolf intentionally made her wait two previous times just to test her resolve, and now he’s on his third. But he knows that Rose is so entranced by his charm, so enthralled by his wolfish good looks, that she’d never walk away.

Tonight, wanting to control every detail, no matter how small, he even went so far as to tell her what to wear, demanding her sexiest red dress, her matching stiletto heels and her mink stole.

What Wolf hadn’t counted on was that sitting has made Rosa angry and the champagne she guzzled in annoyance has given her a massive headache. When he finally arrives with an exaggerated flourish, she watched him tip his hat to the left and right, stopping to whisper in every woman’s ear who smiled his way.

Jealous at the attention that she felt should have been focused on her, her temper rises to a boil.  By the time he arrives at the table, steam is pouring from her ears and her cheeks are crimson with rage.

“Hello, my lovely,” Wolf says as he runs his ungloved hand down her arm and leans down for a kiss.

Rosa shrugs off his clammy paw.  “So, what’s your excuse this time?”

“These big teeth take a long time to brush.” He flashes his sexiest smile and slithers into his chair.

“And I suppose it takes an hour to comb that hair of yours.”

“I have to look my best,” he says.  “My huge eyes are only for you, you know.” He leans forward and bats his eyelids in suggestion of thrills to come.

She snickers.  “I’m not a fairy tale woman that falls for your wily ways.”

“Come on, sweetheart,” he pleads. “Let me hold you in my arms and kiss your soft cheek.  I’m your man, remember?  The one who fills your every need.”

“Not tonight, you jerk.” Rosa picks up her purse, slinging her stole over her pale shoulders, stands. “You can’t expect forgiveness this time. It’s not going to happen.”

“Sit down,” he says while looking around the club to see how much attention she’s garnering.

Wolf’s appalled when he sees people staring with open mouths.  He’s fully aware that his reputation, his suaveness are the talk of the town. His haunting darkness speaks of a wild and uninhibited energy.

He reaches for Rosa’s arm. “Hey, I’ve got a fabulous evening planned.”

“You blew it,” she says as she pulls away. “I’m not the kind of girl who’ll take being embarrassed lying down.”

Wolf wraps his arms around her waist and pulls her into his lap. “Kiss me. I promise it will be worth it.” He pulls her close, puckering his lips, expecting her to melt into his arms.

When Rosa realizes the power of the drama she’s creating, she says in a loud voice, “Get your slimy hands off me.”

“Stay, my lovely maiden,” Wolf pleads.  “Enjoy a nice dinner.  Talk awhile.  I promise to be charming,” he says as he blinks his large brown eyes.

“Look, Wolfgang,” Rosa says, “you love yourself too much and live only to satisfy your own ego.  Well, I won’t stand for it.  I have my needs, you know, and you don’t fit in the picture.”  Rosa stomps out, her gown rustling like the leaves on a forest tree.  Every eye follows her, wide open, for not every day does a gorgeous woman leave her date behind in a flutter of napkins and a chorus of muffled coughs.

As she saunters away, Wolf shrugs and signals the waiter. “Bring me a highball. And a bowl of nuts.”

By the time Rosa exits, he’s simmering. No woman has ever walked out on him. He is the one who dumps them after he tires of their winsome ways.  But this relationship was different and tonight, of all nights, the anniversary of his move to the city, was to be a celebration of a beginning of a new chapter in his life.

Since leaving his home deep in the forest, Wolfgang has never looked back on the family he left behind, the rustic cabin hidden in a waterfall-created cove, his “litter-mates,” as he teasingly calls his siblings, nor even his mother, whom he detests for being primitive in her ways. He loves city life; the adventure of the chase, the game-playing and risk-taking and especially the ladies.  Oh, how he loves the women!

Especially Rosa, who was supposed to be an important part of his future plans.

Because she is the most spectacular woman he’s ever been with, he intended to seal the deal with a visit to his penthouse suite and an aperitif of wolfish delight.

After Rose exits without so much as a glance back, Wolf picks up his napkin and casually drops it on the table as if these things happened every day.  No big deal.

Pushing back his shoulders he rises with elegance.  He winds his way through the tables, ignoring the smirks and guffaws.  He salutes the doorman with a tap to his brim.  Not wanting to wait for his limo, Wolf hails a cab, climbs inside, and gives directions.

He sulks home, dragging his not-to-be fairy-tale tail behind him.  For the first time in his life, a girl has bested him. What is he to do for desert?

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Without You

 

You are my everything:

Husband, friend, strongest supporter.

You smile when I walk by,

Cheer me on when I sing

Encourage me to write

Without ever reading a word

I’ve written.

 

Without you I would be just a shell

A woman adrift amidst a sea of faces

Just one of many invisible people

Scrambling for recognition.

 

Without you I would be lonely,

Not just at night,

But throughout each and every day.

I’d have to relearn how to stand on my own,

To negotiate the world of shopping, cooking,

Tending things about the house.

But more importantly, how to move on.

 

Without you

My life would change in so many ways.

Although we spend hours simply being together,

I’d miss knowing that you were sitting in the chair,

Reading or watching television.

I’d miss our evening walks, lunches out,

Going to the movies and the theater.

All the things we do together.

 

Without you

I’d be a different person,

Someone I once knew, but lost years ago.

I don’t want to go back to her.

I love the person who is loved by you.

Without you…

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The Shadows

 

I stand in the shadows

Allowing the darkness

To obscure my form.

Feeling invisible

In a world that demands

Constant visibility.

I am a deviant in this regard.

 

Hiding has become second-nature.

Years of skulking about

Formulate my expertise,

Making me a solid spokesperson

For all those, like me,

Who feel most comfortable

Enveloped by the dark.

 

I’ve learned to sit up front,

But it takes guts to do so.

I keep my eyes downcoast,

Waiting for censure,

For the ego-destroying caustic comment

That snaps me in two.

But I sit there anyway, knowing,

Instinctively, that this is where best

To be recognized, to be acknowledged,

To be held as a positive example.

 

Later I’ll slink into the background

And blend in with the overhanging

Leaves of trees and

The sides of buildings.

I return to being invisible as

I stand in the dark.

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Confessions of an eight-year-old Criminal

 

Yes, it’s true. I was a thief.

I can’t recall ever stealing something from my family, not stooping to raiding my mother’s purse, for I understood that such behavior was unacceptable. I also understood that we had very little money, so what would be the purpose of taking the few bills my mother did have?

I did yearn for things. In fact, at times the desire was so all-consuming that it was all I could think about.

My mother shopped most frequently at what she called the five-and-dime. It was an all-purpose store that sold everything from deodorant to fabrics to toys to books. At that point my reading skills were just developing, so books did not hold me in thrall.

It was the paper umbrellas that got me. They were in a bin, all opened, showing off their beautiful pastel colors and wooden bodies. They called to me, over and over. More than once my fingers reached for one, intending to ask my mother to buy one for me, but when she did catch me, she slapped my hand away.

My desire escalated to such a point that I could not turn away. Could not fight off the feeling of wanting to possess just one. Just one paper umbrella.

I told myself that the store owner would want me to have it. That if the owner knew how badly I wanted it and knew that there was no extra money for frills, that the owner would walk over and tell me to pick the one I most wanted.

And so when my mother’s attention was focused on something further away, my hand snuck out and I took the pink umbrella. I stuffed it in the pocket of my shorts, hoping that it didn’t break.

At first I smiled because I now had an umbrella. Then I began to shake in fear of what my mother would do to me when she discovered that I had stolen it. I reached into my pocket to put it back, but at that moment, my mother insisted that I follow her to the register.

I expected the owner to read my face, to see the dishonesty in my eyes, but she didn’t. I knew my mother would catch me, for nothing got past her, but she didn’t.

When we left the store, I thought alarm bells would ring and the police would be called and I would go to jail, but none of that happened.

All the way home in the car, I waited for the angry words of disapproval, but they didn’t come. In fact, it wasn’t until hours later when my mom walked into my room and saw my playing with the umbrella that anything awful happened.

She didn’t spank me, but she did take the umbrella away.

Later that evening when my dad came home from work, my mom confronted him with the evidence that his daughter was a thief. His outrage was both painful and immediate. He removed his belt and repeatedly struck me on my backside until I was sure that it must have been bright red.

The next day my mom drove into town, parked in front of the store, and escorted me to the counter. She stood there as I confessed, arms crossed over her chest and an indignant look on her face.

The owner didn’t want the umbrella back, which made me very happy, but that happiness was short-lived. My mother would not let me have it. Instead she pushed me out of the store, lecturing about how I had embarrassed her and that I was lucky that the owner was not going to press charges.

When school started I was signed up for a Brownie Girl Scout troop. I don’t remember asking to do this, so since we had limited funds, I’m not sure why my parents insisted that I belong. Maybe they thought I’d develop morals or that, since I was socially awkward, that I’d learn to belong.

Things went well the first few meetings, but then the yearning struck again when the leader placed a package of brightly colored rubber bands on the table. Oh, I wanted them! Not just the two we were supposed to use for our project. No, I wanted the entire bag!

I was transfixed by the myriad of colors sitting there, waiting for me to pick them up. They called my name, begging me to please take them home.

I remembered the umbrella incident, so moved away, thinking that the call would lesson, but it didn’t. Instead it intensified to the point that all I could think about was the rubber bands and what it would feel like to own them.

When it was time to clean up, all the girls pitched in. The bag was one of the last things left on the table. I reached for it, hoping that someone else would beat me to it, saving me from myself, but it didn’t happen.

To me, this was a sign. A miracle. Those rubber bands were supposed to go home with me. I held them in my fist and walked toward the tub were all supplies went. The closer I got, the harder my heart beat until it was pounding ferociously in my chest.

At the last minute I veered and went to my bag. I slid the package in with my homework, zipped it up, and then stood by the door.

Like before, I expected to be caught by either my leader or by my mother. Neither happened. I was able to get the rubber bands all the way home and hide them in my room.

I never derived any pleasure from them because I was too fearful of being caught.

Eventually I snuck the package outside and stuffed it in the garbage can.

That was my last foray into the criminal lifestyle.

I still wanted things as passionately as before, but the threat of being caught and disciplined was too much.

Whenever something called my name, I forced myself to walk away. I might not have been the best student, but in this case, I learned my lesson well.

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Resurrecting Memories

 

I was afraid of you from the very beginning.

As far back as I can remember, I cannot recall

A single incident in which you held me in your arms,

Consoled me when I was sad,

Comforted me when I was ill,

Or sheltered me when I was distressed.

I cannot remember any words of encouragement,

But rather the tone of disappointment

When once again I failed to be the girly girl

That you expected. Demanded.

You did complete forms when I wanted to go to college

And when I bought my first car,

But beyond that I only sensed frustration

And anger and rage

Expressed with almost demonic glee

Whenever I slighted your sensibilities,

Causing you to discipline me with hand or belt

Or word, the most painful of all for those hurts never ceased.

I feared your homecoming after a day of work,

For I never knew what your mood might be and

How it would affect me.

If you were angry, I’d be the recipient of your anger.

If you were frustrated, I’d be the outlet.

It got so that I hid away in my room

Whenever you were around

For I never knew when you’d explode

And I’d be the nearest target for your hands.

I’d dream of living in a different family.

One filled with love. Soft voices.

Encouragement. Joy. Laughter.

Kind arms.

I convinced myself that I was adopted,

Like the kids in stories who were abused

By their adoptive families,

As an explanation as to why you treated me

The way you did.

That helped me move past my deep-felt hurt.

I never forgot the things you did.

The way you spoke to me in derision.

The lack of your love.

But more than anything,

I never moved past my fear.

 

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Fearful Memories

She came to her mother in the night

smelling of sweat, fear and sour breath

with hair tangled into miserable knots

crying about the monsters plaguing her dreams

which resembled all too closely

the boys who teased her mercilessly at school

even though Mom had complained to the teacher,

begging her to stop the torture.

The girl snuggled next to her mother’s side

head resting on the chest

arms tightly gripping her mother’s waist

and cried until all tears were gone.

her mom thought about sending her daughter

back to her own bed

back to the darkness where nightmares ran free,

but instead cradled her daughter and tried

to erase the painful memories.

 

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