Wednesday, August 20, 2008

About Tribes

The month of July, 1975, a doublewide trailer 10 miles south of Poston Arizona, 4:30 AM, about 97 degrees and 35% humidity.



BANG BANG. (On the trailer door. Muted voice of The Foreman, Rocky Humeumptewa.) Hey come on. Wake up.

Sleepy me: Hey, need your truck weighed? Gramma runs the scales. Hang on a sec. I'll get her.

BANG BANG. No, you're late.

(Shit, I just now recognize Rocky's voice. I forgot I was on the hoeing crew this morning.) OK, hang on just a minute.

BANG. "Hurry up!"

My gramma is nowhere near around and Rocky knows it. He's the foreman and works for the same ranch my gramma does. He knows she's gone to California with the Owner. That's why he came to wake my 13 year-old-ass up. My job today is to do my last run on hoeing weeds out of the cotton with the other younger kids, about 5 of them from 10 to my age, and I then have the priveledge this afternoon of learning to drive and move around the cotton pickers to the fields that the pickers will actually run. Me and Anson Humeumptewa, Rocky's cousin. Anson is a year older than me. And he also had a surprise for me later, that neither he or I knew at the time.

"Hurry Up!"

Rocky is pissed. I should have already been ready to go, and since adults are smart and kids are, well, kids, I really can't blame (read ARGUE) with him so I hustle. Which means I forego a shower, and all that nonesense. Frankly, you wouldn't smell any better after a shower there in those days. The well water was sulphur-licious. Bad egg smell. Which was worse, body odor or that sulphur smell of the damned from untreated well water which is what you had plumbed in your bathroom and clotheswasher? I just jumped very quickly into some overalls, grabbed a ball cap, a couple of bandanas in my pocket (for later sousing- hey, bandanas were an integral part of cooling) and was out the trailer door in a mere 90 seconds.

On our trailer's patio was a freezer. I nodded at Rocky, just slammed the door (Nobody locked their doors out there. There was no reason to.) and grabbed my frozen gallon of water. And by that I mean it was a gallon of milk; we drank it, I rinsed it, and had thrown it in the freezer. There were always a couple of those frozen gallons of water in that freezer. Evian and other bottled waters were yet to be. This milk gallon turned into drinking water for the rest of the day/shift in that frikking lousy part of the desert; the South Colorado Basin, should be Mojave, but somehow shit grows here.

Rocky expressed no comment, as that custom was the same for him. He just wanted me to hurry my ass up, and I obliged, scrambling into his International truck. I don't recall the year of that International, but it was a creme color, beat up from ranch work and looks in my mind's eye to be early 1950's.

Crazy Indian. He drove with the lights off. He knew where he was going and I didn't, so I suppose it was really me that was crazy. Unnerved me. And that's why Rocky did it I think. I was the same five feet eleven inches that I am today as I was at thirteen, albeit gangly yet chubby, stupid, be-acned; Rocky was just short of thirty years old, five foot six, and all Tewa muscle. Proud. I couldn't blame him. I'd be proud if I was Rocky Humeumptewa. I have wished I was Rocky Humeumptewa several times in my life. Anyway -

We cruise along the dirt road, stop a few times to re-set the waterflow in the ditches. Even doing that chore it only takes about twenty minutes to get to the road that runs along the Colorado River, and the edge of the Arizona side of the Colorado River Indian Tribes land where most of it has been leased to commercial farms/ranches. We head right, north, to about where the wier is.

The sun starts to come up.

We pull up to a ditch draw, and stop. We get out and I notice that the field to the north side of the ditch is tomatoes. I say "Hey, when did we start growing tomatoes?" Rocky replied curtly "WE didn't. Albert let this land out to Hunts farm. Gotta chop weeds anyway. Part of the deal."

I immediately understood why he was extra bitchy that day. Nobody had said yet to me that Al was subleasing parts of his lease, and the fact that it was tough time particularly wrankled the native tribes, i.e. Rocky. It only took a minute to reset the ditch and then Rocky said "I'm glad we beat Tammy. She should be here any minute."

And lo, in about five minutes, right about 5:15 AM Tammy appeared with the rest of my compadres. I was the only white kid on hoe duty. The rest of the seven were either Mexican, migrants or Tewa kids, and all between 9 and around 12 years old. Racism was endemic, so Tammy of the 98 IQ but around 28 years old was the supervisor of the hoe kid gang. The object of the day? Twenty acres of tomatoes; HOE! And hoe we did. One kid per row, eight kids plus Tammy made us a 9 row horror show on those weeds/water steelers let me tell you.

We were done about 10:30 that morning; had to stop as it was about 105 degrees and about 50% humidity, but we had finished the acreage. Rocky brought my timecard to me; he had written in 4:30 AM beginning, and I wrote 10:30 end. $2.05 per hour. Same rate for the other kids, but less time. Tammy cheated and started their cards at 5:00 am. Nobody thought a thing of it, because HELLO! They were all on the road well before that time.

What mattered to me, really was I was Getting A GREAT GIG NEXT! $4.00 per hour! Driving Equipment! It was Unheard Of Riches To Be Thirteen And Driving Equipment For That Much Money!

First was the mandatory drink, food and rest. These farm conditions are nasty you know, or maybe you don't. So at our 10:30 100 whatever degree stop, we just rested in the cotton shade for a bit, on the other side of that farm road, across from those goddamn tomatoes, then we drank some gatorade, and ate the cold tamales that Tammy brought. This Was The Usual Way. Tammy packed up the kids in the back of the ranch owned pickup, which might even be considered child abuse today, and they all merrily drove back to the compound where most of us lived, and went to their respective trailers.

I switched from ball cap to bandana; I watered that bandana and wrung it out, then folded and put it on my head in the fashion that my better half calls "hippy helmet." Replaced the ball cap and voila, I'm ready to go. I looked a little wistfully after the pickup Tammy was driving down the road. I think I am so cool. Rocky catches everything, says nothing.

We rumble towards the Colorado. Then Rocky turns NORTH! I am alarmed, as we are not going to be in Albert's ranch land much longer if Rocky keeps this shit up. I say nothing.

We get to the wier. Rocky pulls out fishing tackle from his box in the back of the International. Hands me a rod. I know enough to say nothing in front of this Indian; he has made me a fool frequently by letting me just be adolescent me in the past. My face was made hot red many times by him, his brother and his father, and my step-grampa Abner had totally enjoyed that! "No More" I had resolved my birthday in the Spring previous. So I just take the rod. Remain Silent. We go to the weir, squat on top, and throw out our rods.

We each get a mix of crappi and sunfish, about three fish each in relatively short order. Call it an hour. So it's right around 1:00 - the hottest part of the day until about 4:00. I know that it's stupid to do ANYTHING regarding activity right now at 112 degrees, but I want to suggest going home, or something. I am a restless thirteen year old, ergo, that's natural. Rocky says "Let's go get Anson." And off we go in the truck. It's about 15 miles to their place, dirt roads the whole way.

(We go past here, LePera Elementary School, and this is a nicer picture than it was in '75:)

And Rocky lays a bombshell on me:

Did you know that your school was used to imprison people?

I laughed at him, foolishly. "What are you talking about Rock? I'm imprisoned there as much as Anson or Elsie is, duh."
Rocky - "You do not know of The War then, or of us Tewa as People. Your Government sent many Japanese to camps during World War II - do you not know of this?"
I confessed, no I did not. Another red faced 13 year old moment, as I felt something coming.
Rocky - "These buildings were prisons that your people made. The Tewa... the land is sad. It is this time that is forgotten now. My mother reminded me. Look at it."
Silence; for an uncomfortably long time. The school/prison land faded from our sight as we continued on. I couldn't have squeaked a word out if I wanted to.
Of course, I broke first. " This is just the school. I never heard this. Am I supposed to say something? I feel like I'm supposed to, but I don't know what."
Rocky is/was no fool. What could he demand a thirteen year old goofy white kid say?
"Let's go get Anson."
Off we went to the Humeumptewa compound. Not a word passed during the time in transit. I'm not sure what either of us were thinking. Until we got there.
Anson Humeumptewa was throwing bales of hay onto a flatbed truck next to a corral of goats when we hit the compound. We drove up alongside the corral fence. He jumped of the hay bale stack and strode over to the truck, smiling and all sunshine. Got to the passenger window, which would be where I was sitting, and his smile turned into a frown.
"You guys STINK!"
The three of us started laughing - cause it was true. Fish, bait, canal /ditch duty and hoeing in the ersatz Mojave at 100+ degrees creates a perfume that is not exactly laudable.
Rocky killed the engine, looked at us, somewhat wistfully I thought, got out of the truck and walked to the main house.
Anson and I remained. Once Rocky was out of sight, we grabbed seats on the side of the International, and lit cigarettes. While we smoked in the silence for a few minutes, Anson wriggled around in his pockets, and pulled out a scraggly bag of weed. Rolled a joint.
"Let's go to the weir."
I couldn't say no to Sunny Tewa Indian boy of My Own Age.
Back we went to the wier on the Colorado. On the way, we went past our school, as you pretty much had to do. As we passed, Anson said "School. I really don't like it."
"It makes me feel different."
Cause of that Japanese thing, that Prison thing? Rocky just told me all about it.
"No, it's not that."
Then what is it Anson?
He said nothing further until we got to the wier. We clambered on top of it, cast our lines again, and now the heat was diminishing from it's 4:00 mad heights.
No fish for a while, and no talk.
The sky started to dim. I was feeling squirelly, as even though gramma wasn't home, I should really start to go home. I patted Anson on the back. "Let's go."
We started to reassemble our gear. In the middle of that, he grabbed me and hugged me so fiercely, I thought I was gonna just gasp and die.
He, still holding me, looked me in the eye and said : "You're gonna be all right."
I jabbered something, I don't even know what. But I do remember this last part so vividly:
"You're kinda like us Indians. You're different. Don't let them get to you."
He brushed my forehead with his hand, then just PUSHED me! Right on my forehead and started LAUGHING! I couldn't resist and followed suit. Pushed him back right on his forehead too.
It was sexual, and not sexual. Anson somehow gave me permission to be me. He knew I was gay and somehow, made me come out. I was never the same after. And I have always loved Anson Humeumptewa for that to this day.
And I am sure he's not gay. He was just, well, Anson.