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Chief
By Donna Flood
Chapter 23 - Uranium Educated Me


Mother wanted me to attend business school and go to work. I had seen that happen to my aunt and I wasn’t going to let this become my destiny.

Mother was always right, though. Even though I loved the study, the working to a goal, and the friends I made, the struggle for sustenance and keeping a roof over my head was as strong a battle as keeping my nose in the books. Because I had doubled my schedule, something that isn’t allowed today, that work load was heavy. Somehow, I got through it though and soon had the skills I needed to work as well as having been allowed a brief walk through the depths of history with history of religion, and western civilization. Journalism was always a great favorite with me, but when the teacher embarrassed me in front of the whole study hall, I dropped him as completely as anyone could. I wouldn’t answer his notes, or respond to messages to come into his office. He ended up giving me a D, and that was a gift.

Uncle Dean rented a house in Arkansas City, which he hoped was a way to bring the family there, while I was in school. Of course, Mother was always busy with her work and tribal volunteering, so that, she had little interest in keeping up another house in another town. One of my brothers came to stay and was the only hedge I had against Uncle Dean and his bout with the bottle. He was a jewel when he wasn’t drinking but became argumentative and belligerent when he drank.

Through all the madness I struggled and did well on all the business courses. The needed skills I should have had with English were not there. The one rhetoric course was a kind of waste. I had grown up learning public speaking and what they were doing was like sucking on a pacifier instead of getting real milk. Still, I was obedient, when I spoke to the class. I could easily hold and motivate. It was obvious the teacher didn’t want another leader in her room, so with careful, dumbed-down speech giving, I was able to get a good grade from her.

“When did you eat last?” A boy I had known at Chilocco , who was from the Navajo tribe, caught up with me as I was walking. His long legs and easy jog told a story of a different place where he must have had the space to do this easily.

“Three days ago, but I have my check from working in the Judge’s office. I’ll even buy you a burger.”

We both laughed as we walked together to a café. They served a Brown Betty, which was an apple baked in a crust with caramel syrup poured over it. Along with a glass of milk this was a meal for me and was what I always ordered. As it turned out my friend picked up the tab.

After that, he watched me like a hawk. Never once did I miss a meal. There was a small apartment where he stocked food to cook, which he did. In return I helped him with his school work. It was unbelievable to me, years later, when I found out he had his doctorate. With his limited use of the English language, even the Oklahoma colloquialism I used, was a help to him.

“Better than nothing,” he would say, when I sometimes had to think about his using some phrase I knew was not exactly correct. We laughed a lot and he was my brother and cousin Weldon all wrapped in one.

There was a girl back on the reservation and sometimes he would talk about being able to go back to her. My friend never complained about their separation but the dreamy look he had on his face, when he spoke of her, made me know he was in love. At the time the Navajos came into the Uranium mines and had plenty of money for education, so together we maintained. Suffice to say, uranium educated me. My so-so English and his benevolent ways got us through. Those were the wonderful days, 1956, when girls and boys could be close friends without the pressure of having to be intimate. It was a wonderful time of freedom and truly, I was gifted to have been able to live through that era.

I did fall in love with a student, a year ahead of me. He was a son of a land holder in Kansas, who was of German extraction. Again, I must have been comfortable with him, because he was like the people in the community where I grew up. He bought me a set of rings and we planned to be married as soon as he finished his time in the Marines. Through all of this, I had little time to think about my earlier life, the death of the ranch, or Mariah or Weldon. Uncle Dean was still a tie and did everything he could to help me. If I had followed his advice to buy the fine horses at Chilocco to bring to the ranch, who knows, how different my life would be. Meanwhile, my fiancé was in California getting ready to do embassy duty in the Phillippines.

Uncle Dean and I often drove over the roads to the mailbox he maintained at Foraker close to the ranch house. To go through the rooms where Mariah had last lived was sadness for me. The old house, was vacant and quiet now, after her divorce.

The ground was dry, so Uncle Dean was able to drive to different parts of the pastures. Weldon had been busy. There was a double tank instead of the one pond.

He must have rented a dozier, because another single pond was carved out, too. This was closer to the road which was nice because the cattle could be fed there without having to drive a vehicle out across the landscape. Their water was close, too. He had strung up back rubbers for fly control on the cattle, which was the popular method at the time.

In my mind there was some hope. I could see Weldon knew what he was doing. Why wouldn’t he? His uncle Leon had tutored him for ranching from the time he was a child.

We stopped in at the Strike Axe place , where I had grown up. The rooms were still furnished and we could see Weldon had been cooking with one of Mother’s old skillets. Beside his bed was Bible literature. The kerosene lamp was his only light. At the time I felt it was strange he would stay at this place where we lived instead of the much fancier, larger house up on the hill. The Strike Axe was a beautiful old home with a cozy rooms not even lost after the folks moved away. For a few moments I snuggled down on the large, long, sofa in the living room. Memories of Dad teaching me to read at this same place crossed my mind for a moment.

“You ready to go, Girl?” Uncle Dean didn’t stay long at any place. Maybe he sensed, my approaching sadness and wanted to get me away from the lonely location.

“Sure, sure, let’s go. I wonder when I’ll get to see Weldon again?” I muttered.

“Oh he’s busy, he’ll be coming around sooner or later.” Uncle Dean said what I believed.

As we drove away, I noticed there was a ribbon attached to a stake. “What is that,” I asked.

“It’s one of the markers the men left who were doing core samples to look for Uranium.” Uncle Dean had always been careful to stop and explain any questions we had.

“Did they find any?” I felt I knew about Uranium.

“Oh yes!” He said.

Later I asked Mariah about this and she told me the land was quite rich with Uranium, which may have explained why the Geiger counter went so crazy while it rested atop the dining room table at the ranch house, the same place where a large hole is now, as well as in the room where Aunt Bertha died.


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