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Chief
By Donna Flood
Chapter 9 - Chase the Will O The Wisp


Bell was near death in the year 1949.  She was the lady who had stood beside Bertha and Joe to build the ranch home, but age and infirmity now,  was upon her.  Weldon was there doing the chores she asked him to do.  She had him butchering a hog, helping her to render its fat, and baking the skin so it could be made into pork rinds.  Cornbread was a recipe with bits of the rind in it and was almost,  a lost delicacy.   Even in 1949 modern packaging and processing of food was making the old ways of doing things obsolete.

 Weldon sat in the middle of the kitchen floor working to preserve the parts of the hog’s head under Bell’s direction. The feet had already been pickled.  The ears, the snout, and the brains were what he was working to clean and preserve. The chitlins in the oven made the house smell like there was ham cooking.  No one explained that chitlins were the small intestines of the hog.

Mariah had a family of her own and;  although, they would eat the processed foods where Bell stored them at the locker in town, the modern woman wouldn’t have thought of humbling herself to get into the butchering. 

“How uncouth!”   Mariah would have commented if she saw Weldon cleaning that animal.

“Everything saved but the squeal,” Bell was heard to say.

Gramma Bell was weaker though.  Only occasionally did she pull out her fiddle to make us want to dance to “Eight of January,” which by the way was her birthday.  Her sewing machine was idle much of the time. Where upon she might occasionally break the Sabbath by cooking she never did anymore, but instead, rested comfortably in her chair.

“They will put you in the moon for working on the Sabbath!”  Gramma warned us.

Not until years later we learned the moon was thought to be where the Celts went when they died, and then, if not before realized how serious the matter could be.  The strange marrying of Christian and pagan Celtic beliefs, of course, we knew nothing.

Velma aware and sensitive to Bell’s condition was busily working to get her family away from the ranch lands.  She and Leon had purchased three acres close to O.G. & E.* The land had never been farmed and must have been an early campground for the Ponca. History tell that if there were a lot of arrowheads in one place, probably, a battle  occurred on the site.  Leon had plowed up great numbers of arrow heads.  The rich alluvial soil washed up there by the Arkansas River worked to produce vegetables in a grand way. Sweet potatoes, the size of a bucket,  were easily dug from the rich soil, and peanuts equally could be easily removed from the ground. Leon went happily about his building work as he always did. He dug a well and was preparing to tap into the underground waters to irrigate his crops.  His children enjoyed the roasting peanuts and became accustomed to a food, sweet potatoes, they had never known before.

Quite suddenly,  Bell’s health took a turn for the worse.  Leon and his family were now driving back and forth to Foraker,  one hundred  miles round trip.  The Hudson he had purchased with the sale of his cattle was up to the drive, but Leon was tired.

“Are we going to Foraker tonight, Dad?”  The children asked.

“Yes, we are.”  The exhausted man replied.

“Why?”  They wanted him to voice what they knew about their

Gramma. “Is it because Gramma is sick?”

“Partially.”  Leon’s comments were always loaded with a deeper meaning.  “Mostly though, it’s because we are chasing a will-o-the-wisp.”

“What’s a will-o-the-wisp?”  In their innocence as children they questioned their father.

“You will know, one day.”  Leon went no farther in his explanation.


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