and yawned. The child looked about the walls of her room which were softly
lit by the dawn. She pulled the lace curtain back and looked out the
window to see her mother. The morning light shown faintly around the
woman's figure. Rays of the sun touched her shining black hair which fell
softly about shoulders and arms. Her hands she held palms up and lifted
them toward the sky.
The girl could hear the
soft sound of their native language, Ponca. It was flowing, rising and
falling in a lyrical way almost like a song. There was a pleading, running
together of the words. Rapidly, in short little bursts the woman spoke.
Her daughter could see her mother's breasts rise and heave with the
emotion of it. The child listened to the appeal.
"Great Spirit. I have no
special intelligence but I can look around me to see the beauty of your
creation. I see this great sky you have wrapped around us. Your sun is
coming up now to warm the ground beneath our feet. I listen, and I hear,
the sweet chirping song of the little birds you have made to give us
pleasure. Daily I come to you at this early hour. I speak with you first,
before I do anything. As I look about me to see these things, I come to
you to plead that on this day you will look to all we do. See that our
paths be straight. Even as I straighten and comb my hair for the day, I
will part it directly in the middle of my head to remind me of this
straight path. The shawl I pull around my shoulders will be edged with
dancing fringe to touch my legs. These fringes are like your many good
laws.” This was the way Esther Broken Jaw, Little Cook completed her
Meka-Thee-Ing-Gay slid slowly from her bed. She now could hear her father
in the kitchen. Father must be getting the fire in the stove ready for her
mother to start breakfast.
The year was close to
around the turn of the century. Sam Little Cook, Meka-Thee-Ing-Gay's
father, was dressed all ready for his work. Sam owned a lumber mill at
the little town of White Eagle. Although he was full blood Ponca he was
dressed in the costume of the day. He wore a suit coat, a white shirt,
shiny leather shoes, which was the typical dress for the Anglo businessman
of that day. Gone were the soft tanned leathers of his dress he had worn
when they as a tribe were brought from their traditional home in the Black
Hills. That was another time. Sam Little Cook, OO-Hah-Shingah, Little
Cook, now was settling into his new life style much as an immigrant from
another country would settle into an American way of living.
As Sam worked about the
stove he was observing his child standing in the doorway. She was also
watching him. The four years old child had managed to touch his heart with
her goodness. He felt gifted to know this little girl who had been given
to them. She was the youngest, but she was so aware of everything around
her. This intelligence made her seem older. His last child was a large
measure of joy to him. Little did he know the grief he would soon suffer
because of uncontrollable events to come upon the little family.
Esther walked into the
kitchen. Meka-Thee-Ing-Gay saw her mother's hair had been smoothly combed.
It was neatly parted down the center of her head and pulled into a bun at
the back of her neck.
"Good morning Little One."
Esther greeted the small child.
"Good morning Mother.” The
little girl ran to her mother.
Esther gathered the child
into her arms and lifted her from the floor. "Did you sleep well my girl?"
"I did not wake once during
the night. I only woke when I heard you speaking with Great Spirit this
"That is good. Now, I want
you to wait for me while I get breakfast. Your father has promised to take
us to town today. I want to shop for a few supplies I need.
up on a chair close to the table and watched her mother making biscuits
for their breakfast. There was a large round wooden bowl Esther always
used for bread making. Into the flour mixture of baking powder and
shortening Esther made a small well. This created a reservoir to hold the
fresh milk she poured there. Gently and carefully she pulled the edges of
the flour to the center of the liquid until a round ball began to form.
Still working gently she kneaded the ball a few more times until it became
smoother and more elastic. This ball she dropped onto a floured surface
beside the bowl and with a rolling pin rolled the dough out flat. She then
took her biscuit dough cutter and pressed out the small round shapes. She
took these and placed them carefully onto the greased pan beside her. As
soon as they were arranged in the pan, Meka-Thee-Ing-Gay watched her
mother pat the top of the biscuits with some bacon fat she had taken from
the container setting at the back of the wood cooking stove.
"Come on, let me get you
ready while we wait for our biscuits to cook." Esther lifted the child
from her chair and carried her to the bedroom where she helped her dress.
"My! Just look how long
your hair is getting." The mother lovingly admired her child.
"May I wear it loose
today?" the child saw the opportunity to bargain for her wishes--as to
having her hair loose like some of the Anglo girls she had seen.
"OH, no, my child. No no.
You know we can never be seen without our hair nicely combed and braided.
Some of our family will be in town today. What would they think if we had
been so careless as to not have our hair, first of all, in order?" The
mother reasoned with the little girl.
Meka-Thee-Ing-Gay sat and
listened quietly as her mother advised her again of the importance of
braid and comb. She had known the answer to her question but being the
child she was, she felt compelled to ask again.
"You must never wear your
hair loose; only in weakness will you ever cut it or wear it unbraided."
Esther told her no more than this. In later years Meka-Thee-Ing-Gay would
see her people slash the length from their hair and leave it loose as a
symbol of their grief at the death of a loved one. The act itself made
her, as a woman, respect the depth of grief a person was suffering. It was
a statement. “Part of my life has been cut off.” These were some of subtle
laws her people practiced.