Sam was ready to break away
from everything for a one day vacation. He asked Esther. "Are we planning
to go to White Eagle this weekend so the girls can get into the shinney
"Sure, do you think we
could keep them away?" Esther smiled to herself as she thought about how
much fun they always had while playing the game of Shinney. Everyone would
be there. It was necessary to start early since it would take a while to
travel the twenty or so miles from their place.
"I will pack our lunch and
we can join some of the others to eat together." Esther was thinking out
"I'll speak to the girls
and I'm sure they will be glad to have the day off from their many
chores." Sam agreed with his wife. "For now, let's get to bed. Dawn is
early and we won't want to get up if we don't get our rest."
The week was through and
Sunday found Esther up early, working about her kitchen. She was making
plans for the day as to food. "Annie, pump up some water. We will need to
take plenty along for the trip over. It looks like it will be a hot dry
After they had loaded the
wagon, they were on their way. The wagon bumped along over the dusty,
narrow, ribbon like, roads. These early day roads were laid out in
sections and crisscrossed over the land one mile apart. The plodding of
the team kept a steady rhythmical beat with their hooves. They kicked up
little swirls of dust from the layers of silt like soil covering the road.
These early morning hours were most pleasant before the searing heat of
the afternoon. The girls were looking forward to the day. There were the
shinny games and they were so much fun. Meeting friends and cousins was a
treat. They might even get to see a boyfriend. The girls were all
laughing and talking about the activities to be forth coming. The ever
slow moving wagon did finally find its way into the reservation campground
with the Arkansas River running along side it.
The thinking and
organization of the elders could be seen as each family was assigned a
particular place which had been marked off in lots almost as carefully as
a town. Sam and Esther's marked off place had the river just behind it and
this was where he drove his wagon. The heat of the day was beginning to
tower over them like something omnipotent and oppressive. The girls could
hear the young people's voices as they swam and played in the river.
"Mother! We girls want to
go swimming?" Creth begged.
As was the custom of the
Ponca women, she would not give her answer immediately. She turned and
gazed at them, holding their attention with her penetrating stare. The
mother made a wordless study of their person. With this proper pause and
the holding first their eyes, physically, and then on to their minds she
answered Creth. "Go on! Just be back here in time to help me with our noon
meal. Don't make me have to call you."
She left no possibility as
to their not being back on time. Their way of telling time was different
but just as accurate. The girls couldn't beg off from being in on time
and they wouldn't even try.
Their understanding of the
length of time they were allowed to spent at the river was told by the
position of the sun and the movement or, lack of movement of the animals.
All these things were their clocks and they were aware of the expected
time to return. Some of these deep understandings of nature's laws
sometimes brought a quiet fear to the Anglo people in the area. The white
folks didn't know how they did it. Wrongfully, they might conclude, it
must be a kind of witchcraft. And these are the things to create
prejudice which is just another word for fear.
The girls were racing each
other toward the river. They were anxious to run across the sandbar and
then, splash into the shallow water. They dived into the depths of the
river and happily joined the other young people who were already swimming.
It was evident swimming was a favorite sport with the young people. This
love of the it made them excellent swimmers. Uncanny was their mastery
over the skill. The young people never tired of swimming during the summer
months. Their general good health could be attributed partly to the
exercise coming from this sport. How much fun they had. They twisted and
turned in the water. Playing tag and diving deep into the river's holes
made them seem to be like human seals. The children then floated lazily
when they tired. This all served to bring the young people to a close,
tight, acquaintance with each other. They learned each other's
personalities and many lifelong loyal friendships were formed.
"It's time to go." Fannie
was first to call to her sisters.
Wordlessly, with no
objection, the girls began to move out of the river. They were reluctant
to leave and plodded slowly out of the water. Their wet clothes were
clinging to them. Annie took the skirt of her long dress and wrung it
with her hands so it would not hang so limp around her legs. Their
companions yelled a reminder to them as they left. "Don't forget the
shinny game this afternoon!"
Upon returning to their
homey looking campground, the girls could see Esther had already prepared
most of the meal. Sam had included one of the old rustic weathered tables
from around the house and a number of makeshift seats, wooden boxes and
such. The girls made themselves busy doing the things they knew their
mother wanted them to do. Piled on a dark blue enameled metal plate in the
middle of the cloth covered old table was a heap of the light fluffy
pieces of fry bread Esther had pulled from hot bubbling fat. The fat was
held in a large iron kettle resting on an iron grate. The grate was heavy
and was setting flat on the ground over the hole Sam had dug to hold the
fire and hot coals.
Esther called to her
younger children as they played under the very large old trees close to
the camp. "Lizzie, you and David come on, you must get washed up.” The two
children came running up in anticipation for their noon meal. Creth took a
pan of water setting on one of the boxes and began to wash their faces.
Strands of Lizzie's coal black hair clung to her face. Her hair was wet
from her sister's washing it. She smiled affectionately to her older
"You are such a good girl,
Lizzie, and Creth turned to David. "Come on." David wasn't as easily dealt
with as far as having his face and hands washed. While Creth rubbed his
hands in the water, he held his arms stiff while scrunching up his
shoulders. His head was tucked to one side in preparation for the face
washing he knew was coming.
"David, come on, let's get
this over." Creth sighed in exasperation.
By the time the family
finished their meal the girl's dresses were completely dry. Esther busied
herself packing their dishes back into the wagon after she had washed
them. "I want you girls to lay down with David and Lizzie and take a short
nap before the shinney game. You need a little rest."
Annie immediately fell
asleep and only awoke when her sister shook her foot to wake her. "Come on
sister, everybody is gathering at the arena for the game."