The "Smoke Off Day," was at
last theirs and the weather was beautiful. Patches of shapes of sunlight on
the oceans of green grass were side by side with shadows of the clouds.
There were burst of giant columns reaching up into massive thunderheads.
Breathtaking and massive cumulus drifting across the prairie skies like
images of ships flowing along the expanse of that landscape. Cattle
contentedly grazing on the protein rich hay beneath such a great expanse was
a promise of plenty for beef.
Friendly ranchers flicked a
wrist for a quick wave as they slipped along over the smooth endless
stretches of pavement her own folks had fought to bring to them, first with
backbreaking work and then later with head- and heart breaking politics.
The price had already been
paid and now they were enjoying the trip. Their old pick-em-up truck was a
gift from an aging rancher who lived closer to them. It was as steady as
he had been and maybe had his spirit. It could be likened to one of the
beasts of the prairie buffalo in that it was stable, strong, and
dependable. They had loaded it with benches, tables, chairs, ice chests
filled with food, charcoal briquettes, a grill for a fireplace--- in short
everything they needed to make their guests feel welcome and comfortable.
Dawn made arrangements with bright colored flowers in large flower pots to
set about on the rock porch and they took heavy weatherproof fabric to cover
over the windows so their guests wouldn't have to look into the despair of
the trashed out old house.
They arrived about an hour
before everyone else. By the time the folks from around the area began to
drive up the long front entry road the couple had all the comforts of home
arranged for them. The tables were covered with a splashy colorful fabric
matching that over the windows. There were chartreuse green chairs with
heavy padded cushions to match the soft yellow green of the fabric on the
tables. The arrangements of live plants and flowers of orange, yellow and
white gave the porch on the front of the house a "lived-in," look. Dawn
tied balloons on a branch of a tree at the entry way for those who had
never been in the area. Once again, maybe for the last time, the old Jones
place spoke to the people of the area. “You folks are special. We respect
and honor the price you have paid to work and build.” And so it goes for as
long as time has been. These small exchanges between people have more
impact on cementing relations than any festival or other “big brother”
Pete had the little open fire
started and Dawn took the dough for the fry bread out. It was a simple
matter to drop the already prepared dough into the pan of hot oil. There
was the traditional dried corn soup cooking, bubbling too. Everyone always
enjoyed this ancient food. The Anglo's would soon experience with delight
the taste of it for the first time. "M-M-m, this is good, it doesn't even
taste like corn," she could hear them say.
Native man, the elder who would ask the prayers, was arriving with the
assistance of a younger man. He came from his place out of the rest home to
be with them because he was related by blood to the woman who had died here
so many years ago. His very slender frame and slow steady plodding told of
his age. This was his only weakness though. His spirit and sense of humor
was alive. Some other of more youthful ways may never have been introduced
to the ability of the Native American to set up camp so quickly and this was
new to them. For him it was a welcome return to another time. Certainly, the
break from the tight schedule of the nursing home made this occasion seemed
to be planned just for him. This arrangement was made by friends who
stepped forward with a loving assistance and had nothing to do with Dawn or
Pete's capabilities on that social order.
As the ranchers about the
area began to arrive Dawn's heart was glad to see this place once again
become a meeting house for the pleasure of sharing good food, conversation
and their neighbor's company.
The prayer was in the Osage
man's language and although it was lengthy and no one could understand, the
thought was conveyed to these people that one of the Native's own had lived
here, and had left the world at this place. This was her aunt's, Bertha Big
Eagle Jones's, home and it deserved to be respected as such. She left this
place in 1938 some sixty-one years before when Dawn was but nine months
old. However, her death was still remembered and mourned. Those of her
descendants were scattered about the United States. Their children and
grandchildren knew nothing about their heritage and culture. With the
recording of this event at least Dawn's aunts life would not have been just
blown away and forgotten like some useless weed of the prairie. No, this
small gathering was a statement and a testiment against that enemy death
itself. Aunt Bertha lived, she gave life to children, and she cannot simply
be passed over as lost and forgotten.
“I cannot think of a
greater love and respect to be shown,": Dawn silently spoke to her own
creator. Later, another observer made the same statement.
As the elder man's helpers,
one of which was the young man she had just recently met, took the cedar
which had been sprinkled over live coals, in and around about the rooms of
the old house, one of the folks asked Dawn, "why do they do this?"
"The smoke is a symbol, a way
of lifting their prayers up to a higher place. They believe if there is
something of the spiritual world still remaining here it is free to leave
and is invited to do so. It is a very old ceremony. The practice is one my
grandmother and her people of the Ponca tribe also performed. Probably,
something like the Anglo folks traditions when they take sweet smelling
flowers to the casket of a deceased person. No one performed this ceremony
for my Aunt because they were not of her faith. I am not either, but these
folks are and they appreciate this showing of respect to one of their own
people. In this way we always hope to help correct the wrongs that went on
here due to prejudice or any other situation. It is something like a
blessing of the ground before going on to it. The Native people were very
close to a creator, calling him by name, Wah-Kohn-Dah, Great Spirit, and
they had a willingness to become subject to walking strong and obedient to
the Great Spirit's laws, in spite of the fact, some believed them to be
The meal was finished and
they visited with each other, sharing bits of information which would have
gone on unknown otherwise. There was something of a unity to come over the
group. Everyone felt it. They seemed to be able to live with the distress
that had for years been represented by this lonely old decaying home. The
place stood out to them as an eternal threat to what could happen to their
own family. No one wanted to dissect, analyze or even think about the
tragedy of more than one life being lost there. The family for so many years
had pushed the questions to the back of their minds. In all possibility they
didn't know how to tell their young folks about it because they themselves
didn't really understand all the implications involved.
At the moment Dawn had no
idea of the repercussions to be visited upon her for sharing this beautiful
day with those who were important to her. It didn't matter to critics that
one of the children enjoying the day was a dark dusky child who was as
beautiful and elegant as a Persian princess. So many of the sorrows of these
people here were not evident or obvious. This child being raised by an aging
grandmother and grandfather away from her blood mother because of divorce.
They the vessels of criticism couldn't see another beautiful young woman
there who was suffering the sadness of divorce. This woman having to cope
with a disabled child alone, and she, if only for this day was able to be
taken away from these sorrows.
Neither did they see the
sadness of the young wife whose husband was taken away through tragedy
leaving her suddenly with all the responsibilities of raising their small
girl. She herself would say, "This is such a lovely day, I'm so glad we had
the opportunity to come here and see these sincere people and how they mourn
the death of a loved one, even though it is so many years ago it happened.
What a beautiful race and culture they must have."
This was, indeed, a reason to
educate and to bring about a common understanding. Tolerance and respect is
a right thing and no amount of criticism could make her believe what she did
One by one they had excused
themselves in order to return to the duties of their own lives. They came
from a distance going out to different areas of Oklahoma and Kansas. Pete
and Dawn were left to the job as to their possessions in order to pack up
"I'm just so exhausted," Dawn
told Pete, "I believe I'll just sit for a moment here in one of these soft
chairs. It isn't that late. We will still have time before dusk." The
complete and enveloping darkness here on the prairie now with no electricity
for miles to illuminate made it necessary for them not to linger too long.
Dawn relaxed and was totally
at one with the scene about her. Everything had gone so well, and all had
an enjoyable time.