Just as the seniors were waddling out to fish at the trout pond, Melody’s dad rushed into the bar/dining room.
“Hey Montana, glad to see you’re still here. Are you able to tend the bar again today? A friend is having some serious problems and we need to help.”
“It’ll be my pleasure,” I responded.
“Great, I’ll call him back and tell him we’ll be right over. My wife and son are coming with me, so Melody will be cooking today.” He looked over at her and she nodded in agreement.
“I guess we’re on our own today, Melody.”
“You’ll be on your own for a while Montana, I’ve got some cabins to clean.”
“The bar doesn’t open till eleven,” Melody’s dad exhorted. “Would you have time to take the truck to Rapid City for some restaurant supplies? I’ll call in the order so it’ll be ready when you arrive.”
“No problem,” I responded; “I’ll enjoy the drive.”
“Phew, you’re a life saver, thanks so much. Melody will give you the directions. Please try to get back by 11?”
“Done,” I smiled, glad to be able to return the family’s hospitality. I had another week before I planned to be home, and an adventure in South Dakota was as good as an adventure elsewhere.
The truck was a well-used Ford 4X4 pickup with huge snow tires that howled like a diesel. I installed my motorcycling earplugs to drown out the racket. It was another sweltering day and I was grateful for the air conditioning.
The roads were relatively quiet after the Sturgis rally, except for the motorhomes plodding along at 45 miles an hour. I didn’t care, the scenery was just as attractive looking through the truck’s window as it was looking through my helmet’s visor.
Rapid City is a busy town of about 50,000 with an economy based on medical and government services, tourism, education, and a nearby military base. I had no trouble finding the restaurant supply facility following Melody’s hand-drawn map.
When I pulled up to the dock, someone hollered, “You from the trout pond?”
“Yes, I responded.” A few minutes later, a big, burly guy with long hair and tattoos came out pushing a cart full of boxes, which almost filled up the truck bed.
“Some of these things need to be refrigerated as soon as you get home,” he hollered as I pulled out. “Got it?”
When I returned, Melody was waiting outside the bar and directed me around back. She knew exactly which boxes to pull and refrigerate. “Please pile the rest over there,” she instructed, and proceeded to the freezer to open the new boxes and arrange their contents in neat rows on the shelves.
I returned to the bar to clear dishes and wipe tables. I’d barely finished when Lonnie Many Bears, the Native American Studies instructor, walked in.
“How delightful to see you again Mr. Many Bears. Where’s your grandson?”
“Please, call me Lonnie,” he responded. “Richard has started his teaching internship so he’s a busy lad these days.”
“I was very impressed with the advice you gave him last Saturday.”
“Yah, I wish I’d given it to my son before he committed suicide.”
“Oh boy, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“It’s been over 15 years now, so I’m getting over it. He was one of the angry young men I spoke about.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“You remember me telling Richard that native boys consumed with hate for whites tend to live miserable, self-destructive lives on the reservation? My son was one of them. He spent his teenage years drinking, doing drugs, and partying, egged on by a group of other angry young rebels. Richard was the product of a one-night stand with a 15-year-old girl. My son shot himself shortly after the boy was born.”
“That must have been tough for you and your wife.”
“It gets worse. Richard lived with his mother’s parents till he was 14, and that’s when I noticed that they couldn’t handle him. So, I asked his mother for custody and he moved in with my wife and me in Rapid City. I had to get him away from that gang on the reservation.”
“Good for you; that was quite a sacrifice.”
“I enrolled him in a private school where he could get extra tutoring to catch up on his education, but his attitude prevented his progress. It wasn’t long before I realized that the real problem was his poor self-image. He was ashamed of being Lakota. When I realized that, I was ashamed of myself.”
“Of yourself? Why, Lonnie?”
“I had something those boys didn’t. My grandfather spent a lot of time teaching me the wisdom of Lakota spirituality. He demonstrated by example how it could be applied to contemporary life. I just assumed that my son would learn all that in the reservation school, but he chose to follow the path of the foolish hunter.”
“The foolish hunter?” I inquired.
“Yes. The legend is that many years ago, during a time of famine, a Lakota chief sent out two young hunters to find buffalo, but they had no luck. When they were close to starving, White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared to them out of a cloud. She is the Lakota prophet with supernatural powers.
She appeared as a beautiful young maiden wearing white buckskin. One of the hunters was filled with lust for her and drew close to embrace her. When he did, the cloud from which she’d emerged enveloped the pair. When the cloud dissipated, only the woman and a pile of bones remained.
That’s what happened to my son. He was controlled by unbridled passions, and now, he is also a pile of bones.
White Buffalo Calf Woman told the other hunter to return to his tribe and prepare a feast for her arrival. She taught the Seven Sacred Rites by which our people should live. The first of these is a purification ceremony, whereby a young man cleanses himself of his baser instincts and ceases to be self-centered. Then he must go on a vision quest, where the White Buffalo Calf Woman will reveal his intended role in life.
When I started teaching the Seven Sacred Rites to Richard, I could see the light in his eyes. He realized the intelligence and wisdom of Lakota mythology, which caused him to see his culture in an entirely different light. He became proud instead of ashamed of his heritage.
You saw me give him my amulet last week. That was passed down from my grandfather, who wore it all his life. Richard knew how much it meant to me, which is why he had tears in his eyes when I gave it to him. I wanted him to start his professional life with a reminder to be proud of his heritage.”
Now I had tears in my eyes. “That’s a beautiful story, Lonnie. I’m touched.”
“When I saw how much Richard’s life improved as he learned Lakota mythology, the White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared to me. She told me to share the Seven Sacred Rites with others, so I volunteered to teach the native students at the local university. But my class was so popular with the white kids as well, I was soon offered a full-time position. If you follow your vision, the White Buffalo Calf Woman will open doors for you.
“That seems to be the way it works, Lonnie.”
“I felt so much happier and more fulfilled, I quit my job at the Post Office six years before retirement. I just didn’t care about a full pension anymore. When you follow your vision, you are aligned with the universe and it will sustain you. I feel more alive now than I ever have before.”
“What a wonderful thing to find one’s calling.”
“I longed to reach the other kids on the reservation as most of them would never get to college, so I asked the university to set up extension classes at the high school. Now I spend one day a week teaching on the reservation. I love to see the eyes of the kids light up when they realize how sophisticated their culture really is.”
“Sounds like you’re making an importance difference, Lonnie.”
“When Richard told me he wants to be the first full-time Native Studies instructor at his old high school after his internship, I was delighted. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this.”
Melody walked in with Lonnie’s breakfast. “Here you go Lonnie, two eggs over easy with ham and toast. I assume Montana will eventually get your coffee?”
“Oh god, I’m supposed to serve you coffee, Lonnie, and here I’ve been asking questions all this time.”
“It was an honor to speak with you, Montana. Thank you for being such an attentive a listener. And yes, I’ll have coffee, please?”
Header image: Rapid City, South Dakota, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/M. Mingda Liu.
Previous installments appeared in Issues 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154, 155, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174 and 175.