The eagle was flying.
The eagle was flying.
Chief Duck’s funeral took place later that afternoon in the small chapel not far from where he lived. His service would be like those in days past, Jacob said, although Dr. Vaught from Otto’s church had asked to say a few words in the service. Vaught and some other church members had done work among the tribe, and he was well-respected.
Otto was surprised that the service was the same day, but Jacob told him the tribe believed that the spirit of the dead did not leave at death but immediately after burial. Since it took four days for the dead person’s spirit to reach the land of the dead, they wanted to bury their dead immediately after death so as to help their loved one reach the other world as soon as possible. This made sense to Otto, and so he and Mata contacted as many relatives and friends as possible and told them about the ceremony. They sat in the last half of the pews toward the back.
Before the service started, a woman came in dressed in traditional regalia, carrying an animal pelt with the head still on. Otto couldn’t tell what sort of animal it was, but decided that didn’t matter. She laid the pelt on one corner of the casket and then lifted it with the animal’s eyes pointed toward the ceiling, and then carried it to the next corner, until it had been laid on each corner. She then took the pelt, lifted it one more time, backing out holding the pelt above her head. Next a medicine man, also in traditional garb, danced and chanted in a circle around the casket. Otto of course couldn’t understand a word, but he gathered that the dance had to do with the chief’s relationship to the natural world.
Dr. Vaught spoke next. “I did not know Chief Duck for long, but I found him to be a man of absolute integrity and filled with compassion and love for his people. He may not have told you as much, but he and I shared some of the concerns we had as leaders, and what I have told you is true. We have worked together, my congregation and your tribe, to build bridges of trust and understand to span centuries of slights and wrongs. I believe we have accomplished a great deal, but there is much to do. I pray that we may remember the example of Chief Turtle and build a better day not only for ourselves, but also for our children. This is my prayer for each and all of us, and I pray that it might be so. Amen.
Vaught sat down to a general nodding of heads in the front of the sanctuary. Some Menominees whispered to their neighbors, no doubt explaining what the minister had said.
Next, Jacob stood to speak. Otto hadn’t known he would, but he wasn’t surprised.
“My grandfather,” Jacob began, and then he stopped to collect himself.
“My grandfather taught me many things. He taught me to hunt and fish, how to shoot a rifle and find my way in the woods, all traditional skills that our people have needed for years. Yet these abilities are not the most important lessons he imparted to me.”
Jacob looked down for a moment, and then continued. “He taught me how to treat people, how to listen to them not only with my ears but also my heart.” He touched his chest.
“But the most important gift was the gift of listening to the Spirit. This allowed me to become a tracker. I humbly used the Spirit’s gifts to find people, and, in some cases to save their lives.” He looked right at Otto.
“I am most pleased that it was this ability imparted by the Spirit that allowed me to find and to keep safe the daughter of a man I admire as much as I did my grandfather. Major Otto Kerchner is his counterpart in the outside world, and I am pleased to call him my friend and my mentor. As a pilot, he understands the spirit of the Eagle as it watches over this people and leads us.”
“I like to think of the Eagle, Major Kerchner, and my grandfather as parts of one being, manifested in different ways for purposes that only the Spirit knows. Major Kerchner is still finding out his purpose, as I am mine, and we will continue to do that together.”
Jacob drew himself up, and in a low voice, finished his comments. “Grandfather is with the Spirit now, and has finished his work. He may rest, but we will remember him and all he gave us. In the spirit of the Eagle, I urge each one of us to soar with him in our own way. Then we may find a fullness of spirit we were created for. Thank you.”
Jacob sat down to total silence except for an occasional sniffle as the mourners tried to control their emotions. Otto and Jacob were among to those chosen to carry the casket. They lined up on either side of the plain pine box and carefully lifted it to their shoulders and with slow step, made their way out of the chapel past the standing people to the cemetery outside where they deposited it inside a small house-like structure. The medicine man danced and sang, and the woman from earlier in the ceremony placed the pelt gently on the casket and backed away.
As if at some secret signal, the Menominee relaxed and began moving away. Otto and his friends and relatives waited for Dr. Vaught, and they joined the tribal members to walk through a tranquil clearing in the forest. As they entered the sunlight angling through the pine trees, Otto heard a distinctive cry. He peered upward to see a huge bald eagle glide over them at tree top level. Rest in peace, Chief, he thought. We have seen your spirit animal.
In spite of Otto’s best efforts, the school board refused to budge on their position regarding Jacob being able to come to the dance. The twins and their friends were distraught, and refused to go to the prom as a protest. They decided instead to have their own dance at one of the hangers at the field, and spent the week before getting the word out and decorating the gym.
Mata and Otto went over to see how preparations were coming. “Wow, this reminds me of the time we had the benefit dance for the USO,” Mata breathed.
“It’ll remind you even more when you hear the music. They’re using songs from the ‘forties, just like we listened to during the war.”
“Wow. That’s so great.”
“I thought so. Look here comes Maria.”
The junior bounded up. “How do you like our decorations?” she smiled.
“We were just saying that your dance reminds us of the one we had during the war.”
Maria nodded. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard about that for years, and I guessed that influenced our decision to have a ‘forties type dance.”
“How many are coming?” Otto wanted to know.
Maria looked up as she thought. “About two hundred, I think. That’s nearly 80 percent of the junior class. I guess they won’t have much of a prom.”
“Yes.” Mata scowled. “And it’s all thanks to the school board.”
“I still don’t understand why they wouldn’t let Jacob come.” Maria looked sad.
“We don’t either,” Otto told her, “but we’re going to court about it.”
“How can you do that?”
“We’re filing on the basis that Jacob was unfairly discriminated against because he’s a Menominee.”
“Do you think you’ll win? The other boys have been banned from the dance as well.”
“They’re guilty, so they deserve their punishment. Jacob did nothing.”
Maria reached up and hugged Otto. “You’re the best daddy in the world!”
“Ow! Don’t choke me! I want to be around for the dance.”
“I’m sorry. I get excited.”
“I know,” Otto said, rubbing his neck. “Most of the time, that’s all right. However…”
“I know, I know. Say, come on over and meet some of the kids working on the decorations.” She ran off in the direction of a group using stepladders to hang streamers.”
Otto offered his arm to Mata. “Shall we go see what the younger generation is up to.”
Mata smiled and took it. “Yes, let’s,” and together they walked across the hanger floor.
The dance was an enormous success, lasting until past midnight when Otto and the other chaperones had to make the young people go home. Jacob, Maria, Marion, Joe, D and his date, a girl named Lauren who was new to the school that year, stayed for a small after-dance party at the house. Otto was glad they didn’t want to go somewhere like most kids and drink and who knows what else. He knew none of them drank, and the girls especially after their brush with the law earlier. Jacob said he knew of too many of his people whose lives were ruined by overindulging, so he didn’t drink, and neither did Joe, D or Lauren.
Otto and Betty went to bed and slept soundly. When they awoke, they found the girls in their bedrooms. “Good morning, sleepyheads,” Otto called as he came down the hall. Hearing no response, he went into Maria’s room and found her asleep with Lauren lying on a small couch in the room. He tiptoed out and went over to Marion’s room. She was waking up, and got up on one elbow.
“Good morning, Daddy. Did you sleep OK?”
“Yes, we didn’t hear a thing out of you.”
“We played cards until about 2 AM, and then the boys went over to sleep in the camp dormitories. We all had a wonderful time. Thank you for letting us have it here.”
Otto smiled. “I’m glad you wanted to use the hanger. You all did such a nice job decorating it. I thought I was back at a hanger dance on the base in England.”
“Those must have been some times. I’d have liked to have lived then.”
“Well, there were the fun times and then there were other times. I still don’t want to talk about some of them.”
“I know, and I’m sorry. I hope someday you’ll be able to. In social studies class, Mr. Simpson said that it was important to talk about bad experiences. Otherwise they stay with you and make sick.”
Otto nodded. “Yes, Pumpkin, I know. Someday. How about some breakfast?”
“Can the boys join us?”
“Of course! I planned on it—in fact, it was your mother’s idea.”
“You’re both the best.”
“I know,” Otto said, and then laughed. “I should have said ‘thank you.’ You’re the best daughters anyone could ask for. Now go wake your lazy sister. She’s still asleep.”
Marion bounced out of bed and hurried toward Maria’s bedroom. Otto could hear them talking as he went down the hall to the kitchen, where he found Betty cracking eggs into a bowl. “Good morning,” he called.
“Good morning yourself.” Betty beat the eggs with a whisk. “Would you go over and wake the boys? Tell them we eat in fifteen minutes.”
“OK. How did you know they were here?”
Betty lifted an eyebrow. “I have my ways. No, the girls told me.”
“Marion didn’t tell me until this morning.”
“Guess it was for us girls’ ears only.”
“Don’t you mean ‘women’s ears’?”
“Whatever. Now wake up the lads.”
“I will. Save some for me.”
“You know I will.” And she winked at him.
A week was left in the school year, and amid all the preparation for exams and graduation, the talk was about the dance at the airport. Only twenty students came to the prom, and those who did wished they hadn’t and left quickly. Otto was sorry about the wasted food and money, but he thought the success of their dance showed the school board something. And so the girls and their friends took their exams and happily left for another summer vacation and their usual pursuits.
Marion and Maria worked for Mata at one of the pilot shops. They both decided they wanted their drivers’ license, and Otto anticipated teaching both of them how to drive. He never got a license until he went into the service, where they had him drive around a simple obstacle course. Otto had learned how by driving the T on the farm, and no one ever asked to see a license. Once he came home, he exchanged his military license for the state version. When the twins found out about this, they teased him that they were going to turn him in, but of course they never did.
Jacob and D continued working at the airport, and Joe joined them when Mata found out he was a pretty good mechanic. And so the early summer unrolled.
The week before the Fourth of July, Otto was surprised to see one of Chief Duck’s granddaughters drive up to the office. He hadn’t seen her for a couple of years, and didn’t think she was old enough to drive yet, but apparently she was. He went out to meet her. She was in tears and barely able to talk. Jacob had introduced her to him once, but he couldn’t remember her name.
“Major Kerchner, you probably don’t remember me. I’m Chief Duck’s granddaughter, Louise. That’s not my Menominee name, but you probably couldn’t pronounce it anyway. I need to find Jacob.” She began sobbing.
“Louise,” Otto said, “You come into the office and I’ll give you some water and find Jacob for you. You’re about my daughters’ age. What’s wrong?”
She seemed to collapse. “It’s my grandfather. He’s—he’s—he’s dead.” She fell over on the seat.
Poor girl, Otto thought. “I’m so sorry to hear that. Let me help you into the office and you can lie down.”
He held her by the arm as they walked toward the office. Mata stood up in alarm when they came into the door. Otto mouthed the words, “Chief Duck is dead.” Mata nodded and went to get some water for the girl. She came back, and she and Otto helped Louise onto the couch. The girl drank some of the water and seemed to feel better.
“I’ll call Luis.” Mata turned to the telephone. “Jacob’s working with him today.”
“Just tell him to come to the office. Don’t tell him what this is about.”
Mata dialed the number while Otto knelt by Louise. “What happened? You don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel like it.”
The girl wiped her forehead. “I have a headache.” Otto saw Mata out of the corner of his eye reaching for their first aid kit.
“Mata will get you something for it. Do you feel like talking?”
Louise took another sip and nodded. “My grandfather had been having many spirit dreams this past week. He said he dreamed of Moqwaio the Wolf and ruler of the land of the dead. He invited my grandfather to hunt with him not once but many times.”
“What did your grandfather say about these dreams?”
“He was very calm. We were very upset since one who has such dreams is preparing to go to the spirit world.”
“And when did he go?”
“This morning. My sister found him. His face was blue but he was smiling.”
“I’m sorry about your grandfather. I know you will miss him, but maybe he is enjoying some good hunting with his ancestors.”
“I hope so.” Louise sat up just as Jacob rushed into the room.
“Louise! What are you doing here? What’s wrong?”
Louise burst into tears anew. “Oh, Jacob, Grandfather is dead. He died this morning.”
Jacob looked as if someone had struck him. He sank into a chair. “No, it can’t be,” he whispered.
“I am sorry, but it is true.”
Jacob bent over and began keening in what Otto took to be Menominee. He stood there, not knowing what to do. Finally, he raised his head. “May I have the rest of the day off?”
“Of course.” Otto went over and put his hands on Jacob’s shoulders. “Please let us know if there is anything we can do.”
“I will.” With that Jacob and Louise walked to her car, their arms about each other’s waist. Otto and Mata watched them go.
“That’s so sad.” Mata dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. “From all I’ve seen, he was a good man.”
“I’d say so.” Otto started turning off the lights.
“Are you leaving?”
“I want to go over to the reservation and see what I can do.”
“I’ll go with you.” They closed up the office quickly and walked toward Mata’s car.
“It seems like there’s always a wedding or a funeral, doesn’t there?”
“Yes.” Mata looked thoughtful. “I guess there’s a time to live and a time to die.”
“That sounds familiar.”
“Ecclesiastes 3:2. ‘A time to be born, and a time to die,’”
“I didn’t know you had memorized Bible verses.”
Mata shrugged. “I read it quite a bit. You ought to.”
“Yes, I should.”
“Let’s go, then.”
The first week in June, Otto had been out flying on a bright, sunny Saturday morning. Golden sunshine suffused the landscape below, and he stayed up as long as he could get away with, enjoying the view and reveling in the solitude that he found only when he was in the air. He put down and walked in the FBO office. Mata was just finishing up some work. “Hey,” she said.
“Betty says to come home now.”
“Did she say why?”
“No, but something’s wrong.”
Something usually is when Betty tells me to come home, Otto thought. He walked the short distance to his house quickly and came up Betty, Maria, Marion and Jacob sitting around the kitchen table. They all had long faces.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Oh, Daddy, the school board won’t let Jacob take me to the prom.” Maria was about to break into tears.
This was the first Otto had heard of a problem. Jacob was two years out of high school, but generally alumni of the school were allowed to attend events, in fact, they were encouraged to.
“Because he got in trouble with the law last year. They say they can’t risk another fight.”
“Did they know that Jacob didn’t start the fight?”
“They don’t believe me, Major.” Jacob spoke for the first time. “And some people around here don’t believe the words of a member of a tribe.”
“I see.” I’ve heard of the prejudice these people encounter, but never known anyone to be the object of it, Otto thought.
“All right, when is the prom?”
“I’ll speak to the chairman of the school board.”
“Oh, thank you, Daddy, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Whoa! Wait until we see what happens.”
Jacob stood up. “Thank you, Major.” He offered his hand and Otto shook it.
“Jacob, we’ve been through a lot together. Please call me Otto.”
Jacob looked down. “That would be disrespectful to call my elder by a first name. I’m sorry but I cannot that.”
Otto smiled slightly. “I understand, Jacob. Call me what you like.”
“Just don’t call him late for dinner, especially if there are cheeseburgers,” Betty laughed.
Maria looked at Jacob. “Are we still going on our picnic?”
“Yes, of course.” Jacob came over and took her by the hand. “Let’s go!”
“You kids have a good time.” Otto waved at them.
“Where are you going?” Betty asked.
“Down by the lake. I packed a picnic basket.” Maria gestured toward the wicker basket standing by the door.
“OK, have fun. When will you be back?” Betty started gathering up their coffee cups.
“About two, I think.” Maria looked expectant.
“See you then.” Otto opened the door for the young couple and saw them out. He came back in and say down.
“When are you going to talk to Samuel?”
“There’s no time like the present. I’ll call him and see if I can come over this afternoon.”
“I hope you can talk some sense into him. Jacob is a fine fellow.”
“I know.” I hope I can too, Otto thought.
Otto stopped his car in front of Samuel Waters’ house on a quiet tree-lined street near what used to be old Dr. Carter’s house. Waters was president of Pioneer Lake Savings and Loan and well-respected in the community. He went up to the door and rang the bell. After a few seconds, Lori Waters opened the door. “Otto! So good to see you! Do come in!” She ushered him into a stylishly furnished living room. “Do sit down. How is your family?”
“They’re fine, Mrs. Waters. Thank you for asking.”
“Betty is such a lovely person and, my, are those daughters of yours are certainly growing. You must be so proud of them.”
“We certainly are, Mrs. Waters.”
“Call me Lori. All my friends do.”
But I’m not your friend, Otto thought. I barely know you. “All right, Lori, I will.”
“Good. Samuel is expecting you. I’ll go get him.”
“Thank you, m’am.” She probably doesn’t want to be called ‘m’am” either, Otto thought.
Samuel Waters entered the room wearing his trademark big smile and offering his hand. Otto stood up and shook it. “Otto! So good to see you! Let’s go into the library where we can talk turkey.”
I never understood that expression, Otto thought. We’re not going to “talk turkey,” we’re going to talk injustice. Anyhow.
Waters conducted him into the library which was size of the libraries of some of the smaller towns in the area. He indicated that Otto should take one of the leather chairs around the long mahogany table while he took one across from him. “So,” Waters began. “You said you wanted to talk about something related to the school board.”
Otto nodded. “Yes, I’d like to take about the board’s decision to not let Jacob One Hat take one of my daughters to the Junior Prom.” Waters frowned, and Otto knew he had touched a sensitive subject.
“Yes, well, hmm.” Waters cleared his throat. “It was a difficult decision and we considered all aspects of it seriously, but in the end we knew we had to fall on the side of safety and not let Jacob attend the dance.”
“I’m sure you did think about it long and hard, but please tell me why you think Jacob is a threat to anyone.”
“He was involved in a fight at a school dance a year and a half ago.”
“I know that, but did you know he didn’t start the fight?”
Waters looked over Otto’s head and talked the opposite wall. “Judge Bader gave everyone the same sentence, so they’re equally guilty. In the eyes of the law, Jacob was convicted of fighting and so he is likely to do so again. We can’t have that. I know you want your daughters and their classmates to be safe.”
“Of course I do, but I know Jacob, and he wouldn’t pick a fight.”
“Someone did, but we don’t know who. We had to err on the side of caution.”
Otto slouched in his seat. He was getting nowhere. He stood up.
“Leaving so soon?” Waters asked.
“Yes. I’m sorry, but I can see that we’re not getting anywhere. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.”
Waters stood up. “I’m sorry it has come to this. Will you show yourself out? I have some business to attend to.”
Otto left without saying anything. Lori stood in the hall. “I heard the whole exchange,” she whispered. “I think it’s awful that the school board won’t let a child go to the dance. I hope you can figure out a way that he can.” She put her hand on his arm.
“Thank you, Lori. I’ll certainly try.” As he walked to the car, Otto thought, I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect to be stonewalled like that. He got in, started the engine and drove off.
Otto stood up with everyone else in the courtroom. He and Jacob were back in Judge Bader’s courtroom along with Otto’s family and several members of Jacob’s, including his grandfather who sat the whole time with an inscrutable look on his face. The trial had taken about an hour, with testimony from both sides. Without witnesses, it was difficult to establish who threw the first punch. Jacob had told Otto what had happened, and Otto believed him.
Bader looked over his glasses at the accused. “I don’t know what to think in this case. I’m inclined to believe Mr. One Hat, but the law is not founded on beliefs and suppositions. It relies on proof and logic, and, in this case, we have no proof. I don’t think jail time would solve a thing. I think the young men in this case need to learn to get along together, so, Major Kerchner, would you be willing to supervise them on a work project at your airport?”
Otto had no inkling the judge would take this direction. He hesitated for a moment. “Major, I asked you a question? Do you want me to repeat it?”
Otto shook his head. “No, your honor. I just didn’t expect to be asked to be a part of your decision.”
Bader chuckled. “I thought that if these young men had trouble getting along with each other, they should have a chance to get to know each other better, under your supervision. What is your answer?”
Otto looked over at Betty and the rest of his family. Betty nodded, while Tom and Mata gave him a thumbs up. He turned back to the bench. “We’ll do it, your honor.”
“And by ‘we’ you mean—“
Otto indicated with a sweep of his arm the section of the gallery where Betty and the rest sat. “My family and friends. There are a lot of us, and that would spread the responsibility around.”
“Agreed. But the final responsibility would still be yours.”
“That’s fine with me, your honor. I’m pleased to do the court’s bidding.”
“Very well, then, the defendants in this case will work together at Larsen Regional Airport under the supervision of Major Otto Kerchner for a period of six months. Major Kerchner, you are to report to me the disposition of the defendants each week. If they give you any trouble, they will spend their rehabilitation period in the county jail.” He looked at the young men. “Is that clear?” They all nodded, except for Bruce Morrow, who had instigated the fight.
“Mr. Morrow, do you have a reservation about this decision by this court?”
Morrow said nothing.
“Mr. Morrow, did you hear me? If you do not answer, I will hold you in contempt.”
Morrow mumbled something no one could hear. “Speak up, Mr. Morrow! We want to hear what you have to say!” Otto could see that Judge Bader was losing patience.
Morrow sneered and pointed at Jacob. “I ain’t spending no time with that stinkin’ redskin!
A gasp ran through the courtroom. Judge Bader sat calmly.
“In that case, Mr. Morrow, I am pleased to grant your wish. You are sentenced to six months in the county jail. Bailiff, would you take Mr. Morrow away?”
The bailiff took Morrow by the arm and started to lead him a way. “I’ll get you yet, you stinkin’ savage!” he hissed.
“Contempt of court, one more month,” Bader said calmly.
Morrow turned toward Otto. “And I’ll be coming after you, Major!”
“Eight months,” came calmly from the bench.
“And you’re not safe, judge!
“A year. Bailiff, please remove Mr. Murrow quickly before he talks himself into a life sentence.”
The bailiff took Morrow out of the room. The courtroom could hear his continue to issue threats and insults all the way down the hall. The boy has a problem with anger, Otto thought.
Bader turned to Morrow’s friends. “Do you have any qualms about spending time with Mr. One Hat?”
Wide eyed, the two shook their head, apparently too stunned by what they had witnessed to speak.
“Very well, then The defendants are remanded to the custody of their families and Major Kerchner.” He banged his gavel down. “This case is closed!”
Jacob’s family gathered around him, happy that his “punishment” was to do what he would have been doing anyhow. He came over to Otto. “Thank you for standing by me. I think with your support the judge believed what I said, although he couldn’t let me off.”
“I’m glad it turned out the way it did. Let’s go get some lunch!”
With general agreement from everyone on Jacob’s side, they went out of the courthouse. Jacob’s family, however, went their own way. His grandfather came over to talk to Otto first. “Thank you for taking care of my grandson. He is a good boy.” The old man’s eyes were watering and his lip trembled.
Otto grasped his arm and felt how thin it was. “Chief, he is a good man. We’re happy to know him.” The old man touched his forehead with his index finger.
“This is good. We will talk later.”
“We will. Good-bye, Chief.”
Otto watched him as he walked away, supported by one of his grandmothers. Now there goes one of a kind, he thought.
Otto sat at his desk reading an article in Life magazine about John Kennedy’s funeral. He still remembered the sense of shock and dismay he had when he heard the news, as did everyone else. He was putting around the pattern in the Cub that November afternoon when Mata called on the UHF. “Otto, I have terrible news. Over.”
He felt his stomach sink. “Is it about Marion? Has something happened to her?” He forgot to say “Over,” an omission which Mata normally would chide him for, but she ignored it. Must be something big, he thought.
“No. She’s fine. Otto, the President has been shot in Dallas. Over.”
Otto felt the aircraft lurch as he reacted involuntarily to the news. “Oh no! How badly was he injured? Over.”
Mata was silent for a moment, and then she said flatly, “Otto, he’s dead. Over.”
A heaviness came over Otto, and he felt for a moment as if he could not move. He had not voted for Kennedy, but found the young President inspiring and energetic. After a few seconds, the feeling lifted as Mata came back in his headphones.
“Otto, are you all right? Over.”
He struggled to focus, and finally found the mic button. “I’m OK. Just a little shaken. Over.”
“So am I. Come on in. Over.”
“On my way. Over and out.”
“I hear you. Olsen FBO over and out.”
Otto clicked off his mic and replaced it in its clip. He guided the Cub through the pattern and touched down softly, taxiing to the hangar where Luis stood outside, wiping his hands on a rag.
“Hey, Jefe, did you hear about el Presidente?”
“Mata called me on the UHF. It’s very sad.”
“Si. He was un buen hombre. We honor him as the man who tried to invade Cuba and take care of Fidel. Unfortunately, that did not work. You should have been in charge of the invasion. Things would have been different.”
“I’m not sure of that, Luis, but thank you. I’ll check you later.”
“Vaya con Dios, Jefe.”
Otto walked into the FBO office where Mata sat at the table in the conference room, crying into her handkerchief. He went over and put his arm around her. “That’s OK,” he consoled her. “We just don’t know what to do with this. It’s been so long since a President was assassinated.”
“It’s just so sad,” Mata sniffed. “I keep thinking of Jackie and those little children. What will they do? This is horrible.”
Otto was silent for a moment. “Say, why don’t you bring the kids and come over for dinner. I know Tom is in Denver on assignment.”
Mata wiped her nose. “Yes, I’d like that. Could I bring Polly since she’s been babysitting for us a lot lately?”
Otto stared at the little television Mata had on in the corner. He couldn’t remember that she ever watched it at work—there was always too much to do. The black and white sowed shifting images of people walking, people speaking before microphones, and every so often, the scenes of the motorcade speeding to the hospital, a woman dropping to her knees in grief, and men and women crying. I don’t know what this will mean or do to us, Otto thought. With that, he helped Mata close up the office and they went to his house.
The middle of December came, and Marion and Maria were giddy with preparations for the Winter Dance which, next to the senior and junior proms, was the biggest social event of the school year. Jacob had asked Maria, who gladly accepted, and Marion decided to go with a friend, Joe Ross, who had moved to town recently with his parents. His father worked with the Forest Service, and Otto occasionally saw the family around town. With their preparations completed, the evening of the dance came and Marion and Maria waited nervously for their dates to pick them up. Actually, one date, Joe, was doing the driving since Jacob hadn’t gotten his license still and depended on friends and relatives to take him where he wanted to go. Otto was bit surprised that Marion and Maria hadn’t evidenced any interest in getting a license, but decided he wasn’t going to push it. That would be just one more thing to worry about.
The two boys appeared promptly at seven o’clock, although the dance didn’t start until eight. Mata and Betty took their Instamatics out and took picture after picture until Otto knew that the kids’ night vision was shot. “That’s enough pictures,” he called after a decent interval. The young people looked at him gratefully. They hurried out the door in a flurry of scarves and coattails. Tom, Mata, Otto, Betty and Polly adjourned to the kitchen where Polly served coffee.
“Does this remind you of serving snacks on M&M?” Otto asked her.
“It reminds me of trying to walk up that sloping aisle and you having absolutely no sympathy for me.”
“That was nearly ten years ago.”
Polly pointed to her legs. “These calves still remember, believe me.” Polly was the manager of the pilot shop in town. She was a quick study, and Mata felt fortunate to have her.
The friends sat talking about nothing, really, for an hour when the phone rang. Betty answered it. “Yes. Yes. He’s here, Charlie. I’ll let you talk to him.” She handed the receiver to Otto, mouthing the words, It’s Charlie.
Otto took the phone. The others froze, watching and listening to his side of the conversation, guessing at what was being said at the other end.
“Charlie, it’s Otto. What’s going on?”
“I’m sorry to call so late, but we’re holding Jacob One Hat in jail. He wants you to come down here.”
“He got into a fight at the dance.”
“I don’t know. He didn’t say anything other than to ask me to call you.”
What now? Otto thought. “I’ll be right there,” he told Charlie, and hung up.
He turned to the others. “It’s Jacob. He’s been in a fight.”
Betty’s eyes widened. “Are the twins all right?”
Otto shook his head. “Charlie didn’t say, but I’m sure he would have if anything had happened to them.”
The rest sat back in their chairs. “Now that’s a relief,” Mata said.
“I’m going to the jail to check on Jacob.”
“I’ll go with you.” Tom stood up.
“Call us when you know something.”
“I will.” And with that, Tom and Otto walked out the door.
Otto and Tom pushed through the door to the jail. Gwen sat behind the counter where she usually did. “Go on in,” she told them. “I’m sorry you have to come down here.”
“Thanks. We’re becoming regular visitors here.” Otto paused to talk to her. “I’m sorry you have to put up with it.”
Gwen shrugged. “Part of the job. Charlie’s expecting you.”
Otto and Tom went down the hall Otto found all too familiar. They came to the holding room to see Jacob sitting in a chair by the wall. His head was down and Otto could see he had several cuts on his face. They had been bandaged, but he knew they hid wounds nonetheless.
He and Tom walked in and sat down. Jacob kept his head down.
“Jacob,” Otto said. He didn’t respond.
“Jacob, look at me. Now.”
The young Menominee raised his head. Bruises covered his face, and he had a black eye.
Otto knelt down in front of him. “You look pretty beat up.”
Jacob spoke with difficulty. “There were more of them than there was of me. It wasn’t a fair fight.”
“That doesn’t matter. How do you feel?”
“That’s understandable. Tell me what happened.”
“We were at the dance, having a good time when these three guys came up. They had given us trouble before on the rez, cutting our fishing lines and punching holes in our boats, you know, punk stuff like that. So I knew them.
“So this one guy, I think his name is Bruce or something, he comes up to me and says, “I thought I smelled somethin’.” He turns to his lame friends and says, “Do you smell anything, fellas?” and they say, ‘Yeah, we smell a redskin.’ And he says, ‘How does it smell?’ And they say, ‘It smells like an outhouse!’ and they start laughing and punching each other like a bunch of queers, you know?”
“Is that when the fight started?”
Jacob shook his head. “No. I tried to ignore them, but they kept saying things. I was all right until they started bad mouthing Maria and Marion. ‘Did you have to pay to get these women?’ they asked, and that did it.”
“You started throwing punches then?”
“No, I knew we would get into trouble if I did that. I told them we’d take it outside The girls tried to stop me, but I couldn’t ignore an insult to them like that. I never would be able to go back to the tribe if I did.”
“So you went outside. Who went with you?”
“The girls wanted to come, but I would let them. I found out later they went and got the principal, but he came out too late to stop the fight. Joe said he would stay with the girls. I think he was afraid, and I don’t blame him. Bruce and his pals are big guys. We went out behind the school, and I was expecting to fight Bruce, but his buddies grabbed me and held me while he punched and kicked me.”
Otto winced as he heard this. “Go on.”
“They worked me over pretty good and then Mr. Nichols came out but it was too late. He took us into the office and had one of the teachers take care of my cuts. Of course Bruce said I started it. I denied that because it wasn’t true. I think Mr. Nichols knew that, but he said he thad to call the police, and Sheriff Draper came and took us all here.” He stared into space. “The other guys’ parents bailed them out. I called you. That’s all.”
“I’m so sorry. Were there any witnesses?”
“None that I saw.”
“So it’ll be your word again these hoodlums.”
Otto stood up. “Let’s get you out of here and have those wounds looked at. I’ll take you home and explain what happened. We’ll beat this thing. I never could stand a bully, and that’s what you encountered.”
Jacob smiled weakly. Thanks. I knew I could count on you.”
Otto put a hand on his shoulder. “Remember I owe you for saving Marion’s life.”
“I’m glad I did.”
“I am, too.”
Almost a year had passed since their trip to Houston, Otto thought, and yet little had changed other than the twins were sophomores this year and there was little evident that they, and particularly Marion had ever had a problem.
They continued to operate the FBO and the air circus and aviation camp in season. Mata’s pilot store and its branch in town continued to do well. Holidays came and went with their observances and times together, while D continued to do well in school and learn airframe and power plant maintenance from Luis. He occasionally received a letter from Alice’s doctors, but there seemed to be little change in her condition. D would be sad for a couple of days after he received such a letter, but the girls would cheer him up or Otto would take him flying.
Bob Samson called Otto in July to say that they were still waiting on funding, but to be patient and something would happen someday. Otto liked Bob, but he thought, somewhat sardonically, that pigs would probably fly before the project did. Maybe putting pigs into space would attract more funding than another study that might or might not come to something.
The girls were excited about a ski trip coming up in January, and asked Otto and Betty about some way they could earn money. They received a small allowance, but it would come nowhere near what they would need for a five-day trip to Horseshoe Resort neat Toronto. Otto told them he wasn’t sure why they had to go all the way to Canada at considerable expense when there was plenty of snow in their back yard. They rolled their eyes.
Betty suggested they ask Mata about paying them to work in one of the pilots’ shops. They had helped out in the stores since they were young, so they knew what they were doing. Mata agreed and the twins started working in late September. Otto became used to hear discussions about ski lengths, types of materials, varieties of wax, differences in bindings, and the relative merits of helmets. He couldn’t help contrasting the simple wooden slats and crude poles Hans took from a tree that Hans and Maria used when they went cross country.
Otto sat quietly on a Friday afternoon thinking about what had happened. The door opened, and Jacob One Hat stuck his head in. “Jacob!” Otto exclaimed. “Come in! What are you doing in the door?”
“Didn’t want to interrupt anything. May I come in?”
“I told you to. Come in, sit down.”
The young Menominee came in and took a seat. He looked nervous. How long had it been since they had gone to San Francisco? Over two years? Didn’t seem like it was that long ago. Jacob had been a frequent visitor to their house, and Betty said that she thought Maria liked him—a lot. Otto could tell that Marion made Jacob nervous. She was always telling him how grateful she was that he saved her life and she would do anything for him until he stayed away from her as much as he could. Unfortunately, she followed Maria and Jacob wherever they went, and even Otto could tell they wanted to be alone.
“So, what can I do for you? Another rifle?’ Otto and Jacob had made a trip to the gun store shortly after they got back from San Francisco—when was that, over two years ago?
Jacob twisted his hat nervously in his hands. “I want to ask you something.”
Otto leaned back in his chair. “Shoot. And I think that’s appropriate for someone who likes guns as much as you do.”
Ordinarily, Jacob would have at least smiled at that, but he seemed to be working up his courage. “I was wondering, I mean would it be all right, uh, what I really want to say is…” he fell silent.
Otto leaned toward him and spread his hands. “Yes, do go on.”
“Well, would you mind if I asked Maria to the Sadie Hawkins Dance?”
Otto sat for a moment. Jacob stood up. “I didn’t mean to make you angry. I’ll leave now. I know how some people are about their daughters dating people like me. I’m going out the door.”
Otto laughed, and by that time Jacob was halfway to the door. “Come back, come back. I was laughing because the girls are supposed to ask the boys to Sadie Hawkins.”
Jacob stopped and turned around. “They are?”
Otto nodded. “Yes. I have it on good authority, namely the twins, that this is true.”
Jacob sat down. “I feel so stupid. I should have known.”
“How? The rez is not exactly Dogpatch.”
The young Menominee smiled ruefully. “Well, we do have poverty and make moonshine.” He looked up quickly. “You didn’t hear that from me.”
Otto ran his finger across his lips. “My lips are sealed.” Then he pantomimed turning a key to his mouth and throwing it away.”
Jacob shook his head. “And some people say we have strange customs.”
“How do you show that you won’t pass on something that you’ve been told.”
Jacob shrugged. “We say ‘I won’t tell this to anyone.’”
“You don’t have a secret sign or gesture?”
The young man rolled his eyes. “This is not Hollywood, Major, and we are not pretend Indians. It is as I have told you. Our word is good enough without any other signs.”
“The rest of the world would be a better place if we followed your practices.”
Jacob smiled. “All of you are welcome to do so at any time. I just don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Otto looked down. “Not any time soon, unfortunately. Anyhow, back to the matter at hand. I bet I could put a bee in Maria’s bonnet and she would be glad to ask you.”
“‘A bee in her bonnet’? What does that mean?”
Otto laughed. “It means that I’ll ask her to ask you to the dance.”
“Why didn’t you say that?”
“I was just using an expression that’s another way to say it.”
“And then you had to explain it to me. Looks like it would have been easier to say it outright in the first place.”
“It would have, but where’s the fun in that?”
Jacob shook his head. “I never will understand you omegawiki.”
“Now it’s my turn to ask: what does that mean?”
Jacob grinned. “White people.”
“Oh. Well, that fits. Anyhow, I’ll ask Maria when she gets home from school.”
“Thank you. I owe you.”
“What? A rifle? I have my service pistol. I don’t need anything else.”
“I mean something like doing things for you.”
Otto grew serious. “Like saving my daughter. You’ve already done that, and if you never did another thing for me, I’d consider myself overpaid.” He felt a tear creeping into the corner of his eye.
The young man shook hands with Otto and walked out the door. Otto had an urger to hug him, but he didn’t know what that would mean in Menominee culture, so he went back to his desk and continued looking at some reports. Now I’m a matchmaker for my daughter, he thought. Well, there are a number of worse things I could be doing.
That evening at dinner, the twins asked to be excused to do to their homework. “Marion, you may be excused. Maria, I need to talk to you about something.” D lingered at the table. He had been full of stories about what had happened that day as he worked with Luis and Jacob.
Neither girl said anything, but Otto could tell that Marion was about to explode with curiosity. She was the more inquisitive of the two, although Mata called it “nosy.” Otto didn’t call it anything. D sat expectantly. He wanted to witness whatever was going to go on. Marion went down the hall to her bedroom, and Maria sat at the table looking anxious.
“Did I do something?” she asked.
“No, this is about something I want you to do.”
“Daddy, you know I’d do anything for you.”
Otto choked up. The child had no idea of what he was going to ask, and agreed to it anyhow.
“What do you want me to do?” Her face was open and trusting.
“How would you feel about asking Jacob One Hat to the Sadie Hawkins Dance?”
Maria started bouncing in her chair. “Oh, yes, I’d love to. Jacob is so nice and he comes over here to see me but Marion is always around and I find that annoying, don’t you and it would great to be by myself with him at the dance and not have to worry about Marion fawning all over Jacob and talking to him and who knows what else so I don’t get to talk to him or maybe even dance with him and I hope that doesn’t happen and maybe it won’t and is there anything you can do about it?”
She stopped, out of breath. Otto looked over at Betty and D, who were both trying to hide broad smiles. “Well, I can’t keep Marion from going if she wants to, but maybe if she asks someone she likes, she won’t bother you and everyone can have a good time.”
Maria came over and hugged him. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you! You’re the best daddy anyone ever had! I’ll ask Jacob when he comes over to help Luis tomorrow. I can hardly wait!” She went down the hall to her room.
“May I be excused also?” D wanted to know. “I need to go help Luis with something.”
“Of course,” Betty said. When D had left, she looked at Otto. “I’d say you were a pretty popular fellow with Maria right now.”
“I guess so.”
“Well, I’m glad to see it. We’ve all been through a lot recently.”
“That we have. But we’re still standing.”