Post #44 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler
Angel Makes a Discovery
The Meeting, Part 4
By Johnine M. Simpson
“I know, I know, you have to leave. You’re as nervous as a cat facing a bath. You need to relax.” Fay entered the house with Angel and turned to face her husband. She smiled at him. “Good luck, Randy. It will be all right.” She stood on tiptoe and gave him a kiss. “Now get going, Big Guy.”
Randy returned the kiss, walked back out the door and turned toward the street, beginning his walk to the Casino. “There’s a part of me that feels like running to get there faster and another part of me that wants to turn around and go home. I don’t understand what’s going on with me. What’s so unsettling about a found object buried in the park? I’m not usually like this. Guess I’ll find out soon enough.” He kept his pace steady as he moved down Happy Valley Road. “I’m going to turn on First Ave to West Sooner Street and walk down to the Casino. At least there will be store fronts to occupy my mind as I walk.”
As was his custom, he stopped briefly at the corner of First and Sooner to give his store a check. Finding nothing amiss, he turned left on Sooner and began passing stores that were long-since closed for the day. “We do roll the sidewalks up early here in Five Points,” he thought. “I’m sure the casino will be bustling and no doubt families with young kids will be lined up for ice cream at Moo-Chu Sweet Creamery. It’s always fun to listen in on family discussions at such times.” As he got closer to the Creamery, he saw the line at the ice cream window. “I was right about that, he thought.” He waved to June Toothaker who was chiding her two children to stand more quietly without disturbing others also waiting. “Evening, June,” he called. “Enjoy your ice cream with the kids.”
“Thanks.” She waved and for a few moments her kids were quiet before their chattering and pushing resumed.
He strode on. “I’m surprised,” he commented to himself, “that Bartlett’s Fine Wines is still open but I see ol’ Ed Bartlett at the counter with a customer. “I bet they close at 8,” he concluded as he crossed Second Avenue and moved down the block to Five Feathers Casino. He stopped in front of the casino and checked his gold pocket watch, an heirloom left to him by his father’s father. “Yep a couple minutes before 8. Now I’ll just wait.”
Looking around, Randy saw a bench off to one side of the main door to the casino. He moved to it and sat down. Some people were milling around out front. Randy did not recognize any of them. “Probably came here on a tour bus for the day and evening.” He smiled when several of the people gave him questioning looks but he said nothing. He stared off across the street and saw the roof of the fire station on the next block. “My mind is whirling,” he thought. “I wonder what Noco will say about the treasure Angel found? Perhaps the item has a story or some kind of special value to him or his Comanche roots. Perhaps,” his thoughts were interrupted.
“Bushey, I’m here.”
Randy looked up into the handsome face of Noco. Again in uniform for the casino, his posture was straight and tall and he smiled as he looked at Randy. Noco was carrying the found object carefully in a plastic bag. Randy smiled. “Good to see you, Noco. I’ve got to tell you I’m nervous about this meeting but don’t know why. So forgive me if I seem a bit odd.”
“No problem,” Noco replied. “You have, indeed, found a very special object. I want to tell you about it but think we should move to a more private setting. I don’t have long…”
“I know a good spot. There’s a short alley between here and the fire station. There’s a street light at the corner and it will be a quiet place. Let’s go there.” Randy started moving and Noco followed eagerly.
When they got into the alley and away from the cluster of people outside the casino, Noco started talking: “What you have found is a bronze pipe tomahawk.” As he spoke, he placed the bag with the found object in both hands carefully, almost tenderly. “In the early 1800’s Native men – especially chiefs – traded goods with the French and obtained these bronze pipe tomahawks in exchange. Sometimes the pipe tomahawks were given to chiefs by traders to keep the trading ongoing.”
“Primarily,” Noco continued, “these special objects were used as medicine pipes and were more symbolic than serious weapons. Noco pointed to each part of the bronze head as he spoke. “One side of the bronze head holds the depressed bowl for tobacco, the other side is the weapon, the sharp tomahawk. See this hole in the middle? This is where the handle would go. The sturdy handle is really a strong hollow stem through which the smoke is drawn when the pipe tomahawk is used as a pipe, but also becomes the handle for using it as a tomahawk.”
Noco went on, “Any Native man having a pipe tomahawk was special and therefore revered by his tribe. The pipe you have found is bronze. Bronze was not something the Native people found or created in these parts. Because it was rare, such a metal was considered even more special – even sacred in some groups. Mostly the men obtained the bronze portion of the tomahawk only and then fit their own hand-made wooden stem or handle to it. Some owners marked their wood stems with symbols for their names or etched totems into the bronze itself.”
Randy was getting more and more excited. He blurted out,”Does this bronze head have any special markings like that? There was no stem, as you call it.”
“The stem probably disintegrated long ago,” Noco responded carefully. “Yes there are special symbols on the head meaningful to us Comanches. I had to do some cleaning of the pipe tomahawk, which I hope you don’t mind. My mother insisted that I do it so she could examine every section of it carefully. She is, as I told you, an esteemed elder, a Wise Woman, and a direct descendent of Chief Quanah Parker in our tribe. She is well-respected and well-informed. Her memories of the ‘old times’ when our culture was dominant in this state are good. You should know she was nearly in tears as she delicately handled this pipe tomahawk. She thought they had all disappeared long ago.”
“Wow!” Randy muttered, “This is pretty exciting stuff.”
“When you handed it to me,” Noco continued, “I thought that’s what it might be but I’ve never seen one except as a picture in a book so I wasn’t sure. That’s why Mother needed to see it.” Noco smiled warmly at Randy.
“Anticipating the opportunity to scrutinize this object made the trip to the city for medical appointments almost worthwhile. We waited until we got back home to study it. Both my mother and my aunt were thrilled to see it. They chattered together enthusiastically and began spouting old stories I’ve not heard since I was a boy.” Noco paused.
“I hope this means the medical appointments for your relatives were satisfactory?” Randy inquired politely though he did not mean to pry into Noco’s private life.
“Thank you for asking. They went as well as could be expected I guess given that both women are now elderly and health is always fragile as you get older. But they brightened up and acted much younger once they got the pipe tomahawk in their hands. They took great delight in handling it, appreciating the weight of it and the craftsmanship. Though there are marks on the head, my family was not able to determine what they mean.”
Randy’s excitement rose as he waited for whatever Noco would say next.
“They wished the rest of it had been preserved because it might have revealed more about who had owned it. The handle, as I’ve explained, served as the stem for the pipe through which the smoke could flow. An owner often put his own special twist on the stem to identify it as his. But, as we know, time has a way of eroding many things, including wood.”
“You said it was used more as a medicine pipe than a weapon. How, exactly, was it used?”
“Owners of the pipe tomahawks would put tobacco in the bowl provided for that purpose and light it. After the pipe was lit, smoke flowed through the stem of the pipe tomahawk and out into the air. Every bit of tobacco was thought to represent a part of creation, so that, symbolically, all of creation was contained in the pipe’s bowl. And as the ceremonial smoke wafted between those present, all their good intentions were made plain to the creator.”
”I gather that tobacco and Native people have a special relationship.”
“Yes, Bushey, we do. Because we believe tobacco opens the door to the creator, when it is used to make smoke, it is one of the most sacred of plants for us. Some elders say that tobacco is used to connect the worlds since the plant’s roots go deep into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the sky. This plant is highly respected and highly honored. Giving tobacco is a beautiful way of our people. Ceremonies using tobacco reinforce a relationship with the energies of the universe, and ultimately the Creator, and the bond made between earthly and spiritual realms is not to be broken.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“When we smoke tobacco in a special pipe such as a tomahawk pipe, we do not inhale the sacred smoke that comes from it. When the exhaled smoke rises, it is taking our prayers with it up to the Creator and all of our relatives who have gone before us.
“Our elders show us that when we finish with prayers, we may sprinkle a small amount of tobacco on the drum if one had been playing. We may also hold a small amount of tobacco in our left hand, which is closest to our heart. These are ways of giving back to and thanking the Creator for all he has given to us. Even a tiny dab of cold ash from the pipe bowl, after the pipe ceremony is completed, is placed in a small cloth square and tied up. These tiny bundles are put into a medicine bag or tied to one.”
“I think I’m getting it now, Noco. Thank you for your patience in explaining all this to me. No wonder your mother and aunt were so delighted to see this partial tomahawk pipe. Clearly it has emotional and psychological value to you and your people. Does it have monetary value as well?”
“It probably has some value but, in its condition without a stem and no easily identifiable special markings or engravings, it is more valued as a relic of the past – the kind of piece that would be placed in our Native museum.
“Do the Comanches have such a museum?”
“Yes, one was conceived a long while back but in 2007 the dream became a reality. It is in Lawton, OK. I’ve heard it is both a museum and cultural center but, sadly, I’ve never been there myself. I have meant to visit it but never got around to it.”
Randy hung his head. “I know embarrassingly little about Native American history, culture, or current situations. I think it would be good for me learn more about your tribe by visiting the museum.”
Randy had a sudden insight. “What would you think of the two of us planning a trip there? If your mother and aunt or my wife wished to go, that would be fine too? We could visit the museum and, if you are in agreement, we could donate this pipe tomahawk to their collection. Perhaps their researchers could learn more specifically about this particular piece?”
A broad smile covered Noco’s face. “That is a gift beyond words.” Noco clutched the pipe tomahawk to his chest. “I think my family would be delighted to see this happen and I’m guessing both Mom and my aunt would like to visit the museum too. They are elders, mind you, so we’d have to take things slowly but I think we all would like that.”
“I suspect my wife, Fay, would like to go too. She’s not been as curious about the object Angel uncovered in the park as I have been, but I think this latest information will intrigue her.”
Noco looked alarmed. “What time is it? I have to hurry back to work now. I’m probably late already. Let me talk with my family and I’ll stop by your store Monday morning to work out specifics. Here, Bushey, you take this back home with you.” He reverently handed Randy the pipe tomahawk. “Just think, Five Points will be donating a significant artifact to our Comanche Museum. I can hardly believe it.”
Noco moved toward Bushey and gave him an unexpected hug. “Thank you for everything, Bushey. Thank you more than you can ever know.” Noco turned quickly and moved back toward Five Feathers Casino at a jog.
Randy stood where he was, stunned at all that had transpired. It took him a few minutes to recover. Then he began walking back to his house, his steps almost light in spite of his size. “Wait until Fay hears this. I’ll be giving Angel extra hugs and treats for a long time for her find.”
“I guess Jane was right about Angel needing adventure. She clearly has had one!” He walked swiftly toward home carrying the treasured pipe tomahawk, Angel’s discovery from her first adventure.