Why Did Native Americans Turn Scout?

Apache Scouts

“For tribes subject to Sioux pressure for decades, the combination of revenge and self-defense would constitute a powerful motivation, even without the other possible motives of individual warriors. The suggestion that they were betraying ‘the Indians’ would have been meaningless to them. They knew too well who their enemy was.” (Dunlay)

And here we have an uncomfortable truth: history is not as simple as we would hope. As convenient as it may be to imagine,  not all the members of certain gene pools are evil and others good. Life isn’t set up that way. So often in our need for certainty we invent fairy tales and one-dimensional villains.

Just as it was a disaster for Hitler (and many others in the eugenics movement) to declare some people pure and others not, it is foolish (and demeaning) to classify the Native Americans who fought the age-old fight for land and power (like the rest of humanity) into noble or savage stereotypes.

“Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.”
Margaret Mead

Whether it is to admire or exterminate, defining people solely by their group affiliation is dangerous and, if nothing else, gives us a very distorted version of history. Not all Indians were peaceful shamans. Not all white people were slaveholders (or even supported slavery). Not all Germans hated the Jews (see DIETRICH BONHOEFFER). And certainly not all generations are responsible for the sins of their great-great grandfathers and mothers. Not all humans are Mother Theresa either. Not all Trump supporters are racist. Not all liberals are Antifa. The list goes on.

But so often this is how we act. Some Irish still talk about the BATTLE OF THE BOYNE (1690) as if it were yesterday.  I understand the temptation. Hate is so easy to rationalize. Hate is lazy.  It’s why Christ’s command to love one’s enemies is so revolutionary — and such an impossible standard of behavior to achieve without supernatural help. 

Native Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War (and some owned slaves). When I wrote about a Civil War veteran and his struggles with addiction in THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD, I decided it would be interesting to make him part Delaware. It’s only a tiny part of the story but I wanted to play with the fluid nature of identity in nineteenth century America. This does not mean there weren’t prejudices and hatreds among all people — including Native Americans.

“Competent scholars have concluded that far more Indians perished in intertribal warfare in the nineteenth century than in wars with the whites … Intertribal warfare was exploited by the whites, but it had been endemic on the Great Plains for centuries.”(Dunlay)

As a warrior, John Weldon sees himself as his father’s son — his father having been an English-blooded dragoon with an illustrious past. He carries the wounds he received as a child from his Delaware mother close to his vest and with shame. Even more so after his son is born with his mother’s features.

Yet when Weldon fights with General Crook against the Apache Indians in Arizona he looks upon the Apache scouts with disdain for turning against their own.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Matthew 7:3

It makes me think of friends who despise their whiteness (or more accurately other people’s whiteness). It makes me think of other friends who still despise their Indian mothers. It makes me think of friends who despise all of humanity for the  wanton destruction of animal habitats — the ones who suggest that some people should commit suicide to save the environment but don’t offer their own body as first sacrifice.

“Historical emphasis on Indian-white conflict tends to obscure the fact that Indians interacted long before white contact became significant. Intertribal conflicts and alliances had an importance often more immediate  than any problems or pressures created by whites. For many Indians an alliance with the army (U.S.) offered hope of turning the tables on a powerful enemy who represented an immediate and obvious menace. In some cases the army represented survival itself.” (Dunlay)

But what about the Apache Indians who turned scout against their own tribe?

The word tribe should be held loosely here. While it is true that the Apache as a people were of the Athapaskan language family they were hardly a monolithic group. Within this loose “family” were many subgroups. For an example of the disdain some groups had for each other we only have to look to the  most northwesterly branch of the Western Apaches called by the others “the brainless people” or as the Spanish translated the term “Tontos.” (Dunlay)

 This was a language family who disagreed often and sometimes quite violently. For a young man to go out against a feuding subgroup is not that difficult to understand. An Apache who refused to join the army as scout, James Kaywaykla, still acknowledged a simple fact of young manhood that crosses ethnic boundaries and keeps the human tradition of warfare alive:

“Ours was a race of fighting men — war was our occupation. A rifle was our most cherished possession … there was not a man who did not envy the scout his rifle.” (Dunlay)

Excerpts taken from WOLVES FOR BLUE SOLDIERS by THOMAS W. DUNLAY

 

 

Fiction: Seeing With New Eyes

“This is my home. I’m happy here,” William said, but he needed a drink to wash down his words. He tried to glare at Buck, but felt unsteady and it hurt his head. William spotted his drawings in Buck’s hand. “I-I’m gonna send some drawings east when they’re finished—start working harder at that—so me and Ginny can live nicer …”

Buck looked at the papers. “Not these, I hope. They’re crap.”

William grabbed them and sifted through them. He scratched his head. “I’m out of practice.” William wiped his nose. “I’d give anything for a smoke.”

“I don’t smoke any longer,” Buck said.

“Yes, I’d forgotten—you’re God’s little friend now.”

“I’d like it if we could be friends.”

“Don’t do me any favors,” William said.

Buck turned to go. He shoved his hands in his pockets and felt a dollar coin he hadn’t realized he had. Maybe he could offer someone at the stable the dollar as a deposit for a ride back to the fort. His father would pay the balance. Buck took a step, then turned to William. “Listen, Willy, I have a dollar. Will you draw me my portrait?” he blundered. “I have no gift for Thankful’s wedding—it’s only a few days away.”

William laughed. “Why would she want a picture of you?”

“I don’t know, but it’s my only idea … will you?”

William rummaged around for a piece of paper and Buck wondered if he should just give him the dollar instead of putting William through any trouble, but Fred was making the most of it with Ginny on the other side of the quilt. Buck detected a small excitement from William though he did his best to hide it.

Without looking up once, William produced a quick, but accurate likeness of Buck—the old Buck—handsome, clean-edged and hard-eyed. He handed it to Buck. “Shit, William. How’d you do that?” The slight smirk, the confident eyes, everything was correct—and full of sneering superiority. “God forgive me. I’m just as bad as you make me out to be, William. I’m even worse. What a piece of shit I am and you’ve every right to hate me for all I’ve done to you. You never deserved any of it! You trusted me and you were kind,” Buck said. “It hurts me to see you here.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Buck. You’re not responsible for me.”

Buck gave William back the drawing. “I want you to draw me again. Not from memory. I need you to draw me as I am now—ugly and wretched.”

“No.” William said. Old images were easy, well-practiced in his mind, but the present remained unfocused through his bleary eyes.

“You must! And I promise never to bother you again.”

William scratched his jaw and grabbed the paper back. “So you want to see things for real.”  He turned the paper over and picked up his pencil.

This time William had to look at Buck—could not rely on anything from before to capture the rough skin and the wrinkled mass above Buck’s eye. Buck insisted that he remove his bandages. His misshapen cheekbone torn by the bullet William deserved and the botched cut at his throat remained scarlet and unhealed. William considered another drink, but met Buck’s gaze and it unnerved him. He dropped his pencil and picked it up again. His hand shook.

The drawing was not very good and it made William angry. He found that he had to study Buck longer than he wanted and that no matter how he tried he could not make Buck monstrous enough. “That’s it. It’s the best I can do. Now give me my money.”

Buck flipped over the coin, but William missed and had to crawl on the floor to find it. Buck studied the portrait. “Land sakes, Willy,” Buck said. “Is this how you really see me?”

“I’m afraid so,” William said scratching his head.

“I mean, God, I’m one hell of a mess, but there’s something … I’m no artist …” The drawing comforted Buck. He didn’t know why. The cuts, the wounds, the disfigurement were there, but so was something else. Something new or maybe just discovered. “William, you see it don’t you? No one else has, but maybe Father …”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” William replied.

“You see what God’s done for me,” Buck whispered.

His scars were ugly and William had to drink not to let his heart go out to Buck.

“Thank you for this, Willy.”

“It’s nothing,” William mumbled, but felt sorry suddenly at how things had turned out between them. If only Buck hadn’t been such a sneaky bastard.

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Fiction: Hooked Up

Buck followed, having nowhere else to go. He glanced around at the filth and total confusion of the tiny place divided by a soiled and torn old quilt. The walls moved with bugs in the flickering candlelight.

Fred grabbed at Ginny, who wore a threadbare wrapper. She had a wonderfully white and soft-looking body, Buck noticed as Fred unwrapped her, but old evidence of smallpox marred her face, making her ugly. As soon as Buck thought it he remembered his own disfigurement in shame.

“Where’s the money? Money comes first, child,” Ginny demanded even as Fred shoved his hand between her legs.

Unusual drawings sat piled upon a small footstool and Buck went to them. They were shaky and crass but familiar.

“I’ll give you an extra fifty cents if you put it in your mouth, girl,” Fred bargained while unbuttoning his trousers. “But wait, what’s that mark at your mouth? You’re not diseased or anything, are you?”

“I had the pox as a girl …”

Buck looked up from the pictures and for a moment caught Ginny’s eyes. “Fred, she must be just Thankful’s age.”

The girl stopped what she was doing and glanced back at Buck. “Thankful?”

“Yes, our sister.”

“Who the hell cares?” Fred asked. “Go back to work.” He grabbed Ginny by the hair and jerked her head. “I’m paying, he isn’t. Listen to me if you don’t want any trouble.”

“Fred!” Buck shouted, but his voice hardly carried.

Buck watched as a tear rolled down the girl’s cheek. How desperate she must be to do this for fifty cents! “Miss Ginny, even now, right this very minute, there’s someone who wants better for you,” Buck said.

“Shut up, Buck!” Fred shouted as something stirred behind the other side of the quilt.

Buck peeked around it. “Willy!”

The quilt hid the worst of the room’s mess. Empty bottles and crumpled papers littered the floor.

“William, it’s me, Buck Crenshaw.”

“I know who you are,” William mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “Why are you here?”

“Fred is—well, he’s with the girl.”

“My wife?” William asked, detached.

“I-I don’t know. I mean, I hope not. Not the girl on the other side?”

“Yes, so what? I wanted to do right by her … and she cares for me. Ginny doesn’t judge.”

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Featured Image: The Awakening of Conscience by William Holman Hunt

Fiction: Into the Gloaming

“So now you give up and hide behind your little Bible studies and weird friends? You heap embarrassment upon the whole family. What will our friends at West Point say?”

“You’re no embarrassment, Buck,” Graham said. “It’s only that you’re lost in there somewhere behind those bandages. And you’re right to say I was never with you as a child. Please, after the wedding, come home to stay.”

Margaret interjected, “But leave this fanaticism behind, Buck. What would they say at First Presbyterian—and your father on the board! It’s nice to read the Bible now and again, and I’m proud of your memory work, but still, Buck, this is too much—it’s creepy even.”

“Buck was always creepy,” said Meg, but came over and kissed his hand. As obnoxious as he was, he was still family.

“I want to become a missionary,” Buck began.

Thankful interrupted. “Save that talk for another day.”

The family turned to her, staring in silence. Thankful embraced her sister and then Fred. She came to her father and looked up at him. “Forgive me, Father.”

“My pet, what have you let happen?” Graham said. “I so wanted you to do things before starting a family, but I love you as always.”

Thankful burst into relieved tears and turned to her mother.

“You stupid girl,” Margaret said repulsing Thankful’s attempt at embrace. “You don’t understand how much you’ve sacrificed, and your father’s health has suffered greatly. Don’t you realize how weak his heart is? I knew you’d disappoint me!”

“Margaret,” Graham said. “Stop.”

“No! I’ve raised a zealot and an adventuress—why can’t my children be normal?” Margaret cried. “Well, I guess we won’t be seeing much of you—being in the army.”

“Mother, we won’t be in the army,” Thankful said. “I was hoping to come live with you for a while.”

Margaret stepped back. “Oh, our house is so crowded.”

“There’s plenty of room, dear,” Graham assured her.

Thankful wiped a tear away.

“It’ll be all right,” Graham said. “We’ll help you with the baby. Where’s your sweetheart?” He was unable to hide his dislike for the unknown soldier. “We heard he was shot like Buck.”

“Oh, Father!” Thankful cried. “The army can’t keep him!”

“Keep him? What did he do?” Fred asked.

Thankful turned to Buck, who answered for her. “Fahy’s a—well, he’s a decent fellow, but he’ll never walk. He’s injured badly.”

“Thankful, shall we call off the wedding till you’ve had time to reflect?” Margaret suggested.

“Take us to him,” Graham ordered.

The doctor recommended that Buck stay at the infirmary, but he wanted to be with Thankful, so the family tramped off to Captain Markham’s home. Lieutenant Fahy, though officially discharged from the army, was staying with the Markhams until he decided where to take his bride. Mrs. Markham led the way and stopped in the barren front garden. “Thankful, why don’t you go in and see if Mr. Fahy is ready for visitors.”

They all stood, complaining in the heat. Mrs. Markham offered Buck the only cool spot in the yard. He politely refused.

Thankful entered the neat, little home afraid of Fahy’s mood. She tip-toed into the parlor decorated floor to ceiling with Captain Markham’s citations and framed photographs taken on his many military travels. Fahy sat where he’d been put, staring at the soldier’s life he no longer could enjoy. Thankful tapped on the door before entering with a hopeful smile.

“What the hell took you so long?” Fahy yelled.

“My poor thing, I’m sorry,” Thankful said with a kiss. “It’s just Buck was hurt again.”

“Is he dying?”

“No, his face …”

“Damn it, Thankful! I needed you!”

“Please, dear, tell me what’s the matter?”

“Are your parents here?”

“Yes, outside. Don’t be nervous.”

“Shit—the tube—it’s been leaking all the while you were away. There was nothing I could do. Oh, blast it! I can’t go through with this!”

Thankful lifted the blanket covering his urine saturated legs.

“I wish I were dead,” Fahy said.

“Don’t say it!”

“I can say anything I damn well want! That I can still do!”

Thankful wiped his forehead. “I’ll just clean you up.”

The front door opened in the hallway. Mrs. Markham called in, “Everything all set in there? We have eager visitors, so stop your sparking!” Her voice was high and nervous.

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“Rich and colorful page turners. Morris has a fine sense of time and place and brings her memorable characters to life. She also tells a captivating story. You won’t find it easy to put her book down, and her characters will stay with you when you do. We can only hope she keeps writing and gives us more episodes in this fascinating chronicle.”

“There are some men and some women in whose company we are always at our best. While with them we cannot think mean thoughts or speak ungenerous words…

…Their mere presence is elevation, purification, sanctity. All the best stops in our nature are drawn out by their intercourse, and we find a music in our souls that was never there before.” – Henry Drummond

George Muller’s father was a tax collector. By the age of ten young George was an expert thief, liar and gambler who pilfered government money from his father. While his mother lay dying, George was out playing cards and getting drunk. Nowadays we’d look for a cause. The parents were lax or some such thing.

I sit at church sometimes and wonder about the perfect families seated in the aisles in front of me. Many of the children are schooled at home, taught 10 different musical instruments and sit quietly taking sermon notes. Marriages are intact. The fathers attend services and participate in church planting.

I imagine my family being much more like George Muller’s. Deaths, remarriages, wayward children and absent parents. Misspent youth, deaf ears to truth and heartbreaking regrets.

George described himself as wicked and unrepentant in his young adulthood: “Despite my sinful lifestyle and cold heart,  God had mercy on me. I was as careless as ever. I had no  Bible and had not read any Scripture for years. I seldom went to church; and, out of custom only, I took the Lord’s Supper twice a year. I never heard the gospel preached. Nobody told me that Jesus meant for Christians, by the help of God, to live according to the Holy Scriptures.” George Muller’s Autobiography

Yet the supernatural is obvious to anyone who looks. The miracle of life is a trite phrase to some but worthy of contemplation. How is it not a miracle that we live, talk and watch seasons change?

Hedonism has many pleasures. What convinced a young liar and thief to embrace miracles?

George attended a Bible study at someone’s home that he credited with changing his life (a small miracle?). Something made him pray. Something convinced him that his prayers would be answered. Most people scoff at such faith (myself included), but the truly insane thing is that his prayers were so often answered.

orphansGeorge and his wife decided to open their rented home to 30 orphans and rely solely on contributions that came through prayer. No flyers, marketing campaigns or begging.  One morning George and the children (now 300 of them) prayed for food. The cupboards were bare. A passing milk truck broke down outside the home and a baker felt compelled all through the night to offer free bread and arrived just after morning prayers. This story is well-documented but still my jaundiced heart rebels. How can such a thing be true?

“Every morning after breakfast there was a time of Bible reading and prayer, and every child was given a Bible upon leaving the orphanage, together with a tin trunk containing two changes of clothing. The children were dressed well and educated – Müller even employed an inspector to maintain high standards. In fact, many claimed that nearby factories and mines were unable to obtain enough workers because of his efforts in securing apprenticeships, professional training, and domestic service positions for the children old enough to leave the orphanage.” Wikipedia

After living life as a thief George obsessively documented incoming contributions. As contributions poured in people were amazed by George’s transparent bookkeeping. More contributions poured in. More orphanages were built.

orphans 2

George was one of those rare individuals who remained dependent from day to day on God’s provision.  Even as I write this I have a hard time imagining such a person really  existed, but he did. In his lifetime he cared for 10,024 orphans and opened 117 schools!

One man and prayer!

What is more miraculous: Answered prayer or the heart ready to pray for 10,000 orphans?

Do you believe in miracles? Have you experienced one you’d like to share?

GEORGE MULLER’S WORK LIVES ON!

 

 

Family Histories: An Unseemly Belch

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today I offer a story of my own from the next novel in my series about the dysfunctional Crenshaw family. Those of you who have read my novels already know that Buck and Fred Crenshaw have many flaws. This passage highlights the abuse they suffered as children at the hands of their parents and gives insight into why Buck and Fred behave the way they do as adults:

Buck’s brothers and sisters sat at the supper table. Tonight, with Father away at a medical conference and the gas-lit chandelier casting a soft glow over the fine crystal in the cozy winter dining room, everyone was jolly—including Buck’s mother. The fire in the hearth warmed the faces of the children giving them rosy cheeks as they laughed at a story Fred told about school—a silly story and probably untrue.

Buck sat beside his brother watching his mother laugh while balancing a fork full of lima beans in her plump hand, her jowls shaking in good humor. The younger children’s eyes shined on Fred who, at least for this meal, kept his mother light-hearted after so many tense and silent suppers.

Buck had a nervous stomach. There was a fleeting satisfaction when he interrupted the merry mood with an unseemly belch. Yes, it had been on purpose. Buck had given it all he had though he found crude humor and bodily functions distasteful and shame-filled like the rest of his family. Yet, he’d done it. Wasn’t he always the source of tension? Wasn’t that his role after all? But why? Buck had no clear answers—but an angry compulsion nudged him to end the peace.

Margaret lunged across the table then, upsetting Fred’s plate.

Buck leaned just out of reach. “Sorry, Mama,” he said with a triumphant smile he’d suffer for—but didn’t he suffer anyway?

“Go to your room at once,” Margaret ordered.

“But Mama my stomach ached.”

Margaret raced around the table. The other children quaked as she took Buck by the ear with a painful jerk, leading him toward the cellar door off the kitchen. Buck, like a cat, held to the door frame, intensely afraid of the cellar where once Fred had seen red rat eyes peering at him as he stole a bottle of wine.

Margaret, with one good tug, got the better of him. “You ruined our nice time with your disgusting behavior, and I won’t have it!”

Buck’s hands slid along the smooth wall as he tumbled past Margaret, landing on the damp cellar floor.

Margaret raced down shouting, “You turn everything into a colossal failure—even steps!” She pulled him up to his feet. “Clumsy! How did I ever produce such a clumsy and disgusting boy?”

Buck scratched to get by her, but Margaret blocked him. She thrust him deeper into darkness, and, with arms flailing, Buck fell against a row of expensive bottles. The shelf, not meant for rough use, slipped from its brackets and sent the vintage bottles rolling and crashing to the floor.

Margaret gasped at the destruction of Graham’s collection, not seeing in the dark as the wine poured forth, the gash on Buck’s chin until a glimmer of light on the staircase lit Buck’s bloodied and expensive shirt.

“Oh!” Margaret cried. “What shall we do, Buckie?”

Buck stared at the bottles emptying the last of their precious liquid. Glass glistened on the floor as Lucretia, the house maid, descended the stairs with her lantern.

“Lord save us,” Lucretia said, her voice hollow though used to such scenes. “Ma’am, take the boy into the light before he bleeds to death.”

“He tripped, Lucretia—you believe me don’t you?” Margaret cried.

“You don’t answer to me, Maggie—only to God,” Lucretia replied, the closest time she ever came to acknowledging the abuse she’d witnessed over her many years of service. “Now go upstairs.”

Lucretia herded the other children up to their bedrooms, called the stable boy in to clean the cellar and nursed Buck as he lay upon the kitchen table, applying pressure to stop the blood at his chin.

Margaret hovered and simpered. “What will Graham say? What will he say, Lucretia?”

“Ma’am, Buck needs a doctor for stitches.”

“Yes, tomorrow,” Margaret said. “Graham will fix everything. Buck tripped. Isn’t that so, Buck?”

Lucretia with a look of uneasiness hurried from the room to fetch Buck a shirt.

Margaret came close to Buck’s throbbing face. Tears dripped from her red eyes. “You tripped, Buck, didn’t you?”

Buck said nothing until she gave him a quick, violent shake.

“Yes, Mama. I tripped!”

Lucretia ran in. “Ma’am, we need to tell Doctor Crenshaw the truth! It will set you free.”

Margaret cried into her sleeve. “Buck, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please forgive me. I beg of you. Please . . .”

Buck waited. He enjoyed her suffering.

“Please, Buckie.”

“Mama, I’m hungry,” Buck said, though the bottom half of his face swelled.

Margaret’s face lit up. “Ice cream! Chocolate. Your favorite. Lucretia will make it right now.”

Lucretia blanched. “But it’s 9:00!”

“You’ll do it, Lucretia, won’t you? For our little man, Buck. Won’t you?”

Buck watched Lucretia’s conflicted face—the one that assured Buck of late night ice cream with his mother. And so he imagined with a belly full of sugar and cream at 3 am that he’d won. Buck had a secret against his mother—one of many. His childish mind had forgotten all about the wine—he was too young to understand its value.

The next day, Buck’s stomach was sour and his face sore. While the family entertained themselves at checkers, reading and knitting before the fire, Buck lay in bed listening for the sound of his father’s footsteps in the vestibule. Outside the sky remained overcast and threatened snow.

Just before supper the sound of sleigh bells came up the drive. Buck, bandaged around the face, raced to meet his father at the sound of the front door opening.

Graham’s shoulders slumped at the sight of his son as he set his bag on the floor. “Land sakes, Buck. What’s happened now?”

“The wine bottles cut me.”

“Wine bottles can’t do anything without help.”

Margaret flew up behind Buck, her fingers settling deep into his shoulders. “Graham, dear, I’m so sorry to have your evening spoiled so quickly but there’s been an accident, and poor Buck is very sorry.”

Graham sighed in exasperation. “Come to me, Buck.”

Buck stood still.

“Graham, our dear child got into your wine last night and tripped. He smashed up all your Madeira. I didn’t punish him—his pain is enough maybe. He may need stitches . . .”

Graham’s face went crimson. His eyes bulged. The other children, gathered at the parlor door, fled up the stairs to their bedrooms having never seen their father so angry.

“I suppose we can get new wine, dear,” Margaret said, her finger nails digging deeper into Buck’s thin shoulders. “Don’t blame our boy. He’s just so very clumsy.”

When Buck wiggled free from his mother’s grasp, wincing, Graham sensed something. This something always hung heavily though he did his best to busy his mind with medical papers and research. Tonight Graham was tired and impatient after a cold and bumpy ride in the wet fall weather. He turned to Lucretia.

The housemaid hesitated. Her eyes lingered on Buck for a long while. She crossed her strong but gentle arms tightly in front of her, wrestling with her feelings. “Sir. The boy ran down the stairs, and before I knew it the bottles were upset.”

Graham moaned as if some deep volcanic rage had let go within. He tugged the belt from around his ample waist. “Come here at once and pull your trousers down, Buck.”

“No,” Buck said. “Mama pushed me.” His father’s rage was a new and terrifying thing.

“How dare you, Buck!” Graham began. “Your mother takes care of you . . .” he continued but something in his voice gave way to doubt. He looked at Lucretia again almost pleading for an excuse to turn back as Graham was not a violent man.

Lucretia’s dark eyes relayed to Buck a deep sympathy, yet she had to consider her own son she hardly saw while tending the Crenshaw brood. “Buck tripped. He’s a clumsy boy, most times.”

Graham, refocused on his son and grabbed him. “That Madeira is worth more than . . .” He didn’t finish his sentence, but Buck understood what it was worth more than. Graham half-heartedly made to strike his son, but Lucretia cried out.

“Oh, don’t, sir!”

Margaret seeing the tide turn against her followed suit. “Buck drives me mad! He does! Always upsetting something! I’m sorry I’m not the mother I should be!”

Buck slipped from his father’s grasp, but Graham caught him by the loose-fitting shirt he wore. It slipped from Buck’s shoulder exposing ugly bruises on his bony back.

“What’s this?” Graham asked, his voice trembling. A flood of half-formed suspicions and unusual breaks of bone came to mind.

Buck sensed danger—a new danger—seeing how his father looked at his mother—his dear mother. Yes, he loved her. It was he who had upset the supper. It was he who fell against the wine. He quickly pulled his shirt close.

“What’s happening here, Margaret . . . when I’m away?” Graham asked, his voice deadened.

“Lucretia! Why didn’t you tell me about Buck’s back?” Margaret cried, pulling Buck close against her bosom. “Oh, my poor sweet Buckie.”

Graham pressed his wife in the way he did surgery—with no sign of emotion. “Tell me about these bruises, Margaret. What is this about?”

Margaret’s body shook against her son, and Buck became one with her terror. What would come next became too much for Buck to wait for and so he jumped in to stop that terrible waiting when the world turned black with anticipated pain.

“I’m clumsy, Father. Terribly clumsy and awkward—the bottles in the cellar—all my fault. Forgive Mama at once, and you can thrash me—but please not so awfully hard.”

“The bruises, Buck . . .” Graham began, anger turning to something far worse—a softening—that softening that let this all happen again and again.

“The bed fell on me. Fred and I were playing, and I hid beneath the bed, and it fell on my back when Fred jumped on the mattress. We should have told you, but it doesn’t hurt. Not at all.”

Margaret pulled the hankie from her sleeve to wipe her eyes—so like Buck’s violet eyes. “Oh Graham, I never imagined we’d have a child so addicted to trouble—just like my brother Oliver. I thought I’d escaped all that went on between Oliver and my father.”

“Your father is a beast . . .” Graham choked up. “Maggie, it’s not your fault. Buck is clumsy—like I was and with a weak constitution.”

Buck wasn’t sure what constitution was until he looked it up later but the words followed him—weak and clumsy. These words set his whole family off kilter. “Father, may I go to my room?”

Graham turned to his wife. Lucretia slipped from the room to the kitchen to finish preparing Buck’s favorite meal Beef Wellington.

“Margaret, I know this traveling I’ve been doing is difficult for you . . . what do you want me to do about Buck?”

Margaret sniffled and blew her nose. “Two lashes, nothing more. I couldn’t bear it. Buck needs to learn that disrupting supper is not allowed.”

“Supper?” Graham asked. The belt limp in his hands.

Margaret stumbled over her words but regained her composure. “The gash on Buck’s chin has already taught him a lesson, but he needs to know who’s in charge.”

Graham preferred not to take charge. He hesitated, thinking of Buck’s back and grateful that Lucretia hadn’t called in another doctor to examine his son. Graham caught sight of Fred hiding in the shadows of the hallway closet. “Frederick Crenshaw come here at once.”

Fred looked as though he might bolt up to his room but sighed and dragged himself in at an excruciatingly slow pace. With hands in pockets he came before his father, the handsomest member of the Crenshaw clan. At this young age Fred still yearned for his father’s elusive approval.

“Fred, has something happened over supper?” Graham asked.

Fred glanced first at his mother and then let his eyes fall upon his brother.

“Fred . . .” Graham asked with a touch of impatience.

Fred’s eyes were big as he met his father’s gaze. This was before the passenger pigeons flew with Fred’s optimism to their deaths. The boy never wandered far from his twin. Last evening Fred saw from the top of the cellar steps his mother and Buck like ghosts playing out a ghastly theatrical in the cellar. Until Lucretia shooed him to his room Fred had stood transfixed at the begging of his brother and the power of his mother—the two he loved most in life always so at odds.

“You’ll make it worse for Buck. Now get to your room, Fred!” Lucretia had whispered, pushing him along when he resisted.

Just before Fred climbed the back stairs the night before from the kitchen to the bedrooms above, he heard the sickening crash of his brother’s body against the fragile collection of spirits and caught sight, before Lucretia pushed him away again, of the glistening shards of glass on the floor and the dark liquid on the front of his brother’s shirt.

Fred and Thankful spent the night perched on the top step listening. Was Buck alive? Was he at home? They heard pots being moved to the stove and muffled voices and wondered if Buck himself was being cooked. Their minds raced. The two most imaginative children of the clan who with different parents may have been artists or storytellers lived perched in the shadows of their substantial home where real stories were forbidden. Light talk meant survival. The big ideas of Thankful and Fred were snuffed out in a mix of worry and anger, false light and deep darkness.

The forlorn look of Buck—his fingers twitching, his sad violet eyes always unsettled—pained Fred more than any other thing. It colored his days and disrupted his nights. How many times did Fred seek to step between his brother and mother? How many times had Buck at the last moment turned and took the blame? And so Fred had always gone along. Margaret would beg Fred, and Fred learned his allegiance would be rewarded with an extravagant favoritism and a lesser punishment for Buck. Keeping Buck safe and keeping Buck weak and keeping Buck quiet made good sense.

Until last night the children heard more than they ever saw of the abuse. Yes, they’d witnessed many small beatings, endless berating and humiliations but never had they seen blood. Buck’s ability to take a throttling and still appear at supper to be physically well, awed the other children, and bruises and welts were easily hidden. Blood frightened the siblings with its messiness—and didn’t Margaret demand cleanliness of them all?

In fact, the children had convinced themselves that Buck did half-deserve what he got. Yet two days previous to the supper beating Fred had seen something new.

Fred looked one last time at his frightened brother and this time went against script. No longer could Fred stomach the fear and maddening behaviors all around him. “Father, Buck and I wanted to go hunting the other day.”

Graham shook his head. What did this have to do with anything? “Fred, I told you both I didn’t want you taking the guns on your own. You’re too young.”

“Yes, Father, but we wanted to anyway. We were going to run away, and we climbed out the window,” Fred said. He glanced at Margaret. His mouth was dry. He licked his lips. “Mama caught us in the barn.”

“Freddie, please!” Margaret begged.

“Mama took Buck’s gun and beat him with it in the stables,” Fred said, his voice quaking. “It gave the horses a fright, and I saw it all from the loft where I’d run to hide.”

“That’s a lie!” Margaret screamed. “I took the gun away from Buck, Graham. I did. I didn’t want them hurting themselves! Yes, I took it, but I never beat Buck. He ran against the gun and cried out—that’s certain but I never . . .”

Graham took hold of Buck again solemnly unbuttoning the boy’s shirt—it hung now from his trousers. Old and new marks mingled.

Margaret cried. Fred cried—no wonder Buck hadn’t wanted to wrestle anymore. Graham wiped his eyes. He recognized the signs. They ran in Margaret’s family. Yet despite the doctor’s many aggravations with Margaret he loved her.

There must be another explanation.

Buck read the room—his one talent. The truth hurt him, but so did this exposure. He slipped back into his shirt. In his young mind, in his young heart the only way to get away from all the feelings was to lie.

“Fred is lying, Father,” Buck said. “Mama loves me and does her best. I ran into the gun.”

Graham shook his head. “But, Buck, the other marks.”

“Fred and I wrestle—isn’t that right, Fred?”

Fred’s open, friendly face closed never to open again. “No! Mama hits you too hard! And we’re all afraid she’ll kill Buck one day!” Fred cried, years of pent-up emotion exploding in great sobs.

“LUCRETIA! Call down the children!” Graham ordered.

They came down in single file, reluctantly lining up before their father. Each one lied.

Fred stood alone.

“Now apologize to your mother, Fred,” Graham said.

“No. I won’t.”

Graham waited. He wanted Fred to be wrong and hadn’t Fred made up stories before? “Fred, this is your last chance to tell the truth. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Father.”

Everyone waited breathlessly.

Fred ran at his mother. “You hurt Buck! You don’t love him somehow!”

Graham pulled Fred off Margaret.

“That’s not true!” Buck cried, embracing his mother. “Mama loves me! I’m to blame!”

Margaret sobbed into Buck’s tousled and sandy hair. “Oh, dear boy!”

Graham held Fred by the arm. “Never tell these horrible lies again! How dare you make your mother a monster!” He struck Fred three times with his belt but broke down and sent all the children to their rooms. Buck listened just out of sight.

Margaret threw herself upon her husband. “Graham, you believe me, don’t you? All I’ve ever wanted was a house full of safe and happy children!”

Graham shrugged her off and collapsed into a chair. “Margaret . . . those marks . . . I don’t know what to believe. Fred seemed to be telling the truth this time. I just don’t know.”

Margaret fell at his feet. “No! Fred’s become a better liar. How many times have I begged you not to leave me alone with the children for so long? They’re vicious and brutal and lie like the devil. They need a father’s discipline. Fred—you know I love him best but today you see how Buck has poisoned him. His eyes were so like my brother Oliver’s—it sent shivers!”

Graham having made himself an outsider had no idea how the family ran.

“Graham, please. I need your help,” Margaret cried. “I beg you to believe me. I’d never hurt a fly!”

Later when the house was blanketed in hush and warmth Graham stared into the dying embers of the fire in the parlor. A sound in the hall startled him.

“Lucretia?” Graham stood. “Where are you off to this hour?”

Gripping her bag with white knuckles, Lucretia glanced up the stairs and then toward the door. “Sir, I didn’t want to do this, but I’ve left you a note—in the kitchen.”

“Lucretia, please tell me what’s the matter—sit with me a moment by the fire.”

“No, sir.”

“I insist—please.” Graham led her to Margaret’s chair and waited.

“Sir, Mrs. Crenshaw is like a sister to me—I hope you don’t mind me saying—but, well, she struggles—it’s a mighty struggle with the children being so—full of energy.”

“She hurts them?” Graham asked, leaning in.

“Sir, I just wanted to say . . . I’ve grown very fond of your little ones—Buck especially—and feel . . . I feel tortured inside by . . .”

“Yes, Lucretia, go on.”

“Mrs. Crenshaw—she doesn’t mean to do it, but it’s as if she becomes someone else altogether and Buck with his clumsy ways and—I’ll say it—his ambition to withstand all Mrs. Crenshaw heaps upon him . . .” She cried then. “It’s none of my business, sir, but as a Christian I can no longer be party to what goes on. I fear for Buck’s life, too! I’m terribly sorry!” Lucretia made to get up, but Graham prevented her.

“Lucretia, Mrs. Crenshaw is with child.”

Lucretia shook her head.

“This is a family matter, you understand,” Graham continued, “and I consider you a family member. Maggie struggles, but what are my children to do without a mother?—and an auntie? What am I to do? If any of this ever got out the scandal would ruin us all. We need to help the children and Maggie, don’t we?”

“But, sir, I’ve done my best. I’ve given my best years, and the fear of finding Buck one day—who I love as my own—to find him dead one day . . .”

“Now, now,” Graham interrupted. “Bruises—they are troubling to see, but dear Lucretia, Maggie’s not a killer. She’s tender-hearted beneath it all—but her temper sometimes—I understand at times it gets the best of her, but if you desert us now—consider Buck.”

Lucretia stood to go.

“Wait! Lucretia, what if . . . what if we arranged—with Maggie’s consent of course—what if we kept you on more as an advisor.”

“Sir?”

“I could tell Mrs. Crenshaw that you would take charge of the older children—see to their needs. To give Mrs. Crenshaw a much-needed chance to recover her equanimity.”

“Sir, I don’t see how I could protect Buck and the others,” Lucretia said, edging toward the door.

“I would double your pay—no—triple it and give you all day Sunday off. You would have final authority over the children.”

“Sir! Mrs. Crenshaw wouldn’t like that!”

“Lucretia, I’ve known in my heart for a while now that something wasn’t quite right. I didn’t want to admit it. Maggie’s a good girl in a lot of ways,” Graham said with trembling voice. “But unless she agrees to this arrangement I’ll have to take the children away from her completely and divorce her.” Graham waited a moment for the information to settle in. “You may not consider me a good father, but I love my children very much, and I’m prepared to take drastic measures if need be.”

What did drastic measures mean to a boy of nine? Buck understood only the part about being taken away from his mother. He silently vowed to be a better child—to be the best child and the least offensive.

There were no more beatings to speak of. Buck studied Fred’s every move in an effort to emulate his well-loved brother, but in the end settled for being mostly unseen. And the small humiliations he was prepared to take as the price for a home.

If Buck never felt quite himself, and slowly it became harder to find that self, at least he could survive. Having heard his father—that absent, passive voice of his faraway father—threaten drastic measures cut the last cord of stability in Buck’s unstable world. All sense of love, intimacy and value however strangely woven together could now be unraveled by his father. Buck only now realized his father’s soft outer covering masked an authority to do drastic things.

Fred had taken the lash which was far more unsettling than the daily threats and acts of his mother. Unlike his mother who after a good sound thrashing begged for forgiveness and bribed with treats and affection, his father did not apologize, did not show the usual regret that signaled an end to torment. Graham’s actions and words left an uncertainty in the suffocating air of the Crenshaw house which Buck grew to despise and test.

What were the drastic measures? When would they come?

Lucretia, whom Buck had great affection for, stayed and took her pay, and when she tried to act as mother from then forward Buck repelled her. He told Lucretia she had yellow teeth every time she smiled and pulled from the only physical affection he got until she no longer offered it. No more talks in the kitchen about school or stories before bed. He was too old for it all anyhow.

Lucretia watched Buck from afar like everyone else, and it was good for a time.

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9 Signs You May Have Mistakenly Joined a Dystopian/Utopian Community

“I had staked no valuable amount of hope or fear; it had enabled me to pass the summer in a novel and agreeable way, [and] afforded me some grotesque specimens of artificial simplicity.” Nathaniel Hawthorne from The Blithedale Romance

MY CLASSICS CLUB Response to The Blithedale Romance

Having sent one of my main characters, BUCK CRENSHAW, to a 19th century perfectionist community based on THE ONEIDA COLONY and having lived on a modern-day farm with utopian pretensions, and having worked on yet another farm with similar pretensions, I was excited to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance—to compare his opinions with my own.

The book is a strange one; seeming to first be about the utopian society and then about the mysterious history of two female characters. Many of the people I’ve met in my utopian circles, who often disdained “conventional society,”  tended to be running from some real or imagined life of mystery and horror.

Unlike my character Buck who arrives at my fictional “Middlemay Farm” as a somewhat prudish and naïve babe in the woods, Hawthorne’s narrator, Miles Coverdale is a poet who manages to keep just enough of his individualism to begin to question the motives of the charismatic leader of the Blithedale community. This leads to the first thing one can expect when joining a society of people who think they know just how to fix the world, and by world I mean other people.

A reform movement usually has a charismatic leader who, while possessing a dynamic sexual energy (felt by one and all), is actually kind of gross, mean-spirited and selfish in his desire to change the world as he sees fit. This man may be, as at Blithedale, a man who is obsessed with prison reform. Miles Coverdale is shunned when he expresses honest concerns about Hollingsworth’s grand schemes of reform:

“They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience … They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them, and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly straight path.”

 

At Middlemay, Richard Rhinedale is obsessed with sexual reform. Buck becomes a useful pawn until he is no longer useful. The socialist farmer I worked for was obsessed with Cuba, wind energy and shocking Hasidic Jews (who paid for farm tours) with his hatred of their religion. He did this in the name of women’s rights but it seemed to me that he was bitter at losing his own faith while attending Yale Divinity School. I was also shunned for questioning a socialist idea.

These strangely charismatic men often attract women who are willing to fund the leaders’ pipe-dream endeavors while also accepting the men’s only slightly veiled contempt for said women. Miles Coverdale is shocked by the mad infatuation and devotion the two lead female characters have for the brooding, self-absorbed Hollingsworth.

Utopian women often subject themselves to “free love” once they are convinced that it will improve their relations in the long run. At Blithedale, the woman perceived to have money is thrown aside when it becomes clear that she has nothing.

In MY NOVEL, Richard’s wife is given the job of training young men to control themselves sexually. This is Richard’s inside joke since he finds his wife so repulsive and assumes the young trainees will control themselves with little coaching. As I mentioned in a post long ago, a friend raised in a Utopian society bitterly remembers his mother’s neglect due to her devotion to “the cause” of socialism in the 1960’s.

Many (if not most) people who dive into this lifestyle really don’t like people they consider “common.” For instance, I’ve heard many an erudite farmer blame regular farmers’ stupidity for the loss of their family farms. The fact that many of these perfectionists often rely on unpaid labor in the form of eco-apprentices or converts to their cause and often aren’t more successful than the regular guys who don’t read Mother Earth and Foreign Affairs, their disdain seems pretty hypocritical.

One farmer I knew insisted on only using horse-power-unless he was in a hurry. His contempt of modern machinery was thrown aside when he butchered a lame old goat with a dull knife in front of a family of Hassidic Jews in the rain and unceremoniously shoveled up the animal with his tractor. Hawthorne brilliantly captures the uncouth but far more able true farmer who trains the city folk at country life.

Manual labor is often “spiritualized,” says Hawthorne, with the actual sweat on someone else’s brow at these colonies. There is something quite lovely about raising your own food, living by the seasons and going to sleep tired, but the work is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. From a distance golden hay bales look beautiful at sunset, but hay up close means work, sweat and worry.  It doesn’t take long for those of us with big ideas to realize that picking and hauling potatoes isn’t the glamorous thing it looked like in the old peasant paintings. Hawthorne quips,

 “I seldom saw the new enthusiasm that did not grow flimsy and flaccid as the proselyte’s moistened shirt-collar, with a quarter-of-an-hour’s active labor, under a July sun.”

Usually when living in utopia people start dressing funny. Many of these reformers think they are quite unconventional yet in most cases they only trade one uniform for another.  Whether it be at the Oneida Colony where dress reform was explored or on your basic farm as at Blithedale. When city folk come for a visit you’re usually pretty shocked at how far off the path you’ve gone in terms of fashion. Zenobia, the beauty at Blithedale, wears a hothouse flower in her hair. In the city it’s a flower of jewels. I suppose it’s true that in real life we buy more fake things. Certain high-end farm gear is always in style on the “better” farms these days (on others the badge of honor is wearing 100% thrift store items—I do both ;)).

Utopians hate the present. Some romanticize the past. Some, at the very beginning of their endeavors, worship the future. In the present, many feel misunderstood, angry at humanity and depressed. I’ve seen this myself far too many times. It’s sad because if these reformers actually stepped out of their dream/nightmare they might possibly see some of the pleasant things in life that make humanity and the world worth saving.

A very odd thing I’ve noted and Hawthorne mentions is that there’s usually a utopian who insists on being called by a name that isn’t their own. I’m still not sure what to make of a young lady I once met who called herself “Fiddlin.” She didn’t play an instrument as far as I know. Zenobia at Blithedale sported a fake name as well (for mysterious reasons).

Utopians are bound by their hatreds:

“Our bond, it seems to me, was not affirmative, but negative. We had individually found one thing or another to quarrel with, in our past life, and were pretty well agreed as to the inexpediency of lumbering along with the old system any farther. As to what should be substituted, there was much less unanimity.”

Hawthorne, like many other people who end up deserting these attempts to change the world one elevated summer at a time, sees the characters he once called friends as tragic and deluded.

Related: UTOPIA & SEX

***Peasant Girl by Jules Breton

My Life Mission Is Soon To Be Accomplished

MY MESSAGE TO EVERYONE is to NEVER STOP SEEKING PURPOSE! Never settle for what others think is enough for you.

For most of my life I drifted with that uneasy feeling of never finding a life purpose. As a purpose-driven person I dove deep into things I was only mildly interested in and relationships that were fascinating but dysfunctional. At the time these weird relationships and ridiculous career choices were only slightly amusing–to others. Family and friends thought I was successful enough. They thought I was too serious. I was doing pretty normal things fairly well, but internally I was in a constant state of unrest.

Then I wrote a novel about life, family, love and addiction. One hundred pages into the first draft I knew, I really knew, that I’d found my purpose–or that I’d finally listened to the inner voice given to me at birth. And now with the end of one long novel about an addicted soldier and his wife and a series about their offspring coming to a close after 5 books, I’m satisfied.

This doesn’t mean I plan to die from Lyme complications or that I’m tired of writing, but if I had to stop after I publish the novel I’m editing right now, I’d be okay. Before I was never okay. I was a caged tiger, a malnourished creative and a diamond in the rough.

Some people who like epic sagas loved THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD (a few didn’t). The next books  starting with WEARY OF RUNNING are shorter and possibly better, but I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish writing the series I’ve hardly talked about all the fun, sad and exciting characters who’ve become a second family to me. Now I know what happens to them all, and I can’t wait to share them with the world.

I don’t know where I end, but it’s okay. It really is.

My mission was to write imperfect characters. That I’ve done. Will readers understand the hearts hidden behind pride, fear, stupidity and a desperate need for love and meaning? I hope so. The mission was (and is) to take imperfect people and let them know they are loved. I love them.

My fantastic designer and I decided with the series nearing completion that it was time to re-do the covers. They so fantastically capture the spirit of the books I have a hard time not bringing them into every conversation I have with strangers.

Aren’t they beautiful?

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