The Little Indian

“The Little Indian” by Rose Moon

There is no doubt in my mind that my dad loved us, my brother and me. He seemed to love all children, but we were special because we were his. He would hang out with us, play games, tickle and wrestle and take us on hikes in the woods. He bought us toys from Sears and Woolworth’s and brought us souvenirs from foreign lands where he traveled as a tail gunner in the Air Force. He would spend hours helping my little brother build model airplanes while I hung out around the table looking on.

When I was much younger, before my brother was born he would tell me long stories about animals living in the woods and sometimes, when in the right mood, he would draw pictures of those animals surrounding a cartoon character he called “The Little Indian.” This Indian was a pot bellied man with long braids and one feather held by a band around his head.

The little Indian was always alone in the woods with the animals. He carried a bow and arrow, but the animals did not look to be afraid of him. The smudged graphite on paper seemed to melt them all together on the page like the image was coming though out of some ancient mystical place. Watching him draw was like watching a magician because I could never tell what the picture was until he was completely finished. I would argue with him and say things like “that’s not a dog” and he would say “hang on, don’t be so impatient” and then suddenly the canine would appear right before my eyes. Looking back, I’m sure it was a wolf.

The Little Indian was even at peace with the wolves. I was too little to wonder if there were other Indians in his life. Did he have a wife, kids, a tribe somewhere? The little Indian was small, but he was also big because he was the forest and the animals too.

Many years later when I was an adult and moved to the New Mexico desert, for my birthday, my dad sent a drawing of the little Indian living in the desert. There were cactus, coyotes, turtles and birds. He was right at home there too and up above him was a huge sky and a sun with a smile.

It would be a long time after that, that I discovered my grandfather, my dad’s dad was a Chickasaw Indian who had passed as a white man, moved from Mississippi and married my grandmother who was from a Mormon family. My dad told me this and said I should never mention it or tell anyone. Apparently that is how it works when you pass. I had never heard anything about my grandfather’s family until right before my dad passed away, when he told me about taking a trip to Oklahoma to see his uncle’s grave, my grandfather’s brother. Ada Oklahoma is where the Chickasaw Indians were marched to from Mississippi, their native land.

As my dad grew older, he became more distant. He was a retired military man living in Texas, and was a conservative Republican, an alcoholic, and was mentally ill. I had grown up to become an anti-war liberal hippie with a college education. My dad held tight to the belief that women above all were put on earth to serve men. I wanted him to recognize my accomplishments, to be proud of me, but he was embarrassed by who I’d become. We didn’t see each other much and when we did our conversations were brief and hostile. No matter the distance that grew between us, the image of the Little Indian reminded me that somewhere in reality there was a love so great and so deep that everything would somehow be all right.

I still have the drawing he sent to me in New Mexico, and it hangs in my studio and reminds me not only to keep drawing and painting, but that love lives on in this deep river that runs below the surface of everyday life’s ups and downs and differences. I have no doubt that my dad knew this too and what better way to express it, artist to artist, father to daughter. Days before he died at ninety-five, because he had trouble hearing on the phone I thought he could understand three words, so I told him I loved him and he said “I love you, too.”

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