No Use Dinner

My family has some phrases that came from stories that my Dad will tell, from time to time. This particular phrase is used when you were expecting something and it doesnít happen.

Years ago in the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Cops) days, Indians got jobs working on road crews with Whitemen. As you would work together sometimes friendships developed. So this Indian made friends with a White guy and they would get to talking about their lives. The Indian would always talk about how his wife was one heck of a cook. She would make fabulous dinners. Now you got to remember that this was a road crew and they would chow down to whatever was in the pot and a good meal was a dream. Other crewmembers would overhear them and also think about the great meals the Indian had.

So the Indian guy would brag on his wife's cooking and they would both think about the great meals that they were missing. As time went on they got closer and closer to the Indianís house. They hatched a plan that as soon as they got within riding distance they would take time off and ride out to enjoy this great meal.

Finally there were within riding distance so they took enough time off to make it in time for his wife to create a fabulous meal before it got too dark. Long time ago no electric lights. They saddled up their horses and off they went. As they road away the other crewmembers watched in envy as the two went off. As they went they talked to each other and prepared their favorite menu in their heads. They eventually get to the house and the Indian went in the house to talk to his wife, while the White guy took care of the horses. The Indian guy comes back outside and says. "You get your horse, I get my horse, ĎNo use dinner.í" The wife had left to visit relatives and no one was home.

So when someone in family is expecting something and it doesnít happen some member of my family will say "No use dinner."

Money Left Over

Most Indians today donít remember their recent history. My Dad tells stories so we can know how it was like and to fully appreciate the things that we now have.

Years ago things were difficult for the Indians. In the back country there was little work and families had to get by anyway they could. My Grandpa had 14 to feed and any job that came along was necessary for survival. My Grandpa would cut wood, build houses, work as a ranch hand but even then the family did not have everything.

One day a president named Roosevelt was elected and promised a new deal. Then he kept that promise. Jobs opened up in the back country and the entire family got to go to work. All the children, who could work, got jobs with the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Core). It was a great thing to be working.

When they all got paid the entire family would hitch up the team and ride into the near town of Alpine to get grub and other supplies. "And," My Dad would emphasize, when they had bought all they needed, "There was money left over." When he says this he smiles because it meant that there would be Dilly Bars, soda pop, candy and moving picture shows. Things that, as children, they could never have they had. Today we donít give a second thought about those things but sometimes when I drink a Coke on a hot day I remember what my father said and man that Coke tastes ever so much better.

Story Telling

In the olden days the tribes would gather in the summer. Each reservation would host a "fiesta." For several days the host reservation would provide food for the guest reservations. They would even tend the horses. It was a good time for the guest to relax for a few days and enjoy the celebration. Things were offered like traditional dances, singing, games of skill, racing, traditional games and there were booths for selling and buying. Then sometimes a storyteller would come.

A storyteller was someone who was known for the ability to tell stories. The people would gather money to pay the storyteller. My Dad says that they would collect maybe 15 cents and pay the storyteller. In the evening they people would gather to hear. This was before TV and even radio. We usually think of story telling as something for children but in the old days it was for all the people. My Dad describes it like attending a move theater. The people would assemble with blankets and snacks and would be entertained for hours. My Dad remembers sitting with the people and listening. It was very entertaining and my Dad remembers the first story about being shot through the heart. On that story her remembers no details but the second story he remembered pretty good. He remembers it because after he grew up he went to school and the teacher read the same story to them. It was called "Hanzel and Gretel." The version told by the storyteller was far more elaborate and involved but it was the same story. I guess a good story is always retold.

Today we have DVDs, television and video games to entertain us. The community gathering for stories is long gone. Maybe sometimes when we sit around a campfire and tell scary stories we can imagine how it was not too long ago when all you need was your imagination and it doesnít even have to be plugged in.

The Great Snake

My Mother told me about a giant snake. It travels between here and Mexico. It is a giant rattlesnake. It has a head about the size of a horseís head. It travels with other rattlesnakes that guard it. These snakes are also of large size but not uncommon. They could be six or seven feet long. You will know you are near the great snake because you do not encounter just one large snake but several of them, in a group. If this happens you better head back because the great snake is near by. In addition to the large snakes there is that smell. That strange smell you get from a rattlesnake will fill the air when you are near the giant snake.

In my time I have encountered more than one large rattler in the same area. There are rattlers everywhere in the country and if you have been in the country you have passed them numerous times but didnít know it. They try to avoid us and we try to avoid them. 

This could be just another story but when I was in Junior High I head a strange story from a White family that lived near the reservation. The white kids were roaming the hills near their house. The parents heard some yelling and saw the children running down the hill. They were yelling "Snake, Snake, Giant Snake!" The kids said they saw a giant snake that was miles long. The father thought they were crazy so he got his shotgun and went up the hill. It wasnít too long after that his wife saw him running down the hill, yelling, "Snake, Snake, Giant Snake!"  He said he saw a giant snake, miles long and that the head of this snake was the size of a horseís head. His wife said "Where's your gun?" He was so frightened he just dropped the gun and ran away.

Rattlesnakes can grow to over 7 feet but I saw some that had been killed and mounted but their heads were the size of a normal snake. What if the head was size of a horse? Would it be miles long?

You donít suppose?

 The Monster

My Grandmotherís Father was named Charlie Rodrigous. The last name is a strange name for an Indian. On of my cousins grew up having to defend being and Indian and having a Mexican name. The truth is that this is an adopted name. His true name is something like "Som-o-mote", Som-a-vote or Sol-o-mote." It is from the tribe called "Cupeno." Looks like I knew the Indian name for that tribe but I have forgotten. Although Charlie was adopted by a "Spanish" family he could speak several Indian languages and when another tribe came to talk her father would talk with then in their language and my Grandmother would say "How can you do that?" and her father would laugh and say, "It is easy."

He dad did not believe in Indian stuff so he even made his children speak Spanish since it was a "Christian" language and Indian was a heathen language. I would ask my Grandma how she learned Indian if she was only allowed to speak Spanish. She said everyone spoke Indian so you learned Indian despite her fatherís beliefs. My Grandma Philís family was steeped in witchcraft. There were many practitioners and it is told that the females in my family can do things. Of course her dad did not believe in these things (nor do I) and would tell people that nothing, witch like, had ever happened to him except two times.

Back then you road horseback if you wanted to go somewhere. If it was far you had to sleep in the open but it was common and everyone would do it from time to time. Once, he said, he dreamt that a coyote came and urinated in his mouth. When he woke up his mouth tasted real bitter. Then another time he was riding late a night, hoping to make it home without having to make a camp. He was riding with his head down since it was a known trail and his horse would follow it. He was wondering how people could believe in all this nonsense about people and things that did not exist. These were modern times and such things belonged in the past and why was it his family that all this fell on. He happened to look up and there was something directly on the trail in front of him. It was huge and thin and his eyes couldnít focus on it. The hairs on the back of his head stood straight up. He was terrified and tried to move his horse to the left but this big thing moved to the left with him. Then he tried to move to the right and the thing moved to the right with him. Suddenly he realized that his hatband had broken was hanging in front of his head.

Now he was not a believer but my Grandma remembers something else that happened. Her dad was a great gambler with the game of peon. This is know has a hand game and version of it are played through out California. In those days it was played mostly at the summer festivals known as fiestas. Her Dad had come in defeat as he had lost most of his money in games that night. As he road up in his horse one of my Grandmotherís Grandfathers approached him and said, "Charlie, go back. They witched you and you lost four games but go back because you have three games coming your way." She said her Dad got back on his horse and road back to the fiesta.

My Grandma said that she regretted that she never asked her Dad if he won those three games,

and so do I.

The Blue Cloud

My Grandmother told me many tales from her childhood. I have always remembered the story of the Blue Cloud. She and her sisters were home alone. That was common a long time ago as the parents had to do things away from home. One of the sisters glanced out the window and called for the others to come over. They all looked out and saw a blue cloud hovering near their house. My Grandmother would form her hands into a cloud shape and then shake them mimicking the motion of the cloud. The cloud would come and touch the corner of the house and then move away and repeat the action. I never did ask her how long it was there but the story fascinated me. Even today I have no idea what it could have been.

My Grandmother also remembered a halo over her head. She thought everyone had one so she did not think anything of it. She remembers looking up and seeing the halo around her head. After she grew up it went away and she realized it was something special and unique.

I am a tribal elder now and even simple stories like these given me confidence and courage. What other people have true stories of blue clouds and halos in their family?