pages fly away 36

One of my college friends, Lou Ann, half Chippewa, and half Norwegian, was out of town that weekend, but told me about a powwow that was going on at Roosevelt High School.  I’d had a mad crush on her back in the day, but she’d had a boyfriend she eventually married.  At Minnehaha Falls there is a statue of Hiwatha carrying the maiden Minnehaha in his arms.  That’s the same vision I’d had for Lou Ann in college, taking her in my arms and carrying her over the threshold.  Since I’d go on to be broke and unstable for the next thirty-two years, it appeared she’d chosen the right man.

Before tracking down the powwow, I drove over to Saint Paul to visit Luther Seminary, where my father had attended and been ordained in the Lutheran Church.  He’d been an English teacher when he and my mother moved to Hawaii, staying just long enough to have me, before he was accepted into the seminary.  My first memories are from that neighborhood and the houses we lived in.  It was there that my brother John was born.

Marin Luther was a German priest, who, in 1517, went against the Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation, when he nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg.  Both sides of my family were Lutheran, so there was a good deal of celebration when my father was ordained, until a year later in Hawaii, when he’d dropped out and become a Jesus Freak, going so far as to nail his own theses to the front door of the establishment.  About six years later, back on the mainland, with a growing family on his hands, he’d have to get down on his knees and beg, just to get back on the clergy roster.

The memories from those years are like still photos from a dream.  Finding the seminary wasn’t hard.  There was the house I thought we might’ve lived in.  Something about the porch seemed familiar.  Next door to it had been the family with the girl about my age and the sandbox.  There was the hill we used to go rolling down.  A flock of wild turkeys came lurching down the street.  I walked over to the campus grounds.  There was a bench beside one of the dorms that I went and sat down on.

The bench was beneath an oak tree.  The sky was gray, and the wind was cold.  A radio was playing loudly a few blocks away.  I thought about the time the girl next door and I had taken flowers to an old couple we knew.  They’d invited us in and gave us candy, so we tried it again the next day.  This time the old man had gotten very angry and chased us away.  All these years later, the memory was still upsetting. 

The radio tuned into a techno beat and began to thump away.  Two cars passed by.  The wind blew high through the trees.  There were bird cries, and then suddenly the honking of geese.  A woman came out of the dorm and sat down on the steps.  A few minutes later a second woman came out and joined her.  Another memory came to me, perhaps the memory of a dream, walking through a chapel, then looking back at a projectionist’s window, and seeing the face of a donkey.  What a frightening thing it had been.  The techno beat was dominating the soundscape.  A bicyclist passed with a green shirt and a helmet.  He seemed to be pedaling in time to the music.

The Back-to-School Powwow was being held at North High.  The grand entrance was at one o’clock and I wanted to be there for it.  I’d hoped to come across a powwow on this trip, and as fate would have it, Lou Ann, who’d helped fill my head with all those Native American fantasies in the first place, had been the one to hook me up, even if she couldn’t be there.  It seemed like a good sign. 

Even with Google Maps, I had a hard time tracking it down.  It was being held in an athletic field a few blocks away from the high school.  On a fence in front of the bleachers, hung flags from all the tribes that were representing that day.  About fifty dancers were dressed in the full traditional regalia to participate in the opening and compete in the dances.  A Head Man and Head Boy were on site, as well as a Head Woman and Head Girl.  Some of the featured drum groups had names like Midnight Express, Little Otter, and Little Kingfisher. 

I walked around, asking if I could take pictures of certain dancers, trying to convey enthusiasm and respect, not wanting to be intrusive.  The outfits seemed to combine traditional elements with a modern and personal flair.  There were feathered headdresses, buffalo bonnets, elaborate beadwork sashes and breastplates, wild displays of color, moccasins, and leggings, even one or two COVID masks tossed in.

The Master of Ceremonies introduced the performers and paid the proper respects.  The host drum team kicked into the opening song and the dancers streamed onto the field in single file, spreading out once they reached it, and dancing to their own interpretations of the music.  I felt ecstatic in this moment.  It was all I’d dared to dream of before hopping in a rental car and hitting the road.  The dancers danced this way and that, like birds, sacred animals, gods, and goddesses.  The overhead sky was all purple and blue ripples, with no wind at all.  I closed my eyes and felt the power of the moment pulsing through me.

Before heading back to Jaimey’s, I took a quick drive through downtown Minneapolis, stopping outside of the venerable First Avenue, where much inspiration had been found in my early twenties.  I then drove through Uptown and found the basement apartment where as a young songwriter I’d faced my own brutal day of defeat, not quite starving, but as broke and humiliated as a man can be, finally packing it up and going back to California to stay with my folks, rather than end it all there on a cold, bathroom floor. 

There was never a time that came after when I’d been so wild and free, but all that energy had gone awry, wanting so much, with no idea how to get it.  If I didn’t drink all day back then, I’d head down to Lake Calhoun and walk two or three laps to try to take the edge off the anxiety.  Now I drove down to the lake and took a calmer stroll in the early evening.  What had changed?  Everything and nothing. 

Living in that basement apartment, I’d once bought a box of old National Geographics at the Salvation Army, and cut out the pictures, pasting them all over the walls.  It was a symbol of what I’d wanted my life to be like.  Now I’d been to most of those places, the pictures were memories, not fantasies.  I was still as broke as I’d ever been, but not quite as desperate.  Give it six more months.  Then, when all my unemployment money was gone, I’d catch up on that front.  All I needed was time.

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