Continued from part 1
It was around this time that my questions about my grandfather gave way to bits and pieces of his story outside of the burrito eating, Red Man chewing hulk that I knew. My grandfather was orphaned at an early age and raised in a government Indian school in Oklahoma. He was taught how to be “white.” His mother tongue was beaten out of him and Tirawa became a distant memory, replaced with Father God and his holy friends, a Ghost & a guy named Jesus.
Every day that passed my grandfathers memory faded and my “Indianness” was replaced with pop culture and the desire to belong and be cool. I was raised to be an Indian but I had no idea what that meant nor did I look the part.
I watched movies like “A man Called Horse”, “Dances With Wolves”, “Thunder Heart”, and “Billy Jack.” To me an Indian needed to be noble with a face that looked pensive and wise framed by long black flowing hair. An Indian could live off the land if needed and his soul desired nothing more than to get back to his “ways”, the old ways that his ancestors practiced. I had no idea exactly what the old ways were.
I joined the Boy Scouts in hopes I could connect with these old ways and learn how to live of the land. This was a radical shift in reality for me. I lived in Southern California and split time between Northeast Los Angeles and Far Western Orange County not exactly bastions of the wild plains. My outdoor experience was limited to my time at Griffith Park and my sense of adventure ended at that little train you could ride at Travel Town.
In my time as a Boy Scout I learned how to forage for plants, sharpen knives, filter water using your bandana, start a fire, and shoot a bow & arrow. I was eating this stuff up. I was becoming equipped to become the Indian I had always knew was inside me. I had a goal. I wanted to become a part of this super secret order within the Boy Scouts that had cool Indian logos and other merchandise. The problem was I was too young to join and they did not give extra credit or speed up the process on the account of me being a part time Indian. I soon lost interest in this endeavor all together as the part time Indian within discovered a new identity and a new passion of wrestling. The first in a line of obsessions that filled the hole of identity and clouded the part time Indian within.
This new passion for wrestling made me forget my “Indianness” altogether. The likes of Hulk Hogan, JYD, The Road Warriors, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, & Andre the Giant became my heroes and it was these men I sought to become. All the while the faint whispers of Chief Jay Strongbow and the emerging Tatank beaconed me to mind the winds of change.
When wrestling was not enough and the war games got to violent I discovered the peaceful ways of Shaolin. This was my brief encounter with Buddhism and my foray into Kung Fu Theater and my even briefer period as a Shaolin Fighting Monk.
A few years had passed since my grandfather’s death and his memory became a very private affair. His memory became an annual moment that the adults in my life practiced most often with a six pack or bottle maybe even some tears. For us kids this day came and went without any fanfare at all. Wrestling was replaced with football and in 1988 my father remarried and we moved to the Valley.
With this move I saw the opportunity to redefine myself as something new. I latched on to my football loving identity became an athlete and flirted with this cat Jesus. It’s not that this was the first time I hung out with this Jesus. I went to Catholic school and Lutheran schools my entire elementary experience and part of middle school. I knew Jesus and lived in this sort of veiled reality where Jesus was there in the house but I had no room in my heart for this Jesus.
I remember thinking that I would get on the Jesus train at a later date as I was young and wanted to explore this life and did not want to get in line with all of those requirements that one had to fulfill before Jesus would call you his own.
I searched the sidelines at every football game looking for the “who” to my “what.” I desperately wanted to figure out who I was. The idea of Jesus crept in when a group of us prayed before the games for victory and after the games for girls. At this point in my life my “Indianness” had no voice in my life. I was too busy being “me” and the rigors of high school allowed me no room to explore the inner questions surrounding my part time Indian status.