Calling Chief

June 26, 2017
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“How, Chief,” a piping voice squeaked, unsuccessfully trying to imitate the rolling drone of masculinity, “how you?” the boy broke off into a fit of giggles, auburn curls bouncing with the force of his mirth. The other boy, ‘chief’, studiously ignored the sounds and continued husking corn.
“What, cat got your tongue? Or do you not understand English?”
“Oh that can’t be it, Paddy,” a brunette cut in, “don’t ya know that they teach ‘em English on those Res Schools?”
“So that means ol’ Chief here is dumb, don’t it?” More laughter carried over the rippling greenery of the field. Still, Chief dutifully continued his work, seemingly paying no mind to the cruel braying of the other boys. The brunette tired of their ‘joke’ first, and looked around- maliciously- for something else to poke fun at. Spotting a crow feather, he viciously elbowed his lighter-haired companion and sneaked up behind the laboring youth. He slammed said feather into Chief’s mane as Paddy whooped and hollered an Indian war cry- once again failing miserably in his attempts at mimicry. From where he lay in the dust, Chief could barely keep himself from being trampled by the other boys’ stamping feet as they pranced in a circle around him. Chief, cheeks flushed in anger and breath blowing out his flared nostrils like an angered horse, was about to tackle Paddy to the ground the next time he passed, when- bam!
Thundering over trampled corn stalks as buffalo thunder over the plain, Chief’s older brother- John- flew at Paddy. Paddy’s screams of elation soon turned to those of pain, as John promptly started beating him into a pulp. Paddy’s friend stood dumbfounded for a few seconds, jaw hanging open like a trout, before he- quite literally- threw himself into the fray. Dust flew and limbs flailed as the three boys brawled. The advantage surprise had given John in the beginning of the fight had worn off, and now the tides had turned in favor of the two bullies. Chief, oddly calm given the situation, scooped up a nearby rock and hurled it at Paddy’s head. The stone clocked him square between the eyes, and Paddy keeled over like a top-heavy sack of potatoes; luckily for John, this meant there was no more stranglehold being forced upon him.
“Oi,” a man’s voice yelled, “Charles. John. My office, now!”
***********************
Charles toed the worn carpet with the flapping sole of his shoe as he furtively observed his boss’ medical ministrations on Paddy. The boy’s brunette friend sat in a shabbily upholstered chair, pressing a tantalizing t-bone to his black eye. John and Charles had not been offered a seat, and they could only hope that their boss wouldn’t notice the slight blood stains they had added to the gaudy floral pattern. Also seated, was a man whose posture could put the rigidity of whale-bone collars to shame. A deep-set from was etched in his face, and even his hairline seemed to recede in fear of displeasing him even more. Currently, his piercing gaze flickered in between Charles and the bleeding welt on Paddy’s forehead.
“There now, that should do ya, Paddy. How’s it feel?” queried Charles and John’s boss.
“I-It’s much b-better, sir,” whimpered Paddy, smirking secretly at Charles and John once the man turned his back.
“You two,” the boss started, eyeing them down as he sank into the chair behind his desk, “I’m a generous man-” John started to grumble, but quickly stopped once a glare was directed his way, “I gave you a job, a place to stay. I didn’t ask ya any questions when you showed up at my door. But I have a bit of a dilemma- that means problem.”
“We know what that-”
“Quiet, John! This is exactly what I’m talking about. Every other day it seems like I have you two in my office after you’ve started a fight. Now, what do you think I should do? You think there are better jobs for a couple a’ hoodlums like you off White Earth Reservation?”
“I could take them off your hands, William,” stated the other man from his chair.
“Really now, Richard. What would you do with a-”
“You throw the rock that hit young Paddy ‘twixt the eyes, son?” the man asked nodding at Charles.
“Yes, sir.”
“Know anything about baseball?”
“No, sir.”
“Would you like it if I take you and your brother to a school in Pennsylvania to learn how to play?”
“...Yes, sir.”
“Well then, we’re settled, William. You get them off your hands, and I get a new pitcher for the Carlisle team. Got any old folks that would mind your leaving, boys? Oh, William already said you just turned up, didn’t he?” John and Charles both kept silent. Their parents were still kicking, but maybe that would be a deterrent for this man...especially if he wanted to meet them… “What tribe were they?”
“Ma’s from the Obij- well, you would call it the Chippewa...sir,” ground out John.
“And your father?”
“Had German ancestors, sir,” gave Charles. All the occupants in the room gave a doubtful look at the boys, but apparently this detail didn’t seem to bother Richard overmuch. Within the hour, both Charles and John had packed up their meager belongings and were headed off to the Carlisle Indian School of Pennsylvania.
Several Years Later
Things had been going relatively well for Charles. As one of the few graduates of the Carlisle Indian School, he had proven to whoever cared that he wasn’t dumb. Fortune had smiled on him in a different way, though, and he had found himself on the Philadelphia Athletics team. And today, for the second time in his career, the team found themselves in the World Series playing against the New York Giants. Like most games, this one- thus far- had had its fair share of ups and downs, but Charles- Chief- Bender stepped up to the pitcher’s mound as calm and collected as ever. The Giants were falling behind in the scores, and as a result, their fans had become a bit more vocal. Ira Thomas, an unexpected but nonetheless appreciated and long time friend, smiled at Chief from behind the batter. Chief smiled back, words from an article in the newspaper coming to mind.
“I don’t take my hat off to…any other pitcher when Chief Bender is around. He is a wonder of wonders. No one can show me where there is a better pitcher in general. Bender has everything a pitcher needs and in a series of seven games he is almost invincible.” Ira Thomas, one of three catchers for the Philadelphia Athletics...
“Hey Chief,” a spectator broke through his reverie, “why don’t you go back to the reservation, huh?” Chief found himself thinking back to when he was first starting his career. Back in the fields in Minnesota, back in the minor leagues, back at the reservation. Chief. How he hated that word. It didn’t matter if one wasn’t the Chief of their tribe. It didn’t matter if they were only half Native. Chief, it was always Chief. He was sure it was the same with John wherever he had ended up as well- they had lost contact sometime when Charles had left his big brother for the American League. A slight breeze rippled across the field making the grass wave like the corn in the fields he used to work so long ago. Smiling once more to himself, Chief wound up and imagined the look on Paddy’s face when he had hit him. Wham!
“Strike three! Yoooooour out!” The Athletics fans went wild, punching the air, waving their hats, screaming at the top of their lungs. Dejected, the Giants supporters slumped in their seats and brushed off some stray popcorn from their laps. Whistling a little, Chief searched quickly through the crowd until he found his heckler. He waited until the cheering had died down a little before calling, “Foreigner! Foreigner!” on his way back to the dugout.





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