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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Craft (as in handcraft) (02/08/07)

TITLE: Six Little Indians
By Mary Stockler


The late summer, red sand roads of Alabama were dry and dusty, and the piney woods was full of late season foliage, a few flowers, and the catbriers that both repelled and intrigued us scruffy children who loved running barefoot through the thick carpet of warm brown pine needles. Shaggy stands of vetch dotted the otherwise smooth meadow at the forests edge, creating a lumpy look and an added note to the fragrant air.

We were cousin: Pam, Charlie, Sarah, Joe, Becky, and I - Indians. Or rather as close to Indians as a ragtag band of blond, red, and brown-headed white American kids can be. And we were out to be great. Being the oldest, and having picked the topic of our play, I felt rather maternal toward others – and was sure I was the rightful ‘boss’ - so I set out our tasks.

Joe and Charlie gathered sticks for our shelter. Pam, Sarah and Becky collected green onion tops and white clover flowers. And I had the ‘important’ task of choosing our home site, which must be defensible (and as far from the house as we could get away with), on high, safe ground (never mind this was very flat country and no creeks nearby), and close to our food sources (purple clover flower heads, “sour grass”, green onions, and the aforementioned vetch). I was also in charge of building the shelter.

The place was easy to choose – straight back from the house as far as we could go and still be in the meadow this side of the tree line. The shelter was not so easy. It seemed as soon as we had two stick up they would fall again. Soon though, we had a ‘half tepee’ built with twisted onion ‘rope’ to hold the sticks together. Then the boys were send for grasses to cover the outsides with while we girls settled to handicrafts.

Rapidly clover chains replaced much of the clover flower pile, and the onions became braided headpieces. And while our fingers flew under the hot sun, we chattered excitedly about just how long we would live ‘out here’. We were going to eat here, sleep here, play here, stay here till our whole vacation was over. We were Indians. And this was our world!

As the afternoon wore on Becky was called in for a nap. Then Joe and Charlie lost interest. They did not want to make flower chains or green onion braids and had finished their grass hunt. They went to play in the sand pile on the other side of the house.

I felt a bit sad at the defections, but proud too. Sarah and Pam and I remained. We were the brave, the daring, the adventurous! But what was this? Sarah wants a drink? Pam wants her mother? What about our plans? Our projects? Our Indian-ness? Weren’t we supposed to find what we needed here? Hadn’t we agreed to STAY here? Wasn’t I the leader? Still thirst does need quenched, and children need their mothers. And so I came to be fully alone.

I shifted in my seat, straightened my back, set my mouth in a straight, needs-no-one line, and kept my fingers working. But soon I’d used up all the flowers in our pile, and all the onions too. The sun kept beating down. The air was still and quiet. The world was big and empty. And no one came back to join me.

I too finally headed back: to cool drinks, and warm conversations; to accordion music and Grandpa’s homemade ice cream; to Aunt Kathy’s popcorn and mom’s kitchen chatter; to cool linoleum under my tired, banged up feet; to fresh bathwater and clean clothes; to a sleepy supper and comfy bed.

We’d set out to be Indians. We’d built our shelter, found our food, and planned our lives. We sent our imaginations into the vastness. But our tether was not broken. Our play had been fascinating, fulfilling, and fun. But in the end our shelter was not what we’d made, but what had been made for us. Our food was not the ‘herbs of the field,’ but the lovingly prepared meals in grandma’s kitchen. Our plans were air-castles not reality: practice for coming years when we must settle into life in dead earnest. Our joy was in playing . . . and in coming home again.

And tomorrow? That shelter out there looks like a mighty fine reading nook!

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Member Comments
Member Date
julie wood02/15/07
I really enjoyed this story! It brought back memories of my own childhood and left me with a delicious nostalgic feeling. I especially enjoyed the specific descriptions (the grandpa's accordion, the popcorn, the cool feel of linoleum beneath bare feet, the "lumpy" landscape, and so on). These made me feel as though I were right there!

This memoir would come alive even more vividly with dialogue added among the "six little Indians." Great title, by the way--it grabbed me!
Jan Ackerson 02/17/07
This is wonderful--sort of reminds me of a voice-over for a film, because I could just visualize everything. This is very rich in detail.

If this goes elsewhere, change the "was" in the first sentence to a "were." Other than that minor glitch, this evocative story was absorbing and atmospheric reading.