Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

March 21st, 2005

Rain

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain. Half-expecting it from the forecast, the disappointment set in anyway. So many things I wanted to get done today, fishing not the least of them.

Rolling over, I glanced out the window. Gray skies dropped rain, the roofline streamed it before the window. Groaning, I collapsed back to the pillow. Temperatures have been mild, reaching the high seventies yesterday with a banshee wind. With no reason to get up, I just lay there and listened to the rain, and the house responding to the changes in temperature and humidity. It moves, this old house, creaking and groaning, and sometimes when pressures build up over time between frames, joists or crown molding, it will snap loudly, startling me. It is awakening to spring, this old house, flexing and stretching its muscles and bones.

But the rain didn't let up. I got up and made strong coffee, taking a cup to the piddling room and opening all the blinds. I sat there at my piddling desk, noticing a half-finished Jitterbee in the vise, but ignored it. Sipping coffee, watching the rain outside, I was still comforted. Surrounded by things cherished and familiar to me in that room. Staring out the window at the front yard, the rain seemed to distort the present, open glimpses to other times between the falling curtain of drops.

The coffee was black and unsweetened, the way I like it, thick and strong Cajun brew. The smell of freshly ground coffee beans used to permeate this old house when my grandmother set up the antique grinder. She always added eggshells to her coffee when she brewed it, said it calmed the bitterness. I was but a child when we ground coffee together in this house and sometimes the smell of it brewing reminds me of her.

Out there in the front yard, dimmed by the rain, shadows moved between the two sago palms planted by my great-grandmother to memorialize the death of Constance Stouff, her daughter, who died of a fever before she was a teen. Those palms are nearly a hundred years old now. Off past the palms, nearer the road, the rain drops thin veils through which I can almost see a horse-drawn wagon approaching the house. It carried the bruised, cut and bleeding body of a young Indian man who needed my great-grandmother's care as medicine woman. There had been a dispute off the reservation over a white man's wife, I was told, and as I watched in my mind's eye the wagon bringing the boy up to the door, I recalled how it wouldn't be long before the sheriff and a deputy would arrive, demanding the surrender of the boy.

The truth remains indistinct, like the veils of rain falling outside, like the scent of my coffee conjuring grinders from the past. What caused the mob to fall on him remains unclear. But the sheriff arrived, demanding the boy turn himself in. My great-grandmother, Delphine, went out to meet them. She refused them steadfastly.

But terrified, the boy found the strength to flee out the back door. The sheriff drew his pistol, took aim and shot the boy in the back of the head, dropping him dead there on the spot, on the same ground I sat and looked out at this morning, drinking coffee and watching rain.

Delphine shrieked and threw herself at the sheriff's throat, but he beat her down with the pistol. As she lay there at his feet, stunned by the blows, he pointed the gun at her head and cocked the hammer. Yet the deputy dissuaded him. "There's been enough bloodshed," he told the rage-maddened sheriff. "You can explain the boy, how are you going to explain this?"

I get more coffee, go and open the door to let fresh air into the house. The yard is almost a shadow under the rain. The next day, the rain reminds me, a mob from the local community drove through the reservation, a gang of thugs, shooting at anything that moved. No injuries were reported, but an entire day of terror dragged on into eternity, gunfire snapping, women and children huddling in their homes, crying out at the sound of blasts and breaking window glass, at bullets hitting cypress planks and doors. Eventually the mob dispersed, and an uneasy truce again persisted between the Indians and those nearby.

They took a door down from inside the house and placed it on sawhorses. The boy's body lay here, as the women cried and the children wailed, and the men sang songs eight thousand years old. This old house soaked their tears into its floors, saturated its ceilings with their sobs. It holds all of these still. Later, the boy was buried in a Christian cemetery just across the street from where he was cut and beaten.

The Indians filed charges, and a grand jury returned no true bill. The incident was quickly brushed aside. Justice remains unserved to this day, but both the perpetrator and the victim lie in the same ground, and face the same Creator to answer for their lives.

The rain continues to fall. The coffee is steaming in my hand. I feel selfish for bemoaning the rain, because I can't go fishing, or cut my mom's grass like I promised, or piddle with building the boat. When ninety years ago a murder played out right here at my doorstep, I stand here safely, unafraid. I am well-known and well-respected in my community, a journalist who may not always be liked, but always above reproach. Some weeknights I go to wine tastings at a friend's restaurant, though I am not much of a wine drinker. I trade jokes with doctors, lawyers, businessmen and city council members. I fish with good, upstanding people who take me for what I am, no more, no less.

But sometimes I forget that I come from murder. Murder and oppression. When I begin to lose sight of who I am and where I have come from, the rain reminds me, the house jogs my memory, and both humble me. I am not bitter. I am not one of those indigenous persons who believe we are owed anything except this: Never forget. That's all. Don't brush it aside, don't alter the history books, don't mince the words. Just never forget.

There'll be no fishing today, yet again. But I let the irritation fade, and count myself among those descended of incredible bravery, monumental resolve. Perhaps I won't be able to take a fine bamboo fly rod in a nice boat out to the lake today, but I can rest easy here knowing that my freedom and my place in the community was earned in part by my own accomplishments, and also by the sacrifices of those who came before me. Their blood still rests in the soil outside where rain is tempering the past with soothing grace. Their voices still rest in the ceiling joists here, the floors and the doorframes. I finish tying the Jitterbee and put it in my fly box. I clean house a little. I sit down under a warm lamp and read for a couple hours.

Just after noon, I surprise myself with a yawn. I lay on the sofa and let the sound of the rain on the metal roof sing lullabies. The cat comes, nuzzles her head against my cheek for a moment, then settles in beside me and closes her eyes, a calico ball of contentment. I drift off to sleep, and think of legacy. Perhaps it was better to not go fishing today after all. There'll be other days. Perhaps today was a good day to remember things I never lived. A good day to open my ears and heart to hear.

Rain fell all day. ~ Roger

It's out! And available now! You can be one of the first to own a copy of Roger's book. Native Waters: A Few Moments in a Small Wooden Boat

Order it now from www.iuniverse.com, Amazon.com, or Barnes & Noble.com. Roger will also be giving away three autographed copies to readers. Stay tuned, for an announcement on the Bulletin Board on that soon.


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