A couple Saturdays ago, I heard there was going to be a big Native-American powwow in Warner, and I really wanted to go. The trouble was, because it was a last-minute decision, it was too late to invite anyone to go with me, so I had to decide whether or not I had the courage to go alone.
Finally I told myself the time had come to put on my big-girl panties and be brave. I headed to the powwow.
When I pulled onto Route 89 and saw that the speed limit was 65, I nearly panicked. The last time I drove that fast was back in 1995 when I ate some bad haddock and had to find a restroom.
So there I was on Route 89, my hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel, and my speed exactly 65 mph – and cars were zooming past me as if I were riding a tricycle.
I finally made it to the powwow and gave myself an imaginary pat on the back. I was alive, the car was in one piece and I hadn’t gotten lost. I considered those to be huge achievements.
I pulled into the lot and an attendant greeted me. “We’re out of parking spaces,” he said. My heart sank.
“So what do I do now?” I asked him.
“You can park in the flea-market parking lot,” he said. “Go straight out that way, take a right, then take a left, go about a mile, and it’s right there.”
I just stared at him. “You’re telling me I have to walk a mile in 90-degree heat? Two miles, if you count that I have to walk back there, too?”
He nodded. “Sorry.”
Feeling defeated, I headed out the way he had directed me. There, directly in front of me on the right, about 10 feet from the entrance to the powwow, a car suddenly pulled out of a prime parking spot. It was if it magically had been delivered to me. The only problem was, it involved parallel parking. I’d never parallel parked in my life.
Back when I got my driver’s license in Concord, parallel parking was not required as part of the driver’s exam. So I never bothered to learn. As I sat at the powwow, staring at that parking space, the only available space for a mile, I silently cursed my driver’s-ed teacher for not insisting that I learn to parallel park.
Still, I wasn’t about to give up that space. I was determined to park in it – hopefully, with my bumpers and those of the other cars near it, still intact. It took me about 25 tries, but I finally made it – a little crooked, but passable. By then, I’d worked up such a sweat, I looked as if I’d just come out of the shower.
I walked the short distance to the admission table and paid my entrance fee. Unbeknownst to me, I also was supposed to grab a brochure from a stack on the table so I could learn, among other things, proper powwow etiquette.
One rule in the brochure stated that to call the Native Americans’ ornate garments a “costume” was an insult because they weren’t costumes, they were sacred regalia, often handed down through generations. Another rule said it was discourteous to take any photographs without first asking permission. So, because I never saw the brochure, there I was, randomly snapping photos and getting a lot of stern looks. Finally a Native American woman came up to me and explained the photography rule. I said, “Oh, I’m really sorry – their costumes are just so beautiful I couldn’t resist!” Needless to say, I don’t think I earned any points with her.
I did end up having a great time, though, and I met a lot of very interesting people. And there were craft booths offering everything from bear grease to real wolf-tooth earrings. One man tried to sell me a basket made from what he said was a very large bull’s scrotum. I told him it really didn’t match my décor.
At another booth, samples of different teas made from roots, bark, and other assorted plant life, were being handed out in thimble-sized cups. When I approached the booth, three men, potential customers, were standing there, each holding one of the tiny cups, and each looking as if they couldn’t decide whether or not to drink them.
“Smell this!” One of them said to me when I stood next to him. He thrust the cup under my nose.
“It smells like iodine,” I told him. “Are you going to try it?”
“Well, what’s the worst that can happen if you drink it?” I asked him.
“I could die.”
I laughed. Then I said to him, “I heard that these teas make men really virile.”
He downed it in one gulp. The face he made afterwards, however, was anything but virile looking.
On the serious side, something one of the Native American dancers, a Wampanoag, told me stuck with me all day, and really made me think. He said that while he was dancing in the circle, people tossed money at him. He said he had a fist full of bills – three $5 bills and the rest, single dollars. He was having difficulty holding on to them while dancing, so another Native American he knew from previous powwows, who was sitting on the sidelines, offered to hold the money for him until his dance was over.
“When he gave me back my money,” he said to me, “Only the $1 bills were there, not the $5’s.”
“Did you confront him about it?” I asked him.
He shook his head. “No. He must need the money more than I do. But the next time he greets me, I may not honor him with a response.”
His calmness surprised me. I thought about how I would have reacted in the same situation. I not only would have confronted the guy about my money, I probably would have gone searching for a tomahawk in one of the craft booths beforehand.
So I learned a lot that day. I learned how to parallel park. I learned that I shouldn’t call Native American garments “costumes,” and that certain teas made from bark smell like iodine. I learned that some bulls have basket-sized scrotums, and that bear “grease” turns to bear “oil” in the hot sun.
But most of all, I learned that some people, when wronged, calmly turn the other cheek instead of getting angry or upset.
I think that was the most important lesson of all.