The Little Green-haired Indian

Mom never talked much about my early childhood. As kids though, we like to hear stories about ourselves because it anchors our place in the world, provides foundation ~ for better or for worse. So, I'd pester her sometimes and if pestered enough, she'd reach back through time and recall one of perhaps five or six standard stories. She'd use these to placate my natural childhood hunger for self-identity. This was one of the stories...

I wasn't quite three years old and one afternoon, a friend of the family, known as "Uncle Lloyd", stopped by for a visit. The adults were sitting around the kitchen table, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee (think, 1960, standard working-class family) and I trotted into the room, likely in search of a possible snack or some attention - same thing to a 2 or 3 year old. Uncle Lloyd, seeing me, reached down and lifted me up to perch upon his knee (yep, I scored and went for the attention). I have a vague memory of Uncle Lloyd as a kindly man with an exceptionally large nose, bright blue eyes and big calloused hands, most likely from years of hard work as a gas delivery driver.

As Mom tells the story, Uncle Lloyd, with a twinkle in his eye, asks me “now tell me little one, what would you like to be when you grow up?” I know this is a common question often asked of kids by family and well-meaning friends when they're growing up - but at age 2 or 3? Hmm, perhaps.

But my mom tells me that I answered his question with the matter-of-fact and serious demeanor I was known for having as a child - "a green-haired Indian," I said sincerely from around a mouth-full of thumb.

Um...OK. No one really knew how to respond to that Aquarian-esque answer delivered in dead-pan panache. So, with a nervous chuckle and a pat on my head, Uncle Lloyd set me back down on my feet and I trotted off to amuse myself in the living room.

I continued to confuse and confound my family my entire childhood. They never really did figure out how to relate to me. If you're familiar with Clarissa Pinkola Estes' body of work and her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, you'll recognize the archetype of The Ugly Duckling or the Mistaken Zygote that rampaged throughout my childhood history.

In the process of growing up, I “became” a lot of things, acquiring many labels with which to clothe my self-identity. Being Cleverly Disquised as a Responsible Adult, no one ever guessed that underneath all those labels lived a little green-haired Indian...

May 15, 2009

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