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Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Ghost Dance - a father remembered.

by iancochrane (writer), Melbourne, February 19, 2013

Credit: Illustration by Frederic Remington, 1890
Ghost Dance at Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota

Revisiting the death of a parent can be enlightening.

‘I have sent for you and I am glad to see you. I am going to talk to you after awhile about your relatives who are dead and gone.’ – Wovoka, Paiute Indian prophet – Walker Lake, Nevada, USA (1890)

From Pierre I catch the first available flight to Los Angeles, then home to find my father frail and tired beyond his years. He whispers something in a raspy voice. Leaning closer, I can’t make anything out. Tufts of grey hair sprout from his nose. There’s no follow-up sentence, and he drifts off into some morphine-laced dream.

That night I dream of a father I never really knew, and an American Indian ghost dance where men gather at a big tree and dance for five days. There are visions, and talk with dead family and friends. The Prophet promises he’ll return – when the winter passes – with the ghosts of our fathers.

On balmy summer evenings we sat outside on a small square porch of outer suburban concrete, among smoky drifts from my father’s cigarettes – under starry skies, mostly in silence. My father, in his hackneyed white singlet, pondered his own private world with the occasional word to a doting red dog at his feet.

Sometimes he cranked up the record player and suddenly let fly, joining in with the Italian Enrico Caruso – the famous tenor, after being apprenticed to a mechanical engineer at age ten. He gave hope to my father who dreamed of travel. Returned to his ponderings, they were punctuated by the crackles of dust on long-playing 78s, and the rise and fall of the great tenor’s voice.

I’d keep listening – it seemed forever – to the click of the mono stylus at the end of the record and the occasional buzz of a mozzie. My father had drifted off to parts unknown; the glow of a cigarette butt in sync with his breathing, making waves in the warm air as it left and returned to his lips. In the light from the half-open front door, scars protruded from his right bicep: stark white weals track the length of a brown, muscled arm.

My father was knocked off his bicycle at 17 when riding home to my grandmother’s house; his front tyre slipping on a greasy tramcar track. He lay trapped between steel wheels – along with the wreckage of his bike – until pulled clear, unconscious. His arm hung from bloodied bone, sinew and skin. When doctors insisted the arm be amputated my furious Scottish grandfather steadfastly refused.

Never a good sleeper, my father lay in the front room with little to ease the aching – and lots of time for reflection – waiting for the clip-clop of the milkman’s draught-horse Bobbie, the jingle of empty bottles heralding another daybreak.

He swam first thing in a cold pool daily – rain, hail or shine – to regain the use of his mangled arm, while balancing night school with long working hours as an apprentice on the machine-shop floor.

In the early-morning gloom I sit at my desk and daydream bleary-eyed. I scratch a hairy earlobe and gaze out the flywire screen door to the street. I hear the pitter-patter of Canine feet and follow the glowing ember of a dog-walker’s cigarette blinking on-off, on-off. The flickering glow looks strangely familiar. The voice of Andrea Bocelli wavers from the CD.

My father is here.



About the Writer

iancochrane is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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5 comments on The Ghost Dance - a father remembered.

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By S. Vaughan on February 20, 2013 at 06:57 pm

I like your story but found it a bit difficult to follow because there's too much material packed in too little space.

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By TonyBerkman on February 20, 2013 at 07:35 pm

I really like your story and imagine it to be a dream like sequence thus making one have to flow with it rather than wonder what happens in between the memories.

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By iancochrane on February 20, 2013 at 08:14 pm

Thanks guys.

@Tony

Got it in one!

Cheers, ic

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By riginal on February 20, 2013 at 09:54 pm

"The flickering glow looks strangely familiar." Great piece. Wouldn't change one word Ian. Your dad's reflective silence,dreams and longings painted their own 'personal' picture.Framed by his music. His silence can't be put in words...wasn't meant to be...and you miss him.

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By iancochrane on February 22, 2013 at 09:10 pm

Thanks riginal,

Cheers, ic

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