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  • Miwok Moon
  • Chester Aaron (bio)

Sheldon Horowitz, red-haired and blue-eyed, calls himself a Miwok Indian. Sheldon could just as well call himself a Jew. But he doesn’t feel like a Jew. He feels like a Miwok warrior.

When his classmates at Berkeley’s Whitman Middle School laugh at his claims he regards them with stoic contempt. The stoicism comes naturally. Such lack of animation has been the trait of every Indian in every story Sheldon has read and every movie he has seen. Has an Indian warrior ever been known to rave and rant? Or laugh? Or weep? Never. Expression of emotion is simply not part of an Indian’s nature.

Sheldon’s father, Herman, from Los Angeles, permits himself animated expression of any feeling that attacks him, whether it’s a response to a silly joke or a response to a friend in trouble or a news report about recent atrocities in what was once Yugoslavia.

Herman Horowitz, the father, ridicules the naivete of anyone who, noting his red hair and blue eyes, scoffs at his calling himself a Jew. He throws his arms and clucks his tongue and loudly informs the innocent cynic if he or she were to go to Israel he or she would see Jews of every possible shade of skin and color of eyes. “You can’t tell a book by its color,” he says, and he laughs at his own joke.

Sheldon’s father, much to Sheldon’s discomfort, is a bundle of cries, laughs, moans, shouts that break their bonds at the slightest provocation. He kisses Sheldon’s mother, Elsie Whispers Horowitz, every morning and every evening. Often, when they’re walking along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, he holds Elsie’s hand or touches her cheek. At home he massages her shoulders. Sitting at the table after supper he often draws pencil sketches of her face on paper napkins or on the back of an envelope. Every February he sends her valentines of his own creation, actually putting his expressions of eternal love in writing for anyone to see.

None of that is the Indian’s nature.

Elsie Whispers is short and stocky and her dark-brown cherubic face is framed by a fall of hair so straight and thick that Sheldon yearns occasionally to draw his fingers through the black mass and spread it wide across his hands for the sun to shine through. In Sheldon’s eyes his mother is more [End Page 103] beautiful than any Hollywood version of an Indian princess. She speaks in a voice of such tender authority that even young clerks at the 7-Eleven lean close to assure her they are not missing a word.

Elsie’s mother was a full-blooded Miwok, her father half Miwok and half Portuguese. And so by law, by custom, by choice, Elsie Whispers is a Miwok Indian.

They—Elsie and Herman and Sheldon—are spending tonight and tomorrow in Bodega, a small town eighty miles north of San Francisco, a mile in from the coast. Elsie and Herman will sleep in the Delaneys’ extra bedroom. The Delaneys are old friends and allies from various Berkeley wars. Their sixteen-year-old twins share a converted chicken shed behind the house. Tonight, because there will be a full moon, Sheldon will bed down on the front porch in a sleeping bag.

At supper Elsie reminds everyone that this is Miwok country. Her ancestors lived on this land for thousands of years. She herself was born just fifty miles north of Bodega.

One of the twins mentions an Indian burial site about a half mile up the road. Under questioning by Elsie Whispers they describe a particular path in the nearby forest: on the path is a large redwood cross with a pile of big boulders at its base. When Elsie asks if they can visit the site tomorrow the twins agree to guide her, assuring her it’s only a ten- or fifteen-minute walk from the house.

Driven to entertain his audience at the supper table Herman relates an incident that had occurred two years before he’d married Elsie Whispers, when, as a gift...


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pp. 103-107
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