All For the Right to Pray (3)

Part One – Walking in Three Worlds

Chapter 3 – Growing Up in Florida

By Ghost Dancer

Joyce Beavers Weil

My mother, born Mary Joyce Beavers, was and always has been, a happy-go-lucky person who loves life and loves having fun. She has always been a buffer to the world around me and all of her children. We all got our humor, our pranks, and our love of adventure from her. Not everybody has a mom that would ride a motorcycle, go out dancing with you, and put up with someone like me, never knowing what I was going to do next.

Mom is a natural-born singer and musician as are most of her family. Mom taught me how to play the guitar and even how to sew. Mom is more than a mom to me. She has always been a friend I could talk to about many things.

Joyce with her two oldest Judy and Keith May 1961

A hard worker, Mom was always dedicated to her family. She was the kind of happy person you wanted to be around. Mom taught us all that love is what matters the most. Even though Mom knows my way of life is different, she backs me, and loves me just the same. To describe my mom is to call her a woman of beauty and love. After her divorce from my father when I was four years old, she married my step father, Roger Weil, and our family lived in Ocala, Florida.

Judy, Jackie & Keith 1962

As a child I was always curious and eager to learn. I paid close attention to everyone and everything around me. I was blessed with a very good memory and absorbed everything I saw or heard. When I went to school, learning was all too easy for me. Mom knew I was bored and disruptive in class. They just kept giving me more and more advanced books to study and work to do, mostly sitting in the hall or in the principal’s office. When I learned to read, I devoured anything and everything that interested me.

At the same time, I became keenly aware that often I did not fit in with others of my age very well. I was living in a society that I did not belong in and I felt this even as a child. I knew deep inside that I was Native long before I was even told by my mother or my father. I knew I was different even from my sisters and brother. The blood of my ancestors ran in my body, and it had been calling to me from my earliest awareness.

~~~

Roger & Joyce Weil and children 1965

The story of my early life would not be complete without paying tribute to my stepdad, Roger Weil. Here was a man who married my mother, who already had three kids, and took us all in as a package deal. Not many men would do that, especially back then when money was tight. But he did, and he treated us no different than his own kids. He was my Dad in every sense of the word. There were five of us children all together: my sisters, Judy and Jackie and me, and then along came Greg and Teresa.

Judy, Gregg & Keith at zoo

Roger was the best mechanic I have ever known. When I was very young, he began teaching me all he could about making things instead of buying them. If we needed a tool or machine to do something, he figured it out, and we made something that was just as good, and most times better than what he could have ordered. Dad taught me how to do mechanic work on just about anything from diesel engines to lawn mowers, motorcycles, and boat motors. We fixed transmissions, and he could build a car from scratch from a junk yard. And in fact, we did that quite often. We built our own airboat, ski boat, go carts, mini-bikes, motorcycles, cars, and trucks. We even built our own homes and barns.  Every one of us learned about working and doing our part; not just my brother and me, but the girls too.

We all worked, but Dad made sure we had time to have fun. Some of my best memories are the long summers we spent at Half Moon Lake. Dad also took us traveling to far-away places, like the Great Lakes, Smoky Mountains, Chicago Museum, the Smithsonian, the Grand Canyon, and every beach you can imagine.

My stepdad took his journey a few years ago. We all surely miss him, and we will always have so many memories of the good times and laughter. These are what we hang on to – the good things always. I was not there for Dad when he needed me the most, and it hurt me something terrible because he was always there for me.  Over the years, no matter what prison they sent me to, he always brought Mom and came to see me. I was not his son by blood, but I was by his heart. He was proud of me, just as I was proud of him. We worked well together. Dad loved animals and he loved freedom. It hurt him so much to see me caged. He hated them for doing this to me.

~~~

Ghost Visits Aunt Hazel 2022

Mom’s sister, my Aunt Hazel has always been very cool and supportive of me. As a child she always spoke up for me when this wolf pup got himself in trouble, which for some reason happened quite often. I remember going to visit Aunt Hazel and my cousins, Ronald and Gary, in Alabama. Boy, did they have a lot of cotton fields. I learned real quick I didn’t like picking no cotton. There was a creek and a pond not far from the cotton fields and you can bet you know where I kept slipping off to. I loved swimming. The big difference was the water was muddy and the soil was red. In Florida, the water was either crystal clear spring water, or dark water you can see in. This water had dirt and mud in it, but it was water, so in it I would go, either naked or with clothes, like a young otter ready to play and explore. When Mom got exasperated and started to get on to me, there was Aunt Hazel telling her no, “He is just being natural.”

Aunt Hazel was like Mom and Grandma, they all could sing and play music along with their brother, my uncle David, and they did this all the time. This was our entertainment. We all loved music and playing music. Both her sons, Gary and Ronald, played very good too. Granny played an accordion, organ, piano, and guitar. Uncle David played the guitar and banjo. Aunt Hazel and Mom both could play guitar, organ, and piano. Of course, they all could sing amazing too. Uncle David was the oldest, then Aunt Hazel, Mom and Aunt Kit. 

It didn’t make a difference if we were visiting them in Alabama, or they were visiting us in Florida, music and family were important in our lives, and having fun as well. We always worked together, and having that many people at one place, well that takes skills in organizing and being receptive to suggestions. Having my cousins around was like having older brothers, always showing me things they knew. It seemed to me that all the mothers looked after us all as their own kids. That is Native tradition even if they didn’t realize it at the time.

I grew up fast, and I always had an eye for the ladies. Aunt Hazel was always there to counsel me in many matters of life. When she heard Mom scolding me about all my romantic affairs, Aunt Hazel stepped in to school me in making sure I was eating right and taking enough vitamins. Mom was taken aback, but Aunt Hazel insisted, “Well he surely isn’t going to turn all these ladies away, so my eagle needs to take care of himself!” Mom laughed and said. “Ha-ZZZel!” That is Aunt Hazel, always seeing the good in everyone and everything.

Aunt Hazel has always been proud of her Native blood and heritage and has supported me always in my goals and battles for Native religion and culture. Until my recent release from prison, I had not seen Aunt Hazel since 1995, but we are still very close, and have so much love for each other. One thing everyone, especially family, should know is that Aunt Hazel is dependable always, and family is everything to her. We all love her and always will.

~~~

Grandpa Edgar Beavers

Grandpa Edgar Beavers was a full-blood Cherokee. He was blind and had been since before I was born. He was still kind of wild even then and I came to know him well when he visited my family in Florida and when we visited my Aunt Hazel in Alabama. Grandpa Beavers was a tall man, and I so wanted to grow up to be big like him.

Grandpa was also a wake up for me to know who I was and what I should be doing. Grandpa loved being up late at night. I guess because he was blind, he didn’t mind the darkness of the night and I stayed up with him. It wasn’t always easy, especially in the swamps where we lived at that time. When the mosquitoes were biting me, Grandpa said, “When you want that to stop, I’ll tell you the plant you need.” I told him I wanted to know now. He laughed and told me I had to look for a wax myrtle. I asked what that was, so he described it to me so I would know what I would be looking for in the morning.

Grandpa would talk late in the night, telling me stories of the Cherokee, stories of Selu, the Corn Mother, and so much more. Always, Grandpa said I must never forget my Cherokee history, my blood, and my clan. He instilled in me the knowledge that I had a destiny and a duty, to step up and do what I needed to do. He talked to me as if I were a grown person; he valued my ideas, questions, and opinions. He told me little ones like me all have rights from our people, that we are people too, and many times see things others don’t. Everyone learns from everyone, he said, and when people stop listening to others, knowledge is lost.

Grandpa gave me my first crystal. It was a beautiful power wand crystal, and he taught me how to use it. He spent time teaching me other things too, like the reading of the hands, and how to understand these things, I must practice more and more. He told me about my great grandmother who had these gifts and read tea leaves. Sometimes Grandpa got out his corn cob pipe, and while he smoked he told me about the stars and how the Ani-yun-wiya, or Cherokees, know where they came from. On one clear night, he told me to look for a cluster of stars to the south. I did and he asked if I had found them. When I said, Yes! he told me they were the seven sisters and are called the Pleiades, and we all came from there. Then he told me to close my eyes and feel myself travelling up to them.

Like others had told me, Grandpa talked about how rough it is being a Native when we have to hide who we are. He said people are scared of us; they don’t like to see us because of what they did and they are ashamed. So, they hate us for living and reminding them of what they took from us. Grandpa felt that the majority are influenced by those who have this in their heart but assured me not all are like this. There are many, he said, who have beautiful hearts and I should never forget that.

Grandpa also told me that he could see how different I was than his other grand kids. He said I had a spirit in me that was as wild as a wolf, independent as an eagle, and yet, alone. He sensed my spirit and knew that I was seeing and hearing things that others did not and would never understand. He warned that I must be quiet about these things; that people will fear me and think bad of me, because their own beliefs make them blind to the goodness in my heart. He told me how important it was that I learn how to use my gifts.

So late at night, my grandpa taught me what he knew and how to use what gifts I had been blessed with. He taught me about spirit traveling, which I truly loved. Learning how to walk in the spirit world was a truly powerful experience, and necessary for me to learn these ways. Grandpa might have been blind using normal eyesight, but not using his mind’s eye or letting his spirit free. His senses were attuned even to the air. His nose was like a wolf’s, smelling everything, taking in information. His ears were as sharp as any deer’s. I still remember his words. Grandpa taught me that in life, we can be chained or crippled only if we allow ourselves to be. But we are so specially blessed that if we are lacking in one area, all our other senses and talents kick in over drive and make up for it if we allow them to. He said, “Never say you can’t do something. If you say that, you are crippling yourself from doing anything before you even try.” 

Grandpa was a true inspiration. Our time together kept me always wanting to be back in the old days, living wild and free, living as one and in balance with everything. He taught me how to open my heart to the heartbeat of our Mother Earth and to feel the heartbeat of the forest and the swamp. These were special times. With his fingers, Grandpa read the lines in my hands, and yet I knew that was not all he was doing. He said, “You have a powerful gift with your mind; learn all you can and never stop learning.” These words he spoke and the insights he taught, have stayed with me all my life. I was proud of him, and I still am. He knew without saying that I would not be a “Native in the cupboard,” that my spirit would lead me to stand out and broadcast that we are still here. We live and we will continue to live and survive. In those days, I had a tree house way up in an old oak tree. I would lay up there at night watching the stars and talking to all my relatives who were certainly watching all of us.

I’m not saying that I was taught to challenge society. No, I was just to let people know there are thousands who did not go on the trail of tears from the civilized tribes in the south. We lived and survived despite all that was done to us and despite being hunted. Many of our relatives in Oklahoma don’t even recognize us because we didn’t go. But that doesn’t make us any less Native.

My Grandpa Beavers was truly sad because so much had been lost to the people: religion, ceremonies, languages, history, and culture. But this was by design as he told me because it was and still is, the belief of the government, that to take away a people’s language and religion and culture is to annihilate them. These words stayed with me, so I made it my responsibility to learn every aspect of our Native culture, beliefs, ceremonies, songs, crafts, language, and ways of life that I could, and I’m still learning and trying to protect these things for all our people.

~~~

Ruby Tiger Osceola

I was a free spirit and very adventurous. Not long after my first experiences with Grandpa Beavers, we went to Silver Springs, which was not far from our Ocala, Florida home. There was a Seminole Village at Silver Springs, and me being me, I was not shy about going to talk to the young boys there. I didn’t understand that the part of the village I went to was private, not a part that the tourists could come to, and my first encounter was awkward because the boys just looked at me like I didn’t have any business there.

An elder woman sitting under one of the chickees watched our little standoff. She motioned for me to come over to her. She looked at me for the longest and then motioned for me to sit down near her. I asked her if she lived there. She said no, she didn’t, but that she visits. She said to me, “Many don’t understand what you are, but I do.” This kind woman said I could call her Grandmother Ruby.

Grandmother Ruby called me a Star Child that day. I asked her what she meant, and she told me a story about the blue-eyed Native children. She said we would be different because our own Native people would look at us strangely and so would other races, but all of us are star children. She explained that we are meant to learn as much as we can and remember everything.

“One day,” she said, “You must pass all this on to others.” She told me life would not be easy, but it would make me strong and help in what I would become. “When others say things that hurt you,” she said, “It only hurts if you let it. Just be you and don’t let anyone stop you from being who you are.” Then she said, “I see you as you truly are – a beautiful heart and spirit. Now go have fun with the others.”

I realized she saw me like no other ever had. This was my first experience with Grandmother Ruby, and her acceptance of me broke the barrier with the kids of the village. I began spending more and more time with them. Much later I came to know who this woman was, and how revered Ruby Tiger Osceola was among the Seminole people.

Even though Grandmother Ruby didn’t live there, her understanding of me opened the door for my acceptance. The village became like my second home and Silver Springs was our playground. During these times I knew I ‘fit it’ and my time playing with the Creek and Seminole boys at Silver springs are among my happiest memories. It was always a big occasion when Grandmother Ruby came to the village. I loved hearing her talk and the stories she told made me feel like I was right there, experiencing it all. I could feel her heart glowing with love for all the people and she had a profound effect on my life.

Grandmother Ruby’s words touched me so much as she looked at me; they vibrated throughout my body. I wanted nothing more than to make this Grandmother proud and love me. Her smile could do that to you. I know I will always do my best to honor Grandmother Ruby and her words to me.

Published by Edna Peirce Dixon

I am an elder in my 9th decade. I have lived an ordinary life, I’ve done all the ordinary and expected things, went to school, got married, raised a family, tried to be a good person. Throughout this life I have also been a seeker, an outsider by nature, always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. Then in my golden years, as I sought to find meaning in my existence, some unexpected things happened and I’ve since learned it took a lifetime to prepare me for the challenge to come. My journey – indeed my calling - led me to come to know a remarkable man who happened to be an inmate in federal prison. Nothing could have been more foreign to my personal experience. GHOST DANCER Communicating daily for nearly nine years I had the opportunity to walk many paths with Ghost discussing our thoughts on many common interests with candor and respect. With enormous generosity Ghost has allowed me to share his wisdom and knowledge of his Native American heritage on Journeys of the Spirit. Over time, Ghost gradually revealed his life story in small bits, like scrambled pieces of some gigantic puzzle. Now, after spending more than 40 years in prison, Ghost Dancer is at last free and ready to tell his amazing personal story. As the saying goes, “you can’t make this stuff up” and as his friend and editor I can say this is a story so big that even after working with him for nearly nine years, I continue to be astonished as he shares new details my mind simply could never imagine. From the very first chapter, Ghost leads us on his journey and invites us to walk with him on his Nene Cate (Red Road). From the day he was born, a happy, loving gifted child, he endured heartbreaking sorrows, betrayals and exploitations. Through it all, Ghost fought a system determined to destroy him by any means, as he struggled to remain true to his calling. Through Ghost Dancer I also met and came to know Walks On The Grass, another federal prisoner whose story is also compelling even though very different. In Journeys of the Spirit, Walks has shared his decades-long journey from deep addiction to wholeness in LONG ROAD HOME and shared other bits of his story in ALONG THE WAY. Now as he approaches his August release into this crazy world of 2022 Walks shares his the thoughts and misgivings as he counts down to the big day in LIGHTS IN THE DISTANCE.

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