Sunday, February 01, 2009

Being Awful Brave is awfully hard

A couple of evenings ago, I watched from an upstairs window as an adult red fox loped across our backyard. It’s rare that we get to see any wildlife at our house without turning on the Discovery Channel, though unlike the animals on TV, this particular fox didn’t look crisp enough to have been transmitted in HD. Reality can be disappointingly standard definition.

“Babe, look out the kitchen window!” I yelled down to my wife Kara. By the time we’d all assembled in the kitchen, there was nothing to look at but the iced-over deck that I hadn’t shoveled after the last snowstorm, and which stood as monument to the ills of procrastination: what once could have been removed with the whisk of a broom was going nowhere without the rental of a jackhammer. When Kara complained that she accidentally performed a triple salchow on her way out to walk the dog, I reminded her of on old Inuit proverb: “A bag of de-icer costs ten bucks, but waiting until April is free.”

Just as we started to turn away from the window, the fox came darting back across the yard, sending our dog Memphis into a barking frenzy at the sliding glass door, like she thought the fox was trying to deliver a UPS package. Memphis puts on a good show when she’s behind a pane of glass, then she quivers behind Kara’s leg when I shake out a new trash bag.

I like the idea of a fox living nearby. Back in the Indian Guides, my name was Red Fox, only partly because I was a fan of Sanford and Son.

If the phrase “Indian Guides” sounds slightly anachronistic now, that’s because it is. The world was a different place twenty years ago. Cultural sensitivity and car seats hadn’t been invented yet, and smoking was still considered a good source of fiber.

All of my friends were in Indian Guides, a youth program sponsored by the YMCA, the major attraction for us being that we got to go camping, but we didn’t have to wear our uniforms to school like the Cub Scouts did. Several of us would eventually go on to become Eagle Scouts in high school, but we’d all rather have committed hari-kari on our Trapper Keepers than wear kerchiefs to school.

All the kids in our tribe had cool-sounding names like Straight Arrow or Running Bear, except for the Yoder kid, who, aptly in more ways than one, let his dad give him the name Awful Brave.

My dad, whose name was somehow Night Owl even though he can never stay awake through the 11 o’clock news, was the medicine man for our tribe, which meant he was the only one who could prescribe our Ritalin. Actually, it meant that he would tell us stories around a bonfire, sometimes to hundreds of kids at a time, while wearing the ceremonial headdress, which was a fur hat with buffalo horns. He ended every story with: “That’s the way it was told to me, and that’s the way I’ve told it to you.”

I would love to think that I am also the kind of man who could, for the love of my (future, hypothetical) children, be coerced into telling stories to hundreds of people while wearing a horned hat. But until someone hands you the hat, how do you know how you’ll respond?

I just checked to see if the Indian Guides still exists as a YMCA-sponsored program, as it now seems, at the very least, that it would have been due for a name change, much like a certain football club from our nation’s capital. Sure enough, Indian Guides was changed five years ago to Adventure Guides, and most of the Native American themes have been dropped, except when taught by guest-lecturing experts.

These all sound like worthy changes, and I’m glad to hear that the program has continued as a non-kerchief alternative for kids. Still, Red Fox was an awesome name.

You can withhold Mike Todd’s medication at


  1. I'd wanna be called Awesome Name.

  2. I was a Boy Scout, but NEVER wore my uniform to school. Geek that I was, even I wouldn't go that far.

    My 8 year-old niece is in Indian Princesses, so I guess PC hasn't quite taken hold as much one would think. Her father (my brother) is "Smoking Bear"... because he was the only father who smoked. Yep, involved in an organization that's insensitive to Native Americans, smoking like a chimney... the family pride just doesn't stop.

  3. JL -- Ha. How about Awesome Comment?

    Chris -- Funny stuff. My sister was an Indian Princess, too. Dang, the internet told me they were all Adventure Guides now. I think I found the first piece of wrong information on the internet.

  4. Anything that makes me less than a Princess is totally uncool. Turning Indian Princess into Adventure Guide is like turning a hot sizzling steak into tofu... oh, wait, Jaime just did that.