Feeling Squeamish

“Yuck!” Feeling Squeamish groaned while watching his mother gut and clean another catfish.

Spring had arrived and the tribe had made the yearly trip to the river to take advantage of the excellent fishing it offered. The men stood knee-deep across the shallowest part with their spears and nets ready while the older boys waded, splashing and slapping the water with flat pieces of wood. As the boys flushed the fish toward them, the men would spear and toss their catch onto the bank for the women to clean. Everywhere Feeling Squeamish looked there were piles of fish and an ever-growing pile of fish guts. He knew that when they were finished the refuse would be loaded into tightly woven baskets and used to fertilize the tribe’s cornfields. He silently hoped he wouldn’t have to carry any of the foul-smelling baskets!

“Feeling Squeamish! I need you to do something for me,” called his mother.

“What is it?” he answered.

“Go clean the blood and slime off my knife, please,” she asked.

Fighting hard to keep from throwing up, he grabbed the knife by its tip and hurried to the river. Already there were flies buzzing around him as he cleaned the knife. Repeatedly he thrust the knife into the wet sand of the river bottom until the knife was clean and sharp, the sand acting as a hone to bring it to a razor’s edge. Satisfied with his work, he stood up just as something sailed over his head and landed directly in front of him, splashing water and soaking his moccasins. Startled, he lost his balance and fell face-first onto the biggest, bloodiest, and nastiest catfish carcass he had ever seen. Giggles could be heard from a clump of bushes as Feeling Squeamish bolted from the river.

“Passes Water! Breaks Wind! I’m going to get you!” he screamed while charging the bushes.

Two Indian boys emerged from the bushes and raced away, howling with glee over what they had done. Reaching the safety of their mothers, the two boys laughed and pointed their fingers at him. Everyone laughed as he sought his mother, water dripping from his chin as she dried him off with a piece of deer hide.

“Feeling Squeamish! What am I going to do with you?” she asked, “Why are you so squeamish?”

Lowering his head with embarrassment, he thought about his name. For as long as he could remember he had been squeamish. Watching the men gut a deer made him sick to his stomach. Whenever they butchered one he had to leave the village. The sight of blood, animal or human, made him faint. Watching his mother chew a deer hide to make it soft made him queasy. And the thoughts of what went into a stew pot made him shudder!

“Are you always going to be called Feeling Squeamish?” she asked as she gutted another catfish.

Ashamed, he turned and ran into the bushes. Burrowing into the heavy brush, he settled against a tree stump and thought about his name and how he had received it. It was the tribal custom for a child to be given a temporary name, something to be identified with until they had earned their forever name. Because of his dislike of nasty things, he had been named Feeling Squeamish. As bad as this was, it was better than what his friends were given. Practically every morning Passes Water’s mother hung his bedrobe over the bushes to dry. Nor would he forget the time Breaks Wind broke wind during the night and his family members ran from their lodge holding their noses with disgust. Feeling Squeamish wasn’t nearly as bad a name as what they had!

Sitting there he began to sense that something wasn’t right. The birds had stopped singing and in the distance, he could see a deer bolt from its hiding place, bounding away with great leaps and strides. Rising up to get a better view, he could see movement in the bushes as the figures of men came into view. Crouching and slinking through the trees they came, some armed with bows and arrows while others carried war clubs, their faces painted with streaks of red and yellow to make them as terrifying as possible. Terror crossed his face as he realized that it was the tribe his people had been at war with for as long as anyone could remember. Seeing that they were going to attack, he crept from his hiding place and raced for the river, shouting a warning to everyone he met along the way. The men dropped their fishing spears and grabbed their ever -eady weapons while the women gathered the children and made a hasty retreat from the river.

Feeling Squeamish finished warning the tribe as the first arrows whistled through the air. Ducking behind a large cottonwood tree, he watched the men of his tribe answer the attack with arrows of their own. Screams of excitement and pain filled the air as the battle raged. Having lost the element of surprise, the enemy withdrew, taking their dead and wounded with them. Emerging from behind the tree, he could see a figure lying on the ground, writhing in pain. Timidly approaching, he could see that it was Owl Face, the leader of the warriors of his tribe. He had been shot with an arrow, that went completely through his shoulder. Feeling Squeamish could see it protruding from the chest and upper back of Owl Face.

Seeing Feeling Squeamish, Owl Face motioned for him to come to his side, “Feeling Squeamish, help me!”

Blood flowed freely as Feeling Squeamish approached. The same queasy feeling came over him as he knelt over Owl Face.

“What can I do?” he asked, trying hard not to look at the blood.

“Pull the arrow out.”

Looking again at all of the blood, he replied, ”But I’ll hurt you.”

“Just do as I say. Reach behind me and break the arrow off,” instructed Owl Face.

Feeling Squeamish swallowed hard, grabbed the arrow, closed his eyes tightly, gritted his teeth, and snapped the arrow into two pieces. Owl Face groaned and rolled over on his back.

Hands already bloodied, he grabbed the feathered end and gave a quick pull. Owl Face gasped as the projectile came free and rested in Feeling Squeamish’s hand. Throwing it away, Feeling Squeamish again knelt by Owl Face.

“I’ll go get the medicine man,” he offered, “He’ll know what to do.”

“No! I can feel my blood running from my wound. I may die before you get back with help,” Owl Face groaned.

“What can I do?” he cried when an idea came into his mind.

Leaning over Owl Face, he rolled him onto his side. Straddling him, he placed a hand over the entrance and exit wounds and pressed hard to slow the flow of blood. Raising his voice he called for help.

Moments later he could hear the footsteps of members of his tribe. Seeing what was happening, they sent a runner for Turkey Gizzard, the tribe’s medicine man. Arriving, he tended Owl Face’s wounds and got the bleeding to stop. Braves lifted him onto a deer hide and gently carried him to the medicine man’s lodge.

Feeling Squeamish watched them carry him away. Some of the tribe members followed to see if they could help while others ran ahead to tell of what Feeling Squeamish had done. Looking at his hands and arms, he ran to the river to wash the blood from his body.

That night there was a victory celebration. The fires burned brightly, fish had been roasted for a feast and the people danced with joyous abandon. Feeling Squeamish, dressed in his finest buckskin leggings and moccasins, watched the celebration with his mother. His father danced proudly, always turning and pointing to his son with pride as he told anyone who would listen what his son had done.

At the end of the feast, Eagle Talon, the tribe’s chief, rose from his seat and motioned for Feeling Squeamish to come to him. Sensing something was about to happen, the people stopped dancing and waited for their chief to speak.

“Feeling Squeamish, that was a man thing you did today,” he proclaimed.”Helping Owl Face was a brave thing for a small boy to do. Especially a boy who hates nasty things. You saved his life, and for this, you have earned your forever name. You are no longer Feeling Squeamish. Your forever name is Bloody Hands, a proud name for a little boy!”

Again the whole tribe began to sing and dance. This time they shouted his new name as they stepped, gyrated, and twirled.

“Bloody Hands! Bloody Hands! Bloody Hands!”

His mother and father were so proud of him. To their relief no longer would their son be called the humiliating name Feeling Squeamish!

Bloody Hands watched as his father danced around the fire, pointing his finger at him, whooping and screaming his new name. Passes Water and Breaks Wind approached and offered him a big piece of catfish. He seemed to grow up in front of their eyes. Silently he wondered how this would affect their friendship. Would he be treated as an adult now that he had his forever name and they didn’t have theirs? Pondering this, he kept having a terrifying, nagging thought in the back of his mind.

Shuddering, he wondered, “Will I still have to carry those baskets of fish guts?”

July 10, 2020