External Photo Clues:
I took the picture at Little River Bridge on a Sunday. Just as I was about to take the photo Jim said, “She’ll probably cut our heads off”. Jim was an asshole, and my brother n’ law. I don’t know why Vina married him. I don’t know why she did a lot of things.
When she was twenty Vina had the dentist pull all her teeth out cause she didn’t’ want the hassle of getting them pulled one by one throughout the years. She wore dentures from that day forth… Now, why would someone in his or her right mind do such a thing? She used to worry about the bills if they didn’t show up on time. I’d say, “Vina, why’n Sam Hill do you care if the bill don’t show up? Just means ya don’t have to pay them.”
Jim asked her to marry him after meeting her one night at a dance that we went to in Seminole. We had gone to see Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys at the civic center. He was 15 years her senior. She was 25 and he was 40. Vina said yes. It was the only person she ever went out with. I hated Jim and he hated me.
I didn’t cut their heads off in the picture but I did cut him in half and that suits me just fine. Of course Vina just stood there clasping her wrists together. Jim put his hand on her side, holding her close as usual. They had just been arguing about where to stand. Vina wanted to stand in the middle of the road and Jim wanted to stand on the side of the road so that the bridge could be seen in it’s entirety and not obscured by the sorry likes of them two. I could care less. I was more concerned with William. He’s the one you can barely see in the background of the picture.
Vina adopted William from our first cousin, Mary, seventeen years before. He lived with us in Sasakwa, Oklahoma after that. I say “us” because I lived right across the street from Vina and her sourpuss of a husband, and William spent a lot of time over at my house. William’s father was a no account half Choctaw bootlegger, and Mary wanted to live the young and free life a little longer and that’s why she gave him up.
My husband, Tippie, was a full-blood Seminole Indian. He was also a barber in town, but by the time the picture had been taken he had long been dead. That’s why (in the picture) William is standing down at the end of the bridge. They say that’s where Tippie’s truck went off six years prior and William had always walked down the bridge and looked around whenever we were near there. They had found Tippie’s body after a week but William always seemed to be looking for something off that bridge… don’t know what.
The day that I took the picture was the day before William moved down to Dallas where he was to be stationed in the United States Army. That would be the last time I would ever see William and this lousy picture is all I have left from that day.
Vina could be meaner than the devil himself. I was the younger sister and people always said I was the mean one, but they didn’t know Vina. Then, sometimes you felt sorry for her cause she was simple. Didn’t know no better. She thought she was doing things right. Sometimes she’d just sit in her rocking chair and cry all day. I wish I knew what she was crying about. Then again, maybe I don’t.
All the Indians round Sasakwa say that when Jim died he suffered for what he had done. I said that too. See, Vina was the only notary public in town on account that she worked at the post-office, so anytime a crooked real estate man would blow into town looking to get an Indian drunk and steal their land blind Vina would get a visit. These visits would happen in the middle of the night, sometimes at 3 or 4 in the morning. There’d be the white real estate man standing with a swaggerin’ Indian, and without even knowing any better the Indian would sign over his deed— maybe for a dollar, maybe for nothing. Vina would notarize it. What’s worse is that she grew up with the Indian and didn’t know the real estate man from Adam. I’d say, “For Pete’s sake, how can you do that?” And she’d say she had to, “else they’d kill me”. That much is true. They were known to kill people. But, what doesn’t make sense is when her own husband acquired land in the same manner. Course Jim had to go to Holdenville to get it notarized, but still, She knew about it. All this, though, wasn’t what the Indians were talking about when they said he suffered for what he had done.
I remember the day he dug those graves up like it was yesterday. I had been sick and slept in. It had only been a week since Jim had “bought” the land from that Fixico bunch in town. It was a quarter of a mile from our house but the commotion was loud enough that I woke up from it. I could hear Vina crying that pitiful cry of hers and I just knew Jim had hit her or something. I was gonna shoot him if he did, so I grabbed my Derringer from the cabinet. To kill him with that gun I’d have to shoot him more than once, but this was something I was more than prepared to do. My husband was dead, my kids had left home, and William joined the military… I had nothing to lose.
As I walked the quarter of a mile I saw that there were a couple of deputies standing near the fence line of the land that Jim had just stole. In front of them were a bunch of mad Indians. Behind them was Jim. My mouth fell open as I saw what he was doing.
Seminole’s and Creek’s bury their dead with little houses built on top of them. They’re made out of wood and roofed with shingles and the whole bit. Sometimes they put the departed’s belongings inside the little house. Once they build the house you can’t do anything to fix them up. You just have to let them fall apart over the years.
The land that Jim bought belonged to Nukose Fixico. Jim had known him since they were kids, and I guess, finally, he decided to rip him off. Jim got him drunker than Cooter Brown and drove him over to Holdenville with paperwork in hand. Bought it for 15 dollars. 180 acres of land for 15 dollars.
I had known the Fixico’s a long time. Grew up going to Church with Mabel and Wilson. As long as I can remember they buried their dead in that cemetery. They had their whole family buried there dating back to right after the government moved Indians into Indian Territory.
Jim had shovels and rakes and was tearing the houses down and digging up the graves. He broke everything apart and put it all in a big ole hole. He had about three or four men helping him. Every last one of the helpers looked scared to death. All except Jim— He didn’t even flinch as he dug up the bones of them old Seminoles amidst the cries and whimpers of the family. He was building pigpens over the spot where the graves once stood. One of the loudest cries came from Vina.
I snapped at her and said,
“Oh, what do you care? You married his sorry ass!”
And she said, “You think you’re smart, don’t you?”
Hattie Fixico was a good friend of ours. She hasn’t said a word to me since that day. Course by now she’s dead. As Jim tore up the ground I remember her saying something to him in Indian. I could understand it a little bit on account of being around Tippie so long. He cut a lot of Indians’ hair and some of them he only talked Indian with. Hattie said something along the lines of, “You’re gonna have a lot of pain when you die”. And he did. Lord, I’ve never seen someone suffer so much as Jim did when he died. I know good and well some of them Indians doctored him up. If I had the means I’d’ve probably done the same.
It was four years after he dug up the grave and one year after William died. Jim found out he had cancer all over. For some reason I was the only one he’d talk to in the end. Ain’t that something? Man never said a kind word to me, one. Then, all of a sudden I was the only one he’d talk to. Didn’t make sense to me.
As he died he just screamed and screamed, and he swelled up like a balloon man. He whaled there like a coward. Finally, I had to take a break for a little bit. After we heard the screaming stop I went back into the room. He was hunched over on the floor. Blood was everywhere. On the walls, everywhere. Almost like he burst. It was a mess.
Vina said through the door, “Is he dead?”
And I said, “Yes”.
“Well, I guess he’s in heaven now,” she said.
I wasn’t gonna tell her no different, “Yeah, guess so…”
Jim was still alive when William died, though. We hadn’t heard from William in a week. That wasn’t unheard of, but, at the same time, it just felt strange at the time. I answered the phone at Vina’s house when the Dallas police called. He was telling me what had happened. All the while, Jim kept yelling, “Is he dead?!” At first I ignored him but he kept getting louder.
“Is he dead!?” Huh?”
“Well is he?!”
I hung up the phone, “Yes! He’s dead!” Vina began to cry.
I wanted to yell at her and say her that it was all her fault but I bit my lip. See the day that I took the picture William told us that he was going to ask his sweetheart to marry him. She was 16 and lived in Ft. Worth. He wanted money for a ring. Vina said, “I’m tired of you asking for money. Don’t ask again cause I ain’t gonna give it to you.” Well, he didn’t. Instead of asking her for money for the ring again he decided to steal the money.
A few months later he went into a liquor store on the same street where they shot Kennedy. Now, I always thought William favored John F. Kennedy. They wore their hair the same. Both handsome men.
Anyway, as soon as he walked in the cop said that he opened fire and shot up a whole row of liquor bottles on the wall. Said he had one of them Tommy guns. Where he got it I’ll never know. He told the Russian man behind the counter to give him the money. That sorry S.O.B. pulled a shotgun out from behind the counter and shot him in the chest. Our poor boy bled out on the cold floor of that liquor store, in the same town, and on the same street that Kennedy died. Ain’t that something?
At his funeral William’s mom and my first cousin, Mary, decided to show up. After we buried him at the cemetery in Holdenville Mary said, “I guess this is all my fault.” I looked at her and said, “It sure is.” Then I walked off.
Vina cried and cried. I could’ve just pinched her… I could’ve pinched them all. Now, as I sit here, though, recollecting the day I took that photo and the stories that go with it I kinda wish I had them all here with me. If not for anything but to help me remember the details.
About The Author:
Sterlin Harjo is a filmmaker (and music video maker) from Holdenville, Oklahoma. He has since traveled the far distance of an hour and a half up highway 48 to live in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He hasn’t made much money off his independent films, but someday he’ll make an 80 million dollar blockbuster and retire by the pool. Until then, he’ll work for cheap. Hire him while the getting is good.
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.