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Tommy Bear

With summer, my Dad would often quote the poem one of his classmates wrote when they were very young children. The poem was not about the things you might imagine other little Indian boys would write or create. It was about the tiniest thing. The Chigger. In part it went like this:


The Chigger is no bigger than the head of a pin,

but it has a Digger much bigger than a subsoil plow.


And at the end of the recitation he would always clearly declare that Tommy Bear had said it!


Seems to me there must have been several more lines, but these ring so true since losing 3 nights of sleep from the chigger bites I had been trying to endure.


The little guys are notorious to rest with the blackberries, and hang out with the wild plums, but neither are in season but the field had been mowed and the fluff of freshly cut tall grasses were a delight to walk through and the chiggers being dislodged after the cutting, must have decided to catch a ride with me when I passed by.


And they hung on tight.


What I have discovered about chiggers? They are small, yes. But if you are mindful sometimes you can feel them. It is like the least little army walking on the side of your face, maybe it feels like a single hair has been jostled by the wind and you reach up but don't find it. But yet the feeling continues. I am old and don't see as well as Tommy Bear did as a child, so it can be nearly impossible to SEE them. But I have found a way. I keep a roll of clear tape nearby. If I feel those invisibles, I reach up with a strip of tape and touch my face or arm or ankle and then quickly hold it up to the light. Most times, there is nothing to see, but there are times, especially in the summer that one appears just as clearly as you might imagine: a dark dot, the size of the head of a pin, indicating the chigger was stopped from digging in!


I was a grown woman when I first met Quapaw council member, Tommy Bear. He wasn't old enough to have been my father's childhood friend. But I didn't ever just sit down and question him with, "Did you have another Tommy Bear in your family? Did he go to school at the school in Vinita?" And finally "was he cleaver with words and have a real gift for poetry?"


The books children have loved came to life for me as I walked with my dear friend Jill Micka and Lori Holt Marble through her art installation at the new Joplin Public Library this week. Each of her illustrations were commemorating the books we all have loved and shared by reading aloud over the generations. Her abstract mixed-media paintings captured her interpretation of each. As she walked us along, we stopped and considered the story as we remembered it and saw them in a new way with her work in bold colors.


Just last week I had the opportunity to read 2 of my favorites aloud to the children in LEAD's Youth Activist Camp, reading first Only One You, the colorful depiction of the life messages a loving set of fish parents tell their only son before he heads out to be with his friends, and they hollered out to him, "There is only one you in this world, Make it a better place!" Which is a message we all should be adhering to!


I then had the rare pleasure to read the newer award winning We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrum to the youngest set of activists while recognizing the camp leaders who had spent some of their young lives to stop the southern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline in Oklahoma.


Children had been on my mind and being reminded of them and the joy reading to and with them can bring. So let's remember that fish message and do our part in making this world a better place.


Making this world a better place is going to take more than reading a book to a child, we have a climate challenge on our hands. So many species are being lost every day as the climate changes more quickly than they are able to respond and more land and natural habitat is being reduced. Do more now, plant a tree to help cool the planet, toss out those milkweed seeds, park your lawn mower and leave the back yard for the pollinators and cuddle up with Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and try to think kindly of the least of the species, the chigger and wish them a good night, too.


Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim


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