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|October 9-15, 2008
Me and my Brown Shadow
by Dale Bridges
I have never been a huge fan of eBay. There’s just something about sitting at home alone purchasing used products from Internet dorks halfway around the world that seems incredibly creepy to me (except for mail-order brides, of course). Maybe it’s because my mom used to wake me up at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings when I was growing up and drag me to every hillbilly, trailer trash garage sale in the tri-state area, searching for “back to school duds.” You have not suffered embarrassment until one of your classmates points at your underwear in the locker room before gym class and says, “Hey, those are mine.”
However, recently, I broke down and made a purchase from that giant, amorphous pawnshop on the Web, and I’m glad I did. You see, sometimes my friends don’t believe me when I tell them tales of my small-town, über-Christian childhood. It’s not that they necessarily think I’m dishonest; it’s just that they know I have a casual relationship with the truth when it comes to telling stories about my life. Just like George Washington, I never tell a lie, but like Mark Twain, I don’t see anything wrong with putting a bit of lipstick on the truth. Therefore, when I told my friend Megan about my favorite childhood book, she didn’t believe me.
“What was it called?” Megan asked in the same incredulous tone that TV lawyers use when they’re interrogating an unreliable witness.
“Brown Shadow,” I said.
“Uh-huh, right. Let me get this straight. Your mother used to read you a book about some Christian guy who kidnaps an American Indian boy and names him Brown Shadow?”
“I swear to God.”
“You’re an atheist now.”
“Well, then, I swear to Richard Dawkins.”
But she still wouldn’t believe me. Which is why I had to go on the Internet and purchase the book from some dude in Ontario, Canada. My reputation was on the line.
Here’s the basic plot of the story: There’s this white pioneer named Jeff Lockwood, see, and he’s traveling through the Old West in a canoe. One day, he finds a little Indian boy in the woods and Lockwood decides that God wants him to convert the pint-sized savage. So Lockwood does what any good Christian would do under these circumstances: he ties the boy up with rope and puts him in the canoe. The boy does everything possible to get away, including jumping over the side of the boat in an apparent suicide attempt. But Lockwood is wise to his shenanigans and is determined to save his soul. He decides the boy needs a name. Joe would have been a good choice. Larry has a nice ring to it. But no, Lockwood settles on the incredibly offensive moniker Brown Shadow. The two go on many adventures together. Eventually, Lockwood earns Brown Shadow’s trust, breaks him of his pagan ways, and converts him to Christianity. The End.
It’s kind of like the story of Lone Ranger and Tonto, except with a little theology and S&M thrown in to keep things spicy.
Obviously, this is a horrible book, filled with racist pedagogy, ethnocentric nonsense and religious fanaticism. I know all that. But the really disturbing part is this: the book makes me feel nostalgic. You see, I love my mom, and she’s a great storyteller. We used to curl up on the couch together late at night under my Dukes of Hazzard blanket and she would let me choose any book I wanted and I always chose Brown Shadow because it was an exciting story and it had cool pictures. Listening to my mom read is how I fell in love with language, and it’s probably one of the reasons I eventually became a writer. I wanted to tell stories and excite imaginations.
Here’s the thing about growing up with a family that is fundamentally (no pun intended) insane: at some point, you just have to let it go. Does my mom believe that rock ’n’ roll was created by Satan and homosexuals are part of a communist plot to overthrow the Jews in Hollywood? Probably. Does that make her a bad person? No, it makes her a good person who believes in some bad things. And there’s an important difference between the two.
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