This battered old guy has been sitting atop a shelf of books next to my big TV for a decade. Each night, he and I watch movies together. I just call him "Big Chief" and he gives me that wry side-ways look and goes back to watching the movie. I gave him a nice, straw hat, and a Cherokee "ceremonial shirt," but a year ago, I decided to give him my academic "hood." It looks good on him.
"Big Chief" used to tour with Hobey Ford, the most gifted puppeteer that I have ever met. If you have never seen Hobey perform, then I pity you. Now, quick, while there is still time, go see a Hobey Ford show! Hobey often opens his "magic tour" by dragging a huge trunk into the middle of the stage and opening it...Out flies an EAGLE! No kidding. It soars above our heads and comes to rest in a window. Then, puppets begin to crawl out of the trunk.
Hobey Ford is a storyteller but there is a difference. Hobey's tales are vehicles for his creatures that climb on his knee or a nearby chair and then talk to Hobey and the audience. There are a lot of Native American tales in Hobey's show - all filled with fanciful creatures. That is where I saw Big Chief the first time. He listened to Hobey tell stories and reacted to them with wonder, disbelief and skepticism.
I interviewed Hobey once and he took me into his workshop where he created his creatures. I saw Big Chief sitting on a shelf looking a bit forlorn. I asked why he was up there and Hobey said that he had decided to retire him. "He is old and beat-up," said Hobey. I felt a pang of empathy since I'm feeling a bit abused and misused myself. I asked if I could buy Big Chief, and within moments, we had struck a bargain. A week later, a packing box arrived, and there, wrapped in plastic was Big Chief, looking apprehensive. For a while, he rode around with me and stared at my friends. Finally, I put him on a shelf with a bird feeder behind him and my TV nearby.
So, there he sits, listening to commercials and foreign films, CNN and a constant deluge of fantasy, horror and romance. I catch him looking at me with skepticism.
"Oh, come on!" he says. "Do you believe that?"
Some nights I look up to find him gone. He has fallen between the window and the heater, and I have to retrieve him,dust him off, straighten his academic robes and straw hat and position him so that he can see both the TV screen and the squirrels in my bird-feeder. He is good company.