Anderson Corn Bread

“Anderson Corn Bread,” Friend, Nov. 1972, 42

Anderson Corn Bread

“What’s the matter with Anderson?” everyone was asking.

“Maybe he’s sick,” guessed Howard Mountain Lion.

“He doesn’t look sick,” replied Ruben Six Killer.

“Come and play, Anderson,” called Aaron Long Run. “You’re always missing recess.”

Anderson kept whittling on a stick. He didn’t even look up.

“Maybe he didn’t do his lessons,” Mary Tall Eagle suggested.

“No, he always does his lessons,” her brother, Freddie, insisted.

“He’s just tired or something,” Aaron said. Then he yelled, “Blackfoot warriors coming!”

Everybody forgot Anderson. The boys galloped off on their stick horses to ambush the invading tribe.

With a gloomy look on his face, Anderson Corn Bread watched the others play.

“I wish that new teacher hadn’t come to our school,” he muttered. “She’s always saying, ‘Be proud of your Indian history!’” Anderson mimicked. “‘Live up to your tribal names!’” He paused and then continued mumbling to himself, “All we ever study are Indian hunters and warriors.”

Anderson glared across the schoolyard at the boys playing as if they were warriors fighting a fierce battle over tribal territory.

“Howie Mountain Lion thinks he’s so brave!” Anderson burst out. “I bet your grandfather was as scared of mountain lions as you were of that badger we saw last summer.

“And look at Aaron Long Run playing as if he’s his great-grandfather, the one Teacher says ran for three days to warn his people the Blackfoot nation was on the warpath. That Aaron, he’d run away if he saw his own black feet!”

Anderson went on spitefully, “And Ruben Six Killer—he couldn’t kill six grasshoppers. And Freddie Tall Eagle—”

“And Anderson Corn Bread,” a voice spoke.

Anderson whirled around ready to fight. But it was only old Mattie Washtub. Some people said Mattie was a witch, and others claimed she was a wise woman who knew all things and heard thoughts not spoken.

Mattie Washtub didn’t look at Anderson. She just poked in the weeds with her stick, mumbling all the while.

All the kids were afraid of Mattie. Anderson didn’t know whether to run or not. He was about to slip down off the fence when he noticed she was muttering about the first one called Corn Bread—Anderson’s father, three fathers back.

“He was a good man,” old Mattie was saying. “Many men asked, ‘Corn Bread, will you tame my wild horses?’ No other man in all the tribe could gentle an animal like he could. Even the wild creatures of the mountain, feathered or four-footed, took food from his hand.”

Suddenly Mattie’s face was right in front of Anderson’s.

“What matters the name or how it came?” Mattie challenged.

Anderson was so startled that he tumbled off the fence. He jumped up and ran to the schoolhouse. But he had heard everything old Mattie said. Her words kept going round and round in his head and in his heart.

Early the next Saturday Anderson went into the foothills with his sister, Nahni, to pick bullberries. Along the irrigation canal they found many bushes with thick clusters of the mellow orange fruit. It was cool there, with only the sounds of plopping berries and chirkling water.

Suddenly the peaceful morning was split by a CRASH! SCREAM! SPLASH!

Anderson went thrashing through the bushes to see what had happened to Nahni.

She had fallen into the canal, and the swift full stream was tumbling her over and over.

Anderson quickly threw his weight on some long overhanging branches. In an instant Nahni was swept into them and she grabbed hold. Gasping, she pulled herself up and held on.

Anderson frantically looked here and there, trying to think of a way to get his sister out. The canal was wide and deep with straight sides. Anderson couldn’t reach Nahni, and if she tried to move, she would be swept off her feet again.

Suddenly Anderson knew what to do. He shouted, “Can you hold on awhile?”

Nahni nodded, but her teeth were already chattering from the icy water.

“I’ll hurry,” Anderson assured her.

He eased himself off the branches and dashed away. Nahni would drown before he could ever get help from the village, so Anderson ran in the other direction like a scared rabbit. When he reached the weir where the mountain creek was diverted into the canal, he tugged and tugged at the main head gate. But the surging water jammed it tight. Frantically, Anderson smashed against the supports with a big rock, weakening them until the water itself tore away part of the gate and rushed through. Then Anderson was able to divert most of the water endangering his sister.

Back he ran to help her. Carrying a long pole, Anderson jumped in beside Nahni. Finally he was able to get her over the bank to safety.

A few weeks later the tribal council called all the people to an important meeting. Everyone was surprised when the council chief announced, “It is the wish of the tribal council that the boy Anderson Corn Bread stand before them.”

Anderson couldn’t believe his ears. He was terrified. He tried to think what mischief he had done that the council would handle the problem instead of his own father. Someone gave Anderson a nudge, and he went forward on wooden legs. He felt as if the eyes of all the world were on him.

Anderson heard a voice speaking. It sounded far away, and at first he couldn’t catch even a word. But then as the voice continued, he heard “… in wisdom and action … to face trouble, not whining, crying for help, or making excuses … acting as a man … tradition of tribe to earn his own name … known forever by his proudest deed. We, the tribal council, decree that hereafter Anderson Corn Bread be known forever by all people in all places … this new name … earned by his own …”

Anderson felt as if he had been struck with lightning and was glowing with fire! They were honoring him! They had given him a proud new name! But just for helping his sister?

Anderson saw his mother, who looked pleased, but he could not tell how his father felt. Father was a good man and, like all the Corn Bread men, one of the best with animals.

Now there was silence. Anderson realized the council waited for an acceptance of their honor. The proud new name buzzed in Corn Bread’s head but other thoughts struggled in his mind. His eyes ran around the room seeking words to make his tongue work. His mother looked nervous; his father had a wondering look; the elders looked solemn.

Sitting on the floor in the corner old Mattie Washtub nodded as if asleep. But she was giving Anderson the most searching look of all. Anderson remembered the words Mattie had spoken to him that day. And suddenly he knew what he wanted to say!

Anderson spoke in a shy quiet voice, but the room was so listening-still that everyone heard clearly.

“I thank the tribal council for this great honor, but I do not wish to have the new name,” Anderson spoke haltingly as he looked at his father. “My father’s name is a good name. All the men of his family have made it a good name. I want to make it a good name too.”

Then, raising his eyes to old Mattie, who was staring at him, Anderson repeated her words, “What matters the name or how it came?”

Suddenly Anderson knew that a man’s real name is the thought of him other men carry in their hearts.

Illustrated by Charles Quilter