In the late 1930s Ted Williams’ family took in a pup to which he was especially attached. The sunlight cast blue specks into its vinyl-black coat, and while people were figuring out a name they called it “Bluedog,” which stuck. Every day for weeks Ted ran home from school to play with Bluedog. He was fascinated by its animal manners, its open nature toward all life, and the simple love it felt back for him. One day, though, he came home to find its little body still and cold on the front step. He ran in crying. His father, the healer Eleazar Williams, was home waiting for him.
“Ted, my son,” he said. “You know that all beings have free will. We can choose what’s right for us and others, or we can choose what might be wrong. Just the way we tell you what’s good for you, we told that little dog again and again not to go down the driveway and play in the road. But he didn’t listen to us, and he got away and ran out with the cars. Now he’s learned a sad lesson. But it's the Creator's way. We have free will.”
“Daddy, can’t you do something for that little dog?” Ted cried. “Daddy, I know there is.” This was no idle request. The powers of a Medicine Man can be awesome.
“Now, Ted,” the father said. “There might be something I can do for him. But this isn’t an easy decision. We shouldn’t turn back the pattern of the Creator just because we want to. We can only do what’s allowed. And some of what’s allowed isn’t the best thing.”
“Daddy, bring Bluedog back to us,” said Ted.
“I want to be sure you have thought about this,” his father said. “It’s a lesson for you, too. In the balance of things there’s a cost for everything we do. Someday you may want me to do something like this that will be far more important, and this will be the only time I can say yes. Someday you may want to change something that the Creator has allowed, and he may already have spoken for you. I just ask you to think about it.”
“I won’t ask for anything again,” sobbed Ted. “Just do it now.”
“If you’ve decided, I’ll give it a try,” said the father. “You have free will, too. The Creator won’t let us do it if it’s going to tip the balance of things. Let's see if that little dog may have a role to come that we don’t understand right now. Come watch with me and see if it’s allowed.”
By then the whole family had gathered. Eleazar Williams went to the body of the pup, opened its jaws, tucked something small into its mouth, and closed them gently again. Sometimes he chanted over the dog’s body in Tuscarora. Now and then he looked up to the sky through the trees as if asking for guidance. He stroked the downy fur under the dog’s chin and called to it as if to wake it gently. He may have done all this for half an hour.
“Now, Ted, let’s put him down real easy into that warm grass over there right where the sunlight falls. You just sit here on this step and make sure nothing bothers him while the Creator’s deciding.”
The tears were dried on his cheeks by the time the grass started to shake, and Ted heard a tiny cough. The grass parted, and Bluedog stood, still shaking. A couple times he stopped and hacked up bits of organ and bone. Once he'd stopped coughing for good, he trembled and looked around as if he didn’t know where he was, as if he was ready to run into the woods. Then he saw Ted and wagged his tail.
Though he walked with a shimmy the rest of his days, that little fellow went on to a long and happy life. He was the best animal friend Ted ever had, and in his seventy-fifth year his eyes still welled whenever he told the story. Bluedog had a bit of that quality the Europeans would have called fey, that was all. Maybe because of his short stay in the otherworld, he was always seeing spirits in this. It was hard getting him to keep a pace sometimes on those late-night walks. Some nights he wouldn’t leave the yard.
Ted Williams became a healer himself. But tragedy came to him later in life, one he would have given his life to undo. He always wondered what he’d done to bring it on, and if he might have used the Creator’s special dispensation when he was a boy.
Twice a year in April and October, Native elders lead a conference at a camp in southern Ohio. Ted Williams and Mike Bastine were the speakers in April 2005. Amy Reed and I had timed our southern trip so as to catch them on the homeward swing. We drove all one Friday and arrived in early evening. My then-domestic partner and still lifelong friend took our scrappy, 40-pound polar-bear of a dog for a long walk on the grounds. I found the two stars tucking into a potluck buffet.
Mike and Ted sat across each other at the end of a nearly-full cafeteria table. While other diners nearby craned their necks to catch conversation, they had respectfully declined to fill a seat next to Ted. He motioned to it when I greeted him.
I was surprised at how much private talk I was able to have with them both in this environment. Ted told me some wonderful stories about the False Faces and retold tales to come about Bluedog and the Fairy Tree. But this visit was just a greeting. Amy and I had to get to Chillicothe and find an inn that could take us and our quirky cub.
That night I had a terrible dream, one that reawoke a long cycle of anguish.
My late mother had fallen out of her bed, and I had to drive over and help her aides pick her up. Next thing I knew I was starting to lift her, and the aides were no longer in the room. Her ragdoll body and the rails of the hospital bed were making it the labors of Sisyphus. I tried to lift limb and torso, but her core weight shifted like sand in a sack. So busy lifting so gently, I failed to notice at which point she took on the hide and tawny hair of a big cat, a lion or puma. She was still vulnerable and inert, though, and within her own declining mind. Her impish chuckle punctuated everything as though it was all funny. Shocked, repelled, terrified, I kept to my task with exquisite care. It was endless.
I sat straight up like I’d been shocked.
Like everyone, I’ve had the occasional nightmare. Most often I come up with a weapon and lash back at whatever the menace is, or shift and become the bigger predator. My dream-mind is good at that. Once I took on a werewolf by becoming one. Another time I launched bolts at a T-Rex like Cyclops the X-man.
I’ve never had a dream whose affect on me was as horrible as that one. It touched every nerve in my makeup. I couldn’t track it to anything that had happened.
For ten years I’d been the proverbial Masonic “Son of a Widow.” My mother’s decline had affected me. I was at her side as she passed. But so many people go through so much worse. And she had been gone for two years.
Where these dreams come from, who knows? I think some of them are backdated flowerings of old incidents, eruptions of things that have been brewing in the mind and personality and pick their moment to come to a head. Maybe these turmoils seethe in us at some point every night, and only once in a while we wake into the bad ones, lucky us. But the effect of this dream was awful. I said nothing about it to Amy.
We went to the morning session of the conference. When he was done talking, Ted ducked out somewhere and no one could find him. We stood with Michael Bastine in a small circle. Thankfully others talked. I was only half-there, still dwelling on that terrible dream. My skin crawled like tiny electrical wires charged my clothing. Just as Amy asked Michael to give our goodbyes to Ted, I felt a light, cool puff on the nape of my neck, just lifting a bit of my hair. The dream vanished, and I turned to look.
It was Ted, coming up behind me with a brush-up of a hand. It was an odd gesture, one no American white would think of. There had to be something cultural or even ceremonial about it. Light as a breeze, it would have taken practice to duplicate.
An hour later on the rural roads of central Ohio, I spilled it all out: the dream, the turmoil I could barely remember, the curiosity of it all, and that strange touch. It was as if all the grief and trauma of the last ten years was at rest.
“He healed you,” said Amy, a massage therapist, a reiki healer, and a deeply intuitive woman. He knew the dream, she could have said. It’s too much to think that. But he was of the Medicine People.
Later the same year - September 28, 2005 - Michael Bastine called to tell me that Ted Williams had passed away in Asheville, NC. He was leaving early in the morning for the southern part of the ceremonies. We talked just a few minutes about Ted and all the elders leaving the world. The closeness – and loss - was far greater for Michael than for me. I had known and liked Ted. Those two had loved each other. We closed, though, with him consoling me. “Ted’s working his medicine all over, now,” he said.