Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tale of the Indian Princess and the Hot Coals

Part one.

Summer 1975.
The Salvation Army's Camp Allegheny.
Near Ellwood City, Pennsylvania.

I am 10.

For the summer, I live with my parents at The Salvation Army's camp for inner city children. They run the entire operation, and my brother and I have full run of the place -- an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a creek, forest trails, even a barn with a rope for a swing and a massive pile of hay on which to fall.

And during one week in the summer, I get to experience what the other kids experience -- I get to be "a camper." As the school buses bring in children from all over Western Pennsylvania hovels, I am assigned with them to an A-frame cabin, where I sleep on a cot and trade ghost stories and participate in all of the programs as one of them.

This particular night, we're sitting around a campfire. As the logs pop and the sparks crackle in the cool northern Pennsylvania night air, my teen-age camp counselor puts a flashlight underneath her chin.

"Do you want to hear a freaky story?" she asks.

"YES!" we all shout, and we scoot to the edge of our log-carved seats so that we don't miss a word.

"Once," she begins, "there was a beautiful Indian princess. She feared no man. She hunted deer and bear and made beautiful winter coats and blankets from their skins and roasted their meat in open fires. She went to war alongside the warriors, while the squaws of the village tended the fires and took care of the babies. She had the heart of a lion.

"One day, the princess was in the field, gathering herbs for a special banquet. She was going to be married, you see, but she had to choose the man who would be worthy of her. It was her job to create the feast and judge each suitor as he came to eat it. She was perplexed, for there was more than one man who could easily become her husband.

"As she bent over to pull some of these herbs, she suddenly saw a pair of bare feet standing before her. They were rough and worn. She looked up into the face of a mysterious old woman.

"'Princess,'" the woman said, "'Tonight you will choose your husband. To find the man who is worthy of your heart, you must do one thing. While they eat, you must perform a dance. But this is no ordinary dance. You must take hot coals from the fire and while the men are dining, dance like you've never danced before -- atop the coals of the fire of the feast.'

"Suddenly, the woman vanished! The princess wondered if she was losing her mind, but she decided to do what the ghostly woman had commanded. As the men gorged themselves, she went to the fire and with stick pulled hot coals from it, laying it before their table. Then she stepped onto the coals to the beat of the drum. And as the coals seared the flesh of her feet, she began to dance wildly, chanting and singing.

"She didn't get far into her dance, when she felt strong arms grabbing at her and pulling her up from the fire. The warrior held her as a baby to his chest. And as the drum continued to beat, he danced on the coals for her.

"And this, my children, is how the Indian Princess found the true love of her life."

We were aghast, silent, amazed.

As I tucked into my sleeping bag on the small metal cot later that night, I stared at the slanted roof of the A-frame cabin. I replayed the story over and over in my mind.

I wanted so badly to become that Indian Princess, who danced on the hot coals.

What does this have to do with a Christian safehouse? Tune in tomorrow for the next part of the story.


  1. Where's 'part 2'?

  2. Sorry! I will post it later. Personal events in my life sort of took over. But I promise to put one up for you shortly. Thanks for your interest!