MIC-O-SAY - THE VIEW FROM 50 YEARS
… by “Your Chief,” Chieftain Red Breasted Woodpecker, Bill McMurray
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act – forever changing America.
That same day, miles away from Washington, DC, I stood before a blazing bonfire in rural America and was tapped into the Tribe of Mic-O-Say – forever changing me.
For four-and-twenty hours I experienced a rite of passage that challenged every fiber of my being: “I…searched myself and sought my inner strength and goaded my own spirit to enshrine within my heart four long enduring goals that on the morrow might have more avail than just the memory of totem poles, or white-washed rock.”
In the late evening hours of July 3, 1964, Medicine Man Swimming Rock placed a claw hanging on a piece of craftstrip around my neck, a feather in my forman’s headband, and proclaimed “Brave Red Breasted Woodpecker.” There were a few chuckles in the crowd.
The following evening my family celebrated July 4th with fried chicken and all the fixins’. After dark, as we sat under the Elm tree in our back yard on Mark Twain Street watching the fireworks, my Dad (Eagle Scout, 1923) reminisced about his career in the US Navy. He served in the South Pacific during World War II, and had been a member of the Naval Reserve since the end of the war – two decades of service to his Country. My Mother quoted President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” I remember saying to them that I intended to serve my country by earning the rank of Eagle, by becoming a priest or teacher, and by someday getting involved in politics. Of course, these thoughts were on my mind: because I had made a resolution.
The rest of the summer I rarely removed my red, white, and blue lanyard and Eagle’s claw. Mom (Golden Eaglet Scout, 1934) observed not only the lanyard and claw, but also a strengthened sense of purpose in her son’s life. Trained as a journalist and gifted with the sixth sense of the Irish, she started asking questions - and thus began our lengthy conversations that went on for over thirty years - on every topic imaginable – until the day she died. These conversations started: because I had made a resolution.
At the end of August, Cathedral organist Walton J. Smith retired. Inspired by his example and encouraged by Monsignors Ruggle and Nowland, I began playing the organ for two Masses every Sunday. That same month, I entered Christian Brothers High School as a Freshman. Our classes began with the prayer, “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God,” and concluded, “Live, Jesus, in our hearts – forever!” After classes, the Brothers put our Faith into action: I volunteered for tutoring underprivileged children, served as organist for the State Hospital’s Catholic Chapel; gathered food for the needy; raised money for the missions; helped out at Noyes Home; visited nursing homes; and joined YCS (Young Christian Students). I became more active in the practice of my Faith: because I had made a resolution.
The following February I was organist for the Scout Sunday Observance at Cathedral, after which I was introduced to Scout Executive Finley F. Fiske, and Assistant Scout Executive, Daniel J. Jansen. The Chief asked my name, and I answered, “Bill McMurray,” to which Finley replied, “Oh, I know that, Brave – your Chief wants to know your Indian name!” Well, I told my Chief my Indian name, after which he praised my musicianship more than I deserved, and concluded by challenging me to attend Camp Geiger that summer and earn my second claw. Then Dan spoke up, saying he was the camp director, and asked if I’d like to earn that second claw as a member of the 1965 Camp Geiger Staff, working in handicraft, helping the younger Scouts earn basketry and leatherwork merit badges. I said yes: because I had made a resolution.
And so it began – walking the path of my 4HR – at a time when many contrary paths were posited in an America increasingly at odds with itself.
Mom and I continued having our conversations, the Cathedral and the Christian Brothers continued nourishing my Faith, Scouting and MOS challenged me to serve my country and to help other people at all times. I earned Eagle, advanced to KSB, and made life-long friends at Camp Geiger.
A rite of passage fifty years ago anchored my life in guiding principles that have never failed me. The Great Spirit has richly blessed my life, and I give thanks, on my golden anniversary as a tribesman.
“I have known brotherhood….I have been strengthened by an Eagle’s claw.”
“And that has made all the difference.”