I don’t know how many of my regular and occasional readers noticed the obit for Jonathan Winters in the paper or internet news last month but I found a really bizarre coincidence just by accident on the day they ran his obit in the paper. It made me wonder how often those who pass out of this world and on into eternity take a larger stake in the everyday occurrences in our physical realm. It’s very easy for us not to notice or pay attention because we’re all so busy or caught up in the controversies but even so I never seem to miss a thing when it comes to the natural or the supernatural world. Consider this-
Jonathan Winters passed away on the 11th of April at the age of 87, four days before the bombing in Boston. This constantly smiling comedian matched breakneck improvisations and characterizations which matched the likes of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey- but Jonathan came before them. Here’s something I bet you didn’t know about him. He was also a short story writer. He came out with a collection in book form back in November of 1987, titled Winters’ Tales Stories and Observations for the Unusual . The following account is one of the fictional stories that he wrote and was published in this book. It’s titled The Marathon Runner:
Throughout the year marathons take place all over the world. And, of course, a number of them are held here in the United States. Most of the runners, whether they’re men or women, are comparatively young, have been running most of their lives, and above all are in good condition- very good condition. The contestants in these races come from all sections of the world.
The marathon I decided to enter was a big and famous one- the Boston Marathon. Back on the reservation in Montana I had been an athlete- good in football and baseball and outstanding in track. I won the state finals, and had my mother and dad not been killed in a car crash in my freshman year in college, I really believe I might’ve had a crack at the Olympics. My dad had left my three sisters and myself a 1,500-acre ranch on the Blackfoot Reservation where we raised mainly cattle. My Indian name is Joe Little Turtle.
I shall always remember my grandfather, one of the tallest Indians I’d ever seen, saying, “Remember, Joe. Behold the turtle! The only time he makes progress is when he sticks his neck out.” He lived to be a hundred and three and got up one day in early March of 1970, threw his corncob pipe in the fireplace and said, ” I shook hands with Teddy Roosevelt and accompanied him on a worldwide tour, corresponded with Will Rogers and was present when Apollo Eleven, with Neil Armstrong aboard, took off for the moon. I’ve seen enough, enough for me.” Grandfather grabbed a hand shovel from a corner of the room and said, “I’m going out to dig a grave- don’t nobody follow till two suns pass. Then if them turkey buzzards and coyotes ain’t got to me, throw some lime on me, say what ya want and be on about your business!”
When I won the state finals in high school in Great Falls, Montana, I was wearing my grandfather’s moccasins. At first they were going to disqualify me for not wearing the right gear, but then the officials got together and overruled the decision.
I had to spend most of my time working on the ranch tending to the cattle. Meat was not selling well and my sisters were all going to college so I shelved my running dreams, but I did find myself running as much as I could on the ranch, whenever I could find the time. This was especially true during the winter months when it was bitterly cold, and I mean cold, as much as forty below this past winter. The heavy snow and big drifts would always strengthen my legs. Come spring and the thaw I found I could run like a deer.
When I turned sixty, I decided that before I packed it in I would go to Boston, hoping that I would pass all the requirements so I could at last enter the race.
I must confess I never dreamed of winning it. There were too many finer athletes, so much younger than myself. All I wanted to do, like many people my age, was to make a good showing and just finish. I notified my sisters that I was on my way back East to Boston to enter the marathon. Three of them were married and living not on the reservation but in others parts of the country. The night before I left Montana all the men of my tribe had a big council meeting to which I brought my grandfather’s peace pipe. Originally the pipe had four eagle feathers attached to it; now there was only one. Also the bowl on the pipe had a large crack in it. There were eleven of us and we all puffed on the pipe. It was strange, I could feel my grandfather’s presence- as a matter of fact, before the smoke cleared, it had formed the shape of a turtle. “Behold the turtle- the only time he makes progress is when he sticks his neck out!”
The next day I drove down to Great Falls, boarded the plane and was on my way to Boston. The day of the race I did something I had wanted to do ever since I was a small boy. I wanted to run just wearing a pair of buckskins, a beaded band around my head and a pair of moccasins. I had painted a turtle on my chest. I was the only full-blooded American Indian in the whole darn marathon. Joe Little Turtle, Blackfoot, age sixty from Rocky Boy, Montana. I could describe the whole race, but I won’t take the chance of boring you.
Just when I came across the finish line I don’t remember. I do remember my sisters were there and all the tribal chiefs. I won- I crawled across the finish line as my heart was giving out. Just before my eyes closed forever, I saw my grandfather. I felt a sharp pain in my right hand and looked at it. There was a picture of a turtle and he was smiling.
The coincidence of the Boston Marathon bombing and Jonathan Winters’ passing spurred my memory and when I took another look in that book I knew why the whole thing was tugging so hard at my heart. If any people directly affected by the bombing in Boston this year can take some kind of comfort in reading this story by all means please do. We’re all much more connected than we think we are and like I have been quoting a little more recently- there are no coincidences- or are there ? !
The Castle Lady