Little Twist


As the mourning doves cooed, most of her tribe awakened happy for this day. But Little Twist’s lips trembled as she leaned against the wall and pulled at the bark and grass thatching that layered the dome-shaped hut.

“I won’t go today,” she muttered defiantly to herself. “I’d rather be alone, even though it is a feast.” She reached down and tried to rub the ache out of her twisted foot.

Squanto, the Pilgrims’ friend, had brought the message: All Wampanoag Indians were invited to the Plymouth village for a big feast. Chief Massasoit had accepted the invitation for the tribe. She especially remembered that day because her father, one of the tribal leaders, had stroked her loose black hair as he said, “Even you, Little Twist, she who hides from strangers, shall go. We shall show our friendship for our white friends.”

The morning sun warmed her skin, but even the colorful autumn beauty failed to warm her spirits. Standing, Little Twist briskly brushed the dust from her soft deerskin skirt, causing the bottom fringes to dance and swing about her legs.

Looking up, she saw Spotted Fawn walking past the red maples toward the creek. Spotted Fawn was small and graceful, the image of her name. Oh, how Little Twist hated her own name! It never let her forget her deformity for a minute. It was bad enough that she could never join the other children in their games—they weren’t unkind about it, but they ignored her and left her alone.

Why can’t I have a new name, she wondered, one that describes something good about me instead of calling attention to my foot? She tugged at her wampum belt. The touch of the polished beads made her feel better as her fingers traced the intricate pattern. With great patience she had carved the white and purple shells into beads, then strung them carefully under Grandmother’s instruction. When the belt was finished, she was proud of it, and Grandmother had even said that it was the best wampum belt in the village.

In the distance the men of the tribe had gathered. As Little Twist watched them, she noticed that Running Fox, her brother, was helping prepare for the feast with the Pilgrims. She smiled as she saw her father dressed in his new deerskin clothes for the occasion. He truly looked like a tribal leader, and Little Twist was proud as she remembered how she had helped her mother prepare the skins and stitch them together.

“Daughter, why aren’t you helping Grandmother?” Little Twist’s mother interrupted her happier thoughts. “Must I always coax you?”

Her mother’s reprimand hurt, adding to the hurt that she already felt. She could not hold it inside any longer. “I will stay here,” Little Twist told her mother. “I cannot endure the stares that will come when they hear my name and see that I am crippled. It is hard enough to bear the stares of my own people.” With desperation in her eyes, she asked, “Cannot I have a new name? Then maybe people won’t stare at me so.”

“A new name must be earned,” Mother chided her gently. “We will talk about it later. Right now we must think of other things. Please go and help your grandmother.”

Little Twist limped over to where Grandmother stood waiting. Baskets of multicolored Indian maize, green beans, and golden squash lay on the ground next to her feet. “Ah, little one,” she said, “it is time to carry the three sisters to the feast.”

Little Twist couldn’t help but smile back as she gave her usual reply: “Corn, beans, and squash are funny sisters.”

Grandmother’s eyes twinkled, but she just nodded and slowly bent to pick up one basket. “It will be good to give thanks for them and for all the harvest with our new friends.” She squinted against the glaring sun, then walked toward the white man’s village.

Reluctantly Little Twist picked up the other two baskets and shuffled after her. Upon reaching the feast site, she put down her burden where it was sure to be found, then returned to the edge of the clearing and let the dimness of the forest hide her. Resting against a cool boulder, she massaged her tired foot.

The crisp breezes brought her fragrant odors of roasted wild turkey, duck, venison, and other succulent dishes, and hunger rose inside her. Even so, she would rather be hungry than join the feast.

Suddenly Running Fox was standing next to the boulder. Little Twist smiled, always surprised at how her brother found her secret places.

“Our hunters shot five deer for the feast,” he bragged, kneeling next to her and massaging her still-throbbing foot. “Come, little sister. It is time to eat. Afterward you can watch me win the race.”

“I want to stay here,” she told Running Fox. “And races are no fun for me. But I wish you luck.”

“Thank you for your kind wish, Little Twist. But you must come. Father sent me for you. He says that it would be rude for you to stay away.” Standing, Running Fox carefully helped his sister to her feet and steered her to a place where she could feel relatively unnoticed. She flashed him a grateful smile when he brought her a plate of food before leaving to compete in his race.

As the hours passed, Little Twist watched many games and competitions. Finally she began searching for her mother. Approaching the Pilgrims’ cabins, she found her among the women who were laughing together while putting away the leftover food. Their happiness sounded like a flock of songbirds clustering in a berry bush, and Little Twist forgot her foot for a while as she enjoyed their gaiety.

Soon a number of women gathered in a circle at one side of the clearing. Grandmother and Mother and Little Twist went over to see what was happening.

Within the circle, a white woman stood holding an iron kettle. Several fur pieces, moccasins, and shelled necklaces had been placed before her in offering for a trade. The white woman examined them carefully but seemed dissatisfied.

Seeing how long her mother gazed at the iron kettle, Little Twist pulled closer to her and whispered, “A kettle like that would be useful.”

Her mother nodded, then shrugged. “I brought nothing to trade. To interest the white woman one must present something of value, for surely that kettle will not go cheaply.”

Little Twist had only one thing of real value—her wampum belt. But how could she give up her treasured work? And even if she were to offer it in trade, she’d have to walk into the circle, exposing her limp. Pressing her lips firmly together, she unconsciously tried to hide her bad foot behind her good one as she waited to see if anyone’s offer would be accepted.

Unexpectedly Spotted Fawn stepped forward. She carefully stretched her own wampum belt across the grass, displaying her beaded artwork for appraisal.

While everyone else admired the white and purple beads glistening in the sunlight, Little Twist saw that the beading was not as evenly tied as hers. The pattern was a bit unbalanced, and the beads were irregular because the seashells hadn’t been carved small and round enough.

“Ah, little one, what do you think?” Grandmother whispered in her ear.

Little Twist turned and saw Grandmother’s eyes dancing and sparkling as they challenged her. Drawing in her breath for courage, the girl’s fingers shook as she untied her belt, hobbled forward, and placed it next to Spotted Fawn’s.

Silently the white woman studied Little Twist’s belt. Then she reexamined all the trade offers one by one. Finally she made up her mind. With a warm smile she extended the iron kettle to Little Twist and picked up her beautiful wampum belt to complete the trade.

Little Twist was proud and happy as she turned to give the kettle to her mother.

Her mother was equally proud and happy. She stepped into the circle and announced, “My daughter has earned a new name. No more shall she be called Little Twist. Now she shall be known as Seashell.”

For three days the Wampanoags stayed and feasted with the Pilgrims. And during that time the people forgot Little Twist and her crippled foot. Instead, they spoke to and about Seashell, the tribe’s best wampum maker.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robyn S. Officer