THE CLODHOPPER’S COLLISION COURSE: AN ECLECTIC ANOMALY
I am the product of a mixed marriage. I am half English and half a mixture of Osage, Tuscarora and (possibly) Saponi American Indian, Scots-Irish and African American. My eclectic life story is one long hands-on course in separate worlds colliding. I grew up on a corn farm in the boonies of Pennsylvania Dutch country, although both my parents were college educated.
My father, William Hinton, was a celebrated China scholar and author. His family stock was made up of English notables such as separatist William Bradford III, Governer of Plymouth Rock…and, further back, the Reverand John Bradford, burnt alive as a heretic by “bloody Queen Mary” in 1555. Add to this an assortment of intellectuals and eccentrics including inventors, scientists and mathematicians such as Great Great Grand Father George Boole (binary system of 0 s and 1 s applied to computers), and Great Grand Father Charles Hinton (tesseract geometric configuration representing the 4th dimension), and writers; Ethel Lilian Voynich (“The Gadfly”).
My paternal grandmother, Carmelita Hinton founded The Putney School (Vermont) in the middle of the depression, the first co-ed boarding school in the USA. This had a profound influence on all her children and grand children. My father wrote books on land reform in New China during wintertime and farmed and lectured the rest of the year.
My mother, Joanne Raiford, was a quiet musical person who was trained as a chemist. She worked as a lab technician for the rocket company Rockwell International. She had an immense soul / jazz collection and played piano, guitar, and harmonica. She loved the ocean, and actually wanted to be a marine biologist like Jacques Cousteau. My mother’s “yellow” black Indian family was second generation college educated.
I found the names of my ancestors from this side of the family on the slave rolls of a large plantation in Johnston County, North Carolina. Her paternal grandmother, Nannie Tillery (a Black Tuscarora/Saponi Indian) was said to be “a very practical woman.” Her paternal grandfather, Ernest Eugene Raiford (half white, half Tuscarora Indian) was a building contractor and was also a man of remarkable spiritual wisdom who was highly respected in the community, even among the educated, although he himself was not formally educated. He was known to recite biblical prose by memory, believed in reincarnation and was familiar with old Indian poultices. They had 8 children, all of whom were sent to college in Greensboro, North Carolina. They also had an alligator in a cage on the back porch!
When we were very young, we were looked after by Mennonites while my parents worked. There we rode the cows and ate fermented vegetables, and tried to make sense of, and integrate, God’s word with my father’s worldly socialist teachings. When we were older we brought in the hay and shoveled grain with my father.
In the summer we were sent to my aunt’s progressive farm work camp in Canada, and later we attended The Putney School, my Grandmother’s boarding school. I lived and studied art in China for 3 years with my other aunt, Joan Hinton, an X Los Alamos nuclear physicist, and later studied art in France for 3 years with my first husband, who was French.
My first year in China (1971), the year before Nixon officially opened up U.S. China relations (1972), I was 8 and I lived with a Chinese classmate, Li Yen Tung and her family (family name Li), on Dazhai commune way out in Shanxi province, sleeping on a big bed which doubled as a fireplace called a “kong”. We went to school in one room with a dirt floor, which the teacher spat on continuously. He picked you up by your collar if you messed up your characters. Only he would never touch a foreigner, instead we got instant un-earned “little red soldier badges” just for being foreigners, which we felt compelled to live up to by demonstrating outstanding moral character.
In Beijing we met Premier Chou En Lai (2nd to Chairman Mao himself) and Black Panther Huey Newton, among others. Back at the Friendship Hotel, my mother tried to teach the Chinese interpreters (who were charged with our care) how to dance to Motown!
During my second trip to China, when I was 18, my father was working a UN job starting a farm in Inner Mongolia. I was helping him to assemble John Deere tractors from crates shipped from the States. Upon request, the interpreters (who were charged with our care) managed to provide a pony for me to ride. One day I went for a personal “pony hike” in the dessert, but lost my way, before getting very thirsty. I approached a mud ranch house from way off in the distance. They had never seen anything like me before, but I “sign languaged” that I needed a drink. They brought me in and sat me down on the Family Kong. Woman on one side, teenage girl on the other. They gave me some water and looked at me while stroking my hair and face to check me out for real. They watched my every move and expression, like I was a Martian. Then I thanked them profusely in Chinese, which they did not speak, and the pony and I went on our way. I’m sure they saved my life. Later I came across a school with a teacher and students. They saw my American stride sillhouette along the top of a high sand dune as I led the pony. They were instantly terrified and ran into the schoolhouse for cover.
Well, the stories are endless… In any case, I eventually worked my way back to my maternal Indian roots, which I always felt so strongly connected to. I always wondered why my mother was so different from anyone else around. Eventually I found myself cooking corn worms on a 5 foot slab of sheet metal (an old car door) over a fire place between two boulders for some old Cherokee men on top of a mountain in Cherokee, NC, only to realize, I was not Cherokee, but Tuscarora (I had to see for myself). From my life, I have learned to live and communicate very openly, honestly and genuinely. This can surprise some people, but there is no turning back. I have lived with so many different kinds of people, and had to find ways to communicate in order to know how to proceed etc…I had to learn all kinds of customs, eat all kinds of food, understand strange reasons for strange practices. I have country bumpkin ways mixed with international diplomacy perspectives…From cow pies to caviar!