It is hard to write about Betty Mae Tiger Jumper being gone but she is no longer on this Earth.
Her funeral service at the House of Prayer Full Gospel Church was lovely & spoken with words of her two Native languages (Creek & Mikasuki) & also in the language in which she wrote her three books & her newspaper, The Seminole Tribune – English, amid a garden of floral displays, an overflow crowd of family & some friends. Outside gray skies opened a deluge to create perfect funeral weather, as if Breathmaker echoed the tears of those within.
I think there were more smiling eyes than wet ones – the stories they told on her were so good, fitting for one whose life was exuberant.
And we also heard about simple things, day old bread and cheap baloney & fried chicken necks that she made into feasts for children, during the lean years.
We were transported to the chimpanzee tourist zoo of decades back, where she protected a baby who was like her, born of an Indian mother & non-Indian father. This friend spoke & cried & smiled, following other men who also became emotional in expressing their love, all admirers of this elder, the last matriarch of the proud Snake Clan.
I loved it that her grandson Josh Jumper preached. And that her son, the poet Moses Jumper, Jr., told one of my favorite stories, about the day he thought he could skip school because the family truck wouldn’t start. Skip school? Un-huh. Not likely. Not with Betty Mae your mama.
He told us how she got the family bicycle, made him climb up on the handlebars & she proceeded to pedal him the long way to school down a highway.
Eventually someone who knew them, stopped & offered a ride.
She would have pedaled her kid the whole way.
That was a sweet summary: a mother’s love of her son; a mother’s devotion to education.
She passed on Friday, January 14, 2011, peacefully in her sleep. Bye Betty Tiger, Bye Betty Mae. Bye Betty Mae Tiger Jumper.
(Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, the first woman elected leader of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in 1967, was an amazing woman whose story I brought to children in a 2010 picture book, with artist Lisa Desimini & an afterward written by Moses Jumper, Jr.)