Turns out my uncle patrolled the border. Horseback. Pistol in a holster. I held back from asking if he always wore his on the right hip just incase I needed to keep my women in the military research interview flowing. “Papa was an officer,” he said with pride hanging up from his top lip as I attempted to conceal how many times have I heard this from my mother & her nine siblings within my response “uh-huh.” BuffaloSoldier scrapbooks emerged like snails on wet pavement after a summer rain. He pointed to a woman at the center of an eight by twenty four oblong photograph unfurled from a container previously tucked in a corner space. “Now this gal, she was the head nurse.” A corgi-looking dog at her feet, nearly eighty across & five deep – negro nurses, doctors, dentists stationed at Fort Huachuca Arizona holding razor straight poses in their over-pressed military uniforms. Uncle Sarge shuffled back up, pulled out an old 9th & 10th Calvary Association event program. He had purchased an ad, “Go Buffalo Soldiers.” A Collier list of men, stacked three generations deep of Buffalo Soldiers. Great grandfather James Collier Union Army, 64th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry; grandfather Lt. William Collier, 10th Calvary & 92nd Division; great-uncle Steven Collier, 10th Calvary, great-uncle Ernest “Chick” Collier, 10th Calvary; great-uncle Robert Collier, 25th Infantry & 92nd Division, uncle Ernest H. Collier 9th Calvary.
Three generations of buffalos. I can’t help but wonder did some of my uncles receive orders to fight Geronimo? Rustle to ground burnt umber Apache men defending tribal land like a mother or a father slitting the throat of a pedophiliac predator in a reconstructed counter attack in their minds, but still & all, unsuccessful as cotton’s defense against the boll weevil? Riders on borders, ebony brilliance & bravery? or checker board play over garbage worker, dishwasher, alley cleaner. Some civilians love men in military-issued uniforms. Some despise the costume. I am figuring where I land still, claiming a known historic thread as prideful familial triumph or the sober reality of somewhere there/then the engagement of black on red on brown to advance our race during the bloody Indian Wars in the western US, as if this was somehow honorable.
I heard my grandfather was an officer all my life; it’s as if my mother, aunts & uncles translated his second lieutenant rank somewhere earned between 1899 & 1929 into the equivalent of “your grandfather was a doctor.”
“Papa was an officer,” I heard again while I gave a status report on my visit with Uncle Sarge.
I see his blackness beam, riding gloves & boot hidden in the camera’s frame each.