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My First Indian

She called herself Barbara Ann after the Beach Boy's song. She was the first Indian I ever saw. A full-blooded Cree who danced at the Molly B Friday and Saturday nights from 9PM until closing. She had long black hair and wore a short buckskin skirt and top, both fringed with tassels. The rumors were that she wanted to go topless, which brought in the crowds hoping for it to happen.

After five or six pitchers of beer she was the most beautiful woman we had ever seen. The bar was packed well before nine. We'd usually get there around seven and settled in with the first pitcher. To kill time the talk would be about the latest football game, the girls we had gone out with, and fishing and hunting tales. When conversation lagged we'd float peanut shells in our glasses. When Barbara Ann finally stepped out onto the stage a roar broke out. She danced to whatever was playing on the jukebox. Sometimes slow and sensuous, other times fast, her hair swirling around her face.

When the song "Barbara Ann" came on she danced like a wild animal, body contorted invitingly, tassels and hair flying. The smoky, beer drenched bar would explode into chaos. All the cowboys from the nearby ranches and students from the university singing along with the song, jumped up and down yelling for her to "Take it off. Take it off." She'd pretend to remove her top, then whirl across the stage like a dervish to thunderous shouts and flying peanuts. I'd been to a lot of bars before, including sports bars, but nothing equalled what I saw at the Molly B. She really knew how to play an audience of drunks. She liked to turn her attention from one table to another. It was easy to imagine she was staring only at you. It wasn't uncommon for a fight to break out when she shifted her gaze to the next table.

As the song "Barbara Ann" ended she stood defiantly and tossed her hair back over her shoulders. Her black eyes flashed with excitement. I wondered what she felt as she looked over the smoke filled room. How had she ended up in a place like this? Once, during a break I saw her smoking outside the restrooms. I mumbled something to her about being a great dancer. She gave me a quick smile, then disappeared into the ladies room. For a moment I was madly in love with her. A few months after I'd left Bozeman I heard she'd been fired for finally going topless.

Now when I'm driving and "Barbara Ann" comes on I have to stop. The image of a long ago half-smile tightens my chest and brings a tear or two to my eyes.

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