Norman and Me, Me and Eddie

Erik Bitsui

Although Eddie was always around, Norman and I never talked about him. Maybe I should ask Norman what he knows about Eddie.

Out on the Navajo rez, at my grandmother’s house, my uncle Norman wore an Iron Maiden t-shirt. That white t-shirt with black long sleeves was plastered to Norman’s young Navajo chest. Printed on the shirt was the cover photo of Maiden’s 1983 Piece of Mind album which depicted the band’s mascot, Eddie, in a strait jacket chained to a wall of a padded cell. I never did ask my uncle where he got it from.

All of Norman’s nieces and nephews — me among them — knew Eddie was the Iron Maiden mascot, a half-dead character drawn by Derek Riggs. All the kids in the family examined every detail of that t-shirt, from Eddie’s black eyes to Eddie’s elbows ripping from the jacket—he was moments away from escaping. I too stared into Eddie’s eyes: I awoke Eddie within me just by looking deep into his eyes. And for some reason, all the grownups looked away.

In late 1983, Norman walked around my grandmother’s house and all around Blue Gap, AZ, with Eddie painted on his chest.

At shimasani’s house, that t-shirt chopped wood, herded sheep, talked with the adults, and that shirt teased shimasani. That shirt hauled buckets of water into a house with no running water no matter how cold it was outside and never spilled a drop. That shirt drove shichei’s truck to the Blue Gap Trading Post with a bunch of kids inside bundled up because the heater didn’t work. And that shirt sat at tableful of kids laughing and joking. But at times, that shirt scolded the kids when they did wrong.

But that shirt was all about survival through hard work and laughter. That shirt shared funny jokes and stories with the elders and kids. And that shirt always ate heartily and cleaned up afterwards. Life itself was hard work and could often be cruel but that shirt made existence one long laugh despite all the pain and stretching to make the ends meet one more time.

What did Eddie’s unmistakable attitude mean to my uncle?

And that shirt played Iron Maiden albums — it slapped cassette tapes into a broken stereo plastered with AIM and Free Leonard Peltier stickers. The speakers blasted harrowing vocals, twin distorted guitars, fingered bass lines and thundering drums all over the holy contours of Blue Gap.

In fact, at that time in my life, shimasani’s house was the only place I ever heard Iron Maiden. I never knew what Iron Maiden sang about but whatever it was, their message must have been important because the music moved Norman and the landscape. Iron Maiden always made familiar Blue Gap into something different than before. As far as the kids cared, the music was able to bring Eddie back to life.

Although we never talked about it, Norman must have known Eddie’s unmistakable attitude. When I actually sat down to listen to Iron Maiden lyrics, I had my epochal moment of Eddie for myself. As the years have gone by and I’ve memorized much of Iron Maiden’s catalogue. This band from England is a band that keeps me going and makes me feel ethnic pride, a pride in who I am, where I come from. When I listen, I appreciate my homeland, my voice and my genetic profile. When I listen to an Iron Maiden album, I feel my homeland coursing through chi meridian highways. I wonder if it has something to do with Iron Maiden’s strong connection with the British Isle — their own homeland. I’ll never know.

So what did Iron Maiden and Eddie mean to Norman?

Maybe Norman didn’t need to tell us kids but instead as uncles do, Norman just showed us a way and we, his nation of nieces and nephews, had to walk through the door of knowledge by our own selves. Eddie was always there waiting and that shirt showed us we could still be Blue Gap kids, be metal heads, and walk confidently into any situation just like Norman did.

As an uncle and a semi-grown up — pretty much an older kid — Norman must’ve known and kept that knowledge away or never found a moment to discuss Eddie’s passion. Or maybe it never crossed his mind to share it with us as we looked in with something else looking back out.


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