A multi-cultural heritage that started with Morning Star BRUCE D. HEDDINGER SR.

Giving Thanks

November 26, 1998|By Richard O'Mara

Bruce D. Heddinger Sr. never had any doubt about what he was thankful for when Thanksgiving rolled around -- at least not from the age of 5. That's when he learned about Morning Star.

Her name was in an old family bible. She was a Crow Indian woman who, to escape the violence of the Indian wars in and around Montana in the 1860s, walked all the way to West Virginia, slipped into the backwoods "and got hooked up with a Scot."

That "hook-up" eventually brought Heddinger into the world, as Morning Star's great-great-grandson. Her existence has enhanced his life, he says, by making him aware he is part of something larger, that he bridges two cultures, one dominant the other marginalized, often despised. He feels he is different, and cherishes that difference.

In response to The Sun's request for reasons to be thankful, Heddinger provided a whole list.

"I am thankful to the Native American people for the corn, potatoes, beans, tobacco and turkeys that they gave to the rest of the world," he wrote. "When you sit down Thanksgiving to the turkey, potatoes, beans and corn, give thanks to the Native American people. If you use a braided, beaded hairstyle, give thanks to the Native American people."

Such thanks are in order, he writes, in view of the way they were treated.

Heddinger, born 62 years ago in Huntington, W.Va., came to Baltimore in 1940 and became an iron worker. Though he spent most of his working life pitching and catching rivets and putting girders together at the higher elevations of projects like the Bay Bridge, the University of Maryland Hospital on Greene Street and the federal courthouse on Lombard Street, he has little time for the romance of the American Indian as high steel worker.

"When I worked in high steel, I worked with black guys, Scotsmen, Irish, Poles -- all kinds of guys," he says. "If you're not afraid of heights, you go up." Simple as that.

On Jan. 23, 1983, Heddinger took a wrong step, fell about five or six feet, and wound up permanently at home on disability. He's ambulatory, but he can't work on his knees, work over his head or even sit at a computer. He shares his northeast Baltimore home with his three grown children, Thomas, a roofer; Bruce Jr., a firefighter; and daughter Robin, with her two grandchildren.

These days Heddinger has two continuing desires. First, he wants people in this country to understand their history better than they do, and to appreciate the contributions the people who contributed to his own being have made.

Secondly, he wants to go to Scotland to visit the town from which his great-grandfather, a fellow named Robert Duncan, fled more than a century ago. "I'm told he killed somebody in Scotland and that's why he came over to this country," he says.

A good quest for a young senior citizen, that.

It's clear that his Scottish ancestry is important to him, though it doesn't seem to have the same luster that emanates from Morning Star. Whenever he is called to list his race on applications for this or that, he always marks the box designated for Native Americans, Eskimos and Others.

Heddinger, who says he has German, Irish, English and Italian blood in him, along with the Scottish and Crow, knows where he belongs. Which is always something to be thankful for.

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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