In the beginning, there was a little girl. She was about twelve. I see her in the picture reel, walking through the woods, her footsteps making as little sound as possible. There were moccasins on her feet, if only in her mind, and she dreamed of what it would be like to live in a world such as this, a place inhabited by acres upon acres of ancient trees and rushing rivers. A place filled with migrating tribes of indigenous peoples, living of the land when needed, singing birds filling the air, and strangers from an unknown land threatening to take over my sacred space.
For that little girl had a grandfather who was Cherokee, or at least that was the tribe that was mentioned. He was her father’s grandfather, a man of little words, died many years before she was born to learn of her native people. She grew up enamored with the lore, dreaming of a people she couldn’t connect with or touch in her current life.
That little girl grew up and went to school. She didn’t forget the man who had become legend in her life. She tucked him carefully into the corner of her mind until a later date. Then a couple years ago, that girl decided to take advantage of the genealogy services at the library. She searched and searched. She found his birth and death date. She even found his WWI draft card, but was disappointed that he chose to call himself white, when first person accounts of family members said he was clearly not.
That girl was me. I still feel connected to the people I cannot seem to reach. His secrets may have been buried in the grave with him, but I still look for him. I read stories of the trials and horrors of a proud people now diminished and I cry with them. The hole in their hearts tug at the hole in mine. Someone said that he might not be Cherokee, that he might be some other tribe, but that is all I’ve got to hold onto. I’ve got his name and his indigenous heritage. I’m a part of this land just as well as any full blooded Native. My love of nature might have been his legacy, my past and future together. My love of stories and history may have come from their love of community and storytelling.
How do I fill in the pieces that he was too ashamed to tell? Because without his origins, my ending here wouldn’t have been told.