Country Bumpkin

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A friend calls me Country Bumpkin. I don’t mind. I find the most simple things in this world are also the most complex and far-reaching. I have a need to be surrounded by those complex simplicities. I do my best thinking when I’m alone, surrounded by nature. That’s when I have my epiphanies, my eureka-sparks, my moments of brilliance (okay, well, they’re brilliant to me.)

I need to touch the earth, to feel the sun on my face and the wind on my lips. I need the smell of soil and the sounds of birds. I need dragonflies and butterflies and tiny garden snakes. I need crickets and snails and random centipedes. I need to see the stars at night and wonder at the moon. I need the magic of trees. I need the sound of rain falling on the leaves and scent of a wet woodland floor, spring peepers and fire-flies.

When I am surrounded by the natural world, it doesn’t matter what I look like or sound like. It doesn’t matter what accomplishments I’ve made or failures I’ve experienced. All that matters is that I make like a flower, grow, bloom and produce some sort of seed for future flowers to grow, so that there will always be flowers on the earth. A seed can be an idea, an invention, an investment into the lives of others. A seed can be a song, a poem, a book. A seed can be a simple act of kindness. Flowers don’t compare themselves to other flowers. They just grow and bloom, according to whatever kind of plants they are.

 

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Wildwood Flower

CSC_0143When I was a little girl

Daddy played guitar

sang off-key

to me, he was a star.

He’d sing

Mary Don’t you Weep

There’s an Unclouded Day

Be Careful of the Stones You Throw

and Jesus is the Way.

But my favorite song of the hour

was when he’d sing

The  Wildwood Flower.

Then he’d stop and say,

“You’re my wildwood flower

bloom where God plans

I’ll be watching over you

but our lives-

are in His hands.”

Years came and went

my  little girl days were spent

roaming woods

skipping rocks

climbing trees.

There never was a time

I wasn’t free.

I suppose we don’t know

what we’ve got until it’s gone.

We forget life is as fragile as a weed

I held my daddy’s hand

as I squatted on my knees

The man who sang to me

was a flower all along.

For as long as I live

I’ll be listening to his songs,

Mary Don’t you Weep and

There’s an Unclouded Day

Be Careful of the Stones you Throw

And Jesus is the Way.

But my favorite song of the hour

Was when he’d sing

The  Wildwood Flower

Then he’d stop and say,

“You’re my wildwood flower

blooming where God plans

I’m always watching you

but our lives-

are in God’s hands

 

My People, My Spirit

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I went out, hoe in hand

to tend my garden

beside the clothesline.

 

Blade to soil,

I uncovered a deer

buried in pieces

hacked apart

never to be found.

 

 Yet—

there he was

mutilated,

scattered,

obscured

but his blood

still ran–Red.

 

 I looked at the clothes

hanging on that line,

the ones I had not yet worn,

even though they were mine

his blood spotted them.

 

I felt his pain

from being ripped asunder

from being lost in time

covered by layers of dirt

like pottery shards.

Devastated. Grieved.

I wept.

 

Wars had severed him

Disease had killed him

Politics had buried him

 

His demise had been

deliberate

His enforced mutism

premeditated

 

Same blood that spotted my clothes

pierced my heart.

Separated by years and lies

we were one.

 

A voice called

from a distant place.

His mother.

Deer body,

Earth Spirit.

Her love was strong

her medicine great.

He came together.

He stood.

 

Another voice called,

from the sky, a beam of light

came down, Great Spirit,

his Father, and this voice

brought life

transformation.

The deer became a boy.

He breathed. He lived.

He walked toward

his mother

his father

and my soul

walked with him.

Samo…Say What? Musings on a Melungeon’s DNA Results

I’ve grown up, like many Southerners and Appalachians, being told I was Native American. There was no myth of a “Cherokee princess” in my family, on either side. That was NEVER our story. Our story was one of a people who had gone underground to hide their true identities and it came through my grandma, Sally Rogers Franklin (Pabilo).  My other Granny always told me that she had “Indian” ancestry but she didn’t believe it was Cherokee.  The term Blackfoot got tossed around a lot, but I couldn’t figure that one because I learned in school that Blackfoot lived far away from here, like up in Montana. Later, I discovered that her family origins were intertwined with Melungeons, who are intertwined with the Eastern Siouan tribes.

No automatic alt text available. The tall man in the hat is my maternal grandfather. He had strong British lines. The lady in pink is my maternal grandmother. She was descended from Wallens, Collins [of Hawkins County, TN), Leaches, Sizemores, Gibsons and others who go back to Russell, Clinton and Wayne Counties and even future back to Tennesee and North Carolina. Granny’s family had several Melungeon lines that seemed to culminate when her parents married.  The man in white is my dad and my mom is partially out of the photo. 

As some of you know, this past summer I had an autosomal DNA test done, but unlike some people, I couldn’t just take it at face value and simply say I was such and such a percentage of this and that and then let it go. I knew genetics had to be more complicated than that, so I did what I always do, dug deeper. I was introduced to GEDmatch.com, which is a  cool site that lets you break down DNA results. It’s a bit technical but to me, it’s worth the challenge to uncover more than just the “estimation” that you get with your DNA results. It could be a genealogist’s dear friend.

Now, like most folks whose family has lived in the Southeastern U.S. since before George Washington first soiled his diapers, I had a big old chunk of British Isles. 45% at first glance, but the percentages from AncestryDNA and 23andMe are only estimations and there is a wide range that allows the percentage to possibly be a lot more or a lot less. But for now, let’s just leave roughly half my DNA with the British Isles and talk about the rest of me, that other 55%, give or take a few numbers, depending on which company you ask and what calculator you use.

I did not get a report back from a genetic testing company saying, “You are ____% (specific kind) of Native American.” Wouldn’t that be nice? But that’s not the way your results come back from AncestryDNA or 23andMe. But what you do get that’s cool is your raw data which you can take to a third party calculator. Please remember that so far the DNA companies are HEAVILY weighted toward European results and it doesn’t break it down by ethnic group, only by regions. My 23andMe did show a small percentage of Native American DNA, but not as much as it should have been according to my paper documentation. Also, remember that the absence of evidence is NOT the evidence of absence. For example, if your documented family history shows that your great-great-grandmother was Samoan but your DNA test doesn’t show Somoan, that doesn’t mean you’re not of Samoan descent or that you don’t have a Samoan heritage. It just means that your DNA doesn’t show it. It also means you might have inherited a different 50% of the Somoan descended parent’s DNA. Do you still have the right to claim Samoan heritage and be a part of the culture that your parent was a part of? Sure you do.

So, I sat down and asked myself, “What do I KNOW about my heritage?” Well, I know that maternal grandfather’s family was mostly the British Isles and her neighbor, Normandy. So, I should expect at least 45% percent British Isles because they’re scattered throughout every family line and on every side of any family who has been in Appalachia as long as mine has. I know that my father’s maternal ancestors were English on one side and on the other side were documented French/German-Moravians who lived among the Cherokee and traveled here along with soldiers who had been sent to guard Moravian Town and that the soldiers belonged to the Rogers family and that some of them are documented as having Cherokee wives.

Image may contain: 2 people, people sitting, child and outdoorMy very handsome father. Image may contain: 1 person, closeupMy gorgeous and camera-shy mother.

I know that my dad’s paternal grandmother is listed in the 1900 censuses as being mulatto and that she changed her name four times. I know that my paternal great-great-grandfather came from Gila River. I know that he called himself a Spanish Indian. I know that my mother’s mother’s family dates back to known Melungeon families on at least three sides. So, what should I expect to see in my DNA beyond the obvious British Isles? Well, I should expect to see some Iberian, maybe some Mediterranean, maybe some Scandinavian (Normandy was populated by Scandanavians) and possibly some African and I should expect to see some Native American, right? Well, I did see all of these things in varying percentages, but when I dug deeper, I saw much more and that’s when things got fascinating.

Image may contain: 1 personMy Iberian/Native American great-great-grandfather.No automatic alt text available.My Paternal Grandparents. Sorry, it’s hard to see. My grandfather is the one holding the child and my grandmother, Sally Rogers, is the one in white socks. They didn’t have a lot of photos made. The two dressed funny are my uncles. I think it was Halloween or something and they dressed up silly for the photo. T

Let’s get back to the GEDmatch.com site.  Now, it’s true that different calculators will give you different results because they’re geared toward finding different things and they will  each give you different percentages, but I’m not looking for iron-clad percentages, I’m looking for a continuity of population references that consistently turn up and lend clues to an overall bigger picture; some of those that keep turning up for me, which made me start asking questions are: Samoyedic, Melanesian, Austronesian, Arctic_Amerindian (specifically Inuit and Beringian), Altaic (Indo-Tibetan), Amerindian, Meso-American Indian (sometimes shows up), and South-American Indian. Now, granted, each one of these is in small doses, individually, but when added together do they indicate something else? My first response was Samo-what? So, I began to research and found out about these awesome folks who have made the Russian Tundra their home.

(Isn’t this family beautiful?)

Then I wanted to know how an Appalachian Foothills gal, like me, with absolutely no recorded origins in Siberia could possibly have Samoyedic DNA?

And what about the Melanesian and Austronesian? How could I have THAT?! And let’s not forget the traces of Meso-American and South American, specifically a group of people called Botocudo (Oceanic people)?  To answer my questions, I’ve been researching.

Melanesian Child (I just think this little guy is adorable) www. quora.com

Austronesian Girl (wn.com)

Botocuda, Native Brazilian.

Let’s tie it all together with a link to some interesting articles.

https://dna-explained.com/2015/07/22/some-native-americans-had-oceanic-ancestors/

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-native-american-origins-dna-20150721-story.html

http://www.geocurrents.info/place/russia-ukraine-and-caucasus/siberia/siberian-genetics-native-americans-and-the-altai-connection

So, it appears that all these references to Melanesian, Austronesian, Siberian, Altaic (Ind0-Tibetan) and Oceanic are just further indicators that my family’s stories about Native American heritage are true and that my documented familial lines are on the right track. One thing that was surprising to me was that I had a slice of India show up in my chromosome paintings on Gedmatch and in some of the calculators. Now, knowing which calculator to use is a whole other post! In addition to the slice of India/Pakistan showing up, there were strong indications of significant heritage from Eastern Europe (again, when does it become Western Asia?) I don’t think the India/Eastern Europe (mine seems to center around present-day Checkosovalkia, Hungary, Western Russia and Romania) thing is related to being Native American or Melungeon, but I do know that the British Isles and other European countries sent their Gypsies to the New World to get rid of them so that is a possibility.

Then again, it could be that my father’s Moravian ancestors actually were from Moravia first before ending up in France and that many Moravian and Bohemian people have traces of Romani in their DNA. I also had a lot of Basque showing up in the Iberian portions, but I do know that many of the men who traveled with the Conquistadors were of Basque origin, but it was researching the DNA results that led me to discover that fact. It makes sense that I would have Basque because my great-great-grandfather was a mestizo. Romani? Basque?Who knows for sure? Another interesting thing is that my maternal haplogroup is highest among the Basque and Tuareg peoples of Northern Africa. Now, that’s strange because my mom has NO documented Iberian descent. She does have Melungeon. I think I should consider doing a mitochondrial test in the near future because this intrigues me.

Whatever the case, when I look in the mirror, sometimes, I see a little bit of Spain peeking back at me and sometimes, I see a taste of Bohemia and Romania, and I see a Celtic gal, a Pict, with ties to Lands End and ancient France, and now…yeah, I can see Samoyedic and Austronesian traces, but I always see one who loves the Earth and her Creator, who sees the beauty in all of Earth’s people, who longs to be Spirit-led and see with spirit eyes. I belong to my ancestors and to my descendants, to the Creator and to the Earth. I don’t need anyone to tell me who I am, but it is fun to discover all the pathways my ancestors traveled. I do not believe in accidents. I was meant to be and so were you.

 

Image may contain: one or more people, closeup and outdoor And this is ME!

 

 

How the Catawba Hooked up with the Melungeons and Wound up in Kentucky, part III of my Melungeon Series

I’m attempting to pick up where I left off with my Catawba story. Now, keep in mind that I am mostly going to focus on those who intermarried with Melungeon families and wound up in Kentucky, but in order to do that, I need to touch on other things as well. In my last post, I established that there was contact between Spanish explorers and their slaves, many who were from Basque Country, North Africa and Italy, as well as Spain and Portugal. Hence, there is a logical possibility that European DNA was introduced into the Catawba and Saponi in the early part of the 1500s. By the 1800s, wars and Small Pox epidemics wiped out the majority of the Catawba people. Struggling to survive, they set out in groups.

After the Revolutionary War, some of them went back to the land they had fled from. In 1826, they leased about half their reservation to Whites and the money they got from this leasing allowed those few survivors of what I call the Catawba Holocaust to survive. But the survival was meager.

 In 1840, the Catawba signed a treaty with the government of South Carolina and sold all but one square mile of their original homeland of thousands of acres. But the treaty was invalidated by the federal government on the grounds that the state of South Carolina didn’t have the right to make it in the first place. Surrounded by Whites on all sides, some of the remaining Catawba went to join the Eastern Cherokee in North Carolina, but the cultural differences were just as pronounced among the Cherokee as they were among the Whites and life among the Cherokee was unpleasant for most of the Catawba. The Cherokee, although willing to extend a hand of mercy, never truly saw the Catawba as their people. All but a few who had intermarried with the Cherokee and one elderly woman who died in 1889, returned to their tiny parcel of land in South Carolina.

Some of these remaining Catawba later moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma as a result of the Indian Allotment Act. Indians were supposed to receive free land and the excess land was to be sold to settlers and the revenue given to the tribes. Some Catawba went as part of the Cherokee Nation to receive free Indian Land but they were denied the land because the Cherokee knew their own and they knew the Catawba and Melungeons. The White Top Laurel group was considered a mixed people and though they definitely had “Indian” blood, neither the Cherokee nor the federal government would recognize them as Cherokee, so they were denied. It didn’t mean they weren’t “Indian.” It just meant that weren’t the right” Indians. These Catawba remnants who had mingled and become associated with the Melungeons in order to survive were literally being robbed of their identity at every turn. Small Pox, war, forced removal, broken treaties—it was forced assimilation, genocide. By the mid-1800s, the federal government had what it wanted concerning the Catawba people, they basically were “Indian no more.” They had been stripped of everything except their desire to live and provide for their families.

Some of those who went to Oklahoma were received by the Choctaw Nation and literally gave up their cultural ways and identities. They became Choctaw and their descendants live among them to this day. Others met with Mormon missionaries in Oklahoma and became members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They continued westward with the Mormons. Still, others returned to the southeastern areas from whence they had come, to Tennessee and Kentucky and Virginia and the Carolinas. I think that it was during this time that my own great grandfather, William Wallen (descended from an unknown gal named Jane Collins) and his wife, Mary Caroline went to receive land but instead of land, they received tuberculosis and William died in Oklahoma. He is buried there. Mary Caroline died back home in Wayne County, Kentucky, and their children were left orphans.

At this point, I need to travel back in time and revisit some things in order to get myself back on track; it does seem that the Christianized Catawba had “English-sounding” names and I won’t even attempt to say where they got them. I suppose that living among English speakers and having taken sides with the colonists in the Revolutionary War may have had some influence on their changing their names. These Christianized Catawba were known to have learned the English language and therefore, it makes sense that they would have also learned the ways of the settlers. The names they carried were names like Collins, Goins, Blevins, Coles, Clonchs, Nuckolls, Moore, Perkins and others. These Christian Catawba were known as “friendly Indians,” and were often found in the company of European settlers. When asked who they were by English settlers, some of them answered that they were “Portugy.” Was there a legend among these people dating back to the days of the Conquistadors? Did they carry the DNA of those long gone explorers?

 Eventually, these families and many others would become the signposts names of Melungeon families. Members from one of these “friendly Indians” groups, the Sizemore (from which I am descended through my maternal grandmother’s father, who was the great grandson of Nancy Sizemore), are suspected by some researchers to have been affiliated with the Catawba but later when they applied for tribal recognition as Cherokee, in hopes of receiving free land, they were denied. The reason they identified as Cherokee is because, at one time after they had been decimated by war and disease, the Catawba were under the jurisdiction of the Cherokee.  Thus was born a trend, numerous families that would populate the southeastern United States and claim Cherokee heritage, only to be turned down again and again by the U.S. government and by the Cherokee nation. The Cherokee didn’t recognize them as Cherokee so the government didn’t recognize them as Indian. For a long time, the world forgot who the Catawba were. Their language was almost completely gone, their culture became a legend and even they forgot who they were, many only remembering that somewhere back in time, Granny or Paw-paw had been “Indian” and they believed it was “Cherokee.” Some settled in the Greasy Rock area and some in Pilot and some in the White Top Mountains, but it appears that others continued to move out from these places. The Sizemore (White Top Laurel Clan who identified as Cherokee but some records indicate they were originally Catawba). These Sizemore seemed to move with the Blevins, Perkins, and Baldwins. Some migrated on into Ohio and are now known as Carmel Indians.  Some migrated to “Indian Territory” in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

I’m skipping a lot of details, mainly because this is an overview, not an all-inclusive, exhaustive and comprehensive breakdown of how Catawba-Melungeon families got to Kentucky.

Many of these families, the names of some which have become lost in the layers of Appalachian soil, migrated to Hancock and Hawkins Counties in Tennessee, and later into the southeastern Kentucky. The last known migrations of these “Melungeons” with Catawba and White Top Laurel ties (census records of the family names, etc.) shows them along the Cumberland River of Kentucky in what is now Rockcastle, Pulaski, Wayne, Clinton, Cumberland, Adair, Russell and Casey Counties. They have married extensively into “old” Kentucky families and in many towns, they WERE the first families to settle the area. Their names and the families they married into either right before coming to the area or right after include Harmon, Easley, Smith, Green, Parnell, Rogers, Adams, Riddle, Ramsey, Sizemore, Leach, Wallen, Neal, Guffey, Denney, Wells, Downey, Starnes/Stearns and others that I can’t think of right now.

 As for those whose descendants aren’t the Christian Catawba they were denied the right to vote until the 1940s, even though they had to pay land taxes and were subject to the same laws as their White neighbors. In 1959, the government completely stripped them of the right to even call themselves Indian and terminated them as a tribe, denying them any and all federal benefits that other tribes received. In 1973, the Catawba applied to be federally recognized. They were small in number and had endured enormous hardships as a people in order to survive. Many of them had long ago lost their identities but a few still clung to the knowledge of who they were and in 1975 they adopted a constitution that had been modeled on their 1944 version prior to the government disbanding them altogether. It wasn’t until 1994 that the United States government recognized the Catawba people as a nation. 

The Christian Catawba who ended up in Kentucky were the victims of genocide and forced assimilation. They were never able to reclaim their status as part of the Catawba Nation.

An interesting side note: the Kentucky River was once called the Catawba River.

Sources:
http://sciway3.net/clark/freemoors/LewisJarvis.html

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~varussel/other/forts.html

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~varussel/landgrants/washcorsurvbk.html

http://vancehawkins.blogspot.com

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catwaba_people

http://historical-melungeons.blogspot.com/p/lewis-jarvis-article.html

How the Catawba Hooked up with the Melungeons and Wound up in Kentucky part II of my Melungeon Series

Once upon a time there was a group of people called the Catawba who lived in what is now North Carolina. In 1521, they looked out and saw the coming of a new age and the beginning of the end of life as they had known it for a long time. They saw ships on the horizon. A man named Vasques de Ayallon led a party of Spanish explorers onto their shores for the purpose of luring some friendly Catawba aboard their ship and then sailing away with them, a tactic that seemed to be common among slavers during those days as it would be used on Squanto and some friends about a hundred years later.

 They taught one of these captives to speak Spanish and renamed him Francisco de Chicora, but the next time the Spaniards docked along Catawba shores they were not met by old friends. The Catawba saw them coming and went the other way. And Francisco, he escaped into the wilderness, telling everyone he met that the Spaniards were bad news and pretty soon word spread throughout the peoples of the Atlantic coast to beware of the Spaniards.

But there is an old saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend and so it was with the Catawba. Cofitachique, in what I believe to be present-day Camden, South Carolina, was the hubbub of Catawba culture. So when Hernando De Soto encountered the Muskogee (Creek) they told him of Cofitachique, saying that it was a seat of great wealth and prosperity. Of course, De Soto had gold fever and headed out to find Cofitachique.

On May 1, 1540, De Soto and his party came upon a group of Cofiticachique who was led by an impressive woman, but just as Cortez had pretended to befriend Montezuma then took him captive, De Soto did to the Lady of Cofticachique, but she escaped and fled into the wilderness which she knew so well.

The Spanish hoped to colonize Cofitachique and Pedro Menendez de Aviles had the support of the Spanish crown in his efforts to do so. In colonizing the area, the Spaniards intended to keep the area out of the hands of the French, establish St. Elena on the coast and move 120 men, under Captain Juan Pardo, inland to find a land route to New Spain, now known as Mexico. In order to subdue the natives and make them subjects of the Spanish crown, Menendez felt it necessary to convert them to Catholicism, so a Father Sebastian accompanied the expedition as they traveled into the heart of Catawba country. These Iberian explorers lived among the Catawba. I can’t help but wonder what genetic impact they made among the Catawba. I read when researching for my writings on my article about Joe Pabilo, my great-great-grandfather, that many of the explorers had Basque roots. Did some also have Berber roots? Portuguese? Italian? Did contact with Pardo’s men leave a genetic trail among the Catawba? Did these explorers have any connection to the Catawba people later moving north to settle in Melungeon country when England laid claim to their homelands and war and disease decimated their numbers? I can’t help but wonder if the Melungeons they would later turn to in a time of trouble actually originated with Pardo’s men. Some would argue that Melungeons were pure European. Others would argue that they were African men and White women, but whoever they were, they were there when the Catawba came to them, but we’re getting there.  

To make a long story shorter, the Spanish colony among the Catawba failed. In 1572, the Spaniards pulled out of Catawba land and there was a lull in visitors from Europe. In the following years, the Catawba would go to war with the Tucsonans twice and would eventually absorb the last remnants of the weary Yamasee and become a sanctuary for their longtime allies, the Saponi and Tutelo when they sought a place of refuge. These Siouan tribes joined the Catawba, who fate would become their fate, too. The Catawba, Saponi, and Tutelo joined both culturally and genetically. Sometimes, you have to overlook your differences and join forces with your friends and neighbors in order to survive. It’s just a part of being human.

If the Spanish were a threat to the Catawba, the English were a nightmare come true. In 1521, the Catawba and their affiliates claimed 55,000 square miles as their homelands. Around 1670, the English began to show up, in droves. Every immigrant that set up a homestead took a little piece of Catawba homeland and the settlers kept coming. Some came to get rich. Some came as an alternative to English prison, which was horrid. Some came as Irish and Scottish slaves to English overlords. Some came because they were “travelers” i.e. Gypsies that England had expelled; some came for the hunting, the fur trade, they came from England and Ireland. They came from France and from Germany and Switzerland, from Rotterdam and Holland. For whatever reasons, they came, by the hundreds, by the thousands. They came.

Within 90 years of the arrival of the English and all those who came from whatever country, swearing allegiance to the British Crown, few Catawba remained on their once vast lands. In 1759, a Small Pox epidemic wiped out about half of the Catawba-Saponi-Yamasee people, now all considered Catawba. By the following year, their capital had been given an English name, Pine Tree Hill. Eventually, the Catawba agreed to leave Pine Tree Hill and move north to Waxhaw Old Fields. By the terms of the treaty they signed, the Catawba lost their lands in Virginia and much of the Carolinas. They got to keep 2 million acres but most of their ancestral homeland was gone forever.

The Catawba moved into their assigned region but settlers had already set up shop on some of this land and the governor of North Carolina refused to do anything about it because he hadn’t personally signed any treaty with the Catawba and he wasn’t going to honor one or enforce it. White hunters disregarded Catawba land rights and would literally steal the game that Catawba hunters had killed right out of their camps. When their leader, King Haigler, died in 1753, the English king disregarded the Catawba treaty altogether on the grounds that the man who had signed it was dead, and he gave away the rest of Catawba land. A second epidemic of Small Pox had taken another half of their numbers, as well. This once huge group of people was now just a handful and homeless. The English settlement of the Carolinas brought war, disease, death, and poverty to the Catawba people.

When the Revolutionary War broke out and the settlers were fighting against their own kind, the Catawba was completely confused, but one thing they understood was that the British troops would not show them any mercy. They witnessed something that shook them to their foundations. In 1780, when the English took Charleston, they massacred a number of Colonists soldiers at Waxhaw. When the Catawba saw what was happening they knew that there was nothing to stop them from moving to Catawba Town next and doing the same thing to them. Knowing they were in serious trouble, outnumbered and outgunned, they evacuated their homes in the wake of approaching British troops.

Now, I may have to revise this part as I learn more, but to the best of my current understanding, the Catawba basically split up. Some went to live among Monacans, Catawban speaking allies from the days when they were strong enough to have the Catawba Alliance. Some may have gone on toward Roanoke and took up with the Pamunkey. Another group went South and asked the Cherokee, their old enemies, to take them in and they did and some, who had been Christianized by French missionaries, or so that’s what I’ve read, went toward the Melungeons. Did they share a history with the Melungeons? Did they share a cultural connection? Or did they just simply discover a group of people who would offer them a place of refuge?

I promise to write more on this subject in the upcoming days. I also promise to try to be as accurate as I can and when I am finished, I will post a list of sources that I’ve used to learn from. I doubt I will quote anyone, but rather just give you a list so you can read for yourself.

Melungeons: Post 1. The Beginnings of my Journey

 

I came in to make corrections on my original post about Catawbas and Melungeons and I accidentally erased the entire thing! So, here I am, back at the keyboard. Oh well, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe I need to take a step back and look at it from the beginning, look at the what’s the who’s and the why’s.

I realize that I am NOT an expert on the early history of Kentucky. It’s true that I’ve been studying it forever and have even taught it and it’s true that I’ve conducted workshops on the Melungeons and Natives of this area, but it is also true that history is like a kaleidoscope and the images are complex and my understanding of what I’m seeing is constantly changing.  When I post something on this blog, it’s not set in stone. It’s as changeable as a television station. As my understanding changes, so do my posts, so please bear with me. In my last post, I tackled the mystery of Joe Pabilo, my great-great grandfather. In this one, I hope to talk about my maternal grandmother’s family history.

I never heard the word Melungeon until I was a grown woman and my aunt brought me an article about Elvis Presley and Abraham Lincoln being “Melungeons” and told me about a book by Brent Kennedy. My aunt, who is probably reading this blog post, told me that she believed we might be “Melungeons” because our family on my mom’s side had originally come from Hawkins and Hancock County Tennessee and with a list of names like Blevins, Collins, Sizemore, Gibsons, Bowlings, etc., it certainly did seem possible. So began my research. I discovered no less than 30 surnames in my mom’s family tree that were known Melungeon surnames, coming from known Melungeon areas. Proving that she was or wasn’t Melungeon was something else again. And if she was a Melungeon? Then what? What did that mean anyway? And did my dad have Melungeon ancestry, too? If so, what did that mean for me? I contemplated DNA testing when it first came out but I was scared of it. I doubted it’s accuracy and I questioned what the testing companies would do with my info. Okay, okay, yes, I was paranoid.

I watched a PBS special on Melungeons and read Jesse Stuart’s Daughter of the Legend. There was definitely something drawing me to these people and I just couldn’t let it go. I then read Brent Kennedy’s work and I thought that he had a coon treed, so to speak. I got online and googled as much as I could. There wasn’t as much info out then as there is now on Melungeons, but I was feeling my “Anatolian bump” and sticking my tongue into my “shovel teeth” and nothing how my second toe is longer than my first toe and how the corners of my eyes overlap, I had “almost” black hair, blue eyes and all those “markers” that are supposed to indicate Melungeon heritage. I had every one of them, of course. I was satisfied. I was Melungeon. But I was also deflated. What did that even mean, really? How did it impact my life?

I put it aside for a while. My life got busy and the knowledge of Melungeon heritage got stored in a file in my head as I went about my business. This past spring I was asked to come give a talk on Melungeons and that restarted my digging. A brilliant researcher sent me amazing links that hadn’t existed during my first stomp through the Melungeon patch.  I will forever be grateful to her for her help in my Melungeon understanding.

I finally submitted to the temptation to have a DNA test done, not just one but TWO! I reasoned that if the powers that be wanted my DNA, they had access to it anyway. I mean I worked for a public school system, my off-the-gridness and privacy were forfeited the minute I became a teacher.

 

Well, explaining DNA results is a whole other post, but by the time it was said and done, and I had run my raw data through multiple calculators and even gone to Standford University’s Genotation, it turned out that I had DNA from 6 out of the 7 continents, so that didn’t tell me the answers I had hoped for. I had segments from the British Isles, Iberia, Basque Country, Slavic, Baltic, Finnish, Native American,  West Africa, Steppe, Anatolian, Southern Asia (Northwest India and Pakistan), Scandanavia. I was thoroughly mixed, so I decided to zero in on the time period when the Melungeons first came into contact with English colonists. Luckily, 23andMe gives you this time line that shows at approximately what time in history certain elements were introduced into your genes. My timeline showed that during the 1700s to early 1800s, I had West African (Mali and Morrocco), Iberian and Native American ancestors. Now, granted, some of that may have been due to Joe Pabilo (see the previous post) being Spanish/Native mix but it also coincided with the time of the Melungeon families coming into my line of direct ancestry.

So, over the past three weeks, I’ve turned my attention to my maternal ancestors who settled in Wayne, Clinton, Russell, Cumberland and Adair County, Kentucky. If you look at a map, you can see that all of these counties are adjacent and center around one important geographical feature, the Cumberland River. They all lived within about 40 miles of each other, if you go as the crow flies, or cross country as they did in the days way back before roads were carved out between the twisting, winding hills of southern Kentucky.

Therefore, my next post is a redo of the one I accidentally deleted: How the Catawba met up with the Melungeons and Wound up in Kentucky.

 

Grandpa’s grandpa: Why Should I Care?

“And then he chopped all six of their heads off. He was a great man and the sheriff always knew he could count on Joe Franklin.”

My dad’s brown eyes were wide with excitement and surprise as he told me about the time his great-grandfather killed six outlaws at one time with an ax.

I was ten years old, it was a summer night. I sat at our old aluminum table, barefoot, bare-legged and skinny as a fence post.

“Just one more,” I said.

“Sissy,” Daddy retorted. “It’s done past your bedtime.”

That scene was played out pretty much every night of my childhood. I was always the last kid at the table. I always begged for just one more story, then one more and then one more. I never outgrew my daddy’s stories.

He told ghost stories and old time stories. He told stories about the first Irishmen in Kentucky and stories about when he was a kid, stories about Hank Williams and stories about coon hunting. My daddy had a story about everything, but my favorite ones were about Joe Franklin, my great-great-grandfather. In my dad’s stories, Joe stood larger than Davy Crocket or Sam Houston or Geronimo or Sitting Bull or Daniel Boone. Joe was the ultimate hero in my dad’s stories.

Although many factors in the stories we changeable and had him doing impossible feats, like single-handedly clearing out a “bad house” in Louisville or saving Daniel Boone’s life [never mind that they didn’t live during the same time period.] There were some factors that were consistent. For example, Joe always came from “Old Mexico,” and Franklin was always a name that Joe just took and my dad never knew his real name. Joe had always been stolen from his parents and he always came to Gradyville at thirteen years old and later married a “Dudley” girl.  One other consistent factor in the stories was that his parents had been killed and he had been taken as a slave. Some of the stories had been told to him by his father, who also tended to “stretch” the facts until it was hard to tell legend from reality. But when I was ten, my dad asked me to make a very serious promise. He asked me to grow up and be a writer. He asked me if I would write the stories of his ancestors and in order to do that, he asked me to find the “truth” of his ancestors. So, since I was ten years old, I’ve been seeking to find out where my daddy came from, where I came from. I can’t write about people unless I know they existed and the hardest trail I’ve had to follow? Joe, the hero of my dad’s story. [Well, there was his great uncle, Henry Rogers, too, but that’s for another blog entry.]

Long after I made that promise, in 2010, my dad had been diagnosed with cancer and given a year to live. My siblings and I were taking turns staying with him and caring for him. I was there one night after dark, sitting beside his old wood stove. Daddy never had heat in his house and he heated his little trailer with a wood stove right up until he was too sick to stay in it. He sat in his favorite chair, a straight wood one with a back that looked like a ladder and a bottom made of hemp that he had put in that chair back in the 1970s. He looked at the pictures lining his walls, photos of his parents and my mom, photos of all his children and grandchildren. Daddy loved his photos. He loved his family. “Sis,” he said. “There’s a story I never told you before. And don’t you never tell this to nobody…” but here I am, about to tell it to my readers because it needs to be told. “Dad,” he continued, “once told me that Great-great-Grandma was living out West and she was raped by an Apache.” He turned back to me and said, “I never told nobody that before. My daddy only mentioned it to me once.” Then he was done. He never said another word about it. I couldn’t put the pieces together. I thought he had his facts wrong. My great-great-grandfather was born in “Old Mexico.” I kept thinking that he always used the word “old” to differentiate between original Mexico and New Mexico. I had found census records, stating he was born in Mexico City and some said “Old Mexico.” Even the newspaper articles I had found said “Old Mexico.” So, how could his mother have been living in Apache Territory? I had spent my life believing that my great-great-grandfather was descended from Aztecs or Mayas or some other Meso-American tribe. I learned everything I could about the Aztecs and Mayas. I learned to speak Spanish and a little Nahuatl. I read books, watched documentaries, constantly searching for clues to the past so that I could write the story that needed to be written.

Any time in my life when someone told me that I didn’t look “Indian” or “Native” I was secretly hurt, because I KNEW my great-great-grandfather WAS [I also knew my paternal grandmother had Cherokee ancestry. She wasn’t some fictitious “princess” or the product of a White wannabe, but that’s also a story for another post.]

I had done some digging and found census records and old newspaper articles about Joe Franklin. I discovered that his name had been Jose’ or Joseph Masilenia or Masinario [depending on the record] Pabilo, Pablis, Pablio [also, depending on the record]. I found his marriage certificate, signed with an X and a witness. His race was listed as White but his records were filed under “Colored.” I remembered a few years earlier that when nurses at the adult day care would ask my Great Uncle Junis about his rich skin tone and lack of hair he would respond that his grandfather was an Indian.

I had some relatives who told me that Joe wasn’t my real great-great-grandfather, that there had been some non-parental events. I hoped that wasn’t true. I realized that anything was possible, but I had grown up admiring this man. I didn’t want my childhood hero taken from me. To me, he was my Tecumseh, my Crazy Horse. He was my great-great-grandpa. Still, I made my dad a promise, that I would find the truth and so I set out to keep it, regardless of how it made me feel. I braced myself. Even IF Joe turned out to not be the start of my paternal grandfather’s line in Kentucky, I would still honor him.

Finally, after talking to a friend about DNA testing, I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and I spat in a tube for AncestryDNA and for 23andMe. I knew that there was a chance I’d get nothing, that all those genes I was looking for might be carried on the Y chromosome, or that Joe’s daughter-in- law may have been promiscuous. That was the rumor, but I took the tests anyway. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Prior to taking the test, I had a wonderful woman from another state contact me. Her name is Susie. Susie had stories to tell me that added to what I already knew and I am forever grateful to her [thank you, Susie]. And before that, there had been Helen Flatt, who taught in the Adair County schools and at Lindsey Wilson College, altogether she taught for more than fifty years. Mrs. Flatt had met Joe when she was a little girl. He had worked for her grandfather. She said he was definitely not from around here. He had brown skin and he spoke with an accent. She, like everyone else, attested that he was from “Old Mexico,” but Joe told his granddaughter, my grandpa’s cousin, that he was not Mexican. Other old timers that I talked to, who had known my grandfather’s family, also attested that he was from “Old Mexico.” He had handed down to my Great-Uncle Junis that he was a Spanish-Indian, which is what my grandfather told my brother. He also told my brother that he witnessed his parent’s murder and his mother’s being raped when he was ten and then the De Haro family took him in and raised him until he was around 13 or 14 at which time he met James Sexton. One of the few kinds of Native DNA that 23andMe can detect, to the best of my understanding, is Pima. I have now discovered a photo of Joe and records indicating that he was actually born in Arizona, not present-day Mexico. At the time of Joe’s birth in 1840, Arizona was still a part of “Old Mexico.” It was common practice for Spanish priests and owners of haciendas to take Pima and Maricopa concubines and sometimes, wives.

 

Now back to the DNA test, my 23andMe results indicate that I had both a full-blood Native American and a full-blood Iberian ancestor during the early parts of the 1800s, hence, I believe them to have been Joe’s parents. Is this absolute “proof” that Joe was Pima? No.He may have been Papago or Maricopa or even Apache, but the time, place and alliances at the time of his birth do point toward Pima. Was his mother a Pima who was raped by an Apache? I have no idea. Was his father a Spaniard or a Mexican? Who would have taken a ten-year-old boy for a slave then? Again, I have no true facts, only theories. I hope this is an indication that I’m finally on the right trail. When I ran my DNA results through a calculator from Standford University it showed Native DNA, Basque DNA, Spanish DNA and general Mediterranean (including North Africa, Southern France, Italy, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, Northern India) and Near Eastern DNA coming from multiple directions, but I DO have a strong Melungeon ancestry, as well. So, that is expected. I also have ancestry from the British Isles, almost half. Now, throw in a little Slavic and West Asian with a pinch of Finnish/Russian and East Asian and you have–ME.

 

Soooo….why did I do this? What does it prove? I did it because my dad asked me to find the paper trail to his family, for his mother and his father. I did it because I’ve wanted to know since I was a little girl just where my family came from. I did it because in my heart of hearts I’ve always felt that Joe’s courageous story needed to be told. I felt that this boy’s story was the story of many people who lived during that turbulent time, who saw horrible things, but Joe’s wasn’t just a sad story. It’s also a story that shows humanity at both its worst and its best. James Sexton didn’t have to give an orphaned boy from another culture a new home, yet he did. He didn’t have to give him brothers, yet he did. And to show his gratitude, Joe adopted a new name, “Franklin.” It means “free” and it was the middle name of one of James’s sons, Joe’s adopted brother. Franklin–FREE–became a new name for a new life, for a new family, my family. Joe lived a long life after coming here. He met a girl who would become his wife, who would raise a family with him. If not for Jose Masilenia Pabila Franklin I would never have been born. Regardless of the DNA test results, even if it had not indicated that I am likely his descendant, I think I would still call him my great-great-grandfather. I believe his life mattered and I’m so glad he lived.

The legacy of a good person should be kept alive so that those of us who come after can look at that life and know what it means to really live. If we fail to learn from the past, from our ancestors, we are bound to destroy our children. Without yesterday there is no now. Without now, there is no tomorrow. That doesn’t mean we should live in the past, but neither should we let it be buried by mounds of time dust. It was my father’s stories that kept my ancestors alive to me, that made them more than a name on a forgotten sheet of paper. I have heard it said that in some ancient African cultures the most important person in the village was the story-teller. He or she, depending on the tribe, would beat a drum and to the beat of the drum, they would recite the history of their people so that the children never forgot what was valued in life. I do not tell my stories to the beat of the drum but rather to the rhythm of a keyboard, but my purpose is not different than those ancient African storytellers of so long ago or from the Vikings who used to sing of their deeds or the Plains people of America who painted the deeds of their people on skins. If we do not preserve the knowledge of our ancestors, it is lost and in this digital age of disconnection, maybe it is more important than ever to connect to our families, our parents, our grandparents, our great grandparents, our children.

When I was a Kid in Kentucky

When I Was a Kid in Kentucky (8).jpg

I finally did it!

I wrote a children’s book. It’s about time. I mean, after all, I AM a teacher and I’ve been one most of my adult life, so it only seems fitting that I should write a book for children, right?

When I was a Kid in Kentucky is written on a third-grade reading level but the pictures and layout of the text make it an ideal read-aloud book for younger kids. I’ve already tried it on on a captive audience. It’s a great book to initiate discussion with children about how things have changed. I remember a Social Studies unit that I used to teach in first grade from Harcourt-Brace that talked about “Then and Now.”  This little book is perfect for that. It teaches children how some things change, but some things, like loving your family, never change.

I love the photography in this little book. It’s done by someone that means a whole lot to me, Rachel A. Warmouth.

I hope to write more children’s books in the future and I sincerely hope that children will be inspired to write their own “When I was a Kid in….wherever they are from” books. I think it’d be a great Language Arts/Social Studies/Art lesson. The possibilities are limited only by a parent or teacher’s imagination.

 

Yesterdays

barn1

Appalachian photo by RAW photography

 

I was born

to outhouses

pigpens

and tobacco patches

walked barefoot

amidst

blackberry briars

beech trees

and broken gray tombstones

 

I fell from

Shetland ponies

Kool-Aid summers

and barn rafters

hatched like

turtle eggs

Daddy took from

their momma

on a misty mountain morn

 

I smelled of

wood-burning stoves

po’folk

and “God will not abandon us,”

roamed free

up the hollers

across creeks

and into broom sage fields

 

I shivered

at Panther calls

mirages

and my daddy’s ghost tales

gobbled up

ripe persimmons

cornbread

and dry land fish

 

I kept hold

of all my heart’s

young tears

and filled up the swimming hole

where Johnny

was drowned

pressed the flowers

and kept yesterdays

alive.

 

 

Along the Road…We Matter

DSC_6643It starts in infanthood. We come into this world needing to be noticed, to be cared about and we never outgrow it. As a baby, we need to be fed and cuddled and bathed. As a toddler, we need happy smiles and hugs. As a pre-schooler, we need affirmation that we are “big boys and big girls.” We need approval when we learn our ABCs or say our numbers. As a school age child, we need to fit in and yet feel like we are special. We need to be good at something and bragged on. As a teen, we try to find ourselves, to be cool, to stand out and to fit in. We don’t want to be the “weirdo” the “freak” but we do want to be different and special. As a working adult, we want to be valued by our co-workers, our friends, our spouses, etc. And as an elderly person, we want to know that we still matter, that we still have worth and that we are not a thing of the past. Throughout our lives, one thing never changes…we need to matter, to have worth and to be valued.

When we come to believe we have no value, that our lives don’t matter, suicide looks like an option. Sometimes, people sink into despair, getting caught up in drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, it’s as simple as hanging with some friends and just going along with the crowd (because of the need to be valued) and next thing you know, a person is hooked on something they originally abhorred deep down, but the need to be accepted or the deep-rooted belief that “I’m worthless anyway,” has taken ahold of them.  Some people turn to food. Some turn to keeping religious rules. Some bounce from one broken relationship after another

Then somewhere along the way we develop mechanisms to ensure that we get some kind of “energy” from other people. We are going to make ourselves matter in one way or another. Some turn to acting out in some way. It can be anything from belligerent behavior to a child stealing at school. It’s not like we consciously think about it. It just sort of happens to us like freckles appearing on our skin after too much sun. Some people become interrogators, pestering others to death with relentless questions. Some become intimidators, always trying to make others cower to their will by being gruff and forceful or an all-out bully. Some become aloof and indifferent, giving the dreaded silent treatment making others “pull” and “beg” for their attention and some become poor-pitiful-me people, always ailing and always complaining and always worrying.

No matter what life throws at us or who we encounter, there is one commonality among us all, regardless of our skin color, our language, our culture or religion, we need to feel like we matter, that we have worth, to somebody–somewhere. And anyone who denies that they need to matter is lying. Even the toughest “bad” guys I know of have had at least one person in their lives that, in whose eyes, they wanted to matter. I’ve known men who spend their entire lives trying to get one kind word from a father who couldn’t or wouldn’t give it. I’ve seen neurotic women cleaning baseboards at 3 a.m. just to get their shallow, disdaining mothers to speak one word of approval to them.  I’ve seen women become promiscuous because, deep down, they believed that was their only value. Insecurity often parades itself as arrogance. The most arrogant, boastful people I know are also the most emotionally insecure and unsettled fragile people with glass egos.

I guess I’m just thinking at the keys this morning. No matter who we are, what we’ve done or where we’ve been, we all have a need…we need to know that we matter. So, what do we do about our dilemma? How do we affirm that we matter? Maybe it starts with letting someone else know that they matter. Maybe it’s as simple as a smile or sharing lunch with someone. Maybe it’s just a phone call or a text message or even a Facebook post. Maybe one word is all it takes to let someone know, “You matter. Your life has touched mine in a good way.” We can’t touch everybody in the world, but we can all touch one person and who can say if that one person isn’t the one who needs it most from us at that very moment? I have not always taken every opportunity to be kind, to do good, but from this moment forward, I’m going to do my best and if I fall short of my goal, I’m going to just get up and start over again. Today…somebody needs to hear from you and they need to know that you think they matter and today, I am saying to everyone who reads this…you matter…and I’m glad you took the time to read my thoughts. Thank you.

Darlene

 

 

In Fields of August

 

I see a hummingbird

hovering in a beam of sunlight

eternity in a moment.

 

I hear the singing wind

playing tree and dry grass instruments

same singings my ancestors heard.

 

I feel the earth and sky

beating heart and whispering spirit

groanings of earth, calls of heaven.

 

I know at life-road’s end

leaving flesh, failures and fruitions

is required and I know that love

is the only luggage the journey allows.

Talking About TOUCHED

Touched

Copy of Touched Cover FINAL 1-29-13 A YEAR AFTER MY DADDY crossed over to the spirit world I went to visit an old friend of my family, Joyce Reeder. My dad had greatly respected her and always spoke so highly of her. She had been friends with my Granny Turner years before and had been good to my family from as far back as I could remember. So, after she read I Listened, Momma, Joyce and I spoke over the phone and she invited me to her home. I went in the hopes of hearing…you know…STORIES!

And Joyce did not disappoint me. She told me stories about the community in which I lived during my teen years and about a time I couldn’t possibly get from my memory,  the 40s, 50s and 60s. As I drove home I thought about one story in particular of a young man who loved a girl that was killed in a car accident and how he never married after that. I came home, plopped across my bed and closed my eyes, still thinking about the world in which my parents had grown up. I thought about my pastor, Gerald, and the world as it must have been when he was a boy and then, suddenly, an entire story, set in the year 1959-60, flashed before my mind. It was a story that had never been told, the story of a young man with an unprejudiced heart and non-religious spirituality in a community of the self-righteous.

It was Frankie Keilman’s story. I could see Frankie in my mind’s eye. I could hear his voice. I could see Elle McThacker, the Melungeon moonshiner’s daughter that he was forbidden to talk to and her good-looking scoundrel of a womanizing brother, Mickey. I could see her Mexican granny, Flor Pablo, all brown and hunched over, giving out ageless advice to her rambunctious off-springs. I sprang up from that bed with a Jesse Stuart “annointin’ on me,” as the old time tent preachers around here used to say. I immediately went to my computer and wrote. Within a few short weeks the book, which had been written in my mind in a single afternoon, in the space of what was supposed to be a nap, became a printed reality. That’s the only time I ever composed a book like a piece of Mozart music. Here it is, four years since it’s publication, and I’m still in awe of how the book came about.

People often ask me which book is closest to my heart. That’s like asking a parent of more than one child which one she loves the most. They are all close to my heart, because that’s where they all come from. Each time a reader picks up my novel, they take a trip inside my soul and discover an insight or two that I’ve encountered somewhere along my life’s journey. I like fiction because fiction contains more truth that fact sometimes. So, from my heart and mind to yours, I hope you enjoy a story inspired by an afternoon spent with a dear old friend. Thank you, Joyce Reeder, Momma, Daddy, Pastor Gerald, Faye Bault and Brooks Coomer. You all played a role in the thoughts that brought this book into being.

Where I Came From–for Momma, on her birthday.

18238644_1313412048743672_7992669858257454389_oI COULD GIVE YOU a long list of my publications and bore you with a recount of my humble, meager awards and accolades, but you can go to my author page on amazon or on any one of the publishing house sites where my books are listed and learn those things. I think I would rather talk to you about the really important things, the things that qualify me to write about the things I write about. I’d rather talk to you about what my parents taught me about living.

I was born in the Appalachian foothills, one among seven children. We were so poor that we had no indoor plumbing, no phone and no central air or heat. I remember when eating wild game was our main source of meat. Then we got a cow, but she ran over a bluff and killed herself. After that, we took to raising hogs and leasing tobacco crops. My daddy also worked at a sawmill where he sawed hickory baseball bats. He did everything he could to feed us and Momma raised a big garden every year. We raised anything that would grow, even our own peanuts. I say we were poor but I never felt poor, not until someone told me that I was poor. I was like Dolly Parton in her song, “Coat of Many Colors’. “I felt rich as I could be.”

There were times when all my family had was each other and somehow, that was always enough. My parents taught us that love is the only thing of true value in this entire world and whatever is not of love, well, it’s not eternal. I have lived my mortal life in the light of immortality. We never believed in final good-byes, only “see you laters.” I recall a memory of one summer night when my parents were lying on a quilt on the hillside behind our house. We had no TV at the time and so we would play outside until dark and sometimes our parents would come outside and watch us from the hillside. This particular night I was talking about all the stuff that some of the kids at school had.

I can still hear my daddy’s voice saying, “If you ain’t got love, you ain’t got nothin’ in this life.”

Then Momma chimed in and said, “Money can buy you a lot of things, but money can’t buy real love. If you have love and family you have everything.”

Daddy said, “Remember that, Sis.”

My daddy was a storyteller and every night he’d gather us around the old aluminum kitchen table and spin his tales for us. He couldn’t read but he could remember and he had an imagination. He told stories that had been handed down from his grandfather and his childhood and he told stories that he made up. Each night I would be the last kid listening, begging for just one more story. My parents would have to make me go to bed. We had very few books, but we did have stories and then there was Momma’s sacred book, a high school literature book of poems by Edgar Allen Poe and short stories by O’Henry. I read those poems and I knew…knew with everything in me… that I was a poet, too. I started writing poetry on every thing that had a surface to write on, even my grandmother’s giant squash. I checked books out from the school library and read like there was no tomorrow. I fell in love with far away places and adventures. I loved stories written ones, spoken ones, sung ones…I just loved stories.

In the fifth grade the Gideons came to school and passed out little red New Testaments. It was the most special thing to me, my very own book full of stories. And in the back? Blank pages. I was certain that God himself had left those pages blank so that I could add my story to them. I took an ink pen and wrote an imagined story about my Great-great-grandpa crossing the Rio Grande and coming to the U.S. It was, of course, completely fabricated from Daddy’s tales and my imagination, but it didn’t matter. It was MY story. I think I was 9 years old at the time. But with the gift of a New Testament, a writer’s dream was born.

Momma believed in my dream. That Christmas we were so broke that it looked like we would get no presents at all. A charity group came to our house and brought gifts and fruit. I’ll always be grateful for that group, but Momma and Daddy wanted so much to get us something that they went to a loan company and borrowed a little money and that year when my siblings got toys, I got a college dictionary for Christmas. It was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me, because I knew that it had come with sacrifice and with hope. Momma said, “One day you’re going to go to college and make something out of yourself and you’re going to need to know all of these big words. I felt bad not getting you a toy, but I felt like that you would like this better.” I hugged that dictionary and thanked her for it.

A Bible and a dictionary in the same year. My future had been set in motion. Little did I realize that one day I truly would write my story and Daddy’s story and Momma’s story and maybe the story of a million other 9 year-old dreamers.

In the years to follow I held onto the dictionary. I still have it today. The cover wore off and I recovered it in discarded wallpaper. Eventually, even that wore off. If you were to visit my home and see that old book with no cover, you’d think maybe it was a piece of junk but it’s not. It’s a symbol of my mother’s hopes for me.

My mom left this world  at 38, one month before I graduated high school. She never got to see me go to college and use the dictionary that she gave me to help me through my classes. She never got to see me win the Art scholarship that made it possible for me to go, never got to hear me play guitar or got to see her grandchildren. But she did see. She saw it when I was 9 and she used her today to plan for my tomorrow. Thank you, Momma. Your dreams carried me through until I could see my own dreams and your dauntless, unselfish love, made me want to impact the life of everyone I meet.

 

 

 

 

Wings

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If I could give you wings

they’d be dragon wings

strong enough to lift you over

the barbed wires surrounding you

powerful enough to carry

you to a mountain hide-a-way

for a year and a day or more

where you would spin a cocoon

and rest until you emerged

a spirit walker, kissed by light

unscathed by darkness.

If you could give me wings

they’d be fairy wings

full of light and color, magic enough

to whisk me across time and space

where I would find my voice

dancing across pages of forever’s book

touching torches, lighting lives

unbound by vows or man-made things

an ethereal wraith, a lover of love

a blesser of souls, a seer of forever.