Sunday, December 25, 2011

Old Cherokee Grandmother

       My maternal grandmother once told me that she had a maternal grandmother (you can throw a "great" or two in there for more accuracy) who was a Cherokee.  I take my grandmother's word for it -- Nana was a sharp little lady under five feet tall who lived an active, caring, giving, and totally unpretentious life for eighty-six years.  I don't think she was ever out to fool me.  But who knows?

      I haven't done enough genealogical research to know the specifics, like names and dates.  But come to think of it, would the old woman have had a birth certificate anywhere?  Was it a common Cherokee custom in the very early 1800's for the father and mother to make a pilgrimage to the county courthouse somewhere in Tennessee (or wherever) to register a birth -- and thus prove to the powers-that-were that the child was a true American?

       Maybe there are baptismal records in some old church somewhere, if the Cherokees were members of an established Church or a pious sect that recorded such things (admittedly important)  -- and then carefully kept and protected those records against all hazards, such as their forcible uprooting and removal to the newly-minted civilized "Indian Nation" about five hundred miles west on the Trail of Tears.

       Come to think of it, did the young woman and her husband have a marriage license?  If they did, would it have been signed by a justice of the peace or a priest, or more likely some old country preacher?  Or was it simply that they got the ceremonial approval of the old chief, and the (hopefully happy) pair headed for the tent, after the manner of Isaac and Rebekah, and did what folks do, Cherokee or white?

       And what kind of man was my old great-something-grandfather, to "take up" with an Indian woman?  Wasn't that a betrayal of his heritage?  Didn't he care that, to the respectable community, his children would be considered b-, b-, well, half-breeds?  Maybe he just didn't know what Chief Justice Roger Taney would later claim to know -- that the American political system was for whites-only -- or maybe he simply knew otherwise.  Or maybe again he just didn't give a tinker's dam.

       Well, they had kids, and they both got old and died, and they've been gone about a hundred and fifty years now.  Where did the Good Lord take them?  Did they end up in a white heaven, or in a happy hunting ground?  I don't know.

       So here I sit, thinking and writing.  Why do I think the way I do?

       Given the continuity of things, I wonder how many of my thoughts are the thoughts of my ancestors before me.  (And of course, it is the nature of ancestry that, if you have one Cherokee ancestor, you have hundreds.  So if I have one Cherokee thought in my body, I might have many.)

       For instance -- I basically like Andrew Jackson.   For one thing, he stood up for some important things.  For another, he stood up against some bad things.   And after all, like everybody else, I'm sure he's something like my twelfth cousin five times removed, and family counts for a lot.

       But still -- how many of great-grandma's people got packed off to Oklahoma, and how many didn't make it, courtesy of President Jackson's federal government and the United States Army?

       Great-grandma, is the US government and the US military all about defending our freedoms?

       To ask the question, honey, is to answer it.

       Now where did that thought come from?

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Comments always most welcome.

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