As a child I didn’t think the effects of age could touch me, but they did through my grandfather. I sat and watched over him as he entered and finally fell to old age. For a few years, the effect of the lightning strike on his body was not apparent. Two years before I was born he was struck by lightning while working on the Kansas City Southern Railroad. The age had crippled him, and he no longer could use his beaded cane, nor could he sit in a wheelchair, he became completely bed ridden. And then old age finally caught him.
For twenty one years of my life I had come home every day to my full blooded Cherokee grandfather, Dooda. I would run out the door as he called my Cherokee name, “Wahlese”. I was always running somewhere, and even today it is the same. But, in all of this running I lost so much. He doesn’t call my name anymore. I’ve lost time, stories, laughter, and moments that I could have had. I see now that he just wanted me to sit with him and to hear him. As the coordinator of the Family Reunion this year I can’t find anyone to sit down with me, I can’t find any pictures, and I can’t hear the old ones. Today, I want to go back and I want to hear his voice, I want to hear him speaking Cherokee to his friends. The thing is, there are no more of his friends.
His friends were from our community, the land our families have shared for over one hundred and fifty years. This I know, our elders are going away. Their stories are harder to hear and my past is becoming shorter. The language of my grandfather is just a whisper.
When my grandfather woke up after the lightning strike, he asked where his fiddle was. For months, he looked for his fiddle. Until he was told that one day it would find him. A year later a young man tried to play a fiddle he had found, another young man told him it was not his fiddle to play, and he brought it home to Briggs to my grandfather. It sits in our house, exactly where my grandfather left it.
But as I question my past I forget, in this house, are three of his grandchildren, and all three of these children can speak our language, all three of these children live on the land that had been his mothers, and they all live within the walls where they used to sit on his bed and listen to him as toddlers. The other night, as I was awake reading, my six year old nephew Solomon was dreaming and he was talking. But, he was not talking in English, he was speaking Cherokee. When Solomon was given the choice of an instrument to play he said “I want to play the fiddle like my Dooda.” His fingers know the strings, and his heart knows every tune, I don’t know how, and he can remember my grandfather when he walked with a cane, which was years before Solomon was even born.
This I believe, just as my grandfather’s fiddle made its way back to him, somehow so will a part of myself that I thought was lost. At times I miss our stories, and my grandfather and his friends, but I believe they are still among us, I believe our stories will be told even if some of the stories begin with the six year olds of today and I am in the story as an “Elisee”, a grandmother.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.