Going Home

Pond at the camp in London, KY

"By the shores of Gitchee Gumee,
By the shining Big Sea waters,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis..." 

There are places in this world that just feel more familiar than others to me.  There are buildings and houses everywhere that have a whole spectrum of energy.  Places that make me feel comfortable or energized (or creeped out in some cases).  But there are only a couple of places in the world that actually call to my spirit.  I can count them on one hand.  Places that when I walk on the ground it whispers to me, pulling at my heart and making it ache with longing and recognition.  A place that quiets my spirit and whose secrets seep into my bones and speak to me about the past, the future, and all that is timeless in ways that have no words.  Smells and sounds are right and familiar and exotic all at the same time, reminding of something that I can't quite place, a far away memory that I can't quite pull the thread to unravel, but that I know is significant.  Eastern Kentucky is one of those places for me.  When I drive into the beginning of the foothills of Appalachia, my whole being sighs knowing that I am heading for home.  My blood knows where I am.  It may not be where my house is, or where I would even want to live (we know my history with small town mindsets and meddling neighbors), but something inside of me recognizes it as my spirit's home.  It may have something to do with all of the love that came from there.

Boat house by the pond
This past weekend was my family reunion in Eastern Kentucky.  It is held Labor Day weekend every year in London, KY at the Feltner 4-H camp and is an afternoon of food and visiting and some sort of game designed to either embarrass our shameless cousins and uncles or give them an opportunity to be in drag, which we all think is hysterical.  Rednecks in bad Tina Turner wigs and skirts is sort of fabulous in it's own warped way.  In the past it was an entire day full of food and visiting and then music and gospel singing with which bluegrass legends would weep with jealousy if they had only heard (what became a sensation in O Brother was just the way regular gospel music sounded to us growing up. I had been hearing Angel Band and Gloryland my whole life).  Then it was younger kids being led through the woods after dark by the older kids with stories of haunted cabins and ghosts and the general fear torture of your kid brother or sister in which only a 14 year old could find such sublime joy.  Then, when you finally were forced to go to bed, it was a sweaty night in a bug infested cabin and cold showers in the morning (if you actually bathed) with a few water bugs for good measure- you better bring your shower sandals- followed by coffee strong enough to tar a roof and biscuits and gravy prepared by absolute gravy making legends.  Then hugs and kisses until the next time.
8 of the 10 Disney Siblings in 1999

It's not that anymore.  The people that made those reunions what they were are no longer with us.  It is heart breaking in too many ways to number.  Those memories of our loved ones permeate every part of reunion. Try as we might to recreate those time, we all yearn for their love and companionship constantly and are sad with the memories of what it was, but no longer is.  As my cousins and I were talking this past weekend we knew that the next generation won't have those same memories.  It falls to us to pass on what we have been taught and to create new memories of family.  It will not ever be what it was, but it can be something just as special.  It is a staggering responsibility.  One that is too important not to succeed.

  My great uncle sent a letter home to my ten year old niece about our great great great grandmother (the one in my dream about Mamaw) that was actually named Panther.  I swear this is true and you can all be jealous now that you don't have a great great great granny that was a Cherokee Indian named Panther.  She was obviously kick ass.  His letter is beyond priceless and teaches us how to pass it on and keep our story alive.  Panther certainly lives on in me.  She came through my Great Granny, my Mamaw, and my fierce mother to teach me about love and legacy and I will pass her story on to my niece so that she can remember too.

Every year that Mamaw was at reunion (she didn't miss many), she would do her FAMOUS version of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The original poem is about 6,297 stanzas long (or around there).  She would stand on a table or a chair and do an abbreviated version that always began the same way, but was edited according to her audience.  She always added her family members names in it and made up funny stories about them within the context of the poem.  It was a riot.  

I made her write it down a few years ago, but it was the actual poem she copied for me and not her own.  It doesn't really matter.  It's in her hand and it is a treasure just the same.

"Haunted" Cabin at the Camp
I know that being on my sacred dirt has made me nostalgic and completely sentimental.  I also know that grief continues to be a process of which I can't just skip to the end.  Seeing my loved ones and those that they were closest to always opens the wounds anew.  My fervent wish and prayer is that we will remember how to pass on the love and legacy that continue to surround us- in our own way- a new way that still remembers.  And that all of those that come after us will know what it is like to come home.  

The Song of Hiawatha
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest, rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them; bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water, beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

There the wrinkled old Nokomis nursed the little Hiawatha,
Rocked him in his linden cradle, bedded soft in moss and rushes,
Safely bound with reindeer sinews; stilled his fretful wail by saying,
“Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!” Lulled him into slumber, singing,
“Ewa-yea! my little owlet! Who is this, that lights the wigwam?

With his great eyes lights the wigwam? Ewa-yea! my little owlet!”
Many things Nokomis taught him of the stars that shine in heaven;
Showed him Ishkoodah, the comet, Ishkoodah, with fiery tresses;
Showed the Death-Dance of the spirits, warriors with their plumes and war-clubs,
Flaring far away to northward in the frosty nights of winter;

Showed the broad white road in heaven, pathway of the ghosts, the shadows,
Running straight across the heavens, crowded with the ghosts, the shadows.
At the door on summer evenings, sat the little Hiawatha;
Heard the whispering of the Pine-trees, heard the lapping of the water,
Sounds of music, words of wonder; “Minne-wawa!” said the pine-trees,
“Mudway-aushka! said the water.

Saw the fire-fly Wah-wah-taysee, flitting through the dusk of evening,
With the twinkle of its candle lighting up the brakes and bushes,
And he sang the song of children, sang the song Nokomis taught him:
“Wah-wah-taysee, little fire-fly, little flitting, white-fire insect, little, dancing, white-fire creature,
Light me with your little candle, ere upon my bed I lay me, ere in sleep I close my eyelids!”

Saw the moon rise from the water, rippling, rounding from the water,
Saw the flecks and shadows on it, whispered, “What is that, Nokomis?”
And the good Nokomis answered: “Once a warrior, very angry, seized his grandmother, and
Threw her up into the sky at midnight; right against the moon he threw her;
‘Tis her body that you see there.”

Saw the rainbow in the heaven, in the eastern sky the rainbow,
Whispered, “What is that, Nokomis?” And the good Nokomis answered:
“ ‘Tis the heaven of flowers you see there; all the wild-flowers of the forest,
All the lilies of the prairie, when on earth they fade and perish,
Blossom in that heaven above us.”

When he heard the owls at midnight, hooting, laughing in the forest,
“What is that?” he cried in terror; “What is that,” he said, “Nokomis?”
And the good Nokomis answered: “That is but the owl and owlet,
Talking in their native language, talking, scolding at each other.”
Then the little Hiawatha learned of every bird its language,

Learned their names and all their secrets,
How they built their nests in summer, where they hid themselves in winter,
Talked with them whene’er he met them,
Called them “Hiawatha’s Chickens.”
Of all beasts he learned the language,

Learned their names and all their secrets,
How the beavers built their lodges,
Where the squirrels hid their acorns,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid,
Talked with them whene’er he met them,
Called them “Hiawatha’s Brothers.”

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  1. Just beautiful! I love that this tradition though adjusted survives within your family. We've experienced loss in our family that has splintered it at the moment it, and it's sad to see all the wonderful things I remember as a child not be passed on to my own children. But I still have those memories and I can pass those stories on to my kids and create a fresh set of memories for them in the tradition of the past.