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A TRUE STORY FOR THE SEASON

RAISING NED

The following story is one of those strange, unexplainable family tales that happen to be true. There are a lot of these in my family that we usually just tell within the family. Maybe because we know each other well enough to know we don’t lie about things like this. Today I am going to share a tale with you.

It all started over forty years ago when my daughter Alison, who was around three or four years old, was entertaining herself with make-believe. One night I found her, crouched under our kitchen table, which she had covered with a bedsheet. When asked what she was doing, she replied, “I’m Ned Christie, hiding in my fort.”

 I wish I had asked her then how she knew about Ned Christie, but I didn’t. By the time I got around to asking her this question, she didn’t have even a faint memory of imitating Ned Christie when she was a preschooler.

At the time of the Ned incident, I only knew the standard version of Ned’s story. He had been portrayed as a sort of Cherokee outlaw who was gunned down by a posse of United States marshals and their followers for killing a fellow marshal.  For some unknown reason, I always felt drawn to him, perhaps because he was a fellow Cherokee and had died a gruesome death, but I knew little of the real story.

The incident stuck in my brain, and I once discussed it with my husband Dennis. His reply was, “She probably got the idea from a story your dad told her about Ned Christie.”

I outwardly agreed, but inwardly, I had my doubts. My dad wasn’t much of a storyteller. He didn’t tell me many stories until he was on his deathbed. Then he spoke about his Cherokee grandfather Riley Clay and related harrowing family stories from Indian Territory days.

As his health grew worse, people I didn’t know came to say goodbye. One day he introduced me to a visitor, a Cherokee man. “This is Jackie Christie. He’s my cousin.”

By the time Alison was in high school, we had moved to the community of Wauhillau, which was where Ned had lived and died. One day Alison announced that she had chosen Ned Christie as the subject of one of her school assignments. I drove her to Ned’s gravesite at the Christie Family Cemetery where she took pictures and to the general location of where we believed Ned had once lived. A friendly farmer pointed out where he believed “Ned’s Fort” was located, and we took pictures. I didn’t know until later that we hadn’t walked far enough to reach Ned’s homesite.

The years flew by, and I eagerly grasped the extra time retirement brought me. I finally had time to read, study, and write. Soon, I had read and studied enough Cherokee history to know that my instincts about Ned Christie were true. He had been wrongly accused and executed by federal marshals under the orders of Judge Parker.

As I was conducting research for a family history story I was writing about Riley Clay, I made a surprising discovery. I found the name and picture of my great, great grandmother, Susie Christie Clay. She was the first cousin of Watt Christie, Ned Christie’s father. Ned Christie is my second cousin, several times removed.

This discovery inspired me to write a nonfiction story, “Another Look at Ned Christie,” which was published in the western magazine, Saddlebag Dispatches. But my connection with Ned didn’t end there.

A few years ago, Dennis and I joined the Adair County Historical and Genealogical Association (ACH&GA). When they began conducting historical tours of Adair County, Ned Christie’s gravesite was one of the sites featured. In my role as a tour guide, I met Betty Christie Frogg, Ned’s great, great niece, when she shared her perspective of Ned’s life and death with our tour participants. Thanks to Betty I felt like I knew Cousin Ned much better.

Recently, I conducted my first tour since Covid. One of the participants, Jackie Bob Martin, a Christie descendant, who grew up in Wauhillau, asked if he could share something with the group.  Of course, I agreed, and the next thing I knew he had directed the driver to a long, rough dirt road which eventually crossed a small, flowing branch.

 Goosebumps popped out when Jackie Bob announced, “There’s Ned’s Spring.”

Then he showed us the bare remains of Ned’s fort where Ned’s life was cut short by the marshals.

 I was struck by a new revelation. What I had heard, read, and wrote about Ned Christie was real, and he was connected to my family. He was connected to me. Maybe blood ties can be more than physical. Maybe little Alison sensed her connection to Ned some forty years ago.

This story reminds me of one of my favorite Shakespearian quotes: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Below is the picture I took of Ned’s Spring.

THE HEALING POWER OF PLANTS

Three of the most important women in my life, my mother, my grandmother, and my mother-in-law, all loved to work with their plants and couldn’t understand why I didn’t. My mother-in-law, who was an elementary teacher, related how she began each summer vacation.  “My first day out of school I go out to my flower beds, and I work all day. That’s all I do all day, every day until I get them to looking the way I want them to look. After finishing that task, my mind is clear, and I can go on to other things.”

Each year, my mother chose one day soon after school was out, to come to my house and help me with my flowerbeds, which usually looked more like weed patches. We raked, weeded, uncovered the struggling plants, and planted and watered new ones to replace those that had died. My plants usually stayed healthy and pretty until I returned to teaching school in August and began neglecting them again.

My Cherokee grandmother, Granny Philpott, spent much of her time outside, either caring for her vegetable garden or working in her flowers. Even though she complained it was hard to share a yard with my grandpa’s hunting dogs, she nurtured hardy shrubs and filled big pots and ingenuous containers, like rubber tires, with a variety of plants and flowers.

I tried to explain to all of them that my busy life as a wife/mother/teacher afforded me little leisure time to care for plants. But, somehow, in 1986, after my father passed away, I found myself down on my knees, placing some of his funeral plants in the soil by my front door.

When my mother moved to town, she insisted that I take a huge, old iron pot that had belonged to Granny Philpott.  Each spring, after the threat of frost has passed, I fill it with bright colorful flowers and remember Granny and her love of growing things. I have included a picture of it, fully planted, with this blog.

In some ways, I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s years before she passed, yet her physical absence left a big hole in my heart. Her funeral was on April 13, 2012, and, even though it was early, I soon bought a big batch of multi-colored pansies, marigolds, and petunias. My heart found solace as my hands worked the soil in the old familiar pot that my granny and mother once loved.

HOPES AND DREAMS

Sharing a bit of book imagery today. Think of yourself as the protagonist in your book of life. Are you an action character or a passive observer? In writing, we are told to “hook” our readers by creating interesting characters who are actively moving. For example, in Cherokee Clay, my character Bluebird takes off when her mother yells, “Run!” Hopefully, this beginning hooked you into wondering who is this girl, and why is she running.

Sometimes as we grow older, we slow down and tend to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with this, and real satisfaction can be found in enjoying the simple pleasures of life. Sharing hugs, kisses, and conversations with your partner. A visit, in person, by phone, or online, with a loved one or a good friend. Petting and playing with a sweet pet. Connecting with Mother Earth by planting and caring for shrubs, flowers, and other plants. Cooking and/or eating a delicious meal. Taking a walk and surrendering yourself to the sights, sounds, and smells of our beautiful world. Or perhaps, even traveling to parts unknown. All of these are worthy activities, and I love doing them all.

And yet, I believe there is something more. My restless brain is not content with remaining idle while my hands, legs, and senses are at work. I need to create something from my mind and soul. That’s one reason I am writing this blog today. Right now, I am between writing projects, but I have three books that are in the works. They are my hopes and dreams.

One of these is my first nonfiction book about Cherokee history. Another one is my first children’s book based on a bedtime story my husband used to tell our granddaughter Samantha. Then there is the final book in my “Cherokee Passages” series, Cherokee Steel. (Below is a picture of me, exploring Maine, a few years ago.)

JULY 4 INSIGHTS

July 4, 2021, will go down as a day to remember. As I was checking my e-mail that afternoon, I noticed a message from my publisher, Casey Cowan, from Oghma Creative Media. He told me that I was a finalist for the Will Rogers Medallion Award for my first book, CHEROKEE CLAY, in the Best Western for Young Readers category. I was overjoyed, especially when I learned that they will hand me this cool medallion for being named as a finalist. So, come October, you might just catch a glimpse of two Okies, traveling southbound on their way to Ft. Worth, where the award ceremony will be held. For more information about this year’s nominees, check out https://www.willrogersmedallionaward.net.

Speaking of Will Rogers, I have always admired the man. He was a successful writer, actor, speaker, and fellow Oklahoman. Not only was he a real cowboy, he was a Cherokee cowboy and proud of it. Here are two examples of what Will said on the subject.

“Being an Indian, I don’t mind telling you that personally, I am sorry he (Columbus) ever found us. The discovery of American has been of no material benefit to us, outside of losing all of our land.”

“I am not so sweet on old Andy (Andrew Jackson). He was the one who ran us Cherokees out of Georgia and North Carolina.”

Amen, Will.

REGRETS

Do you remember that scene from the first SUPERMAN movie in which he used his super strength to turn the sun back a day? He changed the course of history just so he could save the life of the woman he loved, Lois Lane.

Author Stephen King went back to the past repeatedly in his novel, 11/22/63. His protagonist wanted to Save JFK, and later, his lady love, but he finally learns that changing history has consequences.

Haven’t we all wished we could do that at some time or another? The first time I remember doing it I was very young. Through carelessness I had stained the new skirt that my mother had just bought me. There wasn’t a lot of money for new clothes, and I knew she would scold me. I remember praying that God would turn back time so that I could avoid the stain and the scolding. Of course, my frivolous request wasn’t granted, but I don’t remember the scolding being traumatic at all. The time I spent fretting about my anticipated punishment was much worse.

When I grew up, I experienced many situations which I desperately wanted to do over. If the day could just start over, I would act in such a way that the end result would be happy, not sad. I could have easily avoided some bad decisions, accidents, and arguments. I might have even saved a life once or twice. But, in real life, unlike in fictional stories, there are no do overs.

We all have to live with the regrets brought about by the mistakes we have made in the past. I want to live my life in such a way that my regrets are few and my joys are abundant.

Considering the Journey

So often the phrase from the play, Hamilton, runs through my mind.

“Why do you write like
you are running out of time?”

The answer: Because I am.

Despite having retired early at 58, my time for achieving my dreams and goals is growing
short. Yes, I have been published in magazines, journals, and newspapers. But my first book,
Cherokee Clay, wasn’t published until I was 67. I have written two more to complete the series,
“Cherokee Passages.” I have been told that these will be published in the near future.

I have four other books in development: three children’s books and one historical nonfiction.
That last one, my first nonfiction, Before We Were a State, is taking all I have to finish. The
clerical parts, such as the endnotes and the index, plague me. I have been tempted to give it up as
being too difficult, but, at my core, is a stubborn stone that won’t yield.

But do I know for sure that I will see all of these books in print? No. After seeing how
COVID-19 affected the publishing industry, the world, and my own life, I know that nothing is
certain. The world can change in a minute’s time.

On a personal level, I am helping organize my 50th class reunion. How did that happen? The
years have flown by, and several of my classmates are no longer living. They ran out of time,
and I am working fiercely to make sure that doesn’t happen to me, at least not until I am ready
for it.

This was my first blog. I will be submitting another one in a few days.