By Guest Blogger – Melody Pettus
Stories of the Ancestors
[Guest Blogger Melody Pettus shares a story about her 2nd great grandfather. This is part two of two parts. Photo selections by Don Taylor. Part I is here.]
“I shift like Wind, I shape like Water”
|“Gathering around the fire”
Photo © by Eva Blue via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Dark Shade’s journey among the Strangers brought him to the largest Hearth Home he had ever seen. Chest high posts of wood and sharp ripping thorn-like wires stretched far out in all directions and crisscrossed in different sized marked spaces. Some of these spaces had large four-legged animals (what Dark Shade had been raised calling “Land Kin”) enclosed within them – others were filled with unnaturally straight rows and rows of various crops – what Dark Shade had previously been taught were “Green Brothers,” many that he’d never touched or smelled before during his life with Family.
Many Strangers moved around between these long and thorny Stranger Lines, which had openings between them to allow one to walk without touching their tearing vines. Dark Shade had learned that these were called “gates” and which served to keep the Land Kin and the Green Brothers apart from each other. He found the idea of living separated from the Land still very hard to understand but accepted this as another part of Stranger life to accommodate.
His traveling mate Bart was very excited and told Dark Shade that this could be a good farm to find work and a place to live. They found that the home belonged to a small but strong hearted woman in her late thirties named Sarah Wootten. Ms. Sarah had lost her husband to some battle between Stranger clans. Dark Shade did not quite follow what this event was all about but Bart seemed to be very aware and understood what had happened. Ms. Sarah had previously had other Stranger helpers whose skin was a deeper color much closer to Dark Shade’s own – but the battle had somehow changed something in the relationship between the different colored Strangers and she needed to find new Stranger helpers to keep up with the care of the buildings, the Land Kin and the Green Brothers.
Dark Shade and Bart became part of a large Stranger collective. They learned to set up and mend the slashing Stranger Lines, Dark Shade became skilled at working with horned Land Kin by tying them to a large earth cutting knife called a “plow” and walking them back and forth to dig deep trenches. Drawing patterns across the Land with this tool seemed to make things more ready for the Green Brothers to grow and Dark Shade found he had regained some of the quiet reflective time of his earlier life and he realized how much he had missed this. His back and shoulders grew strong and broad and he began to remember and sing some of the old Family Songs to himself as he worked.
One day – an oddly dressed Stranger appeared at the home. He looked very weak and pale next to the hard working Stranger Family that Dark Shade had been a part of for the past several years. This new Stranger spoke with Ms. Sarah who then asked all the Stranger Family to stop their work and come together at the large home.
She explained to everyone that this Stranger had to count everyone here and write down their names for someone called “The Government.” The Government wanted to know how many people lived in the different towns. Dark Shade didn’t understand why this was so important, but everyone lined up and began telling this new Stranger their names, how many seasons they had seen and what they did for Ms. Sarah.
When Dark Shade gave his name, the Stranger looked puzzled and said that he needed at least two names to mark down in his book. Dark Shade scratched his head and then offered his full name Cloak of Moon-Shadows-Land. This apparently was still not what the Stranger was looking for. Many of the Stranger Family working for Ms. Sarah did not have last names either – so the new Stranger announced that they would all have Ms. Sarah’s last name of Wootten. This took care of one name but did not solve Dark Shade’s issue with his “first name” as the Stranger said he needed what he called a “proper” name. Ms. Sarah suggested a name from a book she read almost constantly called a “Bible” that she thought sounded similar to Dark Shade – Shadrick.
Dark Shade felt very confused over being asked to give up his birth name, but Ms. Sarah assured him that this was a strong name of a brave person whose Faith had allowed them to overcome very difficult times. Dark Shade decided that if he had to be re-named to be with the Stranger community – then this one sounded close enough to his old name and seemed to hold strong Heart values that he didn’t feel he had somehow betrayed his Birth Calling.
Dark Shade eventually left Ms. Sarah’s Stranger Family but kept using the name Shadrick Wootten as he found it much easier to find work using the Stranger society’s way of addressing each other. Over many sun cycles, he retraced his original Walk to see if he could find his Family again but they had left the last place he knew of and no one seemed to know where they had gone. He had always before felt that his Heart Compass was anchored by the thought that his Mother and Father would be there when he was ready to return. With a heavy heart, he then continued his journey in the odd and rule-bound Stranger Society he had gone to explore so many years ago – searching for a Heart and a Hearth that he could once again call “home”…
His Heart moved him to Walk along a large and fierce road of water to a Land named for the brown and powerful Water Road – Mississippi – following the work opportunities and feeling the pull of warmer days. He was happiest when he could feel the earth growing beneath his feet and the Sun and Moon shining on his face. He began to feel it was time to build his own Family to tie his Heart Compass to.
At one of his Stranger jobs – he met a young woman named Mattie who worked inside the Stranger home. Mattie began listening to Shadrick/Shade’s stories and spoke to him for hours afterwards about his life and his Family. They spent many evenings after work was done sitting outside and watching the night sky. Shade told her his Family’s Star Stories and she laughed in delight as the Stars came to life and chased and loved and fought with each other across the dark blue stage of the evening.
She took a fancy to the young melancholy man called “Shade” among the other workers. Shade had never had anyone express an interest in his life. Before-Strangers and felt loved and valued for the first time in many, many sun cycles. Mattie soon found herself mother to a boy and girl from his returned attentions. Shade kept Family as sacred in his Heart and followed the Stranger society’s customs of registering his relationship and attachment to Mattie by a rite they named “marriage”.
Tate, Mississippi was a small and violent Stranger town – plagued by large clans of Oath-Breakers who held the town in fear by brute force. Several of Tate’s Law Keepers lost their lives. Shade was stunned at seeing no respect for Elders or Law Keepers and felt great concern for his Family’s safety. Although he loved the area and Maggie herself was born and raised there – he felt it was more important to move his growing little Tribe to an area he had felt safe in before. So…they pulled together their home and children and made a Land Walk back to the state where he worked for Ms. Sarah – Arkansas.
The work in the area they settled in did not seem steady enough to provide for a family with any degree of comfort. Shade worked hard and this town was definitely quieter than Tate, but he did not feel connected or balanced. At night – he stood under the stars and sang his Life.
Moon Elder had loved Shade from birth and she bent low to hear his Life Song. She lit the sky with her mirrored face – opening the Soul of the man singing below her. “Your place is not far. Let your feet move on the Earth, Let the Sky guide you, let the waters of your Life feel my pull. You stand at a great crossroad – Trust your Heart Compass – it is time to Land Walk again.” Shade heard and his eyes glittered with gratitude.
The town they lived in – called “Beebe Town” was smaller than other town’s Shade had seen but it was a hub of Stranger Guest-Giving trade activity with several Land Walks converging together in the area. Travel to various parts of Arkansas as well as Missouri and Tennessee made for constantly changing Stranger faces. Shade spoke to Mattie of the wisdom given to him by Moon Elder. She shared his need to find Home and Hearth. Shade considered Moon Elder’s words and wondered what Sign he would be given to guide his Family’s Walk. During one of his Thought Trails, he found that he had wandered into the center of town and was standing near the spot where three Iron Horses screamed and scrambled past each other. He saw large piles of black powdery rock piled on their backs and noticed a lot of excitement and activity when these rock bearing beasts came into the town. This must have some real value to the Strangers he thought – where does it come from and how do I follow the trail back to where it came from?
One of the Strangers who had ridden an Iron Horse into town gave Shade a piece of thin paper with fancy lines like ivy tracings on old rocks, pictures of people strutting down the streets with Stranger-Money falling out of their pockets and happy children playing in the streets. The flyer talked about “Krebs Oklahoma” and the many “Coal Mines” that were looking for people to help collect the black powdery rock (which Shade understood now was called “Coal” – in Speaker Talk). The paper said that there was plenty of work for all and as Shade was healthy and had a strong back so he thought this could well be the Heart Home that Moon Elder had spoken to him of where he could raise and grow his Tribe with a community of happy Families.
|Krebs Train Station & Locamotive “The Nellie” c. 1880
Photo Courtesy: Krebs Heritage Museum
Shade, Mattie and their children (which had by then been blessed by the birth of Twins – a rare and prosperous event) gathered themselves and road the Iron Horse northward – following Shade’s Heart Compass toward Moon Elder’s Promise. He watched Moon Elder’s face begin to darken and vanish. When her shimmering necklace was all that remained in the sky – Shade took his Family off the Iron Horse at the very next stop, seeing the repeat of his Birth Event as a Sign that here indeed was the home he sought. The sign at the station gave this town’s name as “Krebs – they had made it! As they moved off into the town to find their Home and destiny – Shade kept his Family Traveling Chant firmly in his mind – “I shift like Wind, I shape like Water”…
There is more in the telling of these stories than simple conversation. This is the glue that binds us to who we are, where we came from and what we believe. Often the stories will be told again, embellished and improved, by our children and again by their children – a piece of us passed on for generations to come. The ritual is in the remembering – the remembering is self-revelation.