My name is Lilly Irish. “Finding Family” is my story. Now I don’t want to get into detail, you need to buy the book for that, but I can tell you there was no bigger surprise to me than having my dead sister’s daughter call me up out of the blue. Like I needed that complication in my life, right? I mean, I’m a widow. What am I supposed to do with this girl I haven’t seen in years and years? And – get this – she’s bringing her three little ones with her. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I lead a quiet life, and that’s the way I like it. Still I can’t say no to her. I guess I’ll take it one day at a time. What else can I do?
Lilly Irish’s quiet life is interrupted when her estranged niece arrives on her doorstep with three children and a dog of questionable breeding in tow. From the moment they blow into her life on a windy fall night and Krank the dog pees on her carpet, Lilly Irish begins a life-changing journey. Available in paperback and as an e-book.
What happens to a widow whose quiet life is interrupted when an estranged niece arrives on her doorstep with three children and a dog of questionable breeding in tow? From the moment they blow into her life on a windy fall night and Krank the dog pees on her carpet, Lilly Irish begins a life-changing journey. Always one to do the right thing for the right reasons, Lilly takes them in knowing her resources are limited. Between the dog tearing up one thing after another, and the older boy tangling with schoolyard toughs, Lilly is put to the test. What she learns along the way is how lonely she’s been, and her capacity for love she didn’t know she possessed. Annie and her children are looking for a home. Will they find it with Lilly? Soft Cover E-book
Sharon Vander Meer has been a storyteller since childhood and finds inspiration in everyday life. In addition to “Finding Family,” Vander Meer has published three novels, a book of inspirational readings and a chap book of poetry. Her author website is www.oneroofpublish.com.
My sister died unexpectedly but peacefully in her sleep sometime New Year’s Day morning. As far as her caregivers – my other sister and her husband – knew, she was not ill, and yet she quietly made her way out of this life and into the next on a schedule only God knows. She was 69.
Patty wasn’t known to many. As a child, she was diagnosed as mentally retarded, back when that was a common phrase for special needs children.
From the moment I got it that she was different from other children, I thought of her as an angel waiting to make her way back to heaven. She is there now, of that I have no doubt.
When she was little, my parents did everything to help her, to get an answer for how they could make her normal. We had little in the way of money, but they spent what they could on countless trips to doctors in search of answers. The trip to a children’s hospital in Hot Springs, NM (Truth or Consequences), was the last straw for my dad. When they came out after the visit, my mother was in tears, hugging Patty and rocking her. My older brother and I sat in the back seat of the car, listening to her sobs. “No more,” my dad said. “We can’t do this anymore!” We knew enough about our dad to know he was furious, even though he didn’t raise his voice.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned that someone – a doctor or administrator at the hospital – told my parents that children like my sister shouldn’t be allowed to live. It caused too much suffering for the family. My parents loved my sister as much as they loved each of us. She was not disposable because she was different. No wonder my mom wept and my dad was angry.
Patty was a walker and talker. She had boundless energy. My parents stopped taking her out to church or to the store when it was clear her behavior couldn’t be managed. As she grew into an adult, it became necessary for her to have a medication plan, or she wouldn’t sleep.
She could be really funny. She loved the song Silent Night, and would pester my dad to sing it. Now, the family pretty much agreed my dad was no singer, but after she bugged him enough he would belt out the quintessential Christmas song with all his heart. Patty would clap her hands over her ears and say, “Don’t sing, Daddy, don’t sing! You’re hurting my ears!” and then laugh, her bright blue eyes like twin suns sparkling with delight.
Patty made us better people. Because of her, we grew up to be less judgmental, more compassionate, kind, and forgiving. We learned the importance of accepting people as they are, warts and all. Do we live those lessons all the time? Probably not, but we are not angels. Patty was and is.
In memory of my sister, Patricia Louise Conkle. I love you. And thank you to my sister Melissa and her husband Fred, for taking good care of her for these many years.
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I made my first quilt. Not that I haven’t made quilts, I have, but always the tie kind. I’ve never actually made an honest to goodness quilted quilt. I’m proud of the finished product, not so much because of the perfection of the end result (it is FAR from perfect), but because I didn’t give up when I made one mistake after another. In fact, within a week of finishing it, I all but threw up my hands and said, “I’m done!”
My final setback (after countless other setbacks that will go unnamed), came when I realized I’d attached the binding in such a way that I couldn’t finish off the corners in a neat and tidy fashion. When it didn’t seem to be working the way I thought it should, I made a major mistake and trimmed one corner thinking that would solve the problem. Uh… no! I’d made it WORSE. Imagine my surprise when I found, after checking out instructions on the Internet and two days of pulling my hair, I’d done it right all along. My mistake was how I attached the binding. I should have sewn it to the back and pulled the binding to the front. I was frustrated and began to think it was so incredibly WRONG! The temptation to give up was intense, in fact I told my husband I was going to go out and buy a baby quilt for my soon-to-be-born great niece.
Ah, right, the reason I took on this project was to make something with my own hands and heart that would reflect my love for this precious child. I couldn’t give up. No matter what, I wanted to finish it and I’m proud to say I did, and in time for the baby’s shower on Saturday.
I will go out and buy some things for my great-niece, but I hope she will grow up knowing this handmade quilt was made with love interwoven with prayers for her to be healthy, happy and passionate about life. The quirky secrets hidden within the mistakes are my prayers for her to find plenty to laugh about, even when things don’t go her way. She is coming into a family who will cherish her, and give loving support to her mom and dad.
My first memory of Thanksgiving was the year I ate turkey three times, once at my aunt’s, (which was okay, she wasn’t much of a cook so I didn’t overeat), once at my grandmother’s, (which was unfortunate because she was a fantastic cook and I ate too much), and finally at home where I looked at my mother’s perfect meal and almost threw up. I was five and had, as my dad said, “A hole in my toe,” meaning I ate like a horse despite being thin as a minute and small for my age.
It came about because Mom was trying to make everybody happy. She didn’t want to hurt my aunt’s feelings by not going to her house for Thanksgiving, and what woman in her right mind wants to tick off her mother-in-law? Dad, bless him, figured it would be all right, because after all, can you get too much turkey on Thanksgiving?
My aunt (Mom’s sister), liked to have Thanksgiving early so we ate at her house about one o’clock. Grandma had mid afternoon Thanksgiving meals so at about three o’clock we were tucking into a feast of turkey and all the trimmings: dressing, cranberry sauce, three kinds of vegetables including yummy sweet potatoes with mounds of marshmallows on top, two kinds of jello salad, pies and cakes up the wazoo and fruit salad with real whipped cream. It was heaven.
And then we got home and had to do it all over again. I mean, really, I didn’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings by not eating her meal, prepared with loving hands. So despite messages my brain was sending to my stomach that I’d had enough, I dug in with gusto.
It turns out you can have too much turkey on Thanksgiving.
___________________ This essay is a reprint from an e-zine I published once upon a time. Happy Thanksgiving
Lines, Poetry in Notion ($7.50 plus tax and shipping)
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This week a parcel was delivered that was addressed to my late mother—Beverly (Downer) Querry Corbett. My mother died September 24, 2011 of natural causes in Oklahoma City, a few days before her 89th birthday.
Born October 4, 1922, in Norman, Oklahoma, to Ruth A. Downer, an Original Enrollee of the Choctaw Nation, and to Pierce A. Downer, my mother spent much of her early childhood on my grandmother’s allotted land near Newcastle, Oklahoma. Our family always called it “Choctaw Place.”
The parcel was accompanied by a letter from Chief Gary Batton. In it, Chief Batton honored my mother for her years of wisdom and her service with a beautiful “Wisdom Blanket.” I speak for her three children when I say that our mother was always proud of her Choctaw heritage and would have been deeply moved by this tribute.
I believe that my mother would have liked you to know about her family—to know things that should be remembered. I believe she would have asked me, as her eldest son, to tell you.
It was, I suppose, in first or second grade that I was first required to commit to memory and to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer, and the names of the Five Civilized Tribes. Only later did it occur to me that not every young scholar in the United States was so well versed in exactly which five tribes were deemed “civilized” as were my classmates and I at Andrew Johnson Elementary in suburban Oklahoma City. I assumed that fresh young people all across America pledged and prayed and chanted “Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, Seminole” just as proudly and as loudly as did I.
I am very light-skinned—over the past couple of decades I have spent a good deal of time and money having skin cancer and pre-cancerous lesions removed, mostly from my face. My hair color has transitioned from orange (when I was born, I’m told), to white-blond (as a kid reciting things in elementary school), to reddish-brown (high school and Marine Corps), to raccoon-like multi-colored, to gray. (I do not mind that my hair is gray. A former Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation told me once that I shouldn’t mind what my hair turned, just as long as it didn’t turn loose.) My eyes are blue.
To see a photograph of my mother as a young girl you would not likely question her Indian-ness. The same applies with increasing certainty to my grandmother, to her father, to his father (the latter I understand to have sported braids and, when astride a horse and under the influence of strong drink which was not unusual, would frighten women and children—and while that story may not be entirely accurate, I hope that it is), and, I trust, on back to a Choctaw woman named Otemansha, peace be upon her.
The Dawes Commission was organized in 1893 to establish a Roll of American Indians residing in Indian Territory between 1899 and 1907.
My late grandmother Ruth Adella Foster is listed Number 15,137 as of March 26, 1904, on the Dawes Commission Rolls as an “Original Enrollee” of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. As are her father and her two older brothers—her mother is enrolled as an “I.W.” or “Intermarried White.” My grandmother had a younger brother who was born after the Rolls had closed and so, to his eternal dismay, was not considered an Original Enrollee. E.A. Foster, Jr., was his name—we knew him as “Uncle Manny”—and he researched exhaustively the Foster family lineage, to wit:
My four-greats grandmother was referred to generally in documents I possess as, “the Choctaw woman, wife of William Foster” in Mississippi. In a couple of documents of court proceedings, she is called “O-Te-Man-Sha,” which I presume was a phonetic attempt to spell her Choctaw language name.
Otemansha was of the “Sixtown” Tribe or Clan of Choctaw Indians. Oklahoma Historian Angie Debo says that “Sixtown Indians, Okla Hannali, spoke a distinctive dialect, tattooed blue marks around their mouths, and were shorter and heavier in build than the other Choctaws.” (Debo, The Rise and Fall of the Choctaw Republic, 1934, p.20)
When Andrew Jackson determined that the Southeastern Tribes should be removed from their homelands to what is now Oklahoma, so as to better facilitate the white folks who wanted more land, it was the Choctaw Tribe that was chosen to be among the first to go on what they called The Long Sad Walk. Those upstart Cherokees with their Trail of Tears came later. I understand that the Choctaws were chosen to be the first removed because they were deemed least likely to protest—they had already begun to assimilate and there were farmers and store-keepers and teachers among them.
There were, to be sure, different levels of assimilation. I remember one of my uncles telling about how our Choctaw ancestor, Otemansha, had held an important position in the Sixtown Clan back in Mississippi—that she had been a “Bone Picker.” At the time I didn’t know what a Bone Picker was and I don’t recall that my uncle told me. Had he done so, I feel certain that as a young boy I would have remembered so gruesome were the duties of that high office in Choctaw culture. If Otemansha were a “Bone Picker,” she was, indeed, an honored person and would have performed important duties in the funerary practices of her community at the time. She would likely have had distinctive tattoos that identified her position and her thumb and index fingernails would have been long and thick. For when a Choctaw Indian died, he or she was wrapped securely in robes and placed upon a wooden scaffold near the house and left to rot for a number of months. When the appropriate time had passed the “Bone Picker” came and removed what flesh remained on the deceased’s bones by using his or her fingernails. The bones were then placed in boxes and stored in a “Bone House” until such time as there were enough bones from the community to bury in a mound. To be sure, I have no real evidence that I am descended from “Bone Pickers”—only a story told by a long deceased uncle. But I hope the story was true. I like thinking of this woman without whom I would/could never have been born—I like thinking about her place in her community.
In preparation for Removal, in September of 1830, at a place near what is now Philadelphia, Mississippi, the making and signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek took place. The Choctaw tribe ceded almost eleven million acres and agreed to remove to Indian Territory in what is now Southeastern Oklahoma. Among the nearly two-hundred signatories of that Treaty appear the signatures of my ancestors, brothers William and Hugh Foster, and the “X” of their brother Thomas.
Choctaws who wished to remain in Mississippi were offered 640 acres of land and Mississippi citizenship if they would sign up with Indian Agent William Ward. Colonel Ward, as it turned out, was not an honest man. When the deadline came for signing on to what is known as Ward’s Register, only sixty-nine heads of Indian families had done so. Otemansha was one of thirty full-blood Indians to sign; her sons James, William, and Hugh Foster (the latter two having also signed the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty, you’ll recall) were three of twenty-four so-called “half-breeds”; fifteen of the signers were white men with Choctaw wives. (Clara Sue Kidwell, The Choctaws in Oklahoma)
Possibly owing to the fact that traditional Choctaw people, when they moved or relocated, were bound by tradition to take the bones of their ancestors with them, Otemansha refused ever to leave her Mississippi home, as did her son James, who is my three-greats grandfather. James died in Mississippi in 1833 at about the age of twenty-eight. Otemansha died some four years later and is buried near the Pearl River. Hugh Foster was reportedly “killed by a white man” and is buried at Skullyville, Oklahoma.
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, which was ratified by Congress February 25, 1831, promised, among other things, autonomy of “the Choctaw Nation of Red People and all their descendants [emphasis mine]” to be secured from laws of U.S. states and territories forever.
I like knowing that I am a direct descendant of a woman who may have used her fingernails to scrape clean the bones of dead people.
Ron Querry is a renowned author of two novels about contemporary American Indian life in the southwest, non-fiction works, and countless articles in magazines and newspapers. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I never knew you, Grandpa.
Your life ended long before
my mother met my father,
yet because of Mom’s
memories of life with you,
you are as real as anyone
I have ever known.
I see you herding sheep
in the high Arizona mountains,
bringing them into the fold.
I see you laughing with your children.
I see you running for sheriff
and serving faithfully after
you were elected.
I see you worn out,
not with age, but with work,
struggling to feed your family
of fourteen children from two dead wives
killed by time and childbirth,
and hard labor.
Your legacy is alive though Mom is gone
and so is the man she married,
he who was like you,
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