My Daddy was a real good-looking man. We aren’t real sure who all his people were because the Jefferson County Courthouse burned down just after he was born. All the records of births and deaths and marriages went up in smoke. Like quite a few people up in these parts, Daddy had a good amount of Cherokee blood. Granny Naomi, Daddy’s mother, was a black-eyed, raven haired beauty who could have been some Indian chief’s loveliest daughter. Her skin would get so dark that her Scot-Irish momma would try to make Granny and her sisters stay out of the sun. Granny’s Daddy had been almost full-blooded Cherokee. He would come and go, coming often enough to leave Granny’s momma with three little Indian babies. I never knew what he looked like, I’m not sure Granny Naomi did either, but he must have been a really good-looking somebody.
But I do remember what Granny Naomi’s mother, Gigi Joy looked like. She was short and soft and her skin was just about as fair as her daughter’s were dark. Gigi’s hair wasn’t a dark red like some people think of when they think of Irish folks. Her hair was more a strawberry blond shade… almost a little bit orange looking even. We called Joy “Gigi” because “G.G.” was short for Great Grandmother.
Granny Naomi must have gotten her broad shoulders, high cheekbones and unusual tallness from her Indian Daddy. My Daddy looked like the spitting image of his momma, except the male version, and his eyes weren’t black, they were green.
I didn’t get Daddy’s black hair, and my skin was more a yellow-brown than a deep red-brown. But I did get my daddy’s green eyes. People would often comment, not just because our eyes were almond-shaped and everybody else in my family had round eyes. But because the color of our eyes was so unusual.
“Your eyes are the color of moss.”
“No they aren’t. Their just like those big leaf ferns down near the creek.” “No, they are darker than those ferns.”
The color of mine and Daddy’s eyes were often the topic of somebody’s conversation. Some people couldn’t even see us without a comment… even if they saw us nearly every day. I guess our eyes were always changing. Some people said they changed depending on what we were wearing, but I think they changed depending on our mood. I never noticed the shape of our eyes being odd so much until I was older. I knew a man when I was young who told me that when he first saw me he thought I was part Oriental.
“Nah”, I confessed, “I’m just part Cherokee.”
“Same difference” he informed me with a smirk. “You all came over from across an ancient strip of land called the Bering Straight from Asia to North America. Some of the Asians that crossed kept traveling down through Canada and scattered throughout the continent making up the tribes…So, you’ll aren’t really natives of North America after all. Your eyes are slanty because you really do have some Asian. Instead of telling people you have Cherokee Blood you should tell them you are Russian, or Mongolian.” And then he laughed again…although I didn’t know what the joke was. He was always making jokes… Jokes that really only he ever thought were funny. But his laughter was the only laughter he was interested in any way.
I tried to ignore the nagging feeling that he was making me feel bad, and ignorant. I tried to take it all at face value and not read anything into his words. He had been so many places and seen so many things. He told me he knew how the real world was, and people really were… and that I was naïve. And I was. I know he did understand more about how the world works than I did… but I think that is just as much curse as it is a blessing. My world is a pretty place…but it’s true that a lot of the world ain’t .
Really, I think he was wishing that I was an Oriental girl… at least what his narrow mind told him an Oriental girl was. Oh, how he would have loved it if I would have bowed and smiled and waited on him hand and foot. He would have loved for me to never talk unless it was a nod of assent for everything he wanted. It’s a wonder that he never bought me a tight silk robe that restricted my speed to baby steps … I bet he would have loved it even more had my feet been bound. It would have shown how much pain I could endure and what I was capable of tolerating and my commitment to tradition… pain for pleasure.
He tried so hard to make me into what he wanted me to be. But that man had no idea who I was.
Maybe it I would have worked had I been a foreigner and ignorant and he could have taught me what he thought I needed to know…but I already knew what I needed to know about men from my daddy, Granddaddy and brothers. It’s hard to see clear out of rose-tinted eyes.
He told me he fell in love with me at first sight. He saw what he thought was a pretty face, and a strong body made for hard work…but I was more than mortal flesh. I was an entire person and that included a fiery spirit that could be contained, but not extinguished. I was the product of my people…like my Grandma Naomi.