Last night, I dreamed I was making a documentary about my late grandfather who was a Cherokee Minister. The picture that goes with this post is one I grabbed from Google Maps this morning showing Papa’s church and the Preacher’s House across the street. It’s shocking to me how little has changed in the over 50 years since I’ve seen that church and house — in fact, nothing has changed. And that’s Sedan, Kansas, for you.
My sister and I used to play in that church during the summer school break when our parents would dump us off on Papa and Mema’s doorstep. Elizabeth and I would conduct our own mock church services taking turns at the podium and leading hymns to our own two-child choir. If we were adventurous and a wee bit naughty, we’d sneak backstage for a look at the dark and spooky baptismal, which Papa warned us to stay away from — I suppose that he was concerned that we might fall in and drown in that four-foot deep bathtub. Papa’s are funny like that when it comes to their only grandchildren.
In my dream, I was interviewing my grandfather about his childhood, the poverty of his youth, his horrible experiences at the Indian Boarding School, and how he found religion after World War II. It was so nice to be with him again, to sit beside him, to look into his soft brown eyes, to hear his gentle voice speaking to me about the ills and beauty of this world. Even in my dream, I felt how deeply I loved and missed him.
I found myself in those hard, straight-backed, pews surrounded by the warbly voices of old women singing, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. As I woke from this dream, I was reminded of a snippet of lyrics from Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis”.
She said, “Are you a Christian, child?”
And I said, “Ma’am, I am tonight.”
This atheist was a Christian last night listening to the words of the Minister he loved. There was something taken from my grandfather by those pious oppressors at the Indian School, and yet, they didn’t take all of it. He saved the best piece of himself deep down inside in a place they could never reach. Through his kindness, and speaking through those dark brown eyes, he shared it with his grandchildren. That small ember of what he was, of what we are, so that the flame could be cherished and passed on.
In the echoes of my grandfather’s voice, I hear both the Indian and the Preacher, the Indigenous and the Colonised, “‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, that I will pour out of my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams.”
Last night I dreamed of a Cherokee Minister.
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