Authors: Cornelia Cornelissen
Special thanks to Barry O’Connell and Diane Glancy
OR MY GRANDPARENTS
Rivers, Valleys, and Mountains
Suggested Reading for Children
urry, Pet. Hurry!” Soft Rain called, running into the cabin with the puppy at her heels. “Grandmother, tell me a story before I go to school,” she whispered. Picking up the small, wiggly dog, she knelt beside Grandmother’s rocking chair.
“There is no time for your story this morning,” Mother chided. “You know you stayed outside playing with Pet too long. You should have come at once when I called.” She handed Soft Rain her deerskin pouch. “Here is your food.”
Holding the pouch close to her nose, Soft Rain sniffed. “Ummm. Fresh corn bread.”
“Father and I will have
corn bread in the
field,” Hawk Boy said, bragging. “I am helping today.”
Soft Rain laughed. “If that is true, my little brother, you had better stop talking and get to work.”
Hawk Boy jumped up, nearly knocking over the kerosene lamp. Though three years younger, he stood tall beside his nine-year-old sister. Soft Rain was surprised to see that the top of his head was even with her shoulder. “All that food you eat makes you grow,” she said, patting his plump stomach.
Still chewing, Hawk Boy nodded, swallowed, gave Grandmother a hug, took the cloth-wrapped package from Mother, and scurried out the door.
“Don’t eat on the way,” Soft Rain called after him. Hawk Boy waved as the sound of his laughter faded.
“After the New Moon Festival, Hawk Boy will go to school with you,” Grandmother said. “I will miss his smiling face, just as I miss yours.”
“You can’t see his face, Grandmother,” Soft Rain said, looking at the old woman’s clouded eyes.
“I can hear his laughter and imagine the joy in him.”
“I will like having my little brother walk the long way with me. I can tell him stories.” Soft Rain
brushed a crumb off Grandmother’s face and kissed her.
the New Moon Festival,” Mother warned, and everybody laughed.
Soft Rain ran down the mountain road toward town and the teacher’s house that was the school for the Tsalagi boys and girls. Along the narrow path she looked for early spring flowers, but she saw none. A squirrel ran up an oak tree, fussing at her for disturbing him.
The path grew wider as she neared the edge of town. When she walked past the schoolhouse of the white children, she heard singing. She was relieved to have missed seeing the white boys. The day before, they had taunted her, running in circles around her, making ugly faces, pulling on her braids, and yelling, “Cherokee, Cherokee,” their strange way of saying Tsalagi.
Climbing the three steps to the porch of the teacher’s house, Soft Rain called,
“Come in, Soft Rain. You are almost late again,” the teacher said. “Were you listening to stories or looking for flowers?”
Before answering, Soft Rain stared at the teacher’s beautiful beaded deerskin dress. Why was she wearing her festival dress to school?
“I played too long with Pet. There weren’t any
flowers,” Soft Rain said. She sat on the floor next to Little John, who was named for the principal chief of the Tsalagi.
She liked Little John because he reminded her of Hawk Boy—always trying to be taller. “I was named for John Ross, the chief of the Real People, but I will be much bigger,” he always said, stretching himself as tall as possible.
The teacher handed Soft Rain the pages from Sequoyah’s writing. Talking leaves, her father called them. “When I was your age,” he had often told her, “our language was only spoken. Then Sequoyah made the sounds into symbols that you can now read.”
Together the boys and girls read Bible verses from Sequoyah’s pages. Then Little John and Soft Rain, who were the oldest, each read a verse alone.
“Your reading is excellent, as … as usual,” the teacher stammered. She wiped at her eyes.
The younger children looked at each other and began whispering, “The teacher is crying.”
“We won’t read the white man’s book today because I have something I must tell you,” the teacher said, holding up a piece of paper. Her hand trembled.
“You look sad. Will it make us cry?” Little John asked.
“It is very sad. It is a letter from the white man who calls himself the Superintendent of Cherokee Removal.
, he calls us. He tells us that the treaty signed two years ago by some of our people will soon be enforced in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, as well as here in North Carolina. He says that on the twenty-third of May of this year, 1838, ‘the Cherokees must … remove to the lands set apart for them in the West.’”
The teacher sighed, then continued. “My family has decided to leave before we are forced from our home. If it isn’t too late, we will sell our house to a white family. Children, there will be no more school for you here. Maybe in the West.”
Soft Rain saw tears fall onto the white man’s letter. She felt her anger growing. If she were holding the letter, she would rip it into little pieces. No more school! The Tsalagi must move west. Why?
The teacher did not answer Soft Rain’s unspoken question. She merely whispered a good-bye to each child. She handed the white man’s word books to Soft Rain and Little John. “You must keep reading,” she said.
As Soft Rain passed the white children’s school, she began to cry. “It isn’t fair that those mean boys can go to school and we can’t,” she said to Little John, sobbing. “Why is the teacher moving?”
“I don’t know, but my father says only a few of our people signed that treaty.
are the ones who should move. We aren’t moving; Father is getting ready to plant our
, our corn. I’m going to help him. He never wanted me to learn the white man’s ways or his words; now I’ll stop. I won’t need this old book.”
“Aieee!” Soft Rain screamed as Little John threw the word book toward the schoolhouse and ran away. She started to go after the book, but when she saw a face at the window, she hesitated. Then she tore after Little John, only stopping when she had no more breath. She looked all around, but Little John was nowhere in sight.
She was puzzled. The teacher, who knew the language of the white man, had said to keep reading. And she was going west because the letter said she must. But Little John’s father didn’t want him to learn of the white man’s ways. He was
moving west; he was planting. Would Soft Rain’s family have to move west? Then she thought about her father and Hawk Boy at work in their field. Relieved, she let out a deep breath. If Father
wouldn’t be moving west, either.
“I will help Father
I will continue my reading,” she said to herself. Putting the word book into her pouch, she hurried home.
efore Soft Rain was through the gate, she called, “Mother! Grandmother! I’m home. Where are you? In the house or in the garden?”
Her mother rushed out the door. “Hush, Soft Rain. Grandmother is having her afternoon rest.” She looked toward the sun, then back at Soft Rain. “We’ve only just eaten. Why are you home so early? Are you ill?” Mother touched Soft Rain’s forehead. “You aren’t warm.”
“I’m not ill, just filled with sorrow,” Soft Rain answered. “I have to tell you why.”
They sat together, leaning against the great oak tree. Soft Rain told her mother about the morning
at school “Everyone cried except Little John. He was angry, and he threw his book away. He said his father never wanted him to learn the white man’s words.” Soft Rain fingered her deerskin pouch, which held the word book. She wanted to keep on learning the white man’s language. What would
father say? “The teacher is moving west. Will we have to move?” Tears streamed down her face.
Her mother wiped them away, then answered. “For years we have heard that the government of Georgia wants the Real People out of their state. Maybe they can move here, to North Carolina, where it is safe.”
“But the letter said Tsalagi in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama,
North Carolina must move west. Where is the West?”
“The West is far, far away. Some of the Real People have already moved there, and some have come back because they didn’t like it. There were no beautiful mountains, and the trees and plants were unfamiliar. We will stay in our nation, in our mountains. This is our home, where we are happy.”
happy,” Soft Rain said. “The teacher’s house will be sold to white people. There will be no more school. That is why I’m home early. That is why I’ll be staying home all the time.”
“Your grandmother and brother will be glad. The whole family will be glad,” Mother said, wiping away more of Soft Rain’s tears.
Then Soft Rain heard her grandmother’s voice. “With my granddaughter at home all day, the time will pass so much more pleasantly.”
Soft Rain turned to see Grandmother standing in the doorway smiling. “Wait, let me be your eyes.” She hurried to Grandmother’s side, guiding her to the stump where she always sat to tell stories.
“Do you want a story now?”
Soft Rain never refused a story. “Oh, yes! Tell me about the Little People and how they take care of children.” She sat on the ground next to Grandmother.
“No more tears?” Grandmother asked.
Soft Rain didn’t know how Grandmother could “see” when she was crying, yet she always could. “No more tears,” she promised.
“When I was a girl, this is what I was told about Nemehi, the Little People….”
Soft Rain mouthed the words along with her. Grandmother always began her stories in the same way.
“The Little People were such wee folks, as small as children,” Grandmother continued. “They were pleasing in appearance, with long hair—much
longer than yours, Soft Rain—and they liked music, dancing, and children. The Little People were kind to lost ones, especially children.