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Among Native American people groups there is a parable story about seven grandfathers. Presented here is my fable for the Tsalagi or Cherokee people. In recognition of November in the USA being Native American Heritage Month.

My name is Uheeso-dee-tluhda-tsee, Lone Panther. My father named me after the great cat. My father said he saw the great cat in a dream. He was always nearby and he always watched my mother. When my father took up his spear and knife to scare away the big cat, or to fight it, he looked into its eyes and saw that it was alone and waited for me. When I was born, my father named me Uheeso-dee-tluhda-tsee and told me the story. He would tell me the story many times before brother bear and he struggled. Then my father went to join his fathers beyond.
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The phone rang. He didn’t answer it. It said “private number”. He had stopped taking calls for quite some time. If he didn’t recognize the number, he let it ring. It kept ringing. He decided  to let it go to voice mail. If it went to voice mail, he might call them back. He just stared at the phone until it stopped. There was no buzz notifying him of voice mail. The phone rang again. It said “private number”. Maybe I should answer it this time, he thought. “Hello?”

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She was a friend of a friend. We met at a gallery showing. Our conversation was pleasant. I had not been out in quite some time; nor in the presence of a lady so charming in a longer time. I insisted we have dinner. It was late, but she acquiesced. I smiled and dialed a favored haunt. With a bit of a french accent, the manager on the phone agreed to hold a table for two. She looked at me and asked, “Is it just that easy? At this hour?” I answered, “Yes. Shall we?” I extended my arm. She laid her hand gently on my forearm. In moments we were in a car heading for a late dinner.

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My mother’s family came from central Georgia. She had six sisters and two brothers. As often as we could, my parents piled us into the family  car, a station wagon, to make the five hour trek from Charleston to Milledgeville. It was a pilgrimage of sorts; off to reconnect with family. There is nothing quite like a large family of siblings connecting with their cousins who also have a large family of siblings. Meals were usually had around long tables with benches for seats and foldout card tables for the overflow. Noise, laughter, and at least one argument was always part of our visits. I never cared for the road trip to Georgia or the even longer road trip back, but I always enjoyed my time with my cousins. These were special times, special adventures, special moments.

One special moment was a visit to Uncle Jake’s and Aunt Mildred’s farm. Even though raised in the south by two country born parents, we were pretty much city kids. The idea of having and raising pigs, having a working farm, was quite foreign to me. I recall one trip where the kids went down to see the livestock. The older kids were down there, near the wood-railed fence, looking at the pigs. I wanted to go down there with them. I don’t think I was allowed, so naturally, I tried sneaking down there to be with the big kids, anyway. I got about half way down there when a pig came out of the pen and chased me back up to the house. I tried three more time before giving up. The same pig would come out of the pen and chase me back to the house. I think I spent the rest of that visit on the porch or in the house. I was miserable.

Meals for a large family with a visiting large family were noisy and a flurry of motions in getting everything prepared and set to the table while still hot enough for everyone there. In one of those meals I recall the flurry of motion, emotions, and conversations around the table. It seemed that a torrent had descended on the kitchen and after a brief storm the kitchen was empty again. Empty except for my brother Rob and I. We sat at the table picking at our bowls of oatmeal and staring at the glasses of buttermilk. These were new experiences for us both. We sat there and were told we could not go outside unless we had eaten our food. We were having none of that. We sat and complained as little boys would do.

Our host, Uncle Jake, came into the kitchen. He smiled at us. It was like he wanted to laugh but didn’t. He seemed a very big man to me. He wore a short sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up just a bit, and he wore bib-overalls. He was a working man who understood hard work. I was a little boy who was at war with a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of buttermilk.

Uncle Jake sat across the table from my brother Rob and me. I wish I could remember the entire conversation. His words have been lost to years and time. He talked to us like he was one of us. Told us it was good for us. He had us try little bits, then a little more. My brother Rob may have been smarter than me. He ate his up and drank a good portion of his buttermilk then was excused to go outside and play. Uncle Jake was exceedingly patient with me. With his encouragement, I finally finished my oatmeal. He let me go without finishing the buttermilk. I complained rather sadly at how it tasted like it was bad. I remember I felt like I finally escaped when he said I could go. I do not think I even said thank you. I ran from the table as quickly as I could and joined the kids outside.

I do not remember the rest of that day or that weekend. It was so long ago and blended into other memories. What I do remember the most was my Uncle Jake taking a moment to spend time with me to ensure I got enough to eat. I remember his face and how he genuinely cared. To this day I still do not much care for buttermilk, but I do owe and credit my fondness for oatmeal to my Uncle Jake who took the time to be with his baby sister-in-law’s little boy and helped him eat his first bowl of oatmeal. There were other trips, other visits, but none that I remember more than this one. I wish I knew him better and had other memories I could pull up. But, this is a good one. I am glad he took the time with me, helping me get through a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of buttermilk.

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It was nearly Passover. The city was stirred up. Roman security was at high alert. A Nazarene jew had been judged, beaten, and condemned to die a terrible death. The morning had been filled with throngs following the Nazarene carpenter teacher from one judgment to the next.
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WER_c.1939

He always seemed strong to me. Larger than life. My earliest memories of him are of a fast-acting, quick to anger man with red skin. He was a hard man who appeared to feel no pain. He was my dad.

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He threw a leg over the bike and sat in the saddle. He was a bit nervous. He could feel the weight as he balanced the bike between his legs. He leaned a bit to the left and right, adjusting to the weight. It seemed a lot heavier than he imagined it. He could manage it. He took the key and put it in the ignition. His mind went immediately to all of the things you used to do. After looking around and realizing those days are done, he pulled the clutch lever and checked the gears were neutral. The fancy, high-tech gauge had a big “N” in the middle. He did a quick mental ‘hmmf’ and turned up the corner of his mouth without thinking. “That makes it easy,” he said to no one in particular.

“It sure does,” piped in the salesman. He had forgotten about the sales guy.

“Technology, unh?” And before the guy could say anything, a little push with the thumb and the bike rumbled to life. He grinned. He could not help it. Something ingrained made him pump the throttle a few times. The injectors removed the need to prime any carburetors, but it was fun to do and sounded great. A quick, natural move of his foot and the big “N” on the speedometer became a “1”. He pulled the throttle back and loosened his grip on the clutch handle a bit. The big bike began to roll forward. A little more throttle and a lot less clutch and he was rolling.

The salesman was saying something but the vibration and the sound of the bike throttling up stole all of his attention. He rolled out, into the street, and gave it a lot more throttle. He felt the vibrations of the motor increase along with the satisfying roar coming from the tail pipes. Clutch – click – roar, he cycled up the gears to a cruising speed. It was satisfying.

The wind around the windscreen barely buffeted him. The windscreen was in the right placement. Still, he could feel the air rush past him as he cut through it. The weight of the bike at first was a concern for him. Now it was a calming assurance. He was not a light feather to be pushed around by any car or truck that came by. It was all very satisfying.

The large tank and wide saddle made the center of the bike seem more stable. The handle bars were adjusted to his reach and liking. The large tires were a throw back to the “bobber” cruisers from old black and white photos. He didn’t mind that at all. They touched more of the road than those skinny tires did, and he liked the look. That is all that mattered. The engine had all the horses and torque you could want; probably far more than you would ever need. He accelerated a bit to get a sense and feel of the power he had in the bike.

He had no real plan for where he was going. In fact, he had no plan at all. He rode away from the dealer. Stopped for the red lights. Rolled through the greens. Watched for impatient drivers through the yellows. He went to one side of town, chose another street, and went to another side of town. He stopped some place and got a burger for lunch. He sat near a window to eye his bike until lunch was over. It roared back to life as he got comfortable in the saddle. He shifted with his toe, and he was off rolling down the street again.

He had barely used any gas. The big 5-gallon tank was an inducement to go ride a long way. He had not decided what was next. He was not sure which way to go. He began to think through his options. He knew the highway was out. It was a 3-lane ribbon that cut through town that became a 2-lane river that fed into the city where it became a twisting network of multi-lane super-highways where the biggest danger was a driver not looking out for anyone; especially a motorcyclist. He chose instead a 2-lane, narrow county road that led out-of-town and into the unincorporated, rural areas between the towns. It was a good opportunity to ride slight curves and bends in the roads, to see farms swish past, and trees become and endless blurs of greens and browns. The large rural route mail boxes would swoosh as he rode by them. There was nothing around him except for the sounds of the bike, the vibration of the engine and the road, and empty 2-lane road.

In front of him was an old 2-lane stretch of highway. There was no destination. There was no place to be. There was simply the ride. After so many years, there it was again. Like an old friend he missed and thought he had lost. There was simply the wind and the ride. And so he did.

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