It’s The Berries – Flash Fiction for 6/29/12

Photo courtesy Madison Woods

The light is still gray when grandma gently shakes me awake and puts a piece of cold hominy bread in my hand. The sun is rising as we reach the brambles where the berries hang red and ripe. My bare feet are wet with dew. Thorns tear at my arms. The plump orbs thump into the lard pail. I pop a fat berry into my mouth and let the tart juice burst deliciously over my tongue.

Grandma has wandered off again, I suddenly realize. It is while I scramble wildly to find her that I step on the big copperhead.

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Are You Smarter Than An Oxymoron?

There are some English words and phrases that really bug me because they seem to be self-contradictory. I’ve been collecting these dogs for a while. It’s time to unleash them.

Why do they call them apartments when they’re all stuck together? (I stole this from the comedian Gallagher.)

When you buy a pair of pants, or shorts, or underwear, why do you only get one?

Why do they say something is denuded when it’s actually nuded?

Why do people say “I could care less,” when what they mean is, “I couldn’t care less?”

Why do flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?

Why doesn’t a coconut have chocolate milk?

Why is someone who is your partner with you all the time?

How is it possible to be alone together?

Why is it called commencement when it’s the last thing you do in school?

Why are things manned but never womanned?

How can anything be a random pattern?

Why does a peace officer carry a gun?

Why don’t pineapples grow on pine trees?

Why do people say, “Can I ask you a question?” when that’s a question?

Why is it called a rest room if you never go there to rest?

Why do they call it life insurance when it’s really death insurance?

Why is it called a refrigerator when you only friger things once? (Friger is from the Latin frigerare, to cool, not what you might be thinking.)

How can something be pretty ugly?

How can there be tight slacks?

If you’re a language person, and if you’re reading this you probably are, you must have some of your own. Post them in the comment section.

A Country of Illegals

My grandmother, Lillie Mae Wilkett Pruitt, a mixed-blood Cherokee

You may want to argue with me on this, but I think more than 99 percent of Americans are here illegally. This is based on the 2010 census, which found less than one percent of Americans are full-blood Native Americans. Technically, I believe they are the only ones who have the undisputed right to be here.

I had to laugh recently when Mitt Romney suggested all illegal citizens should self-deport. By my definition, Mr. Romney, along with hundreds of millions of Americans, would have to go.

I can already hear the objections. You think you’re not an illegal because you were born in the U.S. or because your ancestors came here legally. But that’s because there’s a huge dirty secret in U.S. immigration law.

Immigration law assumes that if your control a country, you have the right to control who enters, and who gets to stay permanently. But if you apply this concept historically, it’s the Native Americans, who were here first, who should have had the right to control immigration. So, to be here legally, you would have to have the permission of these people who were in control of the country until just a few hundred years ago.

To my knowledge, nobody has an entry visa from a Native American tribe. Not the Pilgrims, not the founding fathers, nor none of the flood of immigrants who have come to our shores. If they came here without the permission of the people who owned the country, they came here illegally.

Might doesn’t make right. Just because Europeans had superior weapons, that didn’t give them the right to trample on the rights of the Native Americans to control who got to be here.

But that’s what happened, of course. In fact, I believe the genocide of Native Americans was the most shameful act in American history. In Dee Brown’s classic book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, there is a long list of tribes which have not one surviving member.

But I digress. That’s another blog entirely.

Most Americans were born here. They’re 100 percent certain there’s nothing morally or ethically wrong with their being here. I disagree, even though I’m in that group.

Look at it this way. Suppose you want something somebody else owns but they won’t let you have it. So you start thinking about just taking it by force, stealing it. If you went to a cop and asked if that would be all right, he’d surely say no, that’s not right. But if you asked a thief the same question, he’d probably be good with it.

And that’s what happened. Many Americans, including myself, are descended from people who stole the country from Native Americans. In my eyes, the thieves didn’t have, and still don’t have, the moral standing to decide who gets to live here. Only Native Americans should have possessed that privilege.

The well was poisoned right from the start, but I’d bet nearly all Americans have drank the Kool-Aid made from the poisoned water and think it tastes just fine. It doesn’t. It stinks of an old hypocrisy that now seems to be completely acceptable.

Then you have the mixed-bloods. Like about 5 million Americans, I’m one of them, part Cherokee. Talk about cognitive dissonance. One group of my ancestors slaughtered and exiled another group of my ancestors.

But if any group except for full-blood Native Americans have the right to be here, the mixed-bloods have the best claim. At least some of their ancestors have been here for thousands of years. No person who doesn’t have Native American blood can make that claim.

Ten percent of White Americans and 5 percent of Black Americans have some quantum of Native American blood. Even if you include them as legit, about 88 percent of the population has none.

What’s the upshot of all this? I know nothing will really change. I don’t expect anybody to go back to where their ancestors came from over the angst and guilt of this. But it would be nice to acknowledge that the right of most Americans to be here is shaky at best.

And the next time you want to get on your high horse about the estimated 10 million people in the U.S. who have been declared to be here illegally, you might want to think about this.

Maybe you shouldn’t be here either.

Damsel in Regress – Flash Fiction for 6/22/12

Photo courtesy Madison Woods

“Look, on that rock, a dragonfly. Pretty.”

We were sitting alongside a beautiful mountain stream. We were on vacation, but it hadn’t been much fun.

“I think it’s a damselfly.”

She frowned and picked up a pebble and tossed it in the water. The damselfly, or dragonfly, flitted away, leaving only the murmur of water moving over rocks.

“You’re always doing that.”

“What?”

“Always correcting me.”

I kept my mouth shut. Grasshoppers sawed in the summer air. She stood up.

“I’m going back to the cabin. I need some space.”

That was the day I first thought about killing her.

Regarding your comments: Please feel free to honestly say whatever you want about my stories. Insightful criticism makes the writing better. Misguided criticism I just ignore. The only problem is sorting out which is which.

Finding My Roots

Richard the Lionheart, King of England, Christian crusader and my direct ancestor.

Have you seen those commercials for Ancestry.com? The people in them always seem to find fascinating stuff about their ancestors.

I’ve been trying to track down my roots for a few decades now, but for years I haven’t done much because I had hit a wall and couldn’t make any progress. What I had found was that my ancestors were very ordinary, undistinguished, nearly all obscure farmers. I was also frustrated because I couldn’t track even one of my lines to the person who first came to the United States.

Then recently my wife mentioned that she had signed us up for a membership at Ancestry.com. I really wasn’t that excited. I’d been on Ancestry.com years ago and had already exhausted the possibilities there.

A few days later I was bored and decided to take a look at the site. What I discovered is that the information posted by other distant relatives had changed everything and what I eventually found was truly startling.

I didn’t write about all the wonderful things I found for quite a while for two reasons. First, I thought it might sound like bragging, and second, what I found was so amazing I thought people might think I was making it up.

I’m not making it up. Of course, I’m relying on the research of others, so I can’t verify the accuracy of everything I found. But if just some of it is true, my roots are fascinating.

The first big find for me was that a Scottish trader who was my direct ancestor married into the royal line of the Cherokees, putting a bunch of Cherokee chiefs in the family line. My ancestors included Cherokees with colorful names like The Terrapin and Old Jenny Dew.

I also discovered that humorist, movie star and Broadway sensation Will Rogers and I share that same Cherokee line. My wife and I both graduated from Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. Will Rogers, Jr. was my commencement speaker, though I had no idea at the time that he was a distant cousin. I even wrote a blog on Will Rogers earlier this year, before I knew we were related. Spooky, huh?

Not everything you find out is good. A little research on my Cherokee people revealed that the brother of one of my direct ancestors was one of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota, under which terms the Cherokees were forced to move from their native homeland to Oklahoma. They were rounded up by the U.S. Army and their brutal winter forced march came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Most of the signers of the treaty were murdered by tribal members in reprisal, including my relation.

The next revelations came about the role of my people in the Revolutionary War. One of my Pruitt kin, I was astounded to find out, was a spy for Gen. George Washington. Another of my forebears, Daniel Sisk, died in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Kings Mountain in North Carolina, a battle I had never even heard of.

Then I found out something that blew me away. Two of my ancestors, a husband and wife, William and Susanna White, arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. Susanna was pregnant during the voyage and only weeks after their arrival at Plymouth, she gave birth to the first child in the colony, Peregine White. That baby is my direct ancestor.

I didn’t think I’d be able to top my Pilgrim roots, but I was wrong.

I tracked a number of my lines back across the ocean, and they nearly all led to England. As I tracked back in England, I found some family who were nobles, and then I traced the line to Edward III, King of England. In fact the whole Plantagenet line of Kings who ruled England from 1154 to 1485 were related, and among those kings was the legendary Richard the Lionheart.

Still going back, I found that because the Plantagenet kings married European royalty, my lines go back to France, Belgium, Spain and Italy. So it turns out I’m descended from the royal lines in those countries also.

It almost didn’t seem possible. This was in my namesake Pruitt line. I thought about my Grandpa Pruitt, a sharecropper who lived in poverty his whole life. That these humble relatives were descended from British kings was something I never would have expected.

There may be more. When you track your ancestors back for a thousand years, it becomes a massive research project. I’m still working on it.

What does it all mean? I’m not sure it’s all that significant. But I’m gratified to know that my genetics include, no matter how minutely, a diverse mix of kings, farmers, Cherokees, Pilgrims, and Revolutionary War soldiers. Their blood flows in my veins, and I’m somehow a crazy mixed-up mongrel amalgam.

So, thanks Ancestry.com! I’m ready to do the commercial anytime.

Rubber Baron – Flash Fiction for 6/8/12

In 1860, Charles Goodyear lay dying at the Eighth Street Hotel in New York City. The inventor of the process of rubber vulcanization should have been a wealthy man, but his end came in deep poverty and failure. Bankruptcy, debtor’s prison, the deaths of seven children, and legal battles had left him $200,000 in debt.

His body failing, he dreamed he was rising through the air, moving toward the next world, the earth receding, the sky padded with fluffy clouds. Flying toward him was a giant airship. As it passed, emblazoned on its side, in huge letters, was his name.