I walked along the creek bank until I reached the shallowest part of the stream. As usual, the spring rains had filled the small creek with crystal clear water that covered the white rock bottom. In a few weeks, as the summer sun beamed down, it would dry up, leaving only shrinking pools of warm water. White barked sycamores and tall, gray-barked persimmon trees lined the bank. In the fall this is where we come to gather persimmons, when we can beat out the birds and possums and raccoons. The trees were beginning to put on leaves. Under the still sparse canopy, the bank was carpeted in a mixture of wild greens like wild onions almost gone to seed, wild mustard and a-hyv-da-qua-lo-s-gi (ᎠᏴᏓᏆᎶᏍᎩ). My grandma always said to use the latter sparingly. It could give a mighty headache if eaten too much, hence the name…thunder.
I crossed the shallows, my feet getting soaked in spite of my best efforts to stay on the large rocks that had their heads sticking out of the water. On the other side I followed the seldom used trail along the bank and around a stand of black walnut trees and up a small knoll. Even though the trail was seldom used, it was well known to my family and people up and down the hollow where the creek ran. Once on top of the knoll the land flattened out. Another hill rose in the distance but I wouldn’t have to walk that far. Tall deep green grass, nearly knee high, rustled in the slight breeze. Coming out of the trees and away from the rushing of the water, I could now hear the high-pitched cry of a hawk overhead, scanning the field for rabbits and small animals. The sun was bright but not hot. It was still Spring. I followed the trail around the edge of the field, along the tree line that separated the field from the one next to it. The deep rut of the trail was an indicator of how long it had been here, a long time. I remembered the last time I came this way. It was almost exactly a year ago and just like then, I carried bouquets of peach and red roses.
The trail curved to the north. About 100 yards up ahead I could see the small fenced patch of land with the iron arch over the gate. As I got closer I could see others had already been there. The parcel was well tended, a garden of stones, freshly mowed and the fence well kept. Bright bunches of flowers in orange, red, yellow and purple dotted the graves. I opened the gate and walked towards the northeast corner, to where my mama was buried and where my sister was buried a year before her and my brother just three years after. Along the way I passed well over 120 years of history. Some graves had carved headstones but others only had field stones. Most were written in English and others in Cherokee. But every grave had a flower. I can remember as a kid my mother telling us to make sure every spot had at least one flower. She would even cut up bunches of flowers she’d brought, so we could put one stem on every grave. It didn’t matter if we knew them or were related to them. She would say “everyone deserves to be remembered.”