I lost a friend this week. While he wasn't a close friend, as a confidant or spouse might be, he was my dear friend. He was someone I could count on for home repair advice or an extra pair of hands - or to arrive armed with a garden hoe and pistol when I found a seven-foot snake sun-bathing on my front porch (which actually happened!).
~For many years my husband and our friend worked together to maintain the community water system. He drove a Jeep at that time, with the words Cherokee Chief emblazoned on the side (because it was the style of the vehicle). So, when I'd see it coming down our road, I'd call out to my husband, "The Cherokee Chief is here." I knew he had served in the Air Force during Korea and Vietnam - and that he had been a Vietnam POW. Occasionally he and his wife spoke of places they had lived in the world, but never of his military experience - at least, not when I was present.
~One day my husband told me I might be hurting our friend's feelings by shouting out, "Here comes the Cherokee Chief" because he was quiet and reserved about being Indian. Well, I had no idea he was Indian and I certainly wouldn't say or do anything to hurt this nice man's feelings, so I apologized. With a restrained little grin, he said he didn't mind at all because he was part Cherokee. He said his grandmother, a full-blooded Cherokee, had survived the Trail of Tears in which so many of her family and tribe had died. I said I wanted to hear more about her.
~Perhaps it was my imagination, but he seemed to talk more often about his heritage with friends and neighbors although we never did have that nice chat about his grandmother as he had promised. In time, one of our neighbors regularly referred to him as 'the Indian' while another called him "Chief Running Water" because of his involvement with the town's water system. He seemed to enjoy both titles.
~Then one day, his Cherokee Chief vehicle being long gone, he drove up in a new truck. As we stood and talked, I noticed a sticker in the window, "Member of the Cherokee Nation.' "Yep," he said, "my son thought it was time I had a talk with those folks."
My friend was proud to be a member of the Cherokee Nation. I am proud he was my friend. I will miss my Cherokee Chief.