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Authors: Ellen Gilchrist

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BOOK: A Dangerous Age
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“When he can travel, maybe I’ll bring him up there to see you. He was fascinated by the idea of Tahlequah.”

“He should be. It’s sui generis, that’s for sure. Look here, Winifred. I really have to go. I have to get to work. Give Louise my love. Give them all my love. Ten four.”

Olivia hung up the phone and shook her head. Her family in North Carolina was like some traveling circus that was always showing up in town, full of magic tricks and cotton candy and games that were hard to win. One of their ancestors had crossed the Delaware with George Washington. Another had painted portraits that were hanging in the White House. There had been several generals and a governor. When she talked to them, she always had a memory of the day she found the photographs of her father and sat down to write the first letter to her aunt Anna. She had been thirteen, not even tall yet, and she had set out with a notebook and pencil to find out who she was, besides a Cherokee Indian in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

I found out, she thought now.

Olivia went back to work on an editorial about pollution and public health.

Winifred went back to Brian’s bed and looked down at the brave man and decided to call his mother and see how she and his father were doing. And what am
doing? she asked herself. Well, you don’t always have to know, you know.


, Olivia Hand, April 4, 2004. I had set out to lose three pounds, and I had lost three pounds. I had set my will to the sticking part and I’d spent three weeks working out at the gym, which is not as nice as walking in the blossoming spring in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when the first tornadoes have cleaned the air until every leaf and daffodil and automobile shines in the sunlight, but it’s better than not exercising at all, or taking a chance on the tree pollen driving me to Sudafed. I’m a member of the governor’s task force on methamphetamines. I know too much about chemical decongestants to take them. “They give me chills and fever,” I told my physician cousin, Susan. She had called to ask if I’d heard from our lovesick cousins in Washington, D.C., and to give me the scores from our cousin Tallulah’s team’s matches against the University of Alabama. “It was a rout,” Susan said. “Tallulah’s so mad at the players that she cancelled practice for a week and took their names off their lockers.”

“That’s excessive,” I said. “I want to tell you about these decongestants,” I went on. “They give me chills and fever when they start wearing off. What’s in those things, Susan? Why are drugstores allowed to sell them? I get crazy when I get these allergies. I can’t believe this keeps happening to me every time the weather gets beautiful.”

“What are you doing other than using decongestants?”

“Avoidance, that’s the key. Stay inside and wash out my nose with a neti pot. But the main thing is I’m working out at a gym. I’ve lost three pounds in two weeks.”

“It sounds like you know what you’re doing.”

“I do. Well, thanks for the diagnosis.”

“I didn’t give you one—“Susan began, but I had to cut her off because the sports editor was in a crisis. We’re being sued for something we wrote about a high school player who got in trouble. We’re being sued for reporting the news.

Plus, the cheetah at the Tulsa Zoo is sick and I don’t have anyone free to do a story on the new animal hospital. Maybe I’ll do it myself.

Meanwhile we’ve got Keetoowahs fighting to build a casino two miles from Tahlequah, which infuriates the Cherokees, and four men arrested for a double homicide in a drug case, and the secretary of education coming down here to close a loophole in the No Child Left Behind Act, a loophole we need so we don’t have to count the children of illegal immigrants who can’t speak English. What else? One hundred and sixty-four billion dollars spent
so far
in Iraq, and a tattoo bill being fought over in the
Oklahoma House of Representatives, plus the tobacco-peddling laws. Thirty-nine tribes to cover. Try to write editorials in the face of that. Being a Cherokee makes me suspect. I grew up in Tahlequah and my granddaddy was chief for twenty years. But hell, I love this job and I love this country.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the Interior Highlands, rolling hill country given to drought and tornadoes, the last place white men
they didn’t want, so they gave it to the Cherokees and the Pawnees and it became the Cherokee Nation and the forty-sixth state of the union. There are now thirty-nine federally recognized tribes in the state, all fighting to sell cigarettes and build gambling casinos.

I love this barren, rolling country. Folsom and Clovis hunters were here hundreds of years before the Cherokees arrived. When I was a child I hunted arrowheads with my granddaddy. I have a shelf of arrowheads and pottery shards in my grandparents’ house in Tahlequah. When I go home to visit, they are right where I left them, on a shelf by my bed.

. I lost half the three pounds by the seventh day; then it slowed down, so I went home to Tahlequah to spend the night. Whenever I have anything hard to do, I go spend time with Little Sun and Crow and Aunt Mary Lily. It makes me strong to be in their presence.

“So what is going on in Tulsa now?” Granddaddy asked as soon as we were settled on the porch chairs with our glasses of
iced tea. He had given me the most comfortable chair and taken the second-best one for himself.

“What is the news in Tulsa now?” he asked again.

“The cheetah in the zoo is sick and they’re taking it to the new animal hospital. Big fights over zoning and the construction on Yale Avenue. The Tulsa Ballet has a new director. They’re calling up more of our National Guard units to go fight this war.”

“We have to fight our enemies.”

“The sons of the Midwest always fight our wars. The sons of the poor and the sons of the Midwest and the South. Not a single congressman or senator has a child in this fight. Well, don’t get me started on that.”

“Why do they not send their children?”

“Because it’s dirty, dangerous work and they don’t want their children subject to military discipline.”

“The world has changed very much in my lifetime.” Little Sun held out his hand to her. “I am proud you have this important job to tell people what is happening.”

“The ones who need to know don’t read the newspaper, Granddaddy. They get their news from television and the radio.”

“I wish I could think of ways to help you.”

“You help me by being here. You help me by being who you are so I can measure myself by you.” I went to him and kissed him on his sun-browned cheeks. I ran my hands across his fine, strong shoulders and touched his thick gray hair. I was home for
the night. I was okay and the world was what it had always been and I didn’t need to go starving myself either.

in my old bed with the leopardskin print sheets and pillowcases and comforter that Aunt Mary Lily had bought me when I was fourteen. My pottery shards and arrowheads were on the shelf by my bed and I took down a worn steel gray arrowhead I had found in a bend of the Illinois River about seven miles northeast of Tahlequah. I was with Granddaddy and my first cousins Tiger and Roge, and we found a lot of stuff that day, but nothing as beautiful and perfect as the stone gray arrowhead. The following Saturday, Granddaddy and Roge and Tiger and our cousin Sunny and I had taken the arrowheads we found to Professor Cramer at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tulsa, and he said they were Folsom arrowheads, hundreds of years old and very valuable.

“If you like, you can give them to us and we’ll keep them here,” he told us, but I was selfish and wanted to keep mine for myself. Roge gave him two of the ones he had found and Tiger gave him one and a pottery shard, but I kept mine for myself.

“We have a museum in Tahlequah,” I told him. “If I give them to anyone, I’ll just give them to it.”

holding my arrowhead and dreamed all night about being out on the river. A big brown bear came
and picked me up and carried me very carefully in his paws. I wasn’t afraid. I knew he had come to help me.

When I woke the next morning, Grandmother was cooking bacon and toasting biscuits. Three mornings a week she makes biscuits from scratch. On the other days she toasts them in the toaster with so much butter you have to tone it down with blueberry jam.

I didn’t completely ruin my diet at breakfast that morning, but I used up all my lagniappe calories for the next week. Scrambled eggs and toasted biscuits and two pieces of bacon and homemade blueberry jam and coffee with real cream. “I dreamed a bear came out of the woods and picked me up and carried me,” I said. “But I wasn’t afraid. He was holding me like I was very precious. He was quiet and just holding me and carrying me.”

“Where were you in this dream?” Granddaddy asked.

“On the Illinois River at the gravel pan where I found the steel gray arrowhead. I was on the edge of the pan and the bear came out between the trees and picked me up.”

“He is telling you to protect the woods and the river,” Crow said. “Anyone could interpret that dream.”

“I’m doing everything I can. I can’t help it if I think there are two sides to every story, even environmental issues.”

“There are not always two equal sides,” Granddaddy said. “Right and wrong are real, and you can see them if you believe what your heart tells you. You spend too much time with
people who want everyone to like them. Because you have to sell the newspaper, you forget what you are supposed to do.”

“You’re right. I think about my job. It’s amazing how corrupted we all become. Scared. Then corrupted. We’re all running scared at the paper. We have to sell advertisements, so we have to have circulation. Even Big Jim has been running scared. He’s got six children. He sold his birthright to buy that paper and now he doesn’t know how he’ll educate all those children or how they’ll make a living. It’s hard making a living now, Granddaddy. When people don’t have land, they can’t always make a living anymore. Or they have to do slave work no one wants to do.”

“You have land,” Crow said. “You do not have to be corrupted or write things you don’t believe.”

“Oh, God,” I said. “I knew I ought to come down here. I knew I wasn’t thinking clearly.”

Crow came over to my side and put her hand on my shoulder and then leaned down and put her head beside mine. “You come to give me pleasure in seeing you,” she said. “You come in answer to my prayers.”

I took my laptop computer off to a wooded spot near the pasture and spread a blanket on the grass and wrote the best editorial I’d written in weeks. Then I folded up the blanket and walked back to the house and kissed everyone good-bye and drove back to Tulsa to go to work.

of the editorial. This is the part I really liked writing.


The United States is in a war that ranges from Indonesia to parts of Russia. It is a conflict that will rage for many years and many generations, and we should be getting strong and wise to meet this challenge.

Instead we are getting fat and wasteful, and many of us don’t take care of our children properly or set good examples for them with our lives. They are being raised by television and blogs and computer chat rooms.

We build casinos instead of schools. We drink alcohol in front of our children and let them watch us solve our problems with drugs instead of lifestyle changes.

We undermine our marriages and homes with alcohol and drugs, and we are in debt, as a nation and as individuals, to such an extent that we have industries springing up to teach us how to borrow money more efficiently. The United States borrows three billion dollars a day from China!

We are living as though there were no tomorrow.

I don’t know how we are supposed to turn this around, but here at the
Tulsa World
we want to try. Starting Monday the paper will carry a section called “How to Make It Better.” It will be a series of essays by physicians, nurses, teachers, psychiatrists, business
leaders, lawyers, bankers, engineers, electricians, carpenters, preachers, priests, firemen, policemen, feminists, antifeminists, and any other people of use and worth that we can find to write for us. Send us your suggestions. Send us your essays. It is spring.

Let’s get our heads on straight and out of the sand and our facts in line. Our ducks in a row, as my grandfather used to say.


“It needs cutting,” my publisher, Big Jim Walters, said. He’s a six-foot-seven-inch genius with a head of curly black hair and a booming voice and presence. He bought the
Tulsa World
with money his daddy left him. He spent all the money he had and borrowed more. “Hell, I’ve got twenty years to live, if that much,” he said. “I don’t want to die thinking I didn’t get a damn thing done to save the state where I was born.”

Big Jim is a man who smokes and drinks and eats three meals a day. He went to Vietnam when he was seventeen by lying about his age. He came home and went to the University of Tulsa, where he majored in history and geology and spent a year in law school. He married a girl he met in English class, a classy-looking little girl who was the first person in her family to go to college. She sat in the front row and paid attention and held up her hand for every question.

Big Jim sat behind her and fell so deeply in love that he read every page of every novel the professor gave them to read. When the semester was over, he asked the girl for a date. A month later he asked her to marry him.

They have four sons and two daughters.

I love working for Big Jim and I love arguing with him and stalking out of his office and eating dinner with his family and taking his children out for heart-to-heart talks.

BOOK: A Dangerous Age
9.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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