Today’s column is a tweaked version of one written a few decades ago. Since 2020 has been far from normal, this column may bring a smile and memory of a better time.
“Are you going to play bingo with the Cherokees while you’re down there?” my father asked before we went South.
He was very much aware that we frequently played bingo at fairs we encountered on our travels. I had forgotten that there were quarter-million-dollar jackpot bingo games on various reservations, but it certainly was something to look into, I agreed.
As someone who thinks we should give the country back to the Native Americans and start over, I felt like an intruder in Cherokee, N.C. I wanted to apologize for the years of exploitation and to explain that I am in no way a descendant of George A. Custer.
While Cherokee is commercially developed (not to the extent of Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge), it still looked a bit poor. The bingo hall wasn’t as grand as I’d expected, and the ceremonial ground was a mess from a recent carnival.
A stop at the Crafts Mutual was interesting, and I should have purchased a basket, but I didn’t. We passed up most attractions, but we did visit “an authentic replica of a Cherokee community of 1750.”
Our first guide introduced himself to our group and said a few words about the village.
He spoke so fast, however, that I didn’t catch what his name was. He walked even faster, stopping at various points to explain an aspect of Cherokee life and to allow one of his cohorts to demonstrate a craft. My favorite was the man with a blowgun. Our guide explained that the guns were used for hunting only and that the darts were not poisonous. He asked a fellow who appeared to be on the verge of death by boredom to give us a demonstration. Without a word, he stood up, picked up the gun, walked toward a target, put the gun to his lips, “pooff” and the dart hit the target. He did this twice, lest we missed it the first time, then ambled back to his post where he was carving darts. No one asked questions; we didn’t want to interrupt him.
Later in the tour, as the visitors sat and shivered, our next guide finally approached, carrying a plastic foam cup of hot coffee. (They had foam cups in 1750?) Joel was this young man’s name and he gave a most interesting talk about the history of his people.
At one point, he asked, “Are yunz cold? I’m freezin’!”
Wait! What did he just say? Did he really say “yunz” (not “yinz” as a Pittsburgher would say, but “yunz” as just about everyone here in the home valley commonly uses the term as the plural of you)??
I was stunned! I couldn’t believe we’d traveled all that way to hear this young Native American speak Cumberland Valley tongue.
The visit to the village was enlightening, and funny at the same time.
Even though I didn’t get to play bingo and win thousands and thousands of dollars, I’m glad Cherokee was a stop on our trip.
And, all-in-all, I’m glad we went South for a change. Now that I’ve got it out of my system, I know I won’t ever have to go back again!