Song of the Enotah

by Ron Nicholson and Ron Brown

Presented 2011 October 30 to the congregation of Mountain Light Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Log GA. (Ron's parts are in red print.)

I carried my book around in my head for many years – wanting – and then needing – to tell the story of the valley and the mountain where I spent my childhood.

The book Song of the Enotah is about poverty, childhood sexual abuse, community and personal expectations. An early life without electricity, paved roads, phones or even running water. It is also about overcoming all those things and learning how to live with joy and peace.

It is also, I suppose, my attempt to preserve the memory-place of my youth. I was born in the shadow of the mountain that is Georgia's highest peak, in the eastside valley also called Enotah by the Cherokee – later renamed Fodder Creek by the white man, for the abundant corn that was grown and harvested there… it was app. 5 miles outside the town of Hiawassee.

I heard the Song of the Enotah from my first day on earth, it has stayed with me all these years and has gone with me all over the world. We chose each other, although I do not remember the choosing. I know the sounds came from the mountain and the music effects those creatures in all the surrounding valleys – in some fashion.

IF you can hear the music – and IF you invite it in – the music never leaves you… a part of you can always hear the sound and know you are a part of the song. You may think of it as your heritage, even your religion, it may register as just a peculiar feeling – or a song as I do – the Cherokee called it "the knowing". When you hear the call – you will know it, you can also ignore – The mountain never forces one to listen.

Most of the events in this book are true – you are invited to walk, as the Cherokee believed, in places without actually going there… so today you are also invited to walk in the landscape of my life as I recall it.

I am so very honored to be here today – It is hard to explain Song of the Enotah in a few words… just as it was hard to explain a whole lifetime in the few pages of a book. My mother had an expression that she used often and well on me as a child… "if wishes were horses" she would say – "then we would all take a ride" – that was her response whenever I would ask for something we could not afford – which was most everything! If my mother were alive and here today I would say – "Let us pretend for the next several pages or so that wishes are indeed horses and we can all come along for a ride to a place and the time I remember.

I searched for many years before stumbling across the Unitarian Church. I liked the idea, even if only somewhat true, that one could bring their belief system to the Unitarian Universalist Church, change or modify that belief system or not… and still be accepted. I never really placed a lot of importance on being accepted by large groups of people… but I must say it is a good place for me to grow and to be the "me" that I am becoming. I guess I took that first UU principle to heart and came to believe that "the worth and dignity of each human being – actually included even me!

The farm community where most of the poems and stories happened, is much changed, and yet somehow it is still just as real as when there was a wild child pretending to be a fox out on the hillside. The seasons still come and go and the rain and snows still fall like a blanket from Enotah downward over the hills, across the meadow and up the hill to where we still sometimes stand behind the window and look out…

This place – this place that I loved, has changed over the years – people moved on, others built and moved in… Some got old while others went away. It seems the more we change – the more the valley and especially the mountain, stay the same. Song of the Enotah.

Song of the Enotah is set in the uplands of Georgia, the survival story of a boy against great odds – armed with only the imagined song from a mountain to guide and protect him. Fighting against injustice, poverty, a growing disbelief in his childhood church, later surviving divorce after twenty–five years of marriage – he seeks and finally finds acceptance in his world and in the UU Church – Logan has put together a book of hope and of spirituality.

"Song" is also about his father and mother, a couple of frontier people, who were forced to leave school for farm work demands after the third grade. "Miss Lena" raised a family and quilted for many years. KIVVERS – was what she called them – piecing and making quilts to keep the family of eight warm. After the children were grown and gone she could not stop, using any scrap of cloth to piece together a quilt top… some designed from her own imagination – others following patterns which she traced from a catalogue. It is about a connection between mother and son that still exist today, long after her passing.

Song of the Enotah is not so much about being gay – but more about a gay man living his life as best he can. As I say in the book – "I never chose to be gay, I fought it tooth and nail for 40 years before conceding that being gay had chosen me!" – It is about the mountain and valley where I struggled to grow. It is – like me – sad, funny, every–day and ordinary. Today I am so very glad that I was chosen to be gay… it was not always the case…

Growing up poor, abused and with special learning disabilities, Logan, who runs on the fuel of emotion – gives you a look at his life that will at one time, break your heart, make you laugh, and at other times have you pulling for his survival – cheering his small successes – and singing along. Come listen to the song that survives down through the generations.

The book is a collection of short stories, poems and photographs. It has 33 color photographs, plus the black and whites, and many stories of childhood days spent in the Enotah Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. And the Short Story, I am but a Note gives you a look at the 60's and a changing valley.

I am but a Note

I had left the valley one week out of high school at the age of seventeen, with my mother's signed approval but against her expressed wishes. I earned $79 dollars per month as a Private in the US Army – my first money… For the next three years and for some time afterwards, I helped pay various family expenses, including the 2–room addition at home. I helped with the gravity flow water we installed around 1960. I purchased a sink and cabinet for the kitchen. I gave Uncle Sam three years of my life in exchange for learning about the world, for travel and for giving me time to grow a bit myself – a luxury I had never had time for on the farm. My brothers, sisters and I played and looked like children but we also worked on the farm and in the cornfields from a very early age like grown–ups.

Today when I look at the valley, I see auto tags that spell out North Carolina, Atlanta, Florida and far beyond… today total strangers populate my valley… I want the newcomers to get some feel for the new place they will call home. I know that it is hard to visualize what life was once like for me and for all the valley children. Today it takes but minutes to drive from the farm into town, when once it was a very slow journey that took most of the day. I feel like a stranger in someone else's land when I visit. Very few folks are still alive today to remember the things I talk about, almost no one can confirm or deny my story of those times.

And the music? I hear it still, singing across the ridges, collecting and swelling into little glens, crossing oceans, calling to me wherever I travel, a constant companion – mountain sounds, dancing and singing to a strange cadence, and all–encompassing, a sort of love sound that keeps no record of wrongs or right. I do know that, for me, it started in the mountains, had something to do with the honey seasons we shared, my mother's early singing and the kind of knowing that only comes to those patience enough to wait and listen to the sounds, and I am sure the music will not end when I am ended – I am but a note in the song I was lucky enough to hear one day long, long ago.

Song of the Enotah contains many such stories, much mountain lore, and poetry. The book opens with a poem called Maker of Music: the joining.

Maker of Music

I have danced
Wildly to your mountain sounds,
danced slowly in a naked dawn,
sadly to the mournful notes,
and joyful to your
lighter touch…

You never knew
this one – who lived in a
thousand golden fires,
who walked the night wind
and wrote – all the words
you spoke.

I am simple
I am old
I dance a dance you never saw,
and remember far too much.
What I did
Maker of Music
had to be done,
how else to survive?

In the dawn,
before the day could tell,
the dance was done
that casts the spell,

and I became
all the notes you play!

Chapter 9 – Page 93: I will Survive – slowly became not enough.

Sixty–some years ago this year, I was a child of 5, and my almost–first memory was – being sexually abused by an older relative. My childhood was taken from me and replaced with something quite different, there was no asking for it back. I never told my parents or anyone else how I felt – until now.

I guess I blamed myself and felt responsible for it happening. At five and later – it did not seem like a wrong thing – it was just a thing – and it was all I knew. The song from the mountain was my only comfort thru those years.

The abuse did not make me gay, neither did it make me straight. Mostly it made me confused. At 5 or 8 or 12 or 20… especially at 20, I wanted to assess blame, and I did go through a period when I blamed the straight white man who sat in the front row at church and sang in the choir – my singing abuser! I even blamed my father who was never aware of what had happened. How dare he not know, he seemed to know everything else? But mostly I blamed myself, even though realistically I could have done nothing about it. There was nobody there to tell me that. Nobody came to the rescue, even though I dreamed of a rescue. It was my crime and it became my punishment. Meanwhile there were other problems just as pressing.

For most of the year, valley children wore shoes only on Sunday, at school and on special occasions. When I wore the soles of my shoes out, as I normally did, I put layers of paper in my shoes to keep my feet dry and a little warmer – and I trained myself to sit in class with both feet solidly on the floor so nobody would see the bottoms of my shoes and make fun of me. Having holes in my shoes was somehow more shameful than the abuse I had suffered – one was outward for all to see while the other – I carried inside where nothing showed… indeed, I did not realize until later that there were scars.

In high school when I needed glasses, I did not tell my parents, who could not have afforded them. I went to sit in the front row in each class so I could see the blackboard. On the school bus ride to and from town each day, I looked down at the floor to keep from getting a headache as the trees flashed by, I closed my eyes and I never complained, walking with my eyes down, like everything worth discovering could be found on the ground… I became only a small voice inside, saying –

"this is me – here – none of this matters – the cold, the shoes, the glasses, the abuse. You will live to see it all go away… and you will survive."

As I grew older, I realized that somehow during all those years I had become two people – not a split personality, but a shadow personality. I was the person I was expected to be… son, brother, father, husband, friend and provider – and I did well in all those departments, but no matter what I did, I could still hear that voice saying…

"I am here… I can't go away. I am you – the real you – and I was here first. When will you let me start to live?"

I lay in my bed at night and wondered how to survive, how to become the "me" that would not go away… and still be some of the me that was loved by my children and friends. I guess I started that day to engage the voice inside. To explore the child who had been denied all those lonely years. This led to the hardest decision I ever had to make – to deliberately hurt another human being. My ex–wife was hurt in all of that, but I could never change (the who) of who I was. I could not grow without major hurt to all involved, and I could not survive as I was. Separating the personalities would hurt, it would change my whole world. And it had to be done if I were to survive. At my personal bottom, which is where I was living during that time, I knew that I could not continue to live out my life as I had been doing. I could not be two people! It was a giant first step for me, to find myself alone again after all those years – to dare listen to that voice inside…

"Yes, you are all those things… but you are also me… a gay man that you do not feel is worthy… a gay man that you have tried to change and to abolish for forty–something years.
You did not start on the day when you were abused, you started on the day you were created.
Created as a gay person and what are you going to do about it –
Now that you know?
Now that you can do something about it?"

In the divorce that came later, I accepted the loss of my wife and two daughters; I had little choice but to accept their rejection. Even today, years past, they cannot accept the reality of my being a gay man. I am still their father, a son and a friend, in fact – I am a real person, I have a real life and I laugh and cry real tears. They chose then and they choose now, to see and believe what they want… and that is a very sad thing in my life.

I guess the most important lesson learned through all that was to be one's true self, no matter what others might think or say. I know my bottom line (how little or how much it takes to survive) and I have learned to be accepting and proud of the person I chose to become, to live beyond mere survival – to do more. I hope that it has made me more understanding of others who appear different.

The shadow personality slowly disappeared and I saw myself as a whole person, for the first time in my memory. My still small voice is silent for the most part now, silent on my personal items, but still wanting to be heard when injustice is seen in the world…

My life went from:
The job of staying alive – to
the joy of being alive…

And my song today reflects that joy I feel… the joy of being alive, in love and doing the best I know how. We will close today with a poem that I call The Father's Song

I call it
Of Time and a Place
We sit outside in the cold crisp air,
a brave owl makes his sound,
and muffled in the mist, the frogs
make theirs, before going down.

It is a time for remembering
many evenings spent this way,
recalling a time and a place
that we cannot go back to.
Instead, we look for a trace
of that happy time and place.

Lingers still the smoke from
the fires of my youth.
Sitting beside me is a young one
in whom the flames still burn.
He will not go the miles I have,
so much he need not learn.
His world is concrete and steel
the fabric of the future.

How to make him understand? (Pause)
I am a part of this place…
that when the trees and grass
are gone and buildings built,
then my time will be over!

We dare not make him one of us
it is not his time or way.
We must go – and let him be a man
in places without bird songs, or
rustling brooks… and no time for
the things we remember…

And so I sit, as my father sat before me,
– years before me…
And I give myself
to that happy time and place…

And I thank you for your time – and your place today.