Carrying echoes of Amy Tan and Rebecca Wells, Ghost Country takes the reader into the lives of three Cherokee women and the lives of their modern day daughters. Told in a series of vignettes that alternate from the era of the Civil Rights Movement, Woodstock, and the Vietnam War, to the present day. Each story carries the reader through a world where a birthday wish can make people disappear; where a child, after being told that she is nothing, can find her way back to the forgotten Cherokee traditions; and where a woman can give her daughter a treasured bit of advice thanks to a dead rock star.
Reviews for Ghost Country
The stories and characters are, by turns, humorous, tragic, melancholy, insightful and always engaging.-- Amazon Customer Review
John Lennon and the Chicken Holocaust
Last winter, after a wake that she hosted, my mother gave me the last piece of
advice that she ever would. I did not think much of it at the time; rather, I dismissed it as
more of her usual ramblings. I soon forgot about it.
That was how I tended to handle anything that my mother said. I took it all with a
grain of salt. I had to; otherwise, I would end up just as crazy as she was.
But now, I think about her words often. I suppose the reason is that now that she
is gone, those words have taken on greater purpose and meaning. I even wrote them out
on a piece of paper and taped it to my bathroom mirror. I replaced it from time to time
when the steam caused the words to smear, but it was always there.
You were yourself. What more can either of us expect?
I look at those words every day now. I read them over and over, trying to find a
deeper meaning, trying to make them fit my mood of the day. Sometimes the words
discourage me, on other days they give me hope. It changes from day to day and never
means the same thing twice.
Because I begin each day reading my dead mother’s words, I began to pay
attention to the conversations I overheard between mothers and their children. I tried to
remember if my mother and I ever had a similar conversation.
“You keep crossing your eyes and they’re going to stay that way.” One mother
said to her little boy while they waited in line at the supermarket.
“Stop crying,” another mother ordered her daughter as they walked down the
sidewalk. “If you don’t stop it, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Were these the verbal gems of the future? Would these children write down those
words and put them up on their mirrors? Would they wonder one day what those words
My mother considered the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder to be the most
important date in American history. She even wrote our congressional representative
every year about making it a national holiday. She had yet to receive a response. That
did not stop her from holding a wake in his honor every year on the date of his death.
That year his death fell on a Saturday, I took a few days off work to help her with
the preparations and to shop. We walked down the aisles, my mother rushing through her
list and me trotting along behind with the shopping cart. She hated grocery shopping and
everything that it represented. She raised me on fast food and casseroles left by Aunt
Ama and Aunt Autumn. Only John Lennon could get her within a mile of a supermarket.
Anytime that I went anywhere with her, she always pointed out women that she
went to school with or other women her age. “Most Likely to Succeed,” she smirked,
eyeing a thin scrap of a woman with her damp hair in rollers. “Poor white trash,” she
whispered as we walked past a woman in mismatched clothes with a gaggle of dirty faced
children surrounding her.
This was my mother’s way of gloating. She was the misfit, the dark face
swimming in a sea of pale skin on the pages of her yearbook. And yet, it was my mother
that went to Woodstock, Los Angeles, Paris, and China. She never married my father, a
nameless bohemian like herself, and with no husband to tie her down, she traveled the
world as often as her random boyfriends could afford. If it had not been for me, she
probably would have just kept on moving and traveling.
My mother did not look like anyone else in our small Indiana town. Aside from
the Cherokee ancestry plain in her face, there was an air of worldliness that separated her
from the salt of the earth that populated Lanesville. I think that most of them thought her
crazy, or at the very least odd, as she moved about town in her hippie jewelry and the
black clothes that she had worn since it was announced on television that John Lennon
As we stood in line, she flipped through the pages of the National Enquirer and
complained to me about the injustices the world put upon her. “Do you know what the
Pocahontas sister of mine said? She said she isn’t coming to the wake. Can you believe
We had this same conversation every year, but Ama always came. Then for
weeks afterwards, my mother would complain about how Ama’s sour disposition almost
ruined the whole thing. I always meant to ask her, just how does one go about ruining a
My mother invited everyone that she knew to the wake, I knew that this meant her
artsy friends from Louisville would be there, most of who were closer to my age than
hers. Ama was already expressing her disapproval, calling me the night before to lament
“Is this going to be a wake or a daycare?” She asked. “I just don’t know what
we’re going to do with her.”
Having volunteered to make the main dish for the wake myself, I only had about
twelve hours to master the art of gourmet cooking; I did not have time to listen to her
latest tirade. “Aunt Ama, we can’t do anything with her. It’s just the way Mom is.”
“I know,” whined Ama. “But what are people going to think?”
Who the hell do you know?
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it.” I offered, trying to appease her so that she
would let me get off the telephone. “Everyone knows how Mom is.”
Ama took this statement as me agreeing with her, “Exactly. That is just what I’m
talking about. How long does she expect everyone to put up with this nonsense?”
“She doesn’t think it’s nonsense.” I reminded her.
Ama snorted into the phone, “That’s just my point.”
The conversation went on for about another hour; actually, it was an hour of Aunt
Ama talking and me pretending to listen. There was nothing that I could say to change
her opinion of my mother, but it was our unspoken understanding that she did not want
me to change her mind. My one and only purpose was to listen to her complaints and
every now and then give her a single comment or a sympathetic sigh for having such a
“It just gets worse and worse each year…How long does she expect us to put up
with this nonsense…She treats me like I’m the one that’s crazy, but when she went off to
China with that insurance salesman, who was the one that took care of you?”
“Grandmother.” I answered. One thing about my Aunt Ama, she was sneaky. If
you were not careful, she would take credit for things that she had almost nothing to do
“Well, I helped.” Aunt Ama corrected and then closed with her favorite thought.
“You know, I’m starting to think that your mother is losing her mind.”
After I hung up, I wondered just how long the process of insanity was, because
for as long as I could remember people were telling me that my mother was losing her
mind. I wished that she would just get on with it so everyone could find something else
to talk about.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I wanted to help my mother give a wake that would
make all of her friends envious. I wanted to make my mother proud of having me as a
daughter. Me, the elegant daughter in heels and pearls, I wanted to circulate among her
guests and dazzle them with my charm and wit.
To prepare myself, I watched the Discovery Channel for a solid week. I learned
everything that I could about the latest political issues, cultural trends, and the most
recent conspiracy theories. I went out and purchased every cooking and entertainment
magazine on the shelf. For once, I would do something right.
I had pictured something out of Better Homes and Gardens or Martha Stewart’s
Living. I wanted to help her set an elegant table with spotless china and the mouthwatering
food cooked to perfection.
The reality was quite different. The days leading up to the party were panic filled.
Each day I came home with armloads of flowers, candles, and food that I had no idea
how to prepare. How hard could it be? I would make the flower arrangements after work
and then learn gourmet cooking in my spare time before bed.
It all seemed simple enough. How hard could it be? Thousands of women did
this sort of thing every day; I saw no reason why I could not manage to do it for that one
Saturday, the day of the wake, I was left to mutilate the chicken carcasses alone.
My mother decided that there was nothing in her closet “black enough” to wear and she
could not insult John Lennon that way, so she went shopping for a new dress. By four in
the afternoon I was wishing that Martha Stewart could be burned at the stake and that
would only be after every frustrated housewife in America had the opportunity to pelt her
with burned dinner rolls.