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Remembering the Ancestors
Brown shares Cherokee legends

Conyers resident Carol Brown is a retired Rockdale County educator. She taught eighth grade math and Georgia history at Conyers Middle School for most of her 34-year tenure. Her husband Robert Brown was a coach and taught health and physical education at Conyers Middle School just as long. In fact, if you put together the years of service by Carol and Robert, it would be more than half a century.

The Browns met while teaching in Rockdale County at J.H. House and Main Street elementary schools. Carol and Robert were among the first staff members at Conyers Middle School, moving there with principal/coach Earl O'Neal when the school was built.

Carol and Robert married in December of 1980 and worked together at CMS as educators until retirement. Retirement for the Browns includes continued service at CMS. For the school's basketball team, Carol serves as statistical book keeper and her husband clock timer. Carol also teaches the school's clogging team and Robert assists with CPR instruction.

Robert is a native of Blakely, Early County. Carol was born in DeKalb County, attended school in DeKalb and graduated from Emory University. She taught seventh grade at Tony Elementary for four years, before getting a master's degree and teaching for Rockdale County Schools.

Carol has a lineage connection with an Indian American ancestor, but it is so far back, she feels it would be presumptuous to make the claim that she comes from an Indian American bloodline. Her respect for the first American culture is obvious and enhances the value of her storytelling.

"I began to study Native American culture in the mid '70s," said Brown. "It was more a thirst for learning than an ancestry destination - a quest to understand the culture was the reason for my research. I have collected an extensive library, mostly academic, on the culture of the Cherokee."

"History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees" by James Mooney is among Brown's collection. Mooney lived with the last of the true Indian American storytellers in the 1800s to research and write the book. His book, which is available at www.nativenashville.com/bookstore, is the source of many of the stories and legends that Brown uses in programs she presents to school, Scout, church and civic groups.

"He (Mooney) is wonderful, informative, accurate, but not light entertainment. I retell the folk tales from his book in my own way, but always give credit to the source," said Brown. "My grandfather was a great storyteller. I remember listening to his tales as we sat under the big oak in his yard many times. Storytellers, regardless of their genre, are like musicians, each performer sounding or interpreting the work uniquely."

The following Indian American folk tale is a special holiday treat for readers of this newspaper, retold in the words of Carol Brown. Typically, Brown adds dramatic flourishes, pauses and body language for emphasis, attention or animation - for that you will have to use your imagination.

The Origin of the Pleiades and the Pine

As obtained by James Mooney from the Cherokee and interpreted by Carol Brown

A long, long time ago, there were seven little boys who liked to play the "gatayusti" game more than they liked helping their mothers in the corn field. All day, they wanted to roll the stone wheel along and throw their river cane spears at the wheel to try to knock it over. This was very aggravating to their mothers, and was even more so when their mothers called them to supper, for - like all boys - why, they were there in a flash!

So you see, their mothers decided that the boys must be taught a lesson. So they collected up some "gatayusti" stones and put them into the corn soup they were fixing for supper. Then they called, "Boys come in, for it is time to have supper."

The boys came running. They sat down around the fire, and as their mothers served them they said, "Now, as you like the "gatayusti" game more than you like working in the corn field, take these stones now as your supper."

Oh, those boys were furious. So they ran off down to the town house and said, "We must teach our mothers a lesson." They built a big bonfire and then began to dance around it in a circle beating the drum and singing.

Much later, their mothers became concerned because their sons did not return. They saw the fire's glow and all went down to the town house. As they approached, they saw the boys dancing around and around. And as they danced, they saw that the boys were rising up off the ground. They danced around and around, and higher and higher above the ground.

The mothers cried, "Please come back!" But, the boys continued to dance higher and higher. One mother jumped up, caught her son by the foot, and pulled him down to the ground so hard that he disappeared into the earth. The other boys continued to dance higher and higher into the sky.

Today, they are still dancing. Today, we call them the Pleiades star constellation, but the Cherokee know them as "Ani' tsutsi" (The Boys). When you look into sky, the stars appear to be dancing around in the circle still.

So what happened to the boy who disappeared into the ground? His mother came every day to cry over the spot where he had gone. And soon, a tiny green shoot began to grow up. And it grew, and it grew taller and taller, until it became a beautiful pine tree. The old Cherokees believed that the stars and the pine are made from the same eternal bright light, for the pine does not shed its needles ever completely, and the stars shine on forever.

Carol Brown can be reached at 770-483-1295 or rctbrown@comcast.net.

Linda Reynolds is a columnist for the Citizen. She is interested in stories about historical landmarks in Rockdale and Newton counties. If you know of a special story, place or event, e-mail her at linda.reynolds@rockdalecitizen.com or call her at 770-483-7108, ext. 252.