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Storyteller embraces ancient words and spirit of Cherokee

This is the third and final installment in a Landmark column series about local educator and Indian American storyteller Carol Brown. Columnist Linda Reynolds is retiring and this is her last column for the Citizen. The Citizen staff wishes her well.

The archaeological firm Garrow and Associates, when contracted to survey a possible American Indian mound at the Georgia International Horse Park in 1995, logged 38,088 artifacts - consisting of arrowheads, pottery bowls, pottery shards and stone weapons - all buried within the mound.

A similar mound on the grounds of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and frequently found arrowheads on the banks of Big Haynes Creek testify to the formidable presence American Indians once had in this area, an area today blanketed with expressways, strip malls, automobile traffic and housing.

Local educator Carol Brown, 58, known for her programs retelling the old Cherokee legends, said, "I go regularly to the mountains around Asheville, Cherokee and Tennessee - to renew the spirit. Thankfully, my husband is supportive of my quest to understand the Cherokee and their culture."

Brown has taken courses at Western Carolina University on the Cherokee Nation and attended a seminar presented by the finest living Cherokee storytellers in the 1980s. She's also had hands-on lessons by master native craftsmen, and, accompanied by her husband, she has made many retreat trips to the North Carolina mountains.

Just as a pottery shard does not a full vase make, it takes an understanding with the spirit of the Cherokee to make the basic lines of a story fully form. Among tall pines, carved canyons, bright stars and rivers with strangely musical names - an environment familiar to Cherokee ancestors - a benevolent spirit embraces the ancient words and that spirit, more than any message, is what Brown hopes to share with her audiences.

The best part of Brown's storytelling is when she mimics the small mischievous animal spirits, prancing around holding her dress-tail, imploring the animals to "see my beautiful tail." Then, as laughter flickers through her audience, Carol mimics a possum grinning and lying on his back. There is very little order after the possum story, but it is also the most requested. Below is the story.

"Why the Possom's Tail is Bare"

As obtained by

James Mooney from the

Cherokee and interpreted by

Carol Brown

A long, long time ago, the possum had a tail with long silky hair on it. He was so proud of this tail that he went about telling all the other animals, "See my beautiful tail." Well, the animals got tired of his attitude and decided that something must be done to teach Mr. Possum a lesson. So they came together in a great council and made a plan. They knew that Mr. Possum loved to dance, because he was then able to show off his beautiful tail. "Let us have a dance tomorrow and invite Mr. Possum, then we can ...", and the rest was whispered. Then they sent Mr. Rabbit, their messenger, down to Mr. Possum's house to invite him to the dance.

As Mr. Rabbit approached Mr. Possum's house he hollered, "Si Yo. Mr. Possum." Mr. Possum answered back, "Si Yo. Mr. Rabbit." Mr. Rabbit said, "Mr. Possum, we wanted to invite you to a dance down at the town house tomorrow night. We know you love to dance, and we will give you the most honored seat in the circle so that we may see your beautiful tail. Will you come?"

Mr. Possum said, "But of course." Mr. Rabbit continued, "To show you how much we want you to come, we will send Mr. Cricket, our barber, to dress and groom your tail." Mr. Possum agreed, and Mr. Rabbit went off smiling to himself.

The next morning bright and early, Mr. Cricket hopped on down to Mr. Possum's house and hollered, "Si Yo. Mr. Possum." Mr. Possum waddled out and answered, "Si Yo. Mr. Cricket."

Mr. Cricket said, "I have come to dress and groom your tail." Mr. Possum said, "All right then," and he proceeded to find a spot in the sun and lie down with his head on his arms, and went to sleep.

Mr. Cricket began to comb that long silky hair, and as he combed it, he bound it with red cord. He combed it, and he bound it. He combed it, and he bound it. But what Mr. Possum did not know was that as he combed it and bound it, he also clipped it right at the roots. So he combed it, and he bound it, and he clipped it. And he combed it, and he bound it, and he clipped it. And he combed it, and he bound it, and he clipped it, and tied a little bow on the end. He said to Mr. Possum, "I'll see you tonight at the dance," and away he went.

That night as the sun set, down at the town house they lit the fire, the drums began to beat, the animals began to sing, and all began to dance. Then Mr. Possum appeared. "Oh, Mr. Possum, please take your seat of honor in the circle," they cried.

Mr. Possum waddled over and sat for a while. But since he loved to dance, the animals begged, "Oh please, Mr. Possum, won't you join us in the dance?" And he said, "But of course." So getting up, he joined the circle, took his tail in his hand, pulled the red cord and commenced to dance.

"See my beautiful tail," he sang. "See how it's shining in the fire light."

And the animals grinned really big.

"See my beautiful tail," he again sang. "See how it shines in the fire light."

And the animals were holding their mouths laughing. You see, what Mr. Possum did not know was that when he pulled the red cord, all the hair fell out on the ground.

"See my beautiful tail," he sang louder. "See how it's shining in the fire light."

Now the animals were holding their sides and laughing.

"See my beautiful tail," he almost shouted. "See how it's shining in the fire light."

The animals were rolling on the ground laughing. Mr. Possum was so upset he cried loudly, "See my beautiful tail. See how it shines in the fire light."

And the animals were beating each other over the head and laughing.

Suddenly, Mr. Possum looked at his tail and saw only the ugly pink hairless thing in his hands. He stopped, fell to the ground on his back, and grimaced.

Now to this day, if you embarrass or surprise an old possum, he'll roll over and grin. And to this day, he still has no hair on his tail.

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

The Citizen is interested in stories about historical landmarks in Rockdale and Newton counties. If you know of a special story, place or event, e-mail Karen Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.