Mount Hope – Chapter One

Chapter One

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9

For several miles the Jaspers enjoyed the beauty of golden ripe wheat waiving in the breeze while driving along dirt roads. Oldfather Lake had to be coming up around the bend. Driving with GPS had directed to a certain point, but after turning onto county road rusty recollections would have to guide. Familiar landscape awakened memories of family gatherings at the lake–fishing, swimming and lighting fireworks. They noticed the little store was gone, but not the memory of riding a three-wheeler there to get resupplied with snacks and fish bate.

Cornelius Jasper, called Jas by friends and family, had often thought of Oldfather Lake while working, hammering out framework for a new house. He enjoyed his work, but daydreamed about retirement and all the “fun” things he would do; and going back to Oldfather Lake was at the top of the list. He hadn’t been there since the summer of high-school graduation when his family had moved away from the area, but according to his daydream Oldfather Lake had remained the same.

Now almost fifty years later, this was his adventure. Jas wasn’t sure what he would find left from his memories. Secretly, he had hoped the lake would be exactly the same, but with everything else in the world changing, it wasn’t likely. Even so, he was confident that he could at least walk around the lake, maybe cast in his fishing line for a bit.

If he could just find it.

The trees along one side of the road became denser and remembering the lake had been surrounded by trees, his excitement grew. He instructed Junia, his wife, to look for side roads in the trees while he kept his eyes on the road.

Junia grimaced anticipating her husband’s disappointment. “Hate to tell you, but we already passed a side road a short time ago.”

As expected, Jas’ excitement turned to exasperation, expressed with his usual low mumbled grumbling. “Smack-a-doodle! How far back?”

“Ohm…it was soon after this wind-break of trees started back there along the road.”

“Don’t look at me! Keep your eyes on the trees. If we don’t see any more roads coming up, we’ll turn back.”

Just as Jas turned his eyes back to the road, he saw two deer run out from a corn field and across the road in front of them. He stepped hard on the brakes–everything in their laps toppled onto the floor and the thrust forward brought a small bump to their heads. “Smack-a-doodle…those dastardly doomfawds!

Junia quietly picked up everything off the floor of the car. She smiled to let Jas know that she was alright. Early in their 42 years of marriage, she had learned to keep quiet when Jas was upset. To her, he was just a big, old teddy bear–a good man, but at times he had steam to vent–not with violent rage or vengeance, but making his disappointment known. She had tried to point out that anger and cursing is ungodly. However, he corrected her, saying the Bible says it’s okay to be angry if you don’t sin. His angry words were not bad curse words, but his “homemade” words–made up words for venting. She accepted his explanation, praying her husband would also find the other scriptures about forgiveness and patience.

After a few wrong turns and backtracking Jas relaxed–relieved to finally see a sign stating–One mile to Oldfather Lake.

Trees were thicker than he had remembered. And then the bridge over a small creek now had a gate across the entrance and a sign above a chain lock. Jas was disappointed beyond words as he read the sign.

Private Property. No trespassing.

Quietly he got out of the car to get a closer look. Below the sign was a letter from a law firm encased in plexi-glass. Jas read the letter and turned to Junia who was now beside him reading it too. The letter announced that the property was for sale and bids were being accepted.

“Get your phone and take a picture of this or write down the address and phone number. We may want it later.”

Jas went back to the car and retrieved his binoculars from the trunk. At least he wanted to see the lake. But the trees were too thick. He put on his wading boots, carefully descended down the bank and walked across the creek. Junia gasped and reminded him that he was trespassing. Jas’ adventurous spirit overrode any caution while he climbed up the bank on the other side and walked a little further down the road.

Junia prayed, Lord have mercy. Her mind flooded with visions of wild animals or hunters with rifles. Then she thanked God when seeing him on the way back.

Now safely in front of her she could see he wasn’t sad anymore. Instead his eyes sparkled like a little boy with a new toy.

“I could see the lake. The cabins are gone, but there’s a beautiful two-story house, a gazebo and a little bridge over a small stream…”

Junia, so pleased to hear her husband’s excitement, laughed a smile. “I took a picture of the letter and wrote down the address and phone number.”

Jas quickly kissed her and then hung his head in disgrace. “Sorry, I got upset earlier. I’m working on it.” Then he sighed as he pulled off the wading boots. “Don’t think we’ll be doing any fishing today.”

Quietly she sighed a sigh of relief. “It’s okay. We’ll just go on to the next place you have mapped out.”

“First, if you have signal on your phone, call the number on the letter. Let’s see if we can get someone to come out here and show us the house.”

“What? Are you thinking of buying it?”

“Maybe. You never know. For some reason, I just have to see it…I feel like we’re here for a reason…not sure what it is…but you know what I mean.”

“Well no…but this is an adventure, so let’s see…I do have signal…where’s that number? Here it is. Dialing.” Someone answered so she handed the phone to Jas.

“Hello…this is Cornelius Jasper. I’m out at the Oldfather Lake property you have for sale…Is there anyone who could come out here while we’re here and show us the house and tell us more about it?”

The secretary put Jas on hold while checking. After a few minutes the secretary came back to the phone and said the farmer who lives down the road could be there in about an hour. They agreed to wait.

Jas and Junia felt like it was God’s providence that they had prepared a picnic lunch that morning before getting on the road. They laid out a thick blanket under the trees along the side of the road near their car. After a light lunch of sandwiches and snacks Junia knew that old teddy bear would soon be napping. Leaning back against the tree trunk she prayed with her eyes open while waiting for Farmer Johnson to arrive. Praising God with delight for his beautiful creation as she watched a butterfly and then a bumble bee flitting from flower to flower.

Soon the sound of a truck with loud muffler sounds alarmed them. Quickly, they stood to see a small elderly man with overalls and a wide-brimmed hat climb out of a monster truck.

Farmer Johnson was warm and friendly, as if the Jaspers were family coming for Sunday dinner. “Sorry it took so long to get here…My truck wouldn’t start…Had to hunt down the keys to my grandson’s truck. He races it! But I get to store it in my barn. Lucky me!”

“Quite alright. We’ve enjoyed a picnic here in the beautiful trees!” After introductions, Jas was radiant with joy, thinking this elderly man with a wide-brimmed hat seemed like someone he’d enjoy fishing with. And Junia quietly tickled with delight at watching her husband’s adventure unfold.

Farmer Johnson unlocked the gate and suggested they drive around the lake and then up to the house for a look inside. Jas offered his car and off they went. Amazed at the lake–even more beautiful than Jaz had remembered–Willow trees along the bank, with flowering Myrtle and evergreen trees, and then he noticed the dock. “Is the lake still stocked with fish?”

“It sure is…favorite place to fish. My son and grandson come out here every summer.”

“Used to be my favorite place too…used to come here with my family every summer when I was a young boy. Haven’t been here for a long time…but who lived here…why is it for sale?”

“That’s a secret. The man who lived here was recluse…he was famous. Decided he just wanted privacy and peace, so he came here…Lived here for about 25 years before he passed away…He had the house built and landscaped before moving out here. Occasionally, he would go for short trips to visit family or friends or they would come out here to visit.”

Slowly they drove up a driveway that curved along to the the front entrance of the house. The simple beauty of the front lawn, a rock garden with evergreens and one large oak tree accentuated the magnificent house sitting high on a hill. Behind the house on one side, a narrow cobbled stone road led down to the lake. On the other side a garden with a gazebo in the center and nearby a small stream with a bridge over it. The house was, as Junia said, a manly design. Oak wall paneling, book cases, lots of book cases, leather furniture and stone floors with a fireplace in every room. Even all four bedrooms on the second floor had a very small corner fireplace. Jas loved the sitting room area, but Junia’s favorite part of the house, of course, was the kitchen.

“I could live in this kitchen!” It had a huge, old-fashioned stone-hearth fireplace with stone covering the entire wall with an oak rocking chair in the corner. An oversized oak dining table filled the center of the room and included a restaurant style refrigerator and stovetop. She opened a side door, thinking it was a closet, but it was a small room–a maid’s quarters. Just as she was wondering why someone living by himself would want such a huge kitchen, Farmer Johnson explained that the owner had designed the house to become a bed and breakfast inn–easier to sell if he decided to move.

The Jaspers thanked Farmer Johnson for the tour and never asked about how to bid, thinking it was far beyond their budget. But before climbing up into the monster truck, Farmer Johnson turned back and gave Jas a business card and encouraged him to submit a bid. “Only requirement is an essay about what you plan to do with the property.”

The Jaspers grinned, numb with wonder. “We’ll certainly consider it. Pray about it. For now it’s back to the road trip.”

Briefly Jas explained his adventure to Farmer Johnson and then waved goodbye as they drove off.

~~~

The wonder of Oldfather Lake, temporarily, faded to the back of Jas’ mind while he pressed on to the next phase of the “adventure.”

“Cherokee country here we come!”

He had been planning this road trip for a long time–visiting his family’s place of origin, his Cherokee Indian heritage.

The Cherokees were one of many Indian tribes from the Appalachians area of America, where what is now western South Carolina and North Carolina, northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee. From around 1776 to 1781, after several failed raids against pioneer settlers and giving up land in peace treaties the Cherokee began to assimilate into the settler culture, developing colonial methods of farming, building homes and a tribal government. They developed their own Cherokee written language and even published a newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix. Then in 1838 thousands of Cherokees were forced to leave their land in northern Georgia, which was valuable for its gold. The U.S. Government enforced the removal and in the process some resettled in North Carolina, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Many Cherokees died during the journey on foot, known in history as the Trail of Tears.

Eventually, individuals, including Jas’ grandfather, were given their own section of land from within the Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

Jas’ parents had moved away from their land before he was born and recently a cousin had inherited it. Yet, his kindred connection and love for the outdoors–fishing, hunting and camping–inspired him to take a road trip along the same Trail of Tears as his ancestors had walked. When he retired, he wanted to back track along the trail, traveling from Oklahoma to Arkansas to Tennessee and then to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. As he had said many times when talking about the trip. “Wonderful fishing in all these places and what could be better than that, this side of heaven.”

He and Junia had planned the road trip to coincide with a family reunion being held that weekend on the family land in Oklahoma. He hoped for good weather since the gathering would be a campout and everyone would be sleeping in tents. He was looking forward to seeing cousins he hadn’t seen in many years and his own children and grandchild would be there too.

After an overnight stop to sleep at a hotel just off the highway they were back on the road again early in the morning after breakfast. They followed the detailed directions sent by his cousin Ben, which without they would have surely gotten lost. But even so, a few wrong turns happened just because they were taking in all the beauty of the countryside, grain fields, grasslands, ranches and lakes. Finally they arrived to the land and the campsite where Ben and Barbara were seated near the fire-pit. The barbeque was to be later that evening with mesquite-smoked buffalo as the main entre.

Ben, with his sense of humor, decided to have a little fun in his role as host of the reunion. As he escorted the Jaspers to their assigned tent, he pointed out the “facilities.”

“Thought nostalgia would be fun, so we set up an old-fashioned outhouse, downwind about 100 yards.”

And he chuckled while showing them a horse trough for bathing. “No, I will not be hauling water, but the garden hose is nearby.” Then he added with a grin, “If you’ve already had your Saturday bath then no need to use the trough. But no really, just kidding, you can use the shower in the house. And the bathroom too. All this is just for fun.”

Junia, not knowing Jas’ cousins very well, didn’t know what to think, but grinned while Jas chuckled and scratched his head as though it could help him remember. “I’m just barely old enough to remember…the horse trough tub seems vaguely familiar…except for the garden hose. I think we just took turns bathing and used the same water.”

Inside the house, Ben and Barbara had family picture albums sitting out on the table. Pictures of the original house, grandpa with his horse and wagon and grandma with Jas and other baby cousins. While looking through old pictures and refreshing with iced tea, they got reacquainted with Ben and Barbara, their three sons and their wives, grandchildren and also cousins Jim and Ron, their wives and children. And within a few hours, the rest of the Jaspers arrived.

Junia ran out to the cars to greet everyone with Jas following close behind. Son John, his wife Lynette and their teenager, Jenna climbed out of the Jeep stretching and yawning–awakened and then laughing with joy from a Jas bear hug. Next in line for hugs was daughter Caitlin, her husband Ryan and their dog Rusty. John’s family from Colorado had met up with his sister, Caitlin and her family from Kansas, then the two families caravanned together along the highway to the family land in Oklahoma.

Everyone had fun exploring the land before settling down for the evening barbecue. They had carefully walked across the cow pasture to take a hike along a little creek in the woods. They crossed over the swinging bridge while looking for deer, but when Jas called out, “Look out for rattle snakes!” The women screamed and turned back toward camp.

Ben placed lawn chairs around the campfire and then Barbara cushioned each chair with a handmade quilt. Barbara was satisfied that she had made everyone comfortable when seeing Jenna napping in a chair, wrapped with the quilt around her shoulders to make a cushion for her head.

Everyone relaxed by the fire and enjoyed an unhurried dinner of smoked meats, salads, Indian bread, and desserts including homemade ice-cream. Family members mingled and reminisced the past while they also talked about present trials receiving the comfort that seemed to make up for lost time.

Jas and Junia’s daughter, Caitlin, privately shared a surprise with them. She planned to adopt a baby girl who was expected to be born in about two months. Caitlin and Ryan had been unable to have children of their own so they had decided to adopt. The adoption details were secret, and in addition, they hoped to adopt more babies from a similar situation in about six months.

With glowing smiles, both Jas and Junia expressed their happiness for another grandchild. Jas kept his concerns to himself, but Junia encouraged Caitlin and Ryan. “If God blesses you with rescuing children then we are glad to support you as grandparents.”

As a mother, Junia encouraged her daughter while she quietly pondered any concerns. This was her way. From experience, she thought it better to keep quiet about news until after thoughtful reflection and prayer, than to blurt out comments or questions that could be hurtful or discouraging. And since Caitlin had said the adoption details were secret she didn’t pry, but offered to help…help with anything. She would share wisdom later, if needed, if asked.

A cool night breeze and the low hum of locusts induced peaceful sleep throughout the campsite, but by early morning, just after sunrise, everyone was startled awake by Ben starting up the fire-pit. He had brought out a large percolator of coffee, orange juice, donuts and a large platter of scrambled eggs with bacon. Also, a big bowl of sliced cantaloupe, fresh from his own garden. Then he threw a couple of sausage pizzas on the fire for the kids. And just in case the commotion and coffee aroma didn’t awaken everyone, he rang a cow bell.

While guests enjoyed breakfast he announced a worship service would begin in about an hour. “No need to change into your Sunday best, just come as you are. My sons and I, we’ll play guitar–sing a few hymns. I’m not a preacher, so I’ll spare you, but we’ll read some scriptures from the Bible. Then we’ll have a family prayer time. Cool?”

“Cool!” said Jenna. “Never been to church with pizza for breakfast.” And several others said a sleepy, “Amen.”

By mid-afternoon, after hugs, tears and promises to get together again soon, everyone was back on the road again, each to different destinations, but for Jas and Junia they would resume their journey through the Trail of Tears region. Backtracking the same trail as closely as possible with the next destination in the Ozarks of Arkansas to Lake Sequoyah for bass fishing. And then resting for a day at a beautiful lake home they had rented before going on to Greers Ferry Lake near Batesville, Arkansas.

Junia enjoyed fishing just as much as Jas but for different reasons. He was for the sport, the thrill of the catch. She loved the serenity and beauty of the lake and most of the time she just quietly prayed or crocheted or both, because if she tried to talk much she would get shushed. Amazingly, this fishing trip, Jas seemed distracted. He would cast his lure, but instead of reeling in, he would sit with the line out in the water and talk. He talked about the reunion, his cousins, their kids and what in the world was Caitlin doing adopting…not just one, but many…they’re going to need some help with all that. The anticipation of it all seemed overwhelming to the young grandpa. Junia admitted she shared his concern, but committed them all to God in prayer.

After traveling on to Greers Ferry Lake, the Jasper’s hearts were quiet again. Jas focused on fishing and Junia prayed while she enjoyed the awesome beauty of the clear water lake guarded by towering rocky cliffs. Here they were more mindful of God’s majestic presence.

On the morning of the last day at Greers Ferry, Jas decided to review the road map and make some changes when driving through Tennessee on the way to Fort Payne, Alabama. Fort Payne is where a group of Cherokee Indians, his ancestors, were held before being led out by John Benge1 toward Oklahoma. While he was studying the map, Caitlin called to talk with Junia. Jas could hear Junia’s side of the conversation, hearing enough to know plans had changed and Caitlin was upset. So he held off making any changes to their road trip until he could find out what was going on.

Junia sighed with sorrow after ending the call. “Caitlin says the mother of the baby they were planning to adopt has changed her mind. She’s keeping her baby. Caitlin says she’s happy for the mother, but sooo disappointed to not have a baby of her own.”

Jas made a big exaggerated frowny face. “Ah…me too…we too!”

Junia stared out the window for a moment with many perplexing thoughts going through her mind and then turned back to Jas who had gone back to mapping. “Wait, there’s more!”

Jas’ eyebrows arched as his eyes popped wide open. He motioned with his hand to indicate–so come on, out with the more.

“Caitlin said their social worker suggested foster parenting. They have a family with three children who will need a foster home right away with another baby on the way…”

“Whoa! Is Caitlin going to do that?

“I don’t know…she wants us to pray about it…she sounded hopeful, but not sure…”

“Well, we know God knows what he’s doing…just hope Caitlin and Ryan know what they’re doing!”

“It’s good they’re taking time to think about it…pray about it. So let’s do that too.” Junia watched her old, big-bear husband carefully get down on his knees while he took her hand to join him in prayer about Caitlin and Ryan’s life changing decision.

“Lord, I–I don’t know what to say–I’m–I’m flabbergasted! These kids–well they’re not kids, they’re adults. That’s the thing–I can’t tell them what to do. But that’s why we’re here Lord–on our knees–because we need your help. Caitlin and Ryan need your help–guidance–wisdom. They’re thinking of taking on a huge responsibility. I know you already know, but they’re thinking of taking three kids, not just one, but three and a baby into their home. And so far they have no children. It’s a lot all at once. And–and kids that are messed up because their parents messed up.”

Jas paused for a moment, feeling reproach. “My heart is melting Lord. I know it’s you–melting my pride away–putting your compassion there. Truth is, we’re all messed up. That’s why you came to save us Lord. Thank you for your patience with me Lord. Sometimes I get riled up–say something stupid–not like Jun here. She’s so patient. Thank you for her. Jun and I just want your best Lord–your best for the kids and the family we’re thinking about. We’ll just trust you. That’s all we can do. We’ll trust your guidance for our journey too. It’s been wonderful so far. Thank you Lord. Amen.”

Jun with eyes closed, but smiling with delight, squeezed Jas’s hand. “Thank you Lord for everything you’ve already done and all that you will do–even more than we can imagine. Amen.”

Jun kissed Jas on the cheek as she got up off her knees. “Love your prayers–so full of heart. I just know God will answer.”

Jun googled the distance to Memphis and suggested they go there. It was only a few hours and she wanted to tour the Graceland mansion. Jas looked at the map and agreed. “We can go on from there, to Fort Payne in about…oh…maybe seven hours. It’s a deviation from the Benge route, but I’m not sure why Benge led the Indians up into Missouri just to go back south again into Arkansas. And I don’t want to go all the way up into Missouri and back down to Alabama.” Then with a big grin, “Maybe they had a change in plans. Imagine that.”

Junia tilted her head toward her shoulder, “I don’t remember reading anything about why they changed their route. While we’re driving, I’ll look online and see if I can find anything.”

“Sounds good. While I’m getting everything packed up in the car, will you call and make a hotel reservation in Memphis for tonight. That way we can rest tonight and then tour the mansion in the morning before going on to Alabama.”

With that the Jaspers were on the road again, Junia glad for the cooling, relaxing rain showers, which helped with less fussing from Jas about crumbs in the car, since she was snacking on cheese crackers and chocolate chip cookies. The only information she could find about the Benge route going into Missouri was speculation. Perhaps some of the Indians had family in Missouri, so they had gone there first, before going on to Oklahoma.

She also googled more information about Graceland, the history and Elvis Presley and his legacy as king of Rock and roll. Amazed that he had died so young, just a few years older than her own son, John who would soon be forty.

Then the next day while taking the tour, she was even more amazed at all the trophies and awards he had amassed during his short time on earth. After the Jasper’s had left the trophy room they went along with the tour group out to the garden area, which was also the grave site for Elvis and his parents. In her mind she could hear him singing…

“I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses…”

 She hoped that he had made peace with God and was now in a mansion built by Jesus. The Jasper’s both looked up from Elvis’ grave to a tour guest who had chuckled as he commented, “If all those Elvis sightings are true, then who’s in this grave here?” Jas shrugged his shoulders with indifference while Junia looked up at the mansion, noticing the architecture and how it was similar to the two story house at Oldfather Lake.

As the Japers left the tour of Graceland Junia’s curiosity couldn’t help but confer with her husband. “Honey–did you notice how similar Graceland mansion is to the house at Oldfather Lake?”

“Actually, I did. Even the walkway and the garden reminded me of the garden at Oldfather.”

“It’s very interesting!” Junia thought about it often for many days, but Jas quickly put it out of mind, anxious to get to their cabin on Lookout Mountain before dark. But since it would be a crime against his stomach to not get barbeque before leaving Memphis, the Jaspers stopped for lunch.  While drinking iced tea and waiting for ribs, Caitlin called while Junia was checking the weather on her phone.

“Hello…Caitlin? There’s static on the phone…that’s better, I can hear you now…the kids are already there at your house? How’s everything going with that?” Junia listened to Caitlin go on and on about how the three boys just sit, won’t talk, look bored and ask about when they’re going home, but they don’t want to go home. “It’s probably normal for them to feel insecure in a new situation. Takes time…I don’t know Caitlin…I’ll talk with your Dad and call you back in a bit…”

Jas almost choked on iced tea trying to ask, “Talk about what?”

“Caitlin said the foster kids have come to stay with them. Ryan works all day and even overtime without time off. The boys are really bored. Sounds like Caitlin is having a difficult time getting them to feel at home. She asked if we would come home and help with a campout, fishing trip.”

Jas made a little frowny face. Then with great gusto he talked with his arms to accentuate his point. “She’s asking me…us…to end our trip we’ve been planning since before she was born!”

Jaz was exaggerating a bit, but Jun smiled with understanding. “I know, it’s a lot to ask.”

A waitress delivering a big tray of ribs and sides to their table was a welcome distraction to the dilemma. Junia grabbed Jas’ hand while he said a prayer of thanksgiving to God. And then, while passing the bread to Jas, Jun informed him of the weather forecast–rain for the next three days in Tennessee and northern Alabama. “But, let’s just enjoy our meal for now. I think this garlic bread will just melt in my mouth.”

Jas agreed with a thumbs up while his mouth was busy biting down on a juicy rib.

The Jaspers decided to go ahead and press on to Lookout Mountain since they had already paid in advance and even if it rained they could enjoy the beauty and quietly praying for Caitlin, Ryan and their new family.

Jas called Caitlin before getting on the road and gave detailed instructions about helping the boys practice putting up tents in the backyard. Practice, like boy scouts, which also included dismantling the tents, neatly folding and storing them away. Jas instructed that practice with the tents be done at least three times before actually going on a camping trip. Also, they could sleep overnight in the back yard or play in them during the day. “Have a cook out. Hamburgers and S’mores,” he said. “That would be fun. Also, teach them how to take care of Rusty. Feeding, letting him out, playing ball with him in the yard…if that goes well, maybe get them their own puppy to train.”

“Thanks Dad, we’ll start boy scout practice today. Love you. Tell Mom, love you too…have a great time in Alabama!”

“We will…we’ll check back with you later, in a few days. Praying about coming home or not…We’ll see about that…until then practice, practice, practice.”

“Well now I wish I’d been a boy scout like John or at least joined in on the campouts you had with him.”

“You’ll be fine. Maybe Ryan will find some time to help too. Anyway, got to get going, it’s hot in the car…Mom says love you…and…oh, see you later, she says.”

Jas took a quick look at the map, then folded it just right for quick glances while driving. “Jun, it’s your job to keep me awake. You know what I’m like after a big lunch…” Jas chuckled a small belly laugh, his unique laugh somehow echoing through his whole body. One could know he was present just by his laugh, without seeing him or hearing him talk.

“Oh, and google map a place along the way where we can stop for ice cream later.”

“Sounds like a lovely idea…haven’t had chocolate for a few days.”

Jun reviewed the itinerary folder with excitement. “Jas, the little log cabin we rented at Desoto looks so cute…can’t wait…we can go hiking and look at the waterfalls, flowers…oh, and canoeing…hope it doesn’t rain too much…you know, I think maybe Caitlin’s kids would like the hiking and canoeing too. Wish they were here.”

“Well maybe, we can find something like it closer to home…And that doesn’t mean I’ve decided to go home…not yet…we’re still thinking about it.”

Jun google mapped the route to Fort Payne and found a small town called Jasper. “Guess what?There’s a town named after us–Jasper, Alabama. It’s about midway between Memphis and Fort Payne–it’s coming up just off this highway–we could stop there for ice cream. It would be fun to take some pictures and caption them, The Jaspers in Jasper.

Jas chuckled with delight. “Let’s do it!”

The Jaspers had great fun taking pictures in Jasper and after they had ice cream, they stopped at a grocery store to get food and snacks to stock the cabin for three days. Driving on they approached Lookout Mountain at Gadsden. (The mountain range actually covers a wide area of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.)Then pressing on to Desoto State Park with the amber glow of sunset lighting the way along the winding road to their cabin, getting them there just before dark.

The next day met them with misting rain mingled with intermittent sunlight which didn’t prevent an adventurous hike–enjoying delightful rests among rocky alcoves discovered along the way. Rests of quiet reflection. They thought of the Cherokee people and the events that had led up to their removal from their land. Betrayal. Disagreements among the people. Some giving away the land and some fighting legally to get it back–not with force, but through the courts. But, to no avail they were removed. They had left peacefully. Many Cherokees were Christians, submitting to God and to authority as taught in the scriptures. Others fled and hid and then started new lives in new locations along the way. And although, many had died along the Trail of Tears, Jas’ family had survived. Oklahoma became their new homestead and after a generation they were given their own section of land, which they still have today.

Jas quietly put away his Bible and waited while Jun finished reading her own pocket Bible. He clasped her hand in his hands. “Isn’t this place wonderful! God is so good!”

Jun smiled in agreement and sensing he had more on his mind, she quietly listened.

“Three generations later and here we are, back to where our ancestors came from. Now I have satisfaction…satisfied I’ve done this for grandpa. Here I am…a Cherokee, yet I can freely travel back to our original homeland…I could even move here if I wanted to. I don’t know why God allowed our people to be removed from their land. And actually, I don’t know of any people that God has promised a particular land except…except the Jews and their land in Israel…the only people promised a particular land. But the Jews are unique, a special people that God has chosen forever, a special covenant relationship. God brought his Son, the Messiah through the Jewish people. And we have the holy scriptures through the Jews. They’ve been removed from their land at times, but they’ve been restored.”

Jas paused for a moment, retrieved a water bottle from his backpack and slowly sipped some water as he spoke. “And I’ve been thinking about how people are basically the same…all people everywhere…basically the same. Although, I’m Cherokee, I’m a descendant of Adam, created by God. We’re all the same. We look different because God creates each individual uniquely with their own dominant genes. Some speak differently because long ago God scattered people and gave them different languages. But we’re all intrinsically the same…same basic needs…same sin nature.”

Jun nodded her head to show affirmation. “Sounds like you’re at peace with God and who you are. And I think you’re right. We’re all the same…except the only thing that can make us different, spiritually, is if we’ve been born again into the family of God by faith in Jesus Christ.”

“Oh, of course…in that sense, there are two different kinds of people, those in rebellion against God and those who are at peace with God by faith in his Son.”

Jas stood up, groaning a bit because of sitting on hard rock. He took Jun’s hand and helped her up. “Let’s go back to the cabin–we can cook dinner, take a nap and then go out to the creek for a little night fishing.”

Jun chuckled as she stretched her aches away. “Don’t know if I’m up to all that, but we’ll see.”

Lookout Mountain

The Jaspers finished out their adventure on Lookout Mountain by driving up to Rock City, Georgia in the Chattanooga Valley–about an hour away from their cabin and after a pleasant walk through the gardens to the Summit marker they reveled in the gorgeous, mountaintop view where they could see the entire range of Cherokee ancestral land.

From this vantage point Jas raised both hands and shouted. “Glory to God! Thank you for bringing me back to the heart of Cherokee land.”

Junia stood next to Jas, taking his hand in hers, looking proudly at her husband with a heart full of love.

After descending the Summit marker of Lookout Mountain they planned several activities to do on behalf of their forebears. They hiked to a waterfall for grandpa, went canoeing in the river for dad, and for Jas, he fished in a creek–documenting the events with pictures posted on their Facebook family page.

Then instead of going on further to the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation they turned back toward home with a stop at Guntersville Lake, a place marked on the Trail of Tears map as a place their ancestors had stopped to camp and rest after leaving Fort Payne toward Oklahoma.

In Alabama, Guntersville is known as the city on the lake, so of course the Jaspers had to go fishing. There they had rented a cabin on the lake for the Fourth of July holiday and enjoyed sitting out on the porch to watch the cities’ fireworks display over the lake. A fitting celebration to end their journey before heading home.

Now that Jas was heading back home, completing the journey was bittersweet. He had been dreaming and planning the trip since he was a young father working to support his family as a carpenter. Junia had also helped provide income for the family as a math teacher at the local high school, where she had worked since their youngest child, Caitlin had started school. But both were retired now, with this road trip being their first trip to celebrate retirement. They had planned many other trips, but the Trail of Tears trip was special, at the top of the list. As a carpenter, seeing the finished result of something he had made with his own hands gave Jas great satisfaction. However, completing the trek along the Trail of Tears was somewhat nebulous, except for the pictures they had taken. He wished that he had left something behind–something valuable–a benefactor instead of only a consumer. But then it occurred to him that his ancestors had already left behind beautiful land that they had worked hard to cultivate and build and now he, a grandchild, was able to go back and enjoy it. He accepted that, but for the other trips he would endeavor to leave something of value, instead of just taking enjoyment.

For now, they were needed back home to help Caitlin and Ryan with the kids. A different journey they hadn’t planned, but for which God had been preparing them all along.

~~~

  1. http://www.heritagetrailpartners.com/2015/06/benge-route/. Gloria Young. The Benge Detachment of Cherokees on the Trail of Tears.

This story is a fictionalization. Although, historical events, people and places are used fictitiously, details of the time period have been portrayed as accurately as possible for authenticity. All characters are fictional unless otherwise noted. If an actual historical character is mentioned an endnote with citation will be included.

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