Blue Eagle Feather
To get a college education Jeff receives a scholarship with the stipulation he must spend five years teaching on an Indian reservation. Although he would like to stay at home on the Lac du Flambeau reservation in Northern Wisconsin, he is sent to a Blackfoot Reservation in Montana.
As soon as he crosses into South Dakota during his travel to Montana, Jeff experiences visions of the people who once exclusively called the region home. In addition to the visions, he receives a gift from the Great Spirit of a Blue Eagle Feather.
Little does he know the significance of either the visions or the gift until he arrives on the reservation and meets the old man who can explain the meaning of both. Once all is revealed Jeff’s life changes forever.
Jeffrey Cooper graduated from the University of Wisconsin in May. Although he wished his family could be with him, he knew it was impossible. His parents Wayne and Susan Cooper were killed in a car accident when he’d been a small child, leaving his grandparents Tom and Cecilia Red Fox to raise him. Now with his grandmother gone since before his high school graduation, and his grandfather too sick to travel, he accepted his diploma with no one to cheer him on.
Of course, he had paternal grandparents, but he’d never met them. Because of his father’s decision to marry a Native American woman, they disowned the couple and never even saw their grandson.
It’s their loss, he thought as he waited for his name to be called. I’ve worked my butt off for this honor and I won’t let anything tarnish it.
With the ceremony finished and his diploma in hand, he prepared to leave his celebrating classmates. “Jeff,” a woman called from behind him.
Not recognizing the voice, he decided she must be calling to someone else. Instead of stopping, he continued toward the door and the beginning of his new life.
He could hear the clicks of a woman’s heels on the tile floor and they seemed to be following him.
“Jeffrey Cooper. Please stop.”
He turned to see a woman who appeared to be in her mid-forties with a slight resemblance to the pictures he had of his father, hurrying toward him.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
“I doubt it. I’m your father’s sister, your Aunt Kelly. I’ve been trying to find you for several years.”
“I haven’t been hiding.”
“I understand that, but when your father moved to Wisconsin and fell in love with your mother, my parents told me you were all dead. I never believed them. I did my research well and found their obituaries, including the fact they had a son. It wasn’t until this afternoon when I attended the graduation that I found you.”
“Why did you come to this graduation?” he asked, bewildered by the woman’s statement.
“My husband’s niece, Jennifer, was in your graduating class. We’re her Godparents and wanted to be here for her. It was my husband who saw your name among the graduates. We’d appreciate it if you would join us for dinner tonight.”
Jeff pondered her request for a moment. His car was packed with everything from his dorm room and he’d planned to leave immediately for his grandfather’s home on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation. “Give me a minute,” he said. “I’m expected at home this evening, but I can make a phone call and then give you my answer.”
She nodded and stepped aside to give him some privacy for his call.
The phone rang twice before it was answered by his grandfather’s companion, Alice Little Wolf. “Alice, it’s Jeff.”
“Is the ceremony over already?” she asked.
“Yes it is. I was planning to leave this afternoon, but something’s come up. Do you think Grandfather would mind if I didn’t get home until tomorrow?”
He waited a moment for his grandfather to come on the line. “I had a vision last night. Have you found your father’s family?”
Considering he’d spent his entire life with his grandfather, the old man’s visions never ceased to astound him. “Yes, Grandfather. My father’s sister, Kelly, was at the graduation today. She approached me. They want me to have dinner with them. It will probably be late by the time I’m able to leave Madison and...”
“You don’t need to say anything more. I’ve been praying for them to reach out to you ever since your parents were killed. Embrace your family, for this is just the beginning of the reunions you will be making in your life.”
“You never cease to amaze me. As much as I want to be with you, I feel this reunion is important in my life. I’ll be there tomorrow and...”
“Enjoy your newfound family, Jeffrey. I will not be going anywhere and I’m sure your aunt will want more time with you than just dinner tonight. I will see you next week and that will be soon enough. I have been blessed with knowing you your entire life, for this weekend give your aunt the same pleasure.”
They talked for a few more minutes before breaking the connection. When he hung up his cell phone, he turned back to where his aunt stood. The expression on her face told him she was anxious to hear whether he would be joining them in their celebration this evening.
“I just spoke to my grandfather and explained the situation,” Jeff said when he returned to her side. “He knew you found me before I told him. He is pleased with word of our reunion.”
“H-How did he know?” she stammered.
“My grandfather is a shaman. He has visions, ones that often predict the future. He said he has been praying to the Great Spirit for years in the hopes I would reunite with my father’s family.”
“The Great Spirit? Don’t you believe in God?”
Her question took him by surprise. Would she, like her parents, hold his Native American heritage against him? “I’m a Christian if that’s what you mean. So is my grandfather, but he also holds to the old traditions. It is his belief God and the Great Spirit are one and the same. They both hear and answer prayers. I hold both beliefs in my heart.”
Kelly smiled. “You are an amazing young man. We can talk more over dinner.”
* * * *
Jeff was pleased to see Kelly’s niece, Jennifer was in fact Jenny Grant, a girl he’d dated several times over the past few years. Unfortunately, she’d fallen in love with his roommate, Karl Rivers, and they were planning a wedding for the end of July.
He knew now, even if he hadn’t met his family at graduation, he would have at the wedding where he was to be one of the groomsmen.
“Honestly, Jeff, I never knew we were related,” Jenny said as Karl drove them to the restaurant her family chose for dinner.
“That’s right, Buddy, why were you holding out on us?”
“I wasn’t holding out on anyone. Until today, I’ve never even met any of my father’s family. I guess twenty-five years ago, when my folks were married, his family didn’t take kindly to a squaw man.”
“Come on, Jeff, you know that term is outdated. Are you sure it was the family and not your father’s doing?”
“No way. I was only a little kid when my folks were killed, but I do remember them talking about how much my father missed his family. Thank goodness, my mother’s parents embraced him as one of their own. I know Grandfather reached out to my other grandparents many times only to have his letters returned unopened. They’ve never wanted anything to do with me, so I’m nervous about this meeting with my aunt.”
“You shouldn’t be,” Jenny said. “Aunt Kelly is one of the greatest people in the world. In fact, she’s my favorite aunt. I can hardly wait for you to meet the rest of my family. Uncle Mike is my dad’s brother and of course my folks and my siblings are also here.”
For a brief moment, Jeff felt like he was going to be a fifth wheel. This was a celebration for Karl and Jenny with their extended family. He was beginning to wish he’d gone with his gut and turned down his aunt’s invitation. He could have been on his way home to the only true family he’d ever known by now.
Give them a chance; he heard his grandfather’s voice within the confines of his mind. This meeting was not a random act. God has orchestrated it to give you a chance to reunite with your father’s family. Soon they will be the only family you have and will become very important in your life.
Jeff shook his head. How does Grandfather do that? he silently asked. His only answer was his grandfather’s soft laughter.
Before he could back out, they pulled up to the restaurant where Jenny assured him the combined families had booked an entire banquet room.
In the sea of strangers filling the banquet room, Jeff was relieved to find Karl’s parents. Since they’d been roommates since freshman year, he’d met them every year at Parents’ Weekend. They’d even invited him to stay with them when he told them about the job at the reservation in Montana. As a stipulation of his scholarship, he would need to work on a reservation for five years before going into the mainstream education system.
As soon as he recognized them, Karl’s mother was at his side hugging him, offering her congratulations on his graduation. “I’m so sorry your grandfather couldn’t be with us today. He must be so proud of you.”
“He is. I spoke to him about an hour ago and told him of the change in plans and I was going to be joining you for the after graduation dinner. I decided I’d find somewhere to crash tonight and leave for home early tomorrow morning.”
“Don’t even worry about somewhere to stay tonight. I’m sure Karl won’t mind if you bunk with him in his hotel room. He has a double with his brother, but we can easily arrange for rollaway to be brought up.”
“Are you trying to hijack our nephew?” Kelly said, coming to greet Jeff.
“I don’t want to impose on anyone,” Jeff protested. “I’m sure I can find someplace to crash. If nothing else I can sleep in my car.”
The horrified expression on Kelly’s face told Jeff he should have probably kept his mouth shut.
“None of us will hear of such a thing. No nephew of mine is going to sleep in his car when our place is within driving distance. You’ll be staying at our house tonight just like everyone else.”
“Everyone else?” Jeff questioned.
“Jenny and Karl along with Karl’s parents will be coming back to the house tonight. Everyone wants to get together and finalize the plans for the wedding. I’m sure as soon as I tell my brother, Paul, about you, he’ll be over as well. They live quite close to me.”
“I thought Karl had a hotel room.”
“We haven’t told him yet, but we decided to cancel his reservations so we could have some good family time before they move out to start their new jobs,” Karl’s mother said.
He was sure this was something she’d made up on the spur of the moment. He wondered if she knew about this change of plans before Kelly said something.
Jeff worried about meeting his uncle, but would he have to meet the grandparents who never wanted anything to do with him in the past? “What about my grandparents?” He knew his voice sounded with apprehension, but he couldn’t help it.
“My mother died about five years ago. After her death, my father’s mind started to slip. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. It got bad enough we had to have him put in a facility specializing in Alzheimer’s care. It’s very hard to go there since he usually doesn’t know us.”
The irony of it brought a mixture of sadness and relief to Jeff’s mind. Being so close to his father’s family, he felt cheated not to be able to confront his grandfather with the anger he’d harbored for most of his life. On the other hand, he was relieved not to have to face the monster who refused to acknowledge him or even read the letters his maternal grandparents sent at least once a year ever since his parents’ deaths.
“It’s just as well,” he finally managed to say. “I don’t know if I would be very sociable. I didn’t know about it until I graduated from high school, but my grandparents, my mother’s parents, tried to contact them several times but all the letters were returned. My grandmother gave them to me. When I finally got up the nerve to read them, I realized they sent a copy of each of my school pictures, but the envelopes were never opened. Each was marked in the same way,” he hesitated for a moment, remembering the note on each envelope. In his mind’s eye, he could see the block letters reading RETURN TO SENDER—REFUSED. His voice dropped to almost a whisper as he related the words that were so hurtful to his aunt.
Kelly didn’t try to stem the flow of tears cascading down her cheeks. “We didn’t know,” she said, once she regained her composure. “My parents always said it was my brother who cut all ties with the family. I couldn’t believe it. I finally found my brother’s obituary and saw your name listed as his son, but I had no idea how to find you. Imagine my surprise to see your name listed on the commencement program. I showed it to my husband and his sister overheard me. She was the one who told me exactly who you were and that you were going to be the best man at Karl and Jenny’s wedding. It just seemed too coincidental to be true.”
Jeff nodded. “If I’m going to spend the weekend with your family, there will be a lot of time to talk about this. For now, let’s celebrate with Jenny and Karl.”
Kelly agreed but insisted they should be celebrating Jeff’s accomplishments as well.