The wind whips through the air, tugging at my coat and scarf. The drizzling rain seeks my exposed flesh, chilling me to the bone. I should go back to my car but I promised Grandpa I would come see the statue, the monument praising our ancestor. It is a condition he had added to his will. He left me a letter, with instruction to read it only when I stood before Great great Grandpa Harry. So here I am shivering and flustered.
The monument is life size but it’s still massive, Grandpa Harry was a bear of a man. At six foot seven, he towered over most men. His chest was broad and his hands were the size of dinner plates. He had unruly red hair that even covered his chest and arms. The statue shows him with a scowl on his face and his arms out stretched as if to grab something. He looks very imposing. The plague at the base of the statue says:
Here lies a true hero.
On October 5th 1857
Harold Abernathy Henderson,
saved his whole troop of one hundred and eighty men,
from the siege of the Northern Peyote Tribe.
He leapt from his post at the top of the wall and
single handedly confronted the angry savages.
His actions not only saved the day, but brought peace to the area.
He will never be forgotten.
I wonder why my Grandfather insisted I come here? I already know the history of Grandpa Harry. It’s something that has been passed down through the generations. His story is retold every Christmas and Thanksgiving since he died. Not every family has a real life hero to boast of. I walk over and sit at the base of the statue. His huge frame creates a shelter from the rain. I slowly open the letter; I don’t know which emotion is the strongest in me. There is sadness, for sure. Reading the last words of my dear Gramps, but there is also foreboding, because of the mysterious terms of his will.
Dear Sweet Pea,
I am going to tell you something that goes against everything you’ve ever been told. You will need to keep this to yourself for the family’s sake. This is the real story of my Great Grandfather, Harold Abernathy Henderson.
Harry was born in Kiltarlity, Scotland. The only son of Edina and Graham. In 1832, they migrated to the United States, to avoid the war that was brewing between the English and the Highlanders.
Harry was always a fun loving lad, but he lacked a bit of common sense. This and his innate clumsiness caused him a series of misadventures. As a young lad, he’d fallen in a pickle barrel and almost drowned. When he was twelve He’d climbed into the rafters of a barn, and fell twenty feet when a spider crawled on his hand. Luckily he fell into fresh hay and only ended up with a broken arm. He was a huge lad but he never became a bully himself because he was too good natured. His love of wrestling however soon gave him a reputation of someone to beware. He was always ready for a tussle and never lost a match. His roguish good looks and brawny size made him a bit of a ladies man too, which led to his future troubles.
In the summer of 1848 your great great gramp was accused of dishonoring three different women. I know you’re shocked, but it’s not like you think, he wasn’t a womanizer. He just loved the lassies and they loved him. This wasn’t the first time your great granddad had to fend off angry da’s because of his son. Once when Harry was just a wee lad, he was caught smooching the neighbor’s daughter. Then at 13, he was caught kissing the school marm, she was fired of course and his mom took over his schooling. This time was different, because one of those lasses was the governor’s daughter.
As I sat under the statue I started feeling light headed, my world started spinning and then I was an observer floating above.
“I didnae do nothing with her Da!” Harry shouted.
“She says you did! She says you pulled her behind the church last Sunday and forcibly stole a kiss!” His Da shouted back.
“Da! Ye know I like me lassie’s wee and bonnie, That, Julia is mo`r, bawfaced and a crabbit!”
“Aye, I admit ye don’t usually go for the big round faced lassies and her disposition is crabby, but her Da says Marriage is the only thing to save face.”
“I willnae dae that, she’s a bampot coo! Ye cannae make me!”
“Don’t ye be calling her an unhinged cow, if ye kept up your breeks we wouldn’t be here.
“Calm doon, Ma heid’s loupin, let me think. I won’t see ye merrit to a Sassenach, so I’m a feart ye need ta leave toon.”
“Lea! When? Where would I go?”
“Och aye, noo.”
“Now? But Da, what about Maw? I dinnae know where to go.”
“Ye’ll join with the dragoons, they’ll teach ye to be a duine ciallach, a responsible man. Let’s go hame and tell ye maw the news,”
Slowly they walked back to the homestead, both deep in thought about the future.
“Your maws in the scullery, go say your goodbyes while I dig out me wellies.”
Harry walks into the kitchen, his mother is chopping vegetables for dinner.
“Dinnae be skulking in the shadows like a whipped dug. I’ve hear’t the news in toon, you’re to merrit that Sassenach lass. Geeza haun and we’ll talk.”
Harry picks up a knife and starts cutting the vegetables, “Maw, I’m ta lea, Ah willnae merrit Julia.”
“Yer bum’s oot the windae!”
“Nae Maw, I’m not talking rubbish, I’m joinin up with the dragoons. Ah lea tonight.”
“Nae, Ah dinnae want to loose me bairn!”
“I’m a mun noo and it’s time for me to go on an da`nachd.”
“Ye want adventure! What of ye Da and me?”
“Wheest, keep the heid, lass!” his Da shouted from the door.
“Da! Dinnae yell at maw! I dinnae want ye to fash yersels.” Harry said sadly.
His Da handed him the wellies and his Maw bagged up some food for the road. She wrapped her arms around him and laid her head on his chest,
“Mar sin leat, my son. Guid luck.”
“Farewell Maw, I love you and Da.” Harry nodded to his parents and left for the next chapter of his life.
Harry was lost again, he’d been on patrol with his troop when he’d started daydreaming and wondered away from the column. He just got bored so easy. No one had notice since he’d been banished to the back of the column for the same thing last week. Having no idea where he was, he wondered aimlessly until he came to a stream. He went over to a large shade tree and sat down. He wondered what they would do if he just left, but remembered what happened to those who deserted their post. With a sigh, he pondered his likely punishments; if he was lucky he’d be stuck on scullery duty, peeling tatties. If he wasn’t so fortunate… He looked up when he heard splashing in the stream, there before him was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Her skin was a light cooper color and her hair was long and black as coal. She was wearing a fringed buckskin skin dress and was holding up the hem of her dress as she happily splashed in the stream.
“What a bonnie lass ye are.” Harry said as he stood and walked to the stream. Startled eyes met his before she started to run. Harry picked up her moccasins from the bank and ran after her. She didn’t get far because of the rocks and twigs. She watched him in fright as he came closer to where she’d fallen. She was holding unto her injured foot.
“Ahh Lassie, look what you’ve done to yourself. He softly murmured. “I willnae hurt you.” He held out her mocassins. When she tentatively took them, he sat down in front of her.
“Let me see your foot,” he said as he reached toward her. He gently lifted to foot up and saw a large thorn sticking out of it. “This might hurt a wee bit, Lass.” He pulled the thorn free, but didn’t immediately let go of her foot, he rubbed the small wound as he studied her. She was even more beautiful than he’d thought. Her eyes had an exotic tilt and her lips were the color of ripe peaches. He stared at her as she stared at him,
“Aiyana” a voice called out. The maiden jumped to her feet. When Harry started to stand, she put her hand on his arm and motioned for him to stay and be quiet. Then she fled toward the voice. Harry stood in the shadows of a tree and watched her leap onto the back of the horse a brave was on and ride away.
Harry was surprised at the flare of jealousy he felt, he wonder what the brave was to her. He was thinking of her beauty, until a spider crawled up his leg. He leaped up in panic, screaming and tearing at his pant leg. The battered spider fell to the ground and skittered away as Harry continued to jump up and down in terror. Only when he saw the spider crawling away did he calm down. He was deathly afraid of spiders, he knew it was irrational, but that didn’t change the fact.
Harry started walking again, searching the ground for more spiders. Soon he heard voices and was relieved to see it was his troop, they were just about to enter the fort, so Harry fell into step behind them.
“I thought we lost you again, Harry.” One of the men commented.
“Nah, been right behind ya.” Harry mumbled, hoping his captain didn’t notice is absence.
Harry’s mind kept wandering to the beautiful maiden. When he was on patrol, he’d drift away. When on KP duty, he wistfully stared into space. When mucking stalls, he didn’t pay attention to where he was chucking the filth. Until he heard his captain scream his name, looking up he saw he’d covered him in horse droppings.
So now he was stuck gathering firewood for all the barracks. Unusually the whole unit was assigned the task, but because of the muck episode it was now his job alone.
He was carefully picking up wood, checking each for spiders first, when he heard a soft whisper.
“Lootah Paytah.” He looked around, seeing nothing he continued to pick up firewood. A small stone hit him upside the head.
“Lootah Paytah.” He heard it again, but this time he saw a small hand beckoning from behind the bushes. He went over to it and peeked behind. There was the beautiful maiden.
“Lass, what are you doing here?”
“I come to Lootah Paytah.”
“Who is Lootah Paytah?”
“You, Red Bear, Lootah Paytah.”
“Red Bear, I like that lass. What do I call you?”
“My name Aiyana, means eternal bloom.”
“Eternal Bloom, the name suits you.”
Harry led her away from the fort. They spent the next few hours getting to know each other. Soon it’s time for Aiyana to return home, but she promised to return. She was fascinated by the large redheaded man. Harry returned to the fort empty handed, but happily whistling a merry tune.
“Henderson! Where is the firewood?” His captain yells.
“Dinnae fash yersef, I’ll go back and get it” Harry says absentmindedly.
“Three days in the guardhouse for you, next time show respect and don’t shirk your duties.” The Captain shouted and Harry was taken away. Those three days, seemed like a hundred to Harry, once he was released he asked his Captain if he could go retrieve the firewood he’d forgotten. The Officer said yes and Harry hurriedly went into the forest. Aiyana was waiting for him. For the next three months they spent every moment they could together, their souls were one and they made plans for the future. They planned to go to his parents when he was discharged and build a home on his portion of the property.
Soon Harry’s captain became suspicious of his frequent absences, but he wasn’t the only one. Aiyana’s father had become suspicious of his daughters trips into the forest too. He followed her one morning, only to see her run into the embrace of a large hairy white man. Enraged he shrieked and charged Harry. Harry saw a fierce warrior coming at them and shoved Aiyana behind him. He dipped low into one of his favorite wrestling stances, easily grabbing the warrior around the waist and flipping him over his shoulder. Then he pinned him to the ground.
“No, No, don’t hurt him! He, Chief Liwanu of the Northern Peyote... and my father.” Aiyana cried.
“Your Da?” The old warrior took advantage of Harry’s inattention and kick out from under him, stabbing him in the shoulder as he did. Harry backhanded the warrior, knocking him out.
“ ‘At`e, ‘At`e.” Aiyana fell to the ground beside her father.
“I’m sorry, he’ll be fine, he’s breathing.” Harry sobbed. “Aiyana please, don’t be mad.”
“You go before he wakes.”
“What about you? Will I see you again?” Harry bent down and took her hand.
“I will try my Lootah Paytah.” She murmured kissing his lips. “Go now, others might come.”
Harry hurriedly ran to the fort, the Captain saw him as he came through the gate.
“Where have you been and why are you bleeding?” Harry didn’t think, he just uttered the first thing that came to mind.
“Injuns!” His Captain yelled and started issuing orders to secure the fort. “Get that looked at, then get on the wall.”
Harry cleaned the wound then climbed the ladder to his post on top of the wall. Why had he said Indians? He should of said bear or tree or anything other than Indians. He dreaded to think what his parents would say, he’d been sent here because of women problems. Now he was back in the same predicament and with the chief’s daughter no less. He sighed, he loved Aiyana though with all his heart and worried about their future.
Fear lodged in his heart when he saw the warriors surrounding the fort, how would they ever be together if their peoples went to war. He slumped down into the corner in despair. He could hear the warriors shrieking and riding back and forth in front of the fort. A flaming arrow hit the inside corner near where he sat. He peaked out over the wall and saw Aiyana’s father, his feathered headdress trailed down over his horse’s rump and his face was painted for war. Her father saw Harry too and more arrows rained down upon him.
Suddenly, he noticed the spiders crawling all over his body they’d been dislodged from the timbers by the fire. Harry leapt to his feet, screaming and spinning around. The warriors stopped and watched the red headed giant on the wall in total surprise. Harry continued screeching and pawing at himself as the spiders invaded his clothes. He was so terrified he forgot where he was and tumbled over the wall and fell into a large bush below. He was only quiet for an instant, then he jumped up and resumed his terrified dance. He ran toward the Indians yelling and hitting himself, he fell and rolled under the horses in a frenzy to remove the spiders. The horses reared and pawed the ground in agitation.
“PauWau! PauWua!” the Indians cried, begging their chief to let them leave. Aiyana ran from the forest and through herself between her tribe and Harry.
“Lootah Paytah meli Angeni PauWau, A great witch! He calls the dark spirits down!” She yelled at her father.
Her father looked into her eyes and then at the red haired giant.
“Matchitisu meli molimo,” he said to his people, then in English he spoke for the inhabitants of the fort.
“The Red Bear calls evil Magic, crazy, this place is now valley of death to us, we will not return.” He looked at his daughter in sorrow, knowing he would never see her again. He refused to look back after he turned away.
The soldiers came out of the fort and picked up Harry who had finally stopped moving.
“I am his wife!” Aiyana told them as the men carried Harry inside. Aiyana sat with Harry all through the night; she spoke of their future and told him of his child growing inside her. Though delirious Harry let her know how happy he was to be a father. He died the next day from the spider bites, but Aiyana knew he left with her soul because of the smile on his lips.
So you see my dear Sweet Pea, your Great, great Grandpa Harry wasn’t the Hero everyone thinks and Great great Grandma Ana is actually, Aiyana daughter of the chief. She never remarried and the moment of her death her lips curled into a smile. I know she was reunited with her love. Always remember the love of Red Bear and Eternal blossom, that is our family legacy.
Tears run down my face as I promise to never forget.
Who needs a hero, when you have a beautiful love story?