On my walk with Edith this morning, we passed a nearby street called Sequoia Drive. I went to elementary school at a place called Sequoyah Elementary for second through fifth grades. Before that, when I was in kindergarten in another city altogether, my mother painted a picture of Sequoyah for the State of Tennessee. I forget exactly why; it was to be used for some reason or other, and it was a big deal commission. Every day for weeks, a man came to our house and put on a modified bathrobe of my mother’s and sat on a little platform my father had built in the living room and my mother painted him. This is the painting, if you’re curious, and now that I’ve told you he was wearing a bathrobe, you probably will spot it right off. While she was doing research for this painting (or maybe later, I don’t remember exactly), I found myself at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum a lot more often and for much, much longer than I cared to be there. I spent what seems in recollection like hours there bored as hell and waiting for my parents to finish whatever they were doing there. Back then, we didn’t have cell phones, so kids (or at least only children like me) were forced to spend hours on end in places like single room roadside museums, just staring at some clay pots in a glass case.
All of this is to say that the word “Sequoyah” has been omnipresent in my life and has many associations. But yet, when I see it, I do not think of any of these things.
The first summer camp I ever went to was called Camp Sequoyah. It had no relationship with Sequoyah Elementary at all, and in fact, was in a totally different state, and it’s weird, now that I think about it, that absolutely everything in my young life was named after Sequoyah, but at the time I took it for granted. I did not especially love this camp; I didn’t make any friends there and everyone was mean to me, and I was homesick, and through a postal mixup I received a large package of cotton underwear on my birthday which I proudly opened in front of a small crowd who had gathered to see my present, and I fell off my upper bunk directly onto my face.
Actually now that I’ve gotten into this story, I remember a certain incident which seems to me typical of the reason I had trouble making friends as a child. We were all at the pool and comparing blemishes (as girls do), and this girl in my cabin was showing us some curious skin tags on her upper thigh. She was pointing out how weird they were, and I said, “That’s so interesting. Did you ever try cutting one off with scissors?” Because to me, they just looked extremely cuttable; that would have been the first thing I would have tried. But there was a shocked silence, and she said, “No! Of course not.” And I saw this sort of appalled look on everyone’s faces. This kind of shit happened all the time when I was a kid — I was forever saying things like this that were just things you don’t say, real reputation killers. I’d finally be getting along with other girls, and then something like this would just fly out of my mouth and I’d see those expressions and know the jig was up.
But I digress. Anyway, we sang a bunch of repetitive songs at that camp and one of them is what I actually think of every time I see the word Sequoyah (whatever spelling):
And when I die, I’ll be Sequoyah dead!
We sang that. At summer camp. A bunch of little white children. That’s really weird, right? Like now that I think about it, it’s really fucking weird!
It’s also hilarious, don’t get me wrong. Whatever camp counselor came up with that and successfully got it into the official camp songbook (yes, there was one, on photocopied paper stapled together) was a subversive genius.
But weird! And yet, I was the weird one for suggesting that if one had a skin tag, one might try to snip it off.
Anyway, what do we think Sequoyah himself would have thought of all this?