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Finding my heritage

PAULETTE BALLARD
Guest Columnist

As told by John Polantz
John Polantz, 77, tells me he never really understood why as a child he was always interested in archery. No one else in his family showed this interest, but he was passionate about it. He tells me, “Since I was a toddler I was cutting sticks and making bows and arrows to play with.”
Polantz goes on to say, “In 1967 while riding a motorcycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I rode down the mountain toward Cherokee and I felt an odd sensation pass over me as I crossed the Qualla boundary. It was as if a sensation of something familiar was meshing with my soul. I pulled off to the side of the road and paused for a few minutes just staring at the picturesque landscape surrounding me. The lady who was with me, who later became my wife, asked me if something was wrong with the bike. I responded, ‘Nothing is wrong with the bike. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I have just come home.’
“Some years later I found a picture of my great-grandmother with a child on her lap. I asked my mother who was in the picture. Mom said, ‘That is me in the picture with my grandmother. I’m not sure if she was full blooded Cherokee or part Cherokee, but you have Cherokee heritage.’
Wanting to know more about this, I did some research and found my great-grandmother’s obituary. I was able to trace her heritage and her parents into Cherokee. My aunt went to the Department of Defense and delved into records there. She found more information about our family revealing many, many generations back I had a great uncle who was a wagon master in the Civil War in NC.
“Wanting to be an advocate of my heritage, I now participate with a group where I’m the story teller of the Cherokee legends. I dress in the period clothing of the early 1800s and I keep the stories as they were written without embellishing any of it. I keep it as true as it should be.
“I am also one of many who participates in a ride the third weekend in September in which motorcycle riders from Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee come together in Cherokee for a ride that travels to Chattanooga, Tenn., Florence, Ala. and ends in Oklahoma.
“At 8 a.m. we prepare to leave and the shaman stands in front of us with a bucket of burning sage. Legend says the burning sage is a symbol for safe travel. The shaman is considered a powerful person and is often referred to as the medicine man. Each rider passes through the smoke of the burning sage as our trip begins. This trip honors all Indian tribes, not just the Cherokee band. I once asked a state trooper how long he thought the two lines of motorcycles was and he said they had measured it at 28 miles long.
“When my mother died, the pastor from a Pentecostal church presided over the service. I gave him a CD of music and told him this CD was to be the only music played. I told him it was Christian music but he would not understand the words. After the service, he asked me what language the music was in and I told him it was sung in Cherokee. At the gravesite, the Pentecostal pastor said his piece and an old mountain pastor spoke. Following this I went up and spoke goodbye to my mother in Cherokee, our native language.”
Paulette Ballard collects interesting, funny and unusual stories from people in and around Lincolnton. If you have a story you would like to submit for her column, e-mail it to pballardnc1029@yahoo.com. In the subject line type “For your column.” Include your name and phone number for her to contact you.

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