My entire family loved to tell stories about their ancestors and share folklore that was unique to them. While I never had the opportunity to meet someone from every branch of our family tree, my grandparents and great grandparents were excellent at keeping photos, letters, diaries, and other records that helped us to understand our lineage.
My great-great grandmother was Cherokee Indian. She died long before I was born, so of course I never met her. However, my great grandmother kept a lot of her diaries and letters, which she willingly shared with me. There was also a book of Cherokee lore that she would read to me when I was sick or when I was having trouble getting to sleep. One of my favorite stories from the book had to do with the Cherokee take on the origin of strawberries.
As with most Native American tribes, the Cherokee respected the earth and its many gifts to its people. They considered berries to be some of the most precious foods provided from the soil of the Creator.
Huckleberries were most common and blackberries the most rare. Other berries like raspberries and blueberries were held in equal esteem by the Cherokee people. But there were, at the time, no strawberries to be found anywhere.
As the story goes, there was a young Cherokee couple who was promised to each other upon their birth. They married and soon discovered that they loved each other very much. They seemed to enjoy their first few years together. However, as they became older, they began to grow apart.
The Indian maiden became unhappy because she thought her husband no longer loved her. Lonely and afraid, she prayed to the great spirits for release. Her prayers were answered, but not in the way she had imagined.
One morning, when she awoke beside her husband, the maiden looked at him without recognition. Her memory of him and her love for him had been totally erased. Not knowing what to do, the young girl dressed and simply walked away from her home, her tribe, and everything she knew.
Her husband, upon finding out that his wife had left him, began to grieve. It took him no time at all to discover that he didn’t want to live without her because she was the happiness in his life. So he vowed to find her and bring her home.
He asked the Creator to help him accomplish his task. However, before agreeing to do so, the Creator asked the warrior if he could find it in his heart to forgive his wayward wife for wishing to forget him. He thought it about for the briefest moment and then stated that he could forgive her anything at all.
With the Creator’s help, the warrior was able to track his wife, but she was several days ahead of him and he feared he wouldn’t be able to reach her before winter set in. Amidst the snow, he feared he would lose her trail, thereby losing his beloved forever.
The Creator decided to distract the maiden so her husband might finally catch up to her. He put a row of luscious huckleberries along her pathway, certain she would stop to gather some of them. But the maiden continued along her way, without hesitation.
Next, the Creator put a row of raspberries along the path. Once again, however, the maiden didn’t bother to stop.
Certain that the rare blue or blackberries would stop the maiden in her tracks, the Creator lined the path on one side with blueberries and the other with blackberries. Though the maiden glanced at both bushes, she did not stop to gather any of the rare berries.
With her warrior husband quickly losing ground, the Creator knew he had to find something quickly. So he created a whole new plant that was ripe with luscious and huge red berries like none that had ever been seen before.
Having never before seen berries of this type, the maiden stopped to examine them closely. Sitting on the ground, she picked a few of the fruits, first feeling their texture and then smelling their wonderfully sweet fragrance. It was quite a while before she decided to take a bite and, in the mean time, her husband had grown closer to where his wife sat.
Finally, the maiden could wait no longer and she took a tiny bite out of a berry. As she did, the memory of her husband’s face popped into her mind and her heart began to flutter. With each successive bite, more of her memories returned; each one more precious than the one before.
Gathering the berries in her skirt, the maiden turned and began to retrace her steps home. As she reached the top of a hill and looked down, she saw her husband traveling the same path toward her. She ran to share the wonderful new treats with the man she realized that she loved more than her own life.
As they ate the berries together, they promised to never allow life to force them apart. Any time that they got angry with one another, or lost their way, the couple would go to gather strawberries, making time to be alone together. And because they did, they managed to live a long and happy life.
Even when I was little, I understood what the story meant. Sometimes things happen that make people forget that they love one another. Anger, selfishness, and fear can force people apart if they refuse to remember what brought them together in the first place.
While the strawberries may have been metaphorical in this story, I have to say that makes them nonetheless magical in their amazing texture, fragrant scent, or sweet, succulent taste.
Life can be very much like a strawberry; either too tart and not worth having or so sweet and delicious that you can’t imagine it not being there. For that, I thank the Creator of all things and to my people, I offer grateful thanks for this beautiful story.