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FICTION Cherokee Deirdre H. Gage AT HER COCKTAIL PARTIES MY MOTHER could never resist telling everyone how I was conceived in the back seat of a '57 Chevy. "My little Katie is part Chevrolet," she'd say with that great laugh she's got. This confused me when I was real little and we were studying Native Americans in school. I got it in my head that Chevrolet was a tribe—like Cherokee. I have always had an active imagination. Anyway, when we learned about the different tribes and their reservations, I concluded the dealership where Daddy and Granddad worked was like the Chevrolet Reservation. My teacher said the Indians felt they had been cheated by the white people, and they spent a lot of time sitting around their reservations complaining. I'd been to the dealership enough to know that nearly everyone who came in there talked about being robbed blind, taken for all theywere worth. Sounded like the same thing to me. My parents had no idea we were part of a tribe of car dealers— until we took that vacation to Wilmington, North Carolina, when I was eight. To get there, you have to pass by Cherokee, a real tourist-trap of an Indian town a lot of people visit on their way to the beach or to the mountains for camping. I think Daddy would love to have camped, but you do not take Penny Fay Mullins to a place with no indoor plumbing, thank you very much. So we were on our way to Wrightsville Beach, where we had a house for two weeks. It was a long drive, let me tell you. It takes about twelve hours to get down there from Kentucky—too short to make it a two-day trip, too long for a one-day trip tobepleasant. Momma and Daddyhad started arguing somewhere near the Tennessee-North Carolina border, where 1-40 started whipping around the mountains and Daddy started racing semis. I saw the signs for Cherokee and started begging. I don't think we would ever have stopped, had they not been so tired of each others' voices. I was thinking here was my big chance to see what other reservations look liked. I was eight and thought I was searching for my roots or something. Daddy, we gotta stop! I want to see a gift shop. Please, please, please! Pretty please with sugar on top! I was thinking these shops would be like the parts-counter at the dealership back home. I loved that counter—all those shiny hubcaps 50 and nuts and the cash register. I used to steal the little pads they wrote down orders on. I'd make my friends play Car Repair with me—which consisted of one girl scribbling down on the yellow pad of paper while the other (usually me) hopped up and down yelling, You're takin' me to the goddamn cleaners! Daddy was ready for a break when I started begging, and so he said, "All right honey, but we can only stay for a half-hour. Your mother and I are tired from all this driving, and we'd like to get to the beach house." "That's okay, Daddy." I answered. "You and Momma can sit in the chairs in the gift shop." See, I knew they'd have chairs—just like in the Waiting Area back home. Daddy kind of raised his eyebrow at my mother, but she just shrugged. She thought I was crazy from the day I was born. We pulled off the highway and drove down the strip of Tee-Pee Hotels, Wampum Gas Stations and the Little Squaw Beauty Salon. It all looked enough like the Mobile stations, Burger Queens and muffler shops that surrounded Daddy's dealership—I figured I'd come to the right place. Now, I got a little confused once we pulled in front of this store, because the mock log-cabin motif did not look like the cement-block structure where Daddy worked. But I was worldly enough to realize I couldn't expect everybody to do stuff exactly like they did back home. This was North Carolina...


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