Fires of Spring
Native Americans had the most complex naming tradition. In the Native American naming tradition, names should change. Children receive names that are descriptive and changed again as they go through life, according to what their life experiences and accomplishments are. Society bestows a new name – a new name is earned. It’s an old Native Indian saying that “Some people are like lakes. They change very little as they age. Some people are like rivers. When you trace the Mississippi, or any other river at its source, it can be very small. Later on it can be wide and strong. When it meets the ocean, it spreads out.” In other words, names should change as the individual changes.
She turned and looked at me. Her face had changed; the scowl that I’d just seen turn away from me, in the other direction, had become a beaming smile that lit the air between us.
“You’d do that? You’d do that for me?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Well it’s a long way to go, for one thing and you won’t know anyone apart from me.”
“Hey, am I bothered?” I replied, trying to look confident and completely at ease with my decision. All the while, my insides were doing a jig. My nerves were jangling. What was I agreeing to do? I hardly knew this girl.
“They definitely won’t be – bothered, I mean. In fact they’ll be pretty darned impressed that you agreed to be my Plus-One at the wedding – how long have we known each other? Six weeks?”
“Five actually…maybe six if we include that coffee I spilt over you, I mean six weeks in all by the time I got your clothes back to you all dry and laundered and everything…”
My brain was telling me to shut up, right there and then, but my mouth just kept on going.
“Ahh…it was sweet of you to do that…and I don’t mean the coffee spill! My clothes haven’t been that clean and pressed since I came here. I still owe you, by the way.”
“Nah, we sorted that – you don’t owe me anything. My spill, my bill!”
She narrowed her eyes and stared. She’d insisted that she pay half for the dry clean; after all, she’d walked into me. But I’d ignored her – and, well, it didn’t become an argument exactly, more of a stand-off. We’d parked it. But when she narrowed her eyes like that, her Cherokee ancestry came alive in her face, her body language, everything.
But this time, all I got was “Hmm”.
She was a feisty girl…and funny and bright and beautiful. Befittingly, her Native American name was ‘Fires of Spring’. To me though she was Euna. Euna Kingfisher. Her Cherokee ancestors had been mountain dwellers, living along the ridges that lined the Keowee River. Her ancestral family had tilled the fertile land in the valleys and hunted the deer that ran wild across the hills. They had built townships that were called the Lower Towns, found in what is present-day western Oconee County, South Carolina.
And now she was going back to visit and to be at the wedding of two friends of old. That’s where I come in, The Plus-One.
“It’s near a two-day car ride, but you’ll see some incredible scenery on the way. It’ll seem like two hours! We’ll have fun!”
There it was again. The energy. Her father had insisted on using an old Native Indian tradition to give her the Cherokee name that she’d keep through her growing years, until marriage. When she was born, he was blindfolded and led out onto the hillside. He was turned around a couple of times and then the blindfold was removed. Her name was to be formed from the first things that he saw. What he saw in the distance was a powerful wildfire, running and jumping its course at the far side of the spring-fed lake. He always said it was too easy. So ‘Fires of Spring’ it was. And for her city days, and for me, Euna Kingfisher.
And that’s how I found myself alongside Euna, driving the Interstate 85 on a two-day journey from Washington DC to Westminster, South Carolina. And I also knew, in the first few minutes of our journey, that I was in love.
The truck came out of nowhere. We’d turned back onto the Interstate, after a break for coffee. I was driving, Euna sitting in the passenger seat, eyes closed, smiling and humming along to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’. I glanced over at her. Just glanced. That’s all it took for my world to become a shrieking hell of burning rubber and twisted metal.
I spent two years recovering from the physical damage to my body and then a life-time of not recovering from the mental pain of what happened that day.
Contrary to the old saying, Euna isn’t like a lake at all – and there will be no new name for her. Neither is she like a river. She’s a spring, my spring, forever bubbling in one place and yet flowing through my fingers. That old saying never taught us about springs. And the fire? The fire continues to burn, not in her heart, but in mine.