The other night, while sifting through some boxes in our garage at 12:45 a.m., I felt the world shift ever so slightly. Everyone else in our home was sound asleep and could not partake in the celebratory dance I did right there on the dirt-filled concrete. But if anyone had been around to hear it, I might have squealed aloud. Instead, I squealed in the quiet of my heart.
I purposefully looked at the clock shortly after opening a certain box because in that moment, I was reunited with something I’ve waited three years to find. It was three years ago that we moved into our current home in October, just before the weather turned frigid. We didn’t get the final layer of boxes unpacked and out of the garage. Young children and an intense writing project kept me away from the task for the next two years as well. But this spring, prompted by plans of a rummage sale, I was more determined than ever to visit those boxes-in-waiting. I knew that if the object I sought did not turn up there, I would have to surrender and consider it a loss.
Which is why, as I zeroed in on the final boxes and was coming up empty, my heart started to pound with sadness. Please, please be here. This is the last hope. And then, in a shoe box within a larger box containing mainly photo albums, I found it: the copy of my great-grandfather’s book I thought I might never see again.
Granted, there are other copies of the book in our family. But each is precious and rare, and none of them belong to me. I have waited three years to be reunited with this book. And though I’ve gone on with my life in the duration, every so often that nagging feeling would come back, and I would wonder whether it had been permanently misplaced.
The book, Soldiers of the Plains, is dedicated by my great-grandfather, Patrick E. Byrne, to “The Indian Dead.” It was published in 1926 after oodles of research had been conducted, and countless hours had been spent putting it all together in cohesive form. His intent: to offer another perspective of the wars fought by our Native brothers in an effort to retain their homeland. He felt that the press had not given the Native people proper honor in depicting their bravery and honor. Anyone alive these days who is honest and fair-minded would have to agree. That said, at the time his view was not well-received by the family of George Custer. According to my great-grandmother, the Custer family threw its weight around in New York well enough to halt publication of the book. Thus, it did not get the circulation it deserved.
Which explains one of the reasons my reunion with the book was such a happy one. Although I never had a chance to meet my great-grandfather, I admire him for devoting so much of his life to a cause such as this. He didn’t live long enough to know that his granddaughter, my mother, would end up working 37 years on a reservation, teaching and loving the very people he had wished to honor. Nor did he know his great-granddaughter would someday open that red book and find within its pages his vibrant, justice-minded spirit.
His earthly self might not have held this knowledge. However, I believe he’s been with me through my own writing pursuits, as well as in how I have processed my growing-up experiences. And I believe he may well have been with me in the garage the other night as well, making sure I didn’t do my celebratory dance alone.