NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 82

Undertow By excerpted from Going to Water ANNETTE CLAPSADDLE Born and raised on the Qualla Boundary in rural western North Carolina, young Osley Sololoneet yearns for more than the relative safety of home. As Osley pursues personal success over communal obligation, but quickly learns that the sacrifices required will not be his alone. In 1924, Osley joins the Marine Corp in Chicago then remains in Chicago to work for the railroad. When the charismatic wrestling manager/promoter, Charles Cutler, discovers him at a local gym, Osley is fast-tracked into professional wrestling. When the Great Depression roots itself in Chicago, Osley and Cutler make the most important decision of either of their lives. Osley will brand an image and become the “Cherokee Chief.” Osley’s vibrantly colored Plains Indian headdress and haphazardly placed war paint earn him female and male admirers alike, but seed uneasiness within him. 80 Eventually, the Depression forces Osley to realize his greatest opportunities may lie back home as well, where he eventually plans to open a trading post and continue wrestling on the southeastern circuit. Grappling all the while with cultural authenticity and community obligation, Osley juggles careers in professional wrestling, tribal government, and souvenir peddling, finding that they are all inextricably linked in the world of love, politics, and identity. Osley also manages to woo and marry the bull-head, yet beautiful Martha. The only problem is, he hasn’t placed enough energy in keeping her. Osley is heralded as a hometown hero, but realizes that he still is not quite sure of what “home” is. The eventual death of Culter, Osley’s re-election run, and an opportunity to defend his championship title lead the proud Osley to refuse amputation as a last-ditch diabetic treatment. This final decision to preserve perception over authentic reality leads to the untimely morphine death of Osley Sololoneet. The reader is left with his legacy embodied in the tiny physique of his son and the ever-formidable Martha. n Osley knew exactly where the undertow was as he dug his callused feet into the sandy Oconaluftee riverbed. It was the same place, twenty years later, as it had been in 1927 when he was just a kid. Sweat mingled with tears, streaming down the hollows of Osley’s face. He was twenty-six feet upstream from it, so rooted in the riverbed he started to question where his body began and where the waters ended. Those on the shore never really knew either. So they drew the lines, told the story from dozens of angles, filters of fog, and inherited memories. Osley was upstream from the undertow, downstream from the undertow, and squarely in its realm. But Osley’s day had begun much differently. His tribal levy proposal was overwhelmingly voted in by Tribal Council, the only proposal Osley had ever had passed without resistance. Tourism in Cherokee seemed to grow at the same rate as Osley’s son, George, who found himself in a state of near perfect toddler health and overwhelming rambunctiousness. A relief to his parents after the struggles of his birth. The Trading Post bustled with even more locals than before, appreciative that what they spent at the lunch counter stayed in Cherokee. They came, also, to chatter about his upcoming re-election bid for Principal Chief and Osley made the time to listen. Osley had spent so long establishing himself as “the other,” in the performance wrestling world, he was relieved to accept the “one of us” role after confronting Washington in the Council Chambers. Though he certainly still had opponents, the transition came with greater ease than he had anticipated. Sure, the monotony of running a business and holding a government office itched Osley’s sense of adventure, but he felt fortunate to have survived relentless personal and professional turmoil and still find humor.