"I look for stories that are one-of-a-kind.
In covering American Indian affairs, I traveled more than 100 miles into Adair County to find a happily married couple amid feuding tribes.
There's the time I waded waist-deep into a creek alongside a Cherokee gig fisher. He armed me with refashioned bed springs attached to a wooden spear. I caught two crawfish that day.
But those do not top the last fluent speaker of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes. She was a true monument. This lady belonged to the same tribe I was from, but she was not related to me.
She was an elder, meaning she attained that status by having a long life. Dressed in an apron much like my grandma used to wear, her voice rang clear as a bell. Something began to work in me.
I would ask a question, but I heard something besides the answers. Like a faraway radio station one can get only in certain conditions, I picked up a signal on my internal frequency.
I wrote the story, but the low humming inside me was rising. I can speak a smattering of my language and sing our hymns, and I know basics like counting, but I will never be fluent.
It dawned on me that I was feeling grief. The feeling was both tangible and empty.
Defined, grief is a cause of keen distress or sorrow from loss. Bingo."
Get the Story:
S.E. Ruckman: Sorrow is felt for a vanishing language
(The Tulsa World 1/14)
Oklahoma woman is last fluent speaker of Wichita