This story is set in the 1950s. Gloria St. Clair's great grandmother, Great Mam, is a displaced Cherokee--one of the Bird Clan's "Beloved Women" who "keep track of things"--who moved from her tribal home in Tennessee to Kentucky with the white man whose children she bore. Gloria's father, a coal miner, decides that the family should take Great Mam back to Tennessee for a last visit before she dies.

The journey is a disaster, revealing that remnants of Cherokee life have been reduced to poverty and tawdry tourism. Gloria realizes, though, that Great Mam's heritage has survived, not in the place she came from, but in what she has passed on to her great granddaughter: Great Mam has given Gloria the nickname "Waterbug" after the creature that, according to Native American myth, retrieved the earth from the bottom of the sea, and in remembering this and all the other stories Great Mam told her, Gloria becomes the next one whose task is to retrieve the past, to "keep track of things."


This moving story shows both how cultural heritages are lost with the death of the elderly and how important a role narrative plays in caring for the aged and the dying, and in preserving cultural continuity. The lost Cherokee of the Hiwassee Valley, represented by a pitiful old one-eyed buffalo kept in a pen as a tourist attraction, are physically absent, and Gloria's father's well-meaning attempt to take his grandmother home merely underlines her physical displacement, but the child recognizes the importance of remembering Great Mam's stories and becomes, almost without knowing it, her true descendent.

Primary Source

Homeland and Other Stories


Harper & Row

Place Published

New York



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