Ashby's family lived in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee, near a
small area called Sevierville. She was born in Blount Memorial hospital,
in nearby Maryville, Tennessee at 2:15 am on August 16, 1952. Her
mother was a pure blooded Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian. Her father
was a stout, dedicated, hard working man, who worked for the FBI.
He was a special agent, who was assigned to duty in Washington, DC.
She and her father were not able to spend a lot of time together.
father, Tommy Ashby was in charge of a special branch of the FBI,
whose responsibility included working with the Secret Service in
protecting the president of the United States. He was away much
of the time, and Jennifer, her two sisters and two brothers were
left home with their mother, Hattie Mae Ashby. Jennifer's two living
grandparents, Hattie Mae's parents were both proud, pure blooded
Cherokee Indians as well. Her Grandfather, Edgar Feathers, was her
favorite person in the world. Her grandparents lived in a tiny community
called Watauga, Tennessee. Her grandmother, Winnie was another of
her favorite people. She called her grandfather, "grandad",
or "grandaddy", and she called her grandmother, "mammaw".
always looked forward to trips to grandad and mammaw's house. The
house was a beautiful looking home set up on the top of a hill,
overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains. Since she was a little baby,
she maintained vivid recollections of the wonderful times that she
and her grandad had spent together. He was always so loving and
kind to her.
she grew older, he began to tell her stories about her Cherokee
heritage. Some of the stories were interesting legends, and some
were sad, but truthful recollections of what the Cherokee people
had been forced to endure throughout their proud history.
grandad would take her on walks in the woods and through areas of
the mountains to teach her all about nature. Often times, he would
take her fishing, which Jennifer loved. Other times, he would take
her foraging for berries, which her grandmother made into delicious
jelly and jam. It was a wonderful experience.
night, when Jennifer was seven years old, her grandfather began
to tell her a story that would stand out clearly in her mind for
the rest of her life, it was so interesting. This particular story
was about a time in Native American history, long after the Cherokee's
terrible "trail of tears" episode, when the Native American
people began to realize that the world as they knew it was rapidly
drawing to an end. The white man was defeating their proud people
militarily, and there seemed to be very little hope left for most
Native Americans. The year, he had told her was 1875. He told her
about how a secret tribe, called the "Tribe of the Eagle"
had been assembled, and sent to live secretly in the mountains out
west. Their mission was to await the promised return of Redman from
the spirit world. Upon his return, the tribe was to come out of
seclusion and tell the Native American people that this was the
time for either war, or peace with the white man, and that at that
time, all tribe's would all unite as one. The leader of the Tribe
of the Eagle would, according to what Jennifer perceived as a legend,
have a sacred turtle shell rattle, with a beautiful eagle feather
emblazoned on it that would serve as the sign that the tribe had
returned, and their words were to be followed.
loved the story, and asked her grandfather to tell it to her over
and over again. She thought about how wonderful it would be if something
like that could really happen to help the Cherokee people, and all
Native Americans for that fact. She imagined it as having some type
of "knight in shining armor" come to their assistance.
Jennifer was 12 years old, her grandmother was diagnosed as having
breast cancer. It scared Jennifer indescribably. She couldn't sleep
at night. When she did go to sleep, she would have nightmares about
her grandmother suffering, and dying. Her grandmother seemed very
unconcerned about the disease to Jennifer. She seemed to be going
along just as though nothing had changed.
day, in the winter of 1968, Jennifer came upon her grandfather in
the woods at a special spot that he had introduced Jennifer a long
time ago. As Jennifer quietly moved through the woods, approaching
the special spot, near a small waterfall, she heard a man sobbing
and praying in Cherokee. As she listened for a moment, she knew
it was her grandad. Her eyes filled up with tears, and she had to
leave immediately. It was very upsetting. At first, she began to
walk back through the woods, sobbing softly, but as her grief increased
in intensity, she began to sort of walk faster and faster and then
she broke into emotionally driven full speed running.
a mile back down the trail, Jennifer lost her composure completely.
Her eyes had been streaming tears as she was running, and now waves
of uncontrollable, grief driven emotion swept over her. She fell
to the ground and began crying, even screaming in both grief and
fear. Fear because she sensed that something was terribly wrong.
As she cried and writhed on the ground, she wound up next to an
oak tree beside the stream. The oak tree was very large, and had
an opening at its base that was large enough for Jennifer to actually
crawl inside. She did so, and her grief continued to wrack her as
she cried and screamed out loud. The hole in tree seemed to offer
her some mental feeling of safety and comfort.
about an hour, her emotional state of being completely drained,
her crying stopped, and she simply laid there, drained of all energy,
and simply staring blankly at the inside of the tree. As evening
began to approach, she grew very cold and actually lapsed into unconsciousness.
When Jennifer did not return that night, her family was panic stricken.
They, along with friends began to look for her. One neighbor had
some redbone and blue tick coon hounds, so he had the hounds smell
Jennifer's scent off of one of her shirts, and the dogs began barking
and howling as they began sniffing for her trail.
day had been especially bad for their family, for unbeknownst to
poor little Jennifer, her grandmother had died late in the afternoon
on that day. The passing of mammaw, and Jennifer's disappearance
were a heavy burden for everyone. Finally, about ten o'clock that
evening, the dogs located Jennifer. She was still unconscious, and
the chilly evening air in the mountains had caused her body temperature
to lower. The oak tree had served her well, for if she had been
in the open all of that time, with the chilly night air, she would
have been in a much worse condition. As it was, she was rushed to
the hospital in nearby Johnson City. She was treated for exposure,
but she seemed to be extremely unresponsive. No one knew what had
happened to her that day, and she just wasn't coming back to consciousness.
They all knew that her grandfather was her best hope, but he was
terribly grief stricken about the death of his beloved wife.
mom spoke to granddad, and asked him if he felt as though he could
help. He agreed immediately. He asked everyone else to leave them
alone. He began a soft chanting, that Jennifer and he had done together
many times in the past. As he chanted, he took Jennifer's hand and
held it close to his heart. He noticed that Jennifer was beginning
to move her head slowly from side to side, and her lips were slowly
moving with the chant, but no sound was coming out. Then her eyes
began to move back and forth slowly behind her eyelids. As he continued
his soft chanting, tears swelled up in his sad eyes. He was leaning
over Jennifer, and suddenly, one of his tears fell and landed on
Jennifer's left cheek. Her eyes opened wide, with a look of terror.
She looked up and saw her grandfather. She burst into tears, and
put her weakened arms around his strong neck and pulled him down
onto her in a hug. As she held tightly onto his neck, she cried
out, asking him where mammaw was.
was a powerful, noble man, but he could not control his own flood
of emotions with that question. He too began to cry out loud, as
he held Jennifer tightly in his arms. His response confirmed Jennifer's
worst fears. She seemed to have known that mammaw had died. Jennifer
spent three days in the hospital. Her father had been on a special
assignment, and had not been able to come home for Jennifer.
had trouble with the death of mammaw, and it affected her performance
in school. She had always been a happy, brilliant girl. She was
a cheerleader and always on the honor roll. Her grades dropped significantly
after the death of mammaw. She became insistent upon seeing her
grandfather every chance she could. Mammaw's death had taken a heavy
toll on him also. He was never the same again, and died early that
next summer. While on his deathbed, he had asked everyone else to
leave the room, except for Jennifer. He asked her to chant softly
with him. She did so, holding his hand close to her heart, much
as he had done for her after mammaw's death. His chanting was becoming
broken, with difficulty in breathing.
streamed down her face, as she looked deeply into his eyes. He began
to speak to her. His voice was straining, and interrupted with gasps
for breath. He told her that he was very proud of her. He asked
her to always remember all of the wonderful times that they had
shared together, and in a way that Jennifer perceived as a plea,
he asked to always remember her proud Cherokee heritage. He asked
her to please do anything that she could to help their people. She
nodded yes, as he looked deeply into her eyes. Then, her grandfather
took in a very deep breath, and he let it out very slowly. His head
slowly turned toward the window, and his eyes began to look intently
through the window, which had a beautiful view of the mountains.
He slowly looked back to her. He gently pulled Jennifer's hands
to his mouth and gave them a soft kiss. He said "I love you"
in Cherokee, and then his hands went limp. Jennifer fell to her
knees and began sobbing repeatedly, "I love you too" in
Cherokee. This she repeated over and over again, with her head falling
onto his limp hands.
was able to get back into her studies, since she had now committed
to her grandfather, that she would do well in life. Her grandad
had always taught her the importance of keeping her word. She made
his memory the focal point of her life, and was determined to make
him proud of her. Jennifer graduated from high school in the top
five percent of her graduating class. She applied to and was accepted
to the University of Tennessee where she would major in Sociology,
with a concentration in Criminal Justice. She was fortunate enough
to be able to continue her cheerleading as a varsity cheerleader
for the University, in spite of formidable challenges from cheerleaders
from all over the country.
Jennifer's freshman year at the University of Tennessee, she and
her father began to grow much closer. He had been impressed that
she had elected to pursue Criminal Justice and his desire to assist
her grew stronger and stronger. He thought that it would be wonderful
if she decided to go to work for the FBI also. Jennifer's life began
to drift away from her past, as happens with most people. She still
maintained a memory of her grandad, and all of his teachings, but
as time passed, more and more things filled her life and distanced
her from those memories. She had a few brief romantic interludes,
but she had some bad experiences with men, and absorbed herself
in her studies and athletics. Her father flew her to Washington,
DC many times, so that she could get a feel for the great city,
the US Government and of course the FBI. During one of her visits,
she was actually able to meet the President of the United States.
She was thrilled by all of this and the FBI began to seem like something
that she would like to do!
Part 7 To Be Continued
2003 Geoff Hampton
Hampton is an internationally known author, speaker, motivator and
business consultant. Hampton is the Executive Director for St. Mary's
Health & Fitness Center in Powell, TN and is also a regular
columnist for the wellness/fitness Website www.fitcommerce.com
as well as Canku Ota. He can be reached by E-mail at GEOFFLHAMPTON@aol.com.
His national anti-obesity/diabetes campaign, The Wellness Wakeup
Challenge can be reviewed at www.fitcommerce.com/wellness.