Happy Birthday, Frances Cooper Collins

Early one morning in June,

With the Mountain Laurel in bloom,

The Bluecoats came.

And they weren’t a’knocking.

Frances Cooper Collins was born on July 4, 1925 in Cherokee, N.C., the third of nine children of Zolley Arnold and Amandaville Myrtle Keener Cooper.

Zolley was a carpenter/handyman who worked for the Cherokee Boarding School and Myrtle, as she was commonly known, had her hands full keeping house and raising nine kids through the Great Depresssion.

Frances, our mother, taught us – and by us I mean my sister Sara Sue, brothers Tom and Joe and me – pretty much everything we know.

But one thing she made absolutely certain she taught us was to curse the ground that Andrew Jackson ever set foot on.

They drug us out of our doors,

Said `You don’t live here no more,’

Herded us up like cattle,

And put us in the stockade.

Frances was a righteous woman who raised us in the First United Methodist Church, but she converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints after all her children had flown the coop. I couldn’t resist chiding her about how she drug me out of bed all those Sunday mornings to worship at a church that she, herself, abandoned, but Frances Cooper Collins did not find her religion to be a laughing matter.

But for a righteous woman, Frances sure could hold a grudge. And her most celebrated and dead-set grudge dated all the way back to the 1830s. For if you know your American history, then you’ll know that no one on earth was more responsible than the aforementioned Andrew Jackson for removing her people out of their idyllic ancestral homeland in the mountains of North Carolina and moving them off to this far away place called Oklahoma.

The Cherokee knew nothing about Oklahoma, and so many of them didn’t want to go to Oklahoma. But thanks largely to Jackson, they had no say in the matter.

Our people argued our case and won,

In the marble halls of Washington,

John Marshall said it was our land,

Like it had been all through the years.

Though born almost 100 years after this sorrowful chapter of our nation’s history, Frances wasn’t one to let such a grievous matter drop. So throughout our childhood, the name Andrew Jackson couldn’t be mentioned without our mother reminding anyone within earshot what a lowlife and scoundrel our seventh president truly was.

We’d chuckle over how worked up Frances could get, but only when she wasn’t looking. Like her religion, the removal of her people was no laughing matter to Frances Cooper Collins

Old Hickory was having none of it,

Said `You’ve made your law, now let’s see you enforce it,’

So the Cherokee marched the Trail of Tears.

The Coopers are known for their strong blood because almost all of Frances’ brothers and sisters have lived, or did live, into their 80s or 90s. But Frances was the unlucky one; she died of leukemia in 1989.

I am grateful she lived long enough to know Nate, our son born in 1986. But it’s always caused an ache in my heart she didn’t know Rebecca, born in 1990. Rebecca reminds me of Frances in so many ways. The two would have made quite a team.

The mud had frozen hard,

In the stockade yard,

When, by the point of a bayonet,

Our march began.

Given how deep the villainy of Andrew Jackson had been seared into my consciousness, I felt a real responsibility to make sure that grudge didn’t simply wither away in time. Frances’ grudge was way too good a grudge for that.

So throughout Nate and Rebecca’s childhood, I made sure they knew just who Andrew Jackson was, what he had done to my mother’s people, and just what their Maw Collins felt about it.

By foot, by horse and by boat,

Only the lucky wore coats,

It was more than any woman, child or man

Should ever have to stand.

But no matter how hard and adamantly I railed, my sermons just weren’t seeming to take. I’d go on and on about what a wretched, good-for-nothing, incorrigible piece of human excrement Andew Jackson was for what he did to the native Americans, and I never could detect the least bit of rancor or enmity on their part.

I was looking for froth, serious froth, and I never even saw so much as a fleck on Nate or Rebecca’s lips.

Eventually I began to despair that I was letting my mother down for not extending a perfectly good grudge past my own generation. So what, in such a sad conundrum, is a man to do?

Well, I reasoned, he could always write a song. And after reading one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read, that of a child survivor the genocide named Samuel Cloud, that’s exactly what I did.

I wrote it for my mother.

Happy Birthday Frances Cooper Collins.

Beside my mother I’d lie,

Until the night my mother died,

The night I learned how to cry,

On the Trail of Tears. – Trail of Tears by Dan Collins

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