A group of bagpipers buzzed into town last week, gathering outside one of the college dormitories, pipes slung jauntily against shoulders, bags tucked under elbows. They scattered beneath pines and along the sidewalk, each instrument’s drone pipes nattering away; each player independently pursuing his own tune so that my mind couldn’t alight on any of them. I crossed the street to take refuge at the pond. Lily pads and lotus flowers drifted in the breeze. Iridescent frogs froze at my approach.
My family and I moved to Oberlin two years ago after having found our century home on the internet. I’d never been to Oberlin. I certainly wasn’t looking to move to another city, although as far as cities go, Oberlin is small. But for weeks, I sat in my Philadelphia-area kitchen, clicking through photographs of the house, envisioning my life here.
We bought the place without my having seen it in person. Shortly after moving in, I discovered that a woman by the name of Mary Elizabeth Waite (also my mother’s name) was the second owner of our house. Yet Mary is missing from the home’s written history.
Mary was adopted into the Chickasaw nation. Her mother-in-law Catherine crossed the Trail of Tears and grew up in Indian Territory. After the death of her husband, Catherine brought her children to Oberlin to be educated.
Today, Oberlin is Friday night concerts and Watson’s Hardware. Burgers at The Feve and movies at Apollo. Oberlin is Michelle Obama speaking at graduation and protests against police brutality.
Oberlin is diversity.
Yet, Oberlin is also where Mary’s family faced racial intolerance. Many of her descendants don’t know the story of their Native American ancestry.
Oberlin is my pursuit of the woman who once owned my home.
This morning as I walk to town, the sound of bagpipes floats from Tappan Square. Suddenly, the music has come together. It’s as if the musicians have finally agreed upon something. What that is, I cannot say, but the music they make is full of loveliness and a longing for untold stories to be birthed.