Emily’s Heritage
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“Emily’s Heritage,” Friend, Aug. 1999, 8


Emily’s Heritage

I am a child of God, And he has … given me … parents kind and dear (Children’s Songbook, page 2).

Hurry! Hurry! Emily walked down the long, gray hallway. Passengers clogged up the narrow corridor. Come on—hurry! I want to see my mom! Emily stood on her tiptoes, trying to see, but all she could see were backs, shoulders, and heads. Finally she came to the doorway. A warm feeling washed over her as she saw the familiar face of her mother.

“Emily!” Mom waved and ran up to gather Emily in a hug. “You’re home! How was it?”


“How did you like the village? How was your flight?”

Emily’s bottom lip began to tremble.

“Uh-oh,” Mom said, sensing Emily was near tears. “You’re probably exhausted from the trip. Well, you’re home now, and Dad’s waiting in the car.”

“Well, hello there, kiddo!” Dad said when he saw Emily. “Welcome home!”

Mom got into the car with Emily while Dad went for her luggage. From the vent on the dashboard warm air blew into the car. It was August, but the Alaskan sun was buried deep among gray clouds. Emily let her tired body sink into the seat; she was asleep before Dad returned.

“I don’t know if it was a good idea to send her up there alone for her first visit to the village. It’s such a long way, and she’s so young.”

Emily recognized her mother’s concerned tone. She wiggled around, trying to get comfortable.

Dad looked in his rearview mirror and caught Emily’s eye. “Good morning!” he said.

Emily swallowed and rubbed her eyes. Mom twisted around to face her. “Well, tell us about the trip. How is Grandmother?”

Emily’s grandmother lived in a small Indian town in central Alaska. She had been to see Emily many times in Fairbanks, but before this trip, Emily had never been to the village, Ausila, because the journey was expensive and long. Her mind flashed back to the Athabaskan village and to the log cabin where her grandmother lived. The village sat on the Koyukuk River.

Emily had been surprised at her grandmother’s lifestyle. Grandmother lived so simply and so far from any large stores! Mom had grown up in Ausila and had warned Emily that it would be very different from Fairbanks.

“Grandmother is fine. She told me to give you both big hugs, and she sent some smoked salmon.”

“Mmmm.” Dad licked his lips dramatically.

“She introduced me to everyone in the village and taught me how to sew beads onto clothing. I made a beaded purse all by myself!”

“Really? Oh Emily, I’m so glad that you learned to sew beads. Beadwork was my favorite thing to do as a girl. I always dreaded smoking the fish, though.”

Emily had heard stories about catching and smoking the fish. “Grandmother said that I have a special knack with a needle. She even gave me an Athabaskan name—Nakon. It means—”

“Good with a threaded needle.” Mom and Emily said together.

Emily had felt comfortable immediately in the tiny village. She liked the tall fir and birch trees that reached their green tops into the sky. She liked the soft gurgle of the river and the reflections and patterns that appeared on its surface in the morning and late afternoons. She liked the smell that lingered in her coat from the fire and reminded her of Grandmother’s nightly stories about Great-grandmother.

“I loved the village, Mom. It was so beautiful, and I just fit in.” In a way, Emily had felt that visiting her grandmother in the village was like returning home, home to the place her mother had talked about in stories of her childhood.

Emily paused. “But now I’m all confused. Our house and neighborhood are so different from the village. Dad is from Fairbanks, and you’re from the village, but where am I from? When am I Emily and when am I Nakon?”

Mom smiled. She remembered having the same question about herself when she left Ausila to go to college in Fairbanks. Her one-room school in the village was very small and different from the large university. She didn’t know where she fit in. Now she said, “You have a rich and wonderful heritage with Grandmother in the village, and with Nana and Grandpa Phillips here in Fairbanks.”

“Grandmother told me some stories about her mother, too.”

Mom nodded. “We can trace our relatives back many generations on both sides. In fact, it would take a stack of papers to trace the history of your earthly ancestry.

“But the history of your spirit is much easier to trace,” Mom went on. “You are a daughter of God. He is the father of your spirit, and part of Him is in you.” She reached over the seat and squeezed Emily’s knee. “You have a goodly heritage through Dad and me, but more importantly, you have a Godly heritage.”

Emily felt the worry that had knotted within her stomach release. I am Emily and Nakon. And I am a child of God.

Illustrated by Mike Eagle