In Passing: Greg Rodgers, 1968-2014
Summer of 2014. Early June as I recall, not too hot, not too humid. Greg Rodgers, Eman Ghanayem, and me. Two Choctaws and a Palestinian from Hebron, West Bank, out for a summer joy ride in Atoka County, Oklahoma, home to Choctaws. Eman and Greg were both graduates students at the University of Illinois. They’d come to visit me in Ada, Oklahoma. For some reason we decided to drag Eman to all the famous sites in Oklahoma. We took her to the Sonic Drive-in on Mississippi Street in Ada, Oklahoma. Then to the Choctaw Nation’s headquarters in Durant. Then out to the casino and all the food courts were closed. WTF?! Greg then directed us to Boggy Depot where he pointed out the graves of his kinfolks on the Folsom side of his Choctaw family.
Pictured below, Greg Rodgers and I are standing looking at the map of Boggy Depot. You can see Eman’s shadow, (left) as she snaps a picture of us studying the map of the area. We spent the afternoon looking at Choctaw headstones, calling out the names of ancestors. We walked around the site, mostly trying to steamroll Eman. Since she’d never been to Oklahoma we told her she was our “captive.” She yawned. Not a good sign. Next we decided to educate her with a piece of disputed history: Thanksgiving. She tried to change the subject.
“What is the history of awkwardness?” she asked. Clever girl. Greg intervened. “What is a “derivative” in the stock market?” he countered. “Touché,” I shouted. Seeing that we were deadlocked in a battle for our wits, we halted the chit-chat. Instead, we told Eman all the things Choctaw captives must do to become fully “Choctawized,”
1) Buy us lots of coca-cola.
2) Buy us lots of gasoline for the car — after all these sightseeing trips cost money.
3) Take pictures of us that make us look “wise.”
4) Listen to endless boorish stories about the “greatest red people of all: The Choctaws.” Did I mention that Choctaws are braggarts?
After joking around all day with Eman and Greg, I remember a profound sense of serenity came over me. That was truly a halcyon day last summer, one I will never forget.
Greg passed away quite suddenly on December 17, 2014, — he left us with nothing but good memories. He was just about to finish his MFA a the University of Illinois, where he was working on a great novel-in-progress. Illinois will grant him the MFA in Creative Writing posthumously in April 2015. He had written enough for two books.
On February 20, 2015, the Native American House at Illinois is hosting a memorial for Greg Rodgers and everyone is invited to attend. Check out the website: http://illinois.edu/calendar/detail/1534/32480945
Pictured above, standing, are Gwen Westerman, Eman Ghanayem, and Greg Rodgers. Seated, me and Susan Power.
It’s been hard to write about Greg’s passing, he was family and I dearly loved him. I’d recruited him to Illinois into the MFA program in Creative Writing in English where he excelled. We shared a passion for Choctaw history, culture and language. We liked to pretend we were the original “Choctaw chucklers,” always joking around about this, that, or the other. Greg, I know you’re watching us from the other side and telling the friends and family around you, “about the time . . . ”
You are so right. “In the end all you are is your Story.”
We miss you, chi kana.