Long before “Killers of the Flower Moon” was a sensation, in fact, decades before author David Grann had even penned its first word, someone else had begun writing about Osage Heritage. She was someone who cared not for the prospect of a bestseller but only for the hope of writing a story worthy of telling. Telling that story would itself become a story all its own.
It would be over forty years in the making. To put that much time in perspective, this is the same span of time as ten presidential terms or 14,610 days. Although not every one of those days was dedicated to writing what would eventually become the book “Head of the Household,” not one day passed without thoughts about it. It was an intense labor of love from a woman who didn’t consider herself a writer but a granddaughter in awe of her grandmother’s life that she felt the world should know about.
Not a famous woman, this subject matter. But the life of a lady who loved, who lost, and who never let the losses take her love of life and family. She was an Osage woman who, as a child, was taken from her family and shipped off to a faraway boarding school run by the white man. In addition, she gave birth to fourteen children from two marriages – one arranged for an older man. This lady had experienced wealth from Osage oil money and poverty during the Great Depression and even owned a movie studio in Hollywood for a time. And as though straight out of a movie, she even ran off with a ranch hand with whom she fell in love. Through it all, a rebel who followed her heart, even when it cost her dearly. But to this granddaughter and aspiring author who devoted so much time to a book about this lady, she wasn’t even sure anyone would publish it, let alone read it.
This author spent an entire adult lifetime researching her family history and her Osage heritage. With countless phone conversations, emails, marked book passages, sticky notes of information, and meetings with others knowledgeable about the Osage, she would become an expert with credentials that college degrees cannot provide and scholars would envy. All the while building relationships and friendships that transcend bloodlines and cultures with many whom she felt were more educated and knowledgeable. And, in her humility and unbeknownst to her, it was she who had impressed others with her talents, drive, and knowledge of a complex people with a difficult history.
To her, however, it was frustrating to tell this story without the skillset she believed writers should have. Moments of insecurity crying out to God, “Why me? Why have I been chosen to write this when so many others are more qualified?” were part of the process as she experienced moments of hopelessness accompanied by tears of momentary defeat when the process became difficult and the task too arduous. But those moments always passed, and she would resume what she knew was one of her life callings. A reassuring word or a solution to a problem would eventually come. There was always an answer and hope found in God and family. Poring over historical documents or conversing with just the right person always provided her with exactly what she needed to push her over the hurdle to pen yet another chapter.
The years rolled by. So, what was started by a young, middle-aged woman full of energy and fervor ended with a frail and aging senior ever closer to her own mortality. The only thing remaining the same between these two points in time was the conviction in her heart to tell a story. Every closed door for forty years upon which she had knocked had been opened to her in only ways God could have opened. She knew it, too. Every moment of lacking confidence, each hour of confusion as to how to proceed when she felt lost, and each overwhelming obstacle had been overcome so more words could come for this story that only she could tell.
Unknown to any of us who saw this journey she was on, there was something else within the pages of that book. Its completion ultimately revealed that it contained not one but two stories: the one unfolding within the pages and a hidden one of struggle and uncertainty by a woman who devoted half of her life to telling a story that no one else knew to tell. In many ways, these two main characters are kindred spirits whose lives were entangled in a cosmic novel written by a Divine author that neither knew was being written. It has essentially become the story of two women who shared struggle, despair, and unfairness in a world they could not control. And yet, never gave up on themselves regardless of their circumstances, each adding new chapters to a book of life that they made their own.
The name Sammie Dennison Harmon is listed as the author of this life’s work. But to me, this author will always be Mom. My siblings and I witnessed the forty years it took Mom to write this book. The frustrations and celebrations were part of our – and eventually our children’s – lives.
We laid her to rest only a few days after her book was published. She never held a copy of the completed work that had been such a part of her life or knew the joy of signing one for someone. However, she felt the pride of seeing her book on Amazon
and the honor of ‘Top New Release in Native American Literature’ it received. But to her, the greatest success was knowing her supporters had never given up on her. After forty years, and when it mattered most, they showed that support with multiple book purchases.
My mother’s entire life revolved around her family, friends, and Osage Heritage. They always came first. Her book was always left idle when it came to their needs and wants. It is no wonder it took so long to complete. Her children and grandchildren were witness to this matriarch of a huge family that grew to include everyone she ever met. And she never failed to be worthy of that title by her generosity and time devoted to family. I do not feel the irony is lost on the very name of her book, titled some forty years ago, which would be exactly what she herself would become, “Head of the Household.”
It is widely believed among her family that the illness that took her life should have taken her earlier due to its volatile nature. But the cosmic author would not end His novel without a proper conclusion. No ending is complete without the perfect resolution. And in His ending, he allowed Sammie Dennison Harmon the honor of penning the last sentence, the last words of His Divine story. They were the words that took a lifetime to say: “I told you I wouldn’t leave this earth until this damn book was finished! The End!”