Grandpa Sammy by Cliff Taylor

When I was in my early twenties spirits started coming to me in my dreams, old indians, animals, little people, and others. I was lucky and had a bunch of relatives around me who were into the old culture and they taught me up some and made me feel mostly okay with what was happening; it was pretty scary but it was a good time, putting me on the journey that I’m on today.

This morning, I’m thinking about a spirit story that happened recently. I think today’s coffee shop essay is going to be that story, just to share some of how this stuff -the spirits- work in our lives. It’s rainy out here in Seattle. Maybe that just means it’s time for a good little story…

A few weeks ago I went to a sweat and it was a rich, beautiful one; there were about 8 people there and it reminded me of the ones just like back home; in fact, it felt just like that, just like home. Well, in that sweat, I prayed to my brother’s grandpa, who is like my adopted grandpa, a deceased old indian doctor named Grandpa Sammy.

I asked Grandpa Sammy for help for my girlfriend and I and for my brother and his family, who are going through some big changes lately. It meant a lot to me to pray to Grandpa Sammy, who is a big presence in my heart and life, in that lodge, to be making prayers and talking to him in the hot dark, bent over, with all of my other praying relatives.

In the lodge is where we get help. In the lodge is where we pray like our ancestors used to. In the lodge is where all the spirits who have been helping our people since we were people come and sit with us and pray with us and listen to us and apply their incomprehensible brilliant medicines and genius to the enormous stretches of humble beauty that are our holy human lives. It felt so good to be in there, relatives, and to be making those prayers to Sammy that I’d been thinking about and almost kind of saving up. Like I said, it was a damn good sweat. Hoka!

And then a few nights later I had a dream-

I dreamed that my girlfriend and I were sitting in a diner booth and she was telling me about a dream she had about Grandpa Sammy and what he told her to tell my brother. I listened intently.

Grandpa Sammy told her about what was going on with the ecosystem and deep energies of my brother’s heart, about specific offerings he could make, about some prayers he could make. Then this song kicked on, a song I’d never heard before but that I immediately recognized from a scene in a movie that we’d watched about 15 minutes of before passing out a few nights earlier in real life, this movie my girlfriend loves called Matilda.

I started happily bumping and grooving to the song and then the dream flashed forward 24 hours later and now my brother, my girlfriend, and I were all three in the diner booth and she was telling him directly about what Grandpa Sammy told her to tell him. He closed his eyes, lowered his head, and listened closely. Then, spontaneously, over the diner’s sound-system, that same song came on again. I burst out: “This exact song came on 24 hours ago when she was telling the dream last time! I can’t believe it! It’s a sign!” In the dream I tripped out, my girlfriend finished telling the dream, my brother walked off to deeply ponder things, and then I woke up.

In real life, I woke up and immediately told my girlfriend the dream. The song was ‘Send Me On My Way’ by Rusted Root, a song I’d never heard before from a band I’d never heard of. It was just an odd, joyous appearance of a cool, upbeat song. It was a funny part of a powerful dream, nothing more. Then the next day at work on my lunch break, while having a cigarette and feeling Sammy, I decided to find the song on YouTube and watch it. Suddenly, right there on the park bench, watching the video of this song, I began to cry.

The song was from the early 90s and it was a big rag-tag group of musicians who looked like hippie festival life-loving, nature-loving young folks from all sorts of different ethnic backgrounds. But what struck me about the video immediately was this: there were indians in it, specifically, there was an indian boy and his grandpa in it, and they were praying in the old way, in a set up that’s right near exactly like how we pray when we go up on the hill and fast.

I felt Sammy with me there on the park bench and watched this little boy saying goodbye to his grandpa who practiced and lived the old ways. I watched this little boy stand beside his grandpa as his grandpa stood with a painted face in an altar and prayed upwards like I’ve stood beside grandpas as they’ve prayed in real life.

I watched that little boy grow feelings in his heart about saying goodbye to his grandpa as he helped send his old spirit on his way into the next world, into that world that meant he wouldn’t see him anymore in this world, physically, at least, that meant he would only know him as a spirit and via different means, such as dreams and signs, and no longer as that jeans and jacket wearing flesh and blood old man that he up till then knew him with his eyes and ears and hugging arms and all the rest of the ordinary ways we know our living loved ones.

I watched that little boy in the video grow some angel wings of understanding and come to peace with his grandpa’s journey to the other side while this lovely, joyous world-music tune romped and danced and carried on. I cried.

This was the story of my brother and his Grandpa Sammy, a grandpa so powerful that he is still influencing and affecting many, many people’s lives after so many years of having crossed over himself. This music video for a song I never knew that came up twice in my own dream of Grandpa Sammy was talking about exactly what Sammy was talking about in the dream, how the deep energies of the heart change when one of our most beloved loved ones passes on.

I couldn’t believe it. I sent my brother a text, told him the dream, sent him the link to the video. He texted me back, “That’s the way it is, brother. That’s the way it is.”

The next morning my girlfriend and I, over pancakes and smoothies, sat down and watched the video together. We both just started bawling. I started sobbing like usually only happens in ceremony, when all the grandpas and grandmas come in and show me things, show me things about our people, our grief, the powerful healing that is happening or trying to happen for people. My girlfriend held me in her arms.

I realized that maybe I was like that little boy too and that Grandpa Sammy was like my grandpa helping me like that little boy in the video was getting help by being able to be a part of the process of sending his grandpa’s spirit ‘on his way.’ I realized that I was the boy in the video too and that so many of the deep energies of my own heart were boyishly looking up to Grandpa Sammy, this man I’ve gotten to know over 11 years of countless stories from my brother which all live like a holy luminous library where all the stories are held in telepathically speaking trees in a special part of my heart, looking up to him for help, for guidance, for protection, for aid in the most critical and sensitive parts of my own spiritual life.

I sobbed as we watched the video a couple times and realized how much Grandpa Sammy means to the essence of me. I sobbed until I became like the little boy and began to feel happy and full of love and just a big tear-soaked goober of joy over how lucky I felt to know such a great man and soul and grandpa in this life, even if it’s just been in dreams, in waking visions, in spirit, that is, as a spirit.

I laid back on the living room carpet with my girlfriend and we just smiled and laughed and held each other. What were the chances that this random song that played in the background of this Sammy dream could have indians in it and that the little story of them could so perfectly describe what was going on with my brother and me with Grandpa Sammy? What were the chances?

This was the power of Grandpa Sammy. This was him answering those prayers I’d made to him in the lodge the week previous, and just like that, too. Just like that. This was the love-rooted power of this old Lakota holy man who is still dynamically helping out his family and the people from his multidimensional position in the great beyond. This was Grandpa Sammy. That old Ghost Man from actually not so long, long ago…

And of course there’s actually more to the story and that’s kind of the condensed version but that’s kind of how it all went down. When Grandpa Sammy was a little kid he was selected by the spirits to do some special work with the songs of the people; I guess, now, reflecting on it, maybe it is no surprise that this powerful maneuver of his involved the medicine of music, the medicine of a song. Hmm.

The mysteries of the spirits are infinite. Make a prayer and it will be heard. This the spirits show us time and time again, through experiences like the one shared in this here little story. And this is why us natives, us indians, have not forgotten about the spirits. This is why we still listen to them when they come to us in dreams. And in our still listening to them, this is why they still come to us, still come to us so powerfully, so influentially, so memorably, so unbelievably, and so beautifully.

This little essay is dedicated to Grandpa Sammy and my brother. Thank you brother for all the stories. Thank you brother for every last single one of them. And thank you Grandpa Sammy. Thank you for everything.

Cliff Taylor is a writer, a poet, a speaker, and an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. He has written a non-fiction book about the little people and recently completed a memoir, Special Dogs, about coming-of-age in Nebraska. A year ago he moved to Seattle. He’s waiting to see what happens next. Contact Cliff @

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