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Posts Tagged ‘Kasturi Mattern’

Grandmother Corn

October 29, 2005 8 comments

She was in her late eighties, bronze-skinned and gray haired, with a face like a ceremonial mask representing wild abandon. Permanently joy-struck, toothless (‘hope you don’t mind, i don’t like to wear my dentures’) and with pale brown eyes wide with humor and wonder.

Her back hurt so bad she could barely move. It was the last day of her visit with her children in Oakland, and she was worried about the plane trip back to the east coast. In and out of cars, her husband having to manage the luggage on his own. Sitting in the airplane for five or six hours, would she be able to rise at her destination? A friend of hers had recommended me.

Her children’s home was high-ceilinged and blonde in wood with huge glass windows overlooking the bay. The colossal white walls were covered in even huger paintings of Native American and African American people in abstract interpretations of garb and posture. The pyramids, the medicine wheel, the African chief, the white-buffalo woman.

Her children were professionals without children. They were living busy lives, and flitted in and out with cell phones, while I gave her a treatment. She tried to ask them questions, to tell them why I was here; they looked annoyed and restless, nodded their heads and darted away. She couldn’t make it up the stairs to the bedroom, even though she tried, so I suggested she just lie down on the sofa, near the kitchen and the bathroom. Her daughter-in-law looked surprised, but acquiesced, leaving the room. I helped her turn over, pulled up her shirt and removed her sweat-pants, made her comfortable on pillows. I applied the pins, the moxa, and then after some time, removed them and gave her an oil massage.

The whole time I worked, she talked non-stop, with energetic gestures whenever possible. She told me all about her political past, and how she had spoken at the big rally, and everyone listened and cheered. They wrote articles about her, and her photo was in all the papers and the underground magazines. She met her husband and they travelled together all around the country, and she gave speeches and everyone rallied! He made business contacts, and when it was all over, they settled down, and made money, raised children, yet she still gave talks to church groups, political groups, and was still known as a Native American activist.

I could see her then: she must have been hot! Long black hair and that radiant grin, all that movement and dynamism directed to a cause greater than herself. She must have been powerful. That war-whoop that she used to give. I remembered that. It was her trademark at the time. She gave a wheezy version of it when I turned her body over to treat the other side.

The children looked in. What was that funky smell? ‘It’s moxa,’ I said, in answer to their unspoken question. ‘A kind of chinese sage which we burn to create warmth over the points. I’m just holding it over the points, don’t worry. And the smell will go away.’ They looked at me. ‘I know, it smells like marijuana, but it’s mugwort, a member of the artemesia family, like the sagebrush you see out in the desert.” They looked at me with a certain glint in the eye: mistrustfully, curiously. It was odd to see a well-dressed white woman down on her hands and knees on the floor in the living room massaging their mother. But it reminded me of my own childhood, when I gave foot-massage to my own Gran, eighty-sixed at eight-six, a scrawny super-wrinkled Irish American woman. My uncle, an honorary member of the Lenni Lenape tribe, always claimed we had a very ancient blood relation to the River People on my grandfather’s side. So perhaps, what goes around, comes around: I might be related to this elder-crone somewhere in the misty past. Anyway, they say we all go back to a single set of genes.

After the treatment was over, I continued to sit cross-legged on the floor next to the sofa while she sat up, clothed again, and we talked. We talked over old times, her memories of those great and glorious days of the revolution, and my partial memories of it, because, after all, during her hey-day I was just a child. She filled in the gaps in my memory, and I thought over how powerful and significant it had all been, back in the sixties. And I thought about how the young re-create the world, generation after generation. By the time I left she was feeling much better. She could stand up and walk more easily, she could go up the stairs, slowly, one at a time. She thought she would be all right now for the trip home.

Written by Kasturi Mattern of not native fruit