Florence and I escaped into the spring day. The magazine reporter had called and arranged a meeting with her for that afternoon. He was interested in interviewing Florence, the last of the great Winnemem Wintu Indian Doctors. But that day, Florence became short of breath, had me call the ambulance and sat in emergency for a good three hours. After all the tests and x-rays, the emergency room doctors found nothing. Her breath came more easily and we were free to go. On the way home, too late for the appointment, Florence said, “I want to show you something. Turn here.” We turned away from her little ranch to drive up the red clay road into the low mountains. We stopped by the grassy side. Both of us got out of the car, she with her walker, I carrying a lawn chair which I arranged for her under a solitary tree looking out over the valley and across at more hills.
She pointed out a narrow path across from us made by bear or deer. That’s where she would go hunting, by foot, stalking the game when she was younger. I had listened to her stories, her first hunt at the age of eight and her first deer, bigger than she, which she had to haul out on her own. She said, “The worst part of it is I couldn’t eat a bite. If I did, the animals wouldn’t show themselves to me.” She told me about the bear who got away with the bacon and about the other bear who didn’t get away at all.
The breeze was fresh up in the hills. It blew softly through the grass. Grandma Florence looked down at the soft round-leafed plants with miniature yellow flowers growing among the grass and asked me to pick some. I handed her a small bunch and she deftly broke a piece off for me and put the rest in her mouth. We chewed contentedly. Grandma reminisced about gathering the first greens of the spring for her mother, another Indian Doctor.
She remembered how she and her sisters and brothers would run for the hills to hide when they saw the buckboard coming up the road, but one day, she was caught, she says “kidnapped,” taken from her parents and her people for boarding school. The Indian girls were treated very cruelly, particularly by one staff member who seemed to especially dislike Florence. Florence spent time in solitary confinement situation and was allowed to wear only underwear. It was very humiliating.
The afternoon was spent in quiet and remembrances. Grandma Florence said, now that she was 93 years old, she would like to retire and “live the rest of my life like I want to.”
That day, it was to take off to the hills, sit in the sun with a cool breeze, remembering the hunt and childhood days when a young daughter gathered spring greens for her elderly mother.
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