I'm thinking of Granny again today, Granny and Caleen. I met Granny 23 years ago at her ceremony at Mt. Shasta. My Kickapoo doctor and friend took my newly adopted daughter and me there to get help. My daughter had just taught my husband and me humility to last for our whole lifetime -- to know we could not do this parenting thing or anything else, for that matter, without a lot of help from Great Olelbis and that is what we came to Florence Jones for, drowning people needing help to make a family.
Granny's helper, Emerson Miles, smoked me up with the root, and smoked a pipe as Florence helped me. I remember midway, her words to me, "I am your mother." I felt shock but only paused for a second before I pushed away any doubt -- that I already have a mom -- and without thinking took a deep breath in as if breathing in her words and accepted it with all my heart saying "thank you" under my breath. I believe that made all the difference in the world because from that moment, that is how I treated her and within a year, Granny began to mother me. Invited by her to come anytime we wanted, I took Maki and later Maki and our foster daughter Margaret to visit the little ranch and three elders at least once a month and for a month of each summer vacation. Granny taught me everything she thought I would need to live a good life. She took care of me curing me of small maladies to life threatening disease, and she took care of my family. She scolded me, she showed me how to do lots of things, she shared her stories and remembrances, her lessons of life, she loved me. We spent hours sitting side by side, shoulders touching or I would drive her on her joyrides, reaching for her hand and we would sit like that comfortable. I did whatever she asked me to do and for her part, she was always there for me.
In her 90's, as she began to do less, sometimes she would talk to me about what to do after she died. She prepared me by telling me she would always be with me, and even told me where she would be when we went up on Mt. Shasta to go to the Spring. She instructed me how to pray and she would be there for me. She knew, I would need these reassurances after she died, I believe. She knew how devastated losing her on the earthly plane would mean. I literally felt the loss physically. I felt like a piece of me had been ripped off, and I felt raw and bleeding along my right shoulder and arm. My fingers would feel listless with no shoulders or neck to rub anymore. No more backrubs. My fingers would twitch and bring back that memory and the emptiness would be so intense. I felt like half of me was gone. And for awhile, her instructions were all I had to feel some comfort. "Think of me and Bohem Pyuk and I will be there."
It was at War Dance that things changed dramatically. As our Chief, her successor, Caleen Sisk Franco stepped up to the challenge and brought back War Dance which we took to Shasta Lake Dam, when the new Chief literally walked out into the unknown and followed Granny's instruction, "step out and help will be there" I began to feel Grandma without following the aides she left behind for me. Granny is right there with Caleen! It is very comforting that the line of leadership works out that way. No one does things individually and alone, even the Chief.
Since War Dance, I only had to focus, and I can feel her there with me. Or should I say, I can feel me WITH HER. I know I would feel her absence strongly if I strayed from the path of "right is right and wrong is nobody." It is like an automatic navigational device. I know I won't stray. When you are mothered by someone, especially someone like Granny, for 23 years, your heart changes. My heart changed by becoming whole. What Granny added to my heart, molded into my heart was a way of life she followed all her life. I am rooted, no longer a fluff going here and there wherever the winds of change will take me. I feel steady. I am assured as long as I follow the way of life given to me by her.
Everybody goes through a time of confusion sometimes. Things go well, and then circumstances happen and one could get derailed. That is when I realize Granny's influence and how embedded it is in my heart. I walk with confidence right behind Granny and Caleen and know without a doubt that she is with Caleen. They are together. What a gift for the descendants that we still have a Chief in these troubled time who is so connected, who is right there with Granny's spirit and the Winnemem ancestors. The Winnemem way still goes on another generation through this Chief. I know because I see it with my spirit's sight. I know it because where she leads us opens door for the salmon. I know it because although life is hard, we are still free and we are still doing our sacred responsibilities for the Earth, Water and Nur.
Sometimes I feel as if I can walk into Granny's bedroom and sit down beside her to have those long conversations like the old days. It's comforting. The other day, I felt like that. My mind meandered to this room in which there is Granny and sitting in a chair there is Caleen by herself, right with Granny. They wait calmly in the room for the rest of us to gather there. We all are out someplace else doing this or that. I thought to myself, I hope in those times that Will and I, as long as we live, will be in the room sitting with the calm of knowing we are where we're supposed to be and when enough people come in and sit and when we are ready to stand together, whether it is a few or many, we will be enough. Of that I am sure.
All this is to say, the Winnemem tribe may be small but they still have their old way to take them through modern chaos. The Head Man is a good and strong man. The family has love for one another. Other tribal members who don't live at the ranch are dedicated. This is what I see in each of us and pray for, that we are all of that because the Earth, the Salmon, the Water, Life itself needs goodness, strength, love and dedication from the human beings. So today, I am thinking of you Granny and our Chief who stays with you through thick and thin and say thank you for the mothering and this way of life. You said it's a hard life but the best life. You said that your sacred land is the Univeristy of Life. And I have found it all to be TRUE.
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