Friday, December 9, 2011
I would like to share with you in this blog entry -- one of the stories I wrote for my children when they were around 9 or 10 years old. This story was actually inspired by the "dandelion."
My eyes are shut tight and I try not to breath for a few seconds. I swallow in one big mouthful. The bitterness of the dandelion isn’t so horrible once the flavor of strawberry juice kicks in. I count to three in my head and it is over. Most mornings, I pretend to take the herbal medicine. Today, Nana is staring at me from over her glasses while she eats breakfast. I blush under her watchful eyes.
My mother and grand-mother are boiling dandelion roots. The women in my family are traditional Abenakis medicine women. “Mackîkike” like my grand-mother would say in the old language, people who make and administer their traditional medicine. Nana expects me to walk in their footsteps. I just wish I could be like everyone else in the 21st century.
“Wâbikoniwi, what does that mean?” asks my grand-mother. When Nana is upset she calls me by my Native name: Flower. I remind her that my Christian name is Liz. I guess we’ll never agree when fighting over traditional versus modern living.
“It means that I wish I could shop at the mall after school with my friends like any other 13-year-old,” I mumble under my breath.
Between gulps, I glare at myself making faces in the chrome toaster. It keeps me busy while Mom and Nana load the trunk of the car with crates of dandelion. Mom has already recruited me for dandelion picking in the afternoon.
“It’s two weeks every spring,” Mom points out as if saying “she’s not asking for much.” I stomp my feet and growl loudly.
“What about delivering some vials to the naturopath after school,” I remind her, storming out the door.
In our house, every season is dedicated to a medicinal plant. There are names of some plants that I can’t even pronounce. Nana tells me that there are plants that don’t even have names. Our medicine people recognize them by sight and touch. She even believes that some of the medicinal plants sing and the elders recognize those by sound. People think these are just folktales. Nana on the other hand, expects me to learn these ways. I would have to start by believing in them first.
I don’t mind digging for the roots of Echinacea; it makes sense to me. My mother lets me press some of its drooping purple flowers in my dictionary. Once they’ve dried, I make greeting cards or add them to the pages of my scrap book. I use the blossoms of Marshmallow to decorate candles and accessorize wrapping paper. Still, Mom reminds me that dandelions were once my flower of choice for Mother’s Day.
Now, dandelions remind me of the wool, winter hats with the awkward, dangling pompoms that my grand-mother used to knit and that I never wore. Dandelions are ugly. They are yellow buttons that hang high over jagged leaves that look like lion’s teeth. This is how they received their names from the French term “dent de lion” which means “Lion’s teeth”, dandelion.
On our way to school, I notice for the first time this spring the thousands of dandelions growing on every square inch of our front yard. From a distance, glancing back through the rearview mirror, both my brother and I comment on how beautiful one acre of vibrant, yellow flowers can be.
“But they are weeds,” calls out Corey with disdain.
“Medicinal plants,” corrects my mom, keeping her eye on the road.
“I didn’t hear you complain when it got rid of your indigestion” she reminds my brother.
At the market, Mrs.Palatino, the Italian woman who gives us tomatoes all summer long, is glad to see us. I let my mother and brother carry the crates. I don’t want dandelion staining my clothes. Mr. Palatino digs into one of the boxes with both hands.
“Aren’t they incredible?” He cries out with excitement.
“They are just weeds,” murmurs my brother under his breath.
“Delicimo!” retorts Mrs.Palatino, tucking a flower in her mouth while glancing back at Corey in reproach.
The scene repeats at Mr.Chang’s restaurant. Mom parks the car in the back alley. This time, she lets Corey and me carry the boxes because Mr.Chang always rewards us with a fortune cookie once we’ve dropped off the dandelions in the kitchen. This morning, my fortune cookie said: “Child-like immaturity will one day be replaced by ancient wisdom.”
“Figures!” I wince out as if the world is out to get me.
Mom drops us off by the football field. Corey likes to meet his friends at the bus stop. I wonder why Mom and Nana are giggling, until I notice the lawn is covered with dandelions.
“I hate it,” I scream back at them as they wave goodbye.
At the main entrance, we are greeted by Mrs. Hugh, our Principal. She pulls me aside and tucks an envelope into my hands. She whispers something into my ear, but the chatter in the hallway is too loud for me to hear. At my locker, I open carefully the envelope noticing a beautiful dried up flower at the seam. Unconsciously, just like my mother, I tuck it away between the pages of my journal for safe keeping. On one hand, I wish I could be my own person and yet, on the other hand, I surprise myself by being exactly like Mom.
How does that work?
Soon, tears well up to my eyes. I’m moved by the story of Mrs. Hugh’s daughter who suffers from ovarian cancer and is treated with chemotherapy. I learn that my mother makes dandelion herbal medicine to help Jennifer with nausea and indigestion.
“Thank you for your help,” Mrs.Hugh writes. I don’t realize that the note is for my mother until I’ve read the whole letter. I’m suddenly impressed with the power of the dandelion.
“To think that my People have cures and treatment to so many terrible diseases,” I whisper to myself.
At lunch, I notice that mom wrapped my sandwich in a brown paper bag and adorned it with a dandelion flower. My friends comment that it’s cute. I’m not as embarrassed as I was yesterday because of Mrs.Hugh’s story. Rather than throwing the flower away, I tuck in my mouth like Mrs.Palatino did this morning.
“Cool! Can I try one?” asks Ann, my best friend.
“I’ll have to bring you one tomorrow,” I reply with relief.
Maybe I’ve been making a big deal out of being different when it should really be about uncovering who I am. After school, I deliver the vials of medicinal herbs that were meant for the naturopath to Mrs. Hughes office. She needs them the most. I promise my mother and Nana that I will deliver another box of dandelion tinctures to Organica, after school tomorrow. Mom looks surprised and Nana smiles approvingly. I pull out of my coat’s pocket this morning’s fortune cookie message and read it out loud: “Child-like immaturity will be replaced by ancient wisdom.” Timidly and proudly, mom winks at me from the rearview mirror while pulling a strand of hair behind her ear, the same way I always do.