It wasn't until I dug deeper that I learned about the time that she took me to a Conjurer. Some people call them "witch doctors" but in our South steeped in religion, I think that those who believe would just say that they're blessed with the power, a God given inclination towards healing. Some people believe in it and some people don't. Still, you just don't hear much about that kind of business very much these days. I'm sure there are still folks who can heal but you'd have to search a lot harder to find one than you used to.
My Mom had mentioned in passing in the past about her taking me to a lady who "talked" sickness out of me but for some reason, I'd never delved into it. After lamenting over why I always catch every virus that passes through town, I finally remembered to get the scoop this week. So I e-mailed my Mom:
You told me one time that I was sick as a baby and you took me to some lady who talked it out of me...or something? Tell me about that.
And she answered back:
When you were a baby, you had mouth thrush. I took you to the doctor. He looked at you and said what it was and did not give me anything for it. So Mama knew this lady over on a street near the fairgrounds and we went in, she looked at you, took you in the bedroom and brought you back and said that it would be gone tomorrow. And it was. I don't know what she did. She charged me nothing. You had no problems after that. Mama said that she thought the woman gave you a couple of drops of blood.
Okay, so one thing that you need to learn about my family is that they're infamous for huge pregnant pauses. The kind that leave you hanging on the edge of your seat, dying to know what the next bit of information should be. Sometimes, I think that they do it for sport because they know that I have to know everything about damned near everything. Take for example how my Mom ended her e-mail by dropping that bit of "she thought the woman gave you a couple of drops of blood"...you know, like that's something that happens every day.
Of course, my mind was reeling - What kind of blood? Was it my blood? The lady's blood? The blood of a slaughtered farm animal that she was slowly draining the life from out back of her house?
"....she thought the woman gave you a couple of drops of blood."
My immediate response back to her was "a couple of drops of blood...from who???" but of course since a full minute had passed, my Mom had left her computer and there I was, hanging on the edge of my seat and wondering what kind of blood I'd been fed as an infant. As one does. A full day later, she answered back matter-of-factly as if she was rectifying the mistake of an ingredient left out of a shared recipe:
I'm sorry. A couple of drops from you.
That sentence in its simplicity is such a beautiful thing to me because she's still acting like this is just what parents do every day: a steamy shower for the croup....Vicks VapoRub for a congested chest and well, bloodletting for mouth thrush. By the way, do yourself a favor and do not look up photos of mouth thrush. After making the mistake of doing so, I can fully understand why my Mom was ready to hastily turn me over to some complete stranger who lived over by the fairgrounds. I'm pretty sure that the next step would have been to leave me anonymously on the steps of the local firehouse and call the whole thing done.
I decided that I'd break my cardinal rule against using the phone (the phone makes me squirmy because I can't see peoples' expressions when they're talking) and called my Mom for more info. She told me that she didn't really remember much about the specifics. At first, I was surprised but then she reminded me that it was forty years ago. She said that she recalled that the woman was a little old soul who wore her hair clenched up in a bun (who besides me is picturing Granny Clampett now?) and that she lived in a little white frame mill hill house. She didn't recall having any hesitation about the whole thing and said that she took my toddler brother along too. She went into the house and the lady quickly took me from her and went into the back bedroom alone with me. She said that I was only back there with the lady for a couple of minutes and when she brought me back and put me in my Mom's arms, she told her that I was cured. And then the next day, the mouth thrush was completely gone.
Anxious to get more colorful details about the whole thing, I implored of her to tell me that she'd heard me screaming in agony from the back room or that she suspected that leeches had been used.. but alas, my Mom said that no, neither had happened. I longed for there to be more drama. Did the lady have dried animal parts hanging from the ceiling and jars of curious elixirs and powders on her shelves? Nope. It was just a normal house, she said. Did my Mom have to promise the old lady my fresh new soul in exchange for the cure? Nope. There is still no explanation for why I am so soulless. I hungered for this story to somehow become crazier than it was. Once again, I asked my Mom how she knew that it was my blood that was fed to me. Had I come from the mythical back bedroom with a bloody finger? My Mom replied:
I remember thinking it was your blood. I wouldn't think that she would have given you any of her blood.....but back then, there's no telling what they'd do.
Aha! I was starting to break down the facade a little. She sort-of-kind-of admitted that there was a small chance that I had been given some rogue blood as a child! I then asked her if she hadn't been just a little nervous giving her baby to a woman who she'd barely met, to take off alone like that. She replied:
Like I said, I wouldn't do that to you now because I'd be scared of perverts and diseases...but back then, you didn't hear about any of that. You took people at face value. Being young like me, it didn't phase me. Someone told me to do it - and I did it....and moved on.
She later told me that she thinks that the lady might have pricked the inside of my mouth for the blood - but I think that she was just tired of me going all Matlock on her with the twenty questions.
I love my Mom for what she did. She was just a young mother out on a mission to make her kid well. As I talked to her further, she told me that when she was a child, her family lived next to a man named Mr. Creamer who was a Conjurer. She told me that she'll never forget burning herself and going over to see him for relief. Tall, lanky Mr. Creamer stood there in his front yard and lightly rubbed the burn and blew on it and softly whispered to it. She said they called it "talking out fire" and that if anyone who had the power ever told how it was done, they would instantly lose the power. They were only allowed to pass on the details on their death bed to someone who they trusted to continue the healing. Then she told me about another lady on a different childhood neighborhood block who she went to when she had a wart on her thumb. She said that the lady didn't even look at it or do anything. She simply told her that it would disappear and within two days, it was like it never happened. So, I guess my Mom had no reason to doubt that the lady by the fairgrounds could do what our pediatrician didn't even attempt to do - to make me well.
I asked my Dad what he'd thought about this when it happened forty plus years ago. He said that he reckoned he'd never heard about it. Somehow, that made me treasure that it happened even more. It almost makes it feel like while my Dad was at work, my Mom made her rounds about town with her daily list of to-do items:
1. Grocery store
2. Pick up dry cleaning
3. Take baby for bloodletting
4. Buy potting soil
And I like to think of us then in the car, driving back home - my Mom sorting through the thousand things in her mind as the mother of two small children no doubt would - and my brother with no seatbelt, bouncing on the bench seat beside her, his teeny toddler head bobbing up and down when we hit bumps in the road. And me buckled in the plastic carseat with my bright red hair and apple cheeks - the taste of blood in my mouth and the faint, disappearing memory of the lady conjurer's grasp fading behind us.
Until next time,
x's and o's,