Thursday, January 10, 2013

That Story About The Conjurer

With the recent run of sicknesses that I've had this Winter, my Mom mentioned to me that I was "always a sick baby". I didn't find this hard to believe as I've never had my tonsils out and well, have always been a bit of a whiner.

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" 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,


ModFruGal said...

That's a kickass story.

Barbara said...

I wish I were you.

1. Grocery store
2. Pick up dry cleaning
3. Take baby for bloodletting
4. Buy potting soil

#3 isn't normal?

PS: I haven't had time to say thank you for my inflatable reindeer! You have the memory!! I forget things instantly. There is a package headed your way soon...if I ever get out of this hell I call caregiving...

love you!

Unknown said...


Dana@Mid2Mod said...

That was a wonderful story, and it brought back memories of my daughter's infancy.

My Hispanic ex-husband's grandmother was a curandera, as her grandmother before her had been. I was a prissy little middle class white girl who knew nothing about folk healers. I believed in taking our daughter to the pediatrician every time she got the sniffles, so I vowed that his grandmother (whom I otherwise adored) would not use any of her herb medicine and chanting on my baby. However, I readily admit that I saw her affect some amazing cures on the other kids in the family, like making a high fever go away instantly by rubbing a raw egg (still in the shell) all over a child's body while saying something in Spanish...which turned the yolk of the egg a frightening blood red. I saw her chant and brush a child's body with branches of herbs from her garden to cure her of nightmares (and it worked). I can't count the times I saw her cure the hiccups by putting a ball of red thread on a child's forehead. Adults came to her too, and I saw her cure all kinds of illnesses and injuries with strange concoctions she'd mix up in her perfectly normal kitchen in her perfectly normal house. As far as I know, she never charged anyone a cent for what she did. I could go on and on...but I know exactly what you mean about people not finding that so unusual 30 or 40 years ago. I assume that in many communities, these things are still done all the time.

I think we forget that people like this were the only healers many people had years ago. There weren't doctors on every corner like there are now, and information about healing properties of herbs were passed down from one generation to another. Much of that information is used by modern pharmaceutical companies today.

The chanting I still don't understand...but I certainly don't treat it with contempt prior to investigation like I did as a new mother.

cheshirecat666 said...

Holy crap,that was one wild weird story!!

Unknown said...

I love this story...because it reminds me of my dad's and north carolina relative's way of treating sickness. They also seem to have similar notions on modern medicine. I know in high school my sister had a wart on her knee that wouldn't go away and my dad told her to rub a black eyed pea on it- then bury said black eyed pea in the back yard and wait several days. The warts eventually went away, but I can't promise they were from the peas. He also seemed to think WD-40 sprayed on anything on the body would fix it- yeah WD-40.

Betty2Tone said...

Ahh I love Dads and their supposed cluelessness

Lauren T said...

What a great story...I love it!

Sara In AZ said...

You know what, this is like the best story ever! If only that lady were still around..............

I can totally picture that plastic baby seat and it always amazes me that we even made it through!

I think I HAVE to go look up mouth thrush now, should I be worried????????

Unknown said...

Mr. Al down at at Tigrett Automotive in Houston gave me a miracle wart healin when I was 5 or so. He rubbed it and asked me if I believed. Wide eyed I said "Yes!" and it was gone in 2 days.
You're an AMAZING storyteller, Eartha. Love your stories, or shall I say, retelling of family history :)

BEESTLYproducts said...

i need to pick up potting soil! haha. i don't mind a lil' witch-doctory here and there.

Andrew said...

The only problem with this awesome story is that there was never anything teeny about my toddler head.

Dakota said...

Wow, what a tale!! And you're really a gifted storyteller; I always love your writing :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I guess it will always remain a mystery. My Father is from Southern Italy had he has a whopper of a story about my Nana, wrapping an onion around her leg, letting the roots grow around a tumor and then pulling it out! I don't know how much of this is fact or fiction but it makes for a great story.

SUZY8-TRACK said...

Great story! By the way, a little late with the warning about looking up mouth thrush...EWWW!

Anonymous said...

I was reading this story and my throat started to itch. This is one of the best stories I've heard in a while, maybe since you told the one about your uncle being mobbed by school children for candy canes, ha ha. I hope you're feeling better!

Rita said...

You KNOW you need to write a book, right?

Laura said...

If it's a vote, I'm with Rita. You need to write a book. Oh, and I missed you! So glad to see you back at the ranch.

Anonymous said...

YOUR STORIES need to be published. now.

Karen said...

This American Life. NOW.

Rae - Say It Aint So said...

i can't even describe how much i LOVE this story. it seems like something from a great book, how cool that it happened to you as a baby! ah!

Jacob said...

I'm intrigued......Do you love the possibility that you have magic blood coursing through your veins?

Stacy @ Stacyverb said...

The fact that this story exists is awesome, obviously, but what really makes it is the way you tell it. Glad to see your recent bout of plague hasn't ruined your way with words, lady!

Holly Hall said...

Amazing story! You should write a book proposal. For serious.

Lisa said...

BEST. STORY. I know everyone's already told you it's the best story, but PS THIS IS THE BEST STORY. I love your ma's nonchalance and your intensifying curiosity about the whole healer thing. Also "WHOSE BLOOD WAS IT?" has got to be one of the most intriguing questions to have to ask one's own mother over the phone... love it, love it.

jaymie said...

never a dull moment with you. I wish you could get to the bottom of this mystery.

Jen said...

Wow, what a GREAT story. I love it. And maybe by posting it...someone will remember her or know who she was!


"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."

Oh, Eartha. Come, now.

Thank you again for sharing this, I love love love it.

Librarian Tells All said...

You kill me! I laughed so hard, it hurt. I thought I was going to need my own conjurer to put my ribs back in place.

In all seriousness, though, I'm glad I'm not the only one. My mother once planned a family vacation around making a visit to an Alabama faith healer. Oh yeah, this stuff happens.

But "pick up dry cleaning, take baby for bloodletting..." HAHAHAHAHA! Best to-do list ever.

Isn't it eerie that it worked, though?