Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Abigial and the Uncertain World of Native America Healing
Abigail’s decision to assist Nellie and step into the uncertain world of the Native American healing traditions is heroic. New Hampshire’s diverse geography is abundant with edible and medicinal plants. Throughout all four seasons, there is a literal paradise of harvestable resources, which the majority of the population is completely unaware of, treat as invasive weeds or ignores completely because of the allure of modern medicine.
Finding, identifying, preparing and administering local medicinal plants has become a lost art, which is slowly regaining awareness because of a shift in our economy, rapidly changing pharmaceutical markets, spirituality, and the fact that the earth is forcing us to change our destructive and wasteful ways of life in order to survive.
At this very moment, we are living amidst the consequences of the various choices that we have made in the past. We are the sum of our actions. We continue to make choices as we move forward.
Abigail is no different. She views her life through the lens of a devout Christian, with a certain amount of expected pain and suffering that happens to go with the territory.
I gave up thinkin’ about that which was easy and pleasant, only to be discontented because I couldn't have my own will. I gave up all wishin’ and longin’ and only thought of bearing what lay upon me, and acceptin’ God’s will.
Bein’ crowded into that miserable house – confined for room, neither wind nor watertight – became my own hell. Gone were the days when we relished the January thaw, the short-lived warmth in the midst of winter.
When the cryin’ and moanin’ ceased, the snow melted in thunderous drips on the roof, on the sill and in the pot in the middle of the room. I pulled my blanket over my ears, but the relentless cryin’ continued, keepin’ me awake through the night. Nellie scuffed up and down the stairs to fill her cup with hot water for medicine tea.
Old Mrs. Kennison coughed and gagged and sobbed from across the hall. “I need water. Somebody get me water.”
“Jest quiet down and go to sleep.” That new lady Martha Libby snarled. “Ain’t nobody gonna fetch you water at this time of night.”
At this pivotal point, Abigail is faced with many possibilities. In addition to accepting her fate as appropriate punishment for her sins, she can pull the covers over her head and tremble, feel sorry for herself and bathe in her misery. She can choose a path of anger and resentment, or she can step into the unknown and take authentic action and participate.
I sat up and whipped the blanket off me when Mrs. Kennison started gaspin’ for air. I listened for Nellie’s footsteps.
“You ain’t goin’ in there are ya?” Patience’s voice came from the dark corner.
“Nellie can’t do it alone. And I can’t sleep with all this commotion.” I wrapped my shawl around my shoulders and headed for the dimly lit hallway.
“You’re gonna catch the fever.” Patience called after me.
I met Nellie on the top step. She held a cup of steamin’ water in each hand. She stopped and looked at me with surprise.
“Is one of these for Mrs. Kennison?” I reached for a cup.
She handed one to me. Both of them had what looked like brown and green dirt floatin’ on the top of the water.
The hot liquid came close to scaldin’ my hand but I kept it steady. “I’ll bring this to Mrs. Kennison.”
Nellie smiled and followed me into the room. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a notched stick, perhaps from a pine tree, and stirred slowly as I held the hot cup wrapped in my hands. She concentrated hard and closed her eyes every so often. Mrs. Kennison started coughin’ again. Nellie took the stick out of the brew and nodded towards the old woman.
I took tiny steps over to the side of the bed sack and got down on my knees. Nellie watched from a distance. “Here Mrs. Kennison. Drink this and you will feel better. The coughin’ will subside.” My hands shook a bit.
She sat up – her silver hair flattened in the back and her eyes blood red – and reached for the cup. “It hurts to cough; I can’t stop.” She wheezed.
“Hold your head up and sip this.” I held the cup close to her lips. My thoughts turned to Mother. She came to Sarah and me in the night with honey, whiskey and a drop of lemon when we had fits of coughin’.
She gripped my arm and drank with eyes opened wide. I placed my cool hand on her burnin’ forehead. “Lie down and get some sleep.”
She whimpered and spoke in a childish voice. “I can’t.” She rubbed her eyes.
“Stop carryin on for Chrissakes.” Martha Libby huffed and flipped on her side.
“You mind your P’s and Q’s, Mrs. Libby. She’s ill.” I snapped.
“That’s what they all say at this damn place.” She mumbled into her bed sack.
“Do not listen to her or anyone else who doesn’t have a good word, Mrs. Kennison. Have bright thoughts; you’ll feel better if you rest and take Nellie’s medicine.”
“I soiled my bed.” She sniffed. “I’m wet and cold.” She let out a long pitiful cry.
I spun around; Nellie was no longer in the room. Mrs. Kennison curled up in a ball on her bed sack. I ran my fingers through my snarly curls and stared helplessly at the old woman whose trials and afflictions seem to bind us closely together. What do I do?
I paced around the room once and stopped. “I will be back with dry clothes and bedding. You’ll be fine.” I wrapped my shawl over her bony shoulders. Dear God, let her be fine.
Abigail Hodgdon, January 25, 1873