Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I Get a Palm Reading

Tucson was an exotic place. Years ago, before airconditioning, it attracted odd people because of the strange properties of the place, as I have noted, it is the place to photograph lightning. My great grandfather Pettit came to Tucson back in the 1880s. My greatgrandmother was a fierce Prohibitionist. Even today, walking across the University of Arizona campus, one can find a bronze plaque in the sidewalk by the old former Engineering building commemorating these women's work. Closing saloons.

She wielded a formidable umbrella. When she first arrived in the Wild West, a sheltered young bride from the Hudson Valley, a regal WASP if there ever was one, she took one look at the men in the Calvary unit at Fort Lowell and decided to properly clean their shirts, bleach and starch and ironing and all! So she and the one freed former slave and two native women went to work, using the big iron pot to make the formula for washing shirts. This involved large amounts of lye.

The ladies lit the fire and heated the water as various native men sat nearby under a mesquite tree, watching. She dumped in the starch and the lye. This is very close to what distilling liquor is all about.

She and the ladies went off to collect the shirts.

When they returned, a terrible sight met their eyes! The men who were watching had drunk from the cauldron and were screaming and writhing on the ground, 14 of them died.

My greatgrandad used to joke that she was more dangerous than he but she didn't like this. Her son, my grandfather, thought she was pretty scary, too, when he was a kid...

This turned her into a dragon fighting the curse of drinking.

Tucson had many singular, strong women. They filled all sorts of nitches. One nitch was the Witch nitch.

I heard about such women all during my childhood but they seemed scarce, to say the least. Until one day, my friends in high school went to this queer back alley store in downtown Tucson. It was in one of the oldest adobe buildings there. It was gloomy after the bright outside sun. The front room was crowded with dusty old books and strange, exotic statues and bizarre antique objects. It was like in a story book. One of my friends explained, "The old lady here sells magic books!" We were all interested.

A very old woman came out to see who rang the bell that hung from a curl of spring steel. "Shoo, you don't need to come in here, " she said, trying to make us leave. We respectfully told her we wanted to inquire about buying books. "You don't need magic books," she said. Suddenly, she stopped and looked at me. And I looked at her. We merged.

"Please, give me your hand," she said quietly. I extended my hand. She bent over it. A tear fell on my palm. I touched her shoulder.

"It is OK. I understand", I said. "It is lightning, isn't it?"

My friends hooted. "Elaine seriously attracts lightning!" they chorused.

The lady looked up and said, "Please, go. I need to talk alone with her". She took me into her back room and offered me tea. "Geronimo was hit by lightning twice," she said. I nodded. "You will cross his path someday".

I told her who my family was. She sat back. "Geronimo. Your family already has crossed his path, more than once". I looked out the window at the sparrows in the occitillo.

"You are going to change rapidly now", she said. "I don't want you to visit again."

"I know. This happens to me all the time. I am used to this now. I accept this". I was no longer surprised, just sad. She took hold of my hand again.

"Bavaquivari. You know what it is?"

I smiled. My winter equinox marker, the Vulture peak, home of the Dead. "You will lose many things including your faith", she said.

I was doing my utmost at the time to be not only a good Christian girl, I was trying to become a minister. I thought I had solved the many riddles and challenges of the Church and reconciled them with my own, haphazard existence.

She was sad. "I wish I could help you. Be careful. You are in great danger. According to your hands, you will succeed. But it is dangerous. You will live very long". She then kicked me out of her store.


Post a Comment

<< Home