Note: This is a fictional story by Wayne Cooke, inspired by his relatives of the Klallam tribe, and their late dad, Loren Cooke, who needed Rob.
Grandpa was the tribal shaman (doctor) for his tribe on the Washington coast. But now, in the 1960s, he was old, his friends had passed on, and no one came any more to seek help from his profound knowledge of the healing plants of the Olympics. His own son, his pride and joy, had been well on the way to learning, and taking his place, but died in a tragic accident.
Now his grandson, Rob, was his only hope to pass on the old knowledge, and the ornate staff that symbolized it. But Rob was a self-centered teen-ager who thought Grandpa was silly and old-fashioned.
How could Grandpa possibly get through to his grandson? Finally, with much prayer, he conceived a plan, but it would take everything he had. His lonely courage, and its long-term effect on Rob, may help you appreciate the great knowledge of local medicinal plants of the original tribes, and its new value today.
GRANDPA’S MEDICINE STAFF
Rob reached for the last doughnut in the box his mom had brought home last night. He had just gotten home from school. He wouldn’t even have gone if his mom and grandpa hadn’t been on his case so much lately. It wasn’t that he hated school. He just hated getting up so early. His frequent absences made it harder to catch up on what was going on, anyway. It was easier just to hang out at home while his mom was at work in the Safeway store in the city.
It was the 1960’s, and Rob’s tribe, what was left of it, lived here in this small Washington town, upriver from the coast. He knew everyone. Most didn’t have a job, but fishing in the nearby river, or the ocean a couple miles downstream, provided some food and money. Others were loggers or worked in the mill.
Lately though, hanging out at home had become less comfortable for Rob. It was Grandpa. For several weeks Grandpa had been in a sour mood, rarely talking. He used to laugh once in awhile, but now his lined and weathered face only scowled at Rob. And Grandpa sat for hours now in his old brown chair, lost in thought.
Grandpa was in that chair now, remembering the faces of long ago as he stretched out his long legs.. When he was young, he mused, at least some of the tribal members tried to keep the old ways, the traditions, and the respect. Three of those, close friends and respected elders, had died in the past year. They, at least, had asked for his services as the tribal shaman, to say the right prayers to help them when they had to leave this life. He inherited his role as shaman from his father, and when it was time for him to join the Great Spirit, the position should pass on to his grandson, young Rob, since Rob’s father, his only son, had died three years before.
But Rob was just like all the other punk kids he saw who didn’t seem to know or care about anything but themselves. All Rob did was sit around, listen to music, and eat, or go off with other friends like him. Grandpa felt a keen loneliness, a feeling that everything was wrong, that he didn’t belong here any more. He tightened his fists to keep the tears from his eyes. He couldn’t think of one person who would even think to ask for his help anymore. They’d go to that white doctor in the city, or let the funeral home tell them what to do when a family member died. His few attempts to share with Rob just a little of his healing knowledge had ended in argument. Rob, his own grandson, seemed to think he was a silly old man.
“That’s old-fashioned stuff,” Rob would say.
Ha! The very thought made the elder angry, and he slammed his fist on the chair arm, wincing from the pain in his arthritic hand. But something had to happen. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t, just sit here and grow older! He prayed, silently, again.
He heard Rob leave the house without saying a word. Then Rob’s mother came home, and the evening went by in uncomfortable silence. Rob came in, ate dinner, left for a while, came home and went to his room. Grandpa was the last to go to bed. When he entered his small bedroom, he went first to the closet, reached far in to the back corner, and pulled out a dusty stick about four feet long. When he had carefully wiped clean every inch of the medicine stick, symbol of his healing knowledge, he smiled grimly.
The intricate and beautiful carvings, though faded from age, still stood out clearly enough. He held it tightly, and prayed again.
The next morning he was up early. When the three of them had finished their cold cereal and toast, he looked at Rob and said, “You’re not going to school today.”
The shocked look in the faces of both Rob and his mother gave him time to continue with; “I’m taking you on a hike. Two nights. Go pack your sleeping bag. Better take your parka, too.”
Rob’s mom started to protest, then saw the determined look in the eyes of this old man whom she had always admired. She hurried to help her surprised, but pleased, son put things into an old backpack. If Grandpa wanted Rob to skip school to go on a hike with him, she wasn’t going to question it. Only good could come of Rob spending time with Grandpa in the woods, and Grandpa knew the woods like the back of his hand.
They said goodbye, then walked to the edge of town with Grandpa using the old medicine staff as a walking stick. They turned up a trail that Rob knew well. But after two hours the trail no longer looked so familiar, and by noon Rob was following Grandpa along old, small trails with overgrown brush that had to be pushed aside. They found a small clearing and stopped to rest.
“Let’s eat now. I’m hungry,” Rob said.
“No, not now,” answered Grandpa.
“Why not? It’s time for lunch!” protested Rob. His face had a familiar angry look. “I’m starved!”
“No, not now,” repeated Grandpa. He then pointed out two plants near them and tried to explain how they could be used to ease hunger pangs. But Rob wasn’t listening. Finally Grandpa stood up, put on his pack, and started walking again without a word. Rob had no choice but to follow. There was no way he could have found his way back along the small and sometimes intersecting trails. His hunger made him angry. Grandpa had the food and wouldn’t share it! But surely they were stopping later to eat. They had to! Each time they came to a spring or creek, Grandpa made sure Rob drank water, but made some excuse to put off eating.
It was a warm fall day, and they both soon had to put coats into the packs as the sun rose higher. At times, Grandpa turned and tried to point out the use of an object or plant they were passing. Usually this just led to an angry, “Why can’t we eat now?” from Rob.
Fortunately, Grandpa didn’t hike very fast, and Rob had no trouble keeping up. But he had no idea where he was in these huge and wild Olympics. Grandpa had become his only way to get back home. As evening came on, the hunger pangs, which had disappeared for a while, returned even stronger but his protests were met only with grim silence.
At one point, Grandpa bent over, pulled a dandelion plant out of the ground, and started to tell Rob something about the roots being helpful for arthritis. But Rob yelled, “I don’t care! I’m hungry!”
“Shut your mouth!” Grandpa roared back with flashing eyes that stopped Rob in his tracks. But then Grandpa suddenly softened, covered his face with his hands, and mumbled, “I’m sorry, I guess you got a right to be upset. Remember, I haven’t eaten either, and I haven’t told you the whole story yet.”
“Good place to rest a bit anyway…sit on this log, here. And don’t ask for any food because I didn’t bring any. I didn’t bring a thing.” Before the shocked Rob could reply, he continued, “And it’s because of you I didn’t bring any. I brought you up here because you’ve got something important to do here, whether you like it or not. Rob, do you know who you are?”
It took Rob a while to digest this unexpected question. He knew his obvious answer wasn’t what Grandpa wanted, but he couldn’t think of anything else. “Yeah, sure. I’m Batman. What do you mean, anyway?”
Grandpa ignored the sarcasm as he stared into Rob’s eyes for several seconds, almost as though he was fixing the memory in his mind. “Yeah, Batman. You’re what your dad would have been if he hadn’t died. He’d already learned a lot from me. He would have been our shaman, in my place when I was gone. He was always good with people… always helping people.”
At that point both the old man and the very young man became silent, remembering the night three years earlier when a drunk driver had hit Rob’s dad while he was trying to help out another motorist on the old coast highway.
Rob felt a little knot of anger in his stomach, almost replacing the pain of hunger. Finally he looked up and said, “But, Grandpa, nobody does that any more! Dr. Wilson has all the modern medicine now. But what does that have to do with food? Why didn’t you bring any food? Do you want us to starve? Isn’t there anything to eat?”
“Is food all you can think of? You listen to me, first! Sure, Doc Wilson does have some good medicine. Went there myself last year, remember? But do you remember Betty’s little girl, almost died from the infection…and I got her well, didn’t I? I’ve learned a lot more than Doc Wilson…lots of stuff he don’t know. I learned it from my own father, and the words, too; the prayers. You don’t think prayer isn’t powerful? But you wouldn’t care, would you. There’s more than I can ever tell you now, even if you wanted to listen. Yeah, don’t worry; you aren’t going to starve to death. It’ll do you good to feel hunger. Like it or not, it’ll do you good. You hear that? It’ll do you good! Spirits don’t talk to a full belly.”
“Spirits! Grandpa! What do you mean? Oh, no, is this supposed to be one of those things like a…a vision quest or something? You’re crazy! You took me all the way up here with no food? Is that what you’re doing?”
Grandpa rose slowly to his feet, glaring angrily at Rob, trying to form an answer that would make sense to this kid that was so wrapped up in his own wants. After several long seconds, he said slowly, “Rob, you know I’m not going to do anything to hurt you. You know that. You’ll be seeing your mom day after tomorrow just like I promised. I keep my promises. But you’re right. You’ve got a lot to learn up here and something more than me has to teach you, because you sure don’t listen much to me. Those are your people down there, your people, and they’re going to need you…and this.” He patted the stick, and then abruptly turned away.
“Come on, let’s go! We’ve got that ridge to get over before the sun goes down.” He swung his pack on and started up the little trail.
“I’m not going anywhere!” yelled Rob defiantly. But Grandpa didn’t seem to hear as he kept on hiking. And soon Rob had no choice but to follow.
An hour of uphill climbing dulled his hunger for a time. Then they reached a stony ridge, which the trail followed for a few yards before angling down to a small plateau on the other side where Grandpa indicated they were to spend the night. Rob’s face showed his resentment, but he kept quiet and followed Grandpa’s directions without complaint. Soon they had a plastic sheet tied to branches for a cover, and had their sleeping bags unrolled on the ground tarp just as the last light faded from the western sky. Rob could see a silvery line on the horizon and knew the Pacific Ocean was in that direction but had no idea how far away it was. “Are we headed west tomorrow?” he asked. Grandpa nodded yes, but seemed lost in his own thoughts.
Neither one said anything for a long time. Then Grandpa turned over. “Goodnight, Rob,” he said. “Remember, it won’t hurt you to feel hunger. It’ll go away after awhile.” But it didn’t, and Rob twisted back and forth trying to find a comfortable position as his tummy kept reminding him of its emptiness. The fall stars shone brightly outside the plastic cover. There was hardly any breeze. It seemed like hours before he finally dozed off.
Then, in a dream, he was next to his dad, and they were both trying to help somebody near a car, but the person kept moving away from them. Dad kept telling Rob to hurry, but Rob couldn’t seem to move very fast and his stomach hurt. He wanted desperately to catch up with his dad but he was in slow motion, and Dad kept telling him to hurry. Things were getting mixed up, and a low mumbling kept intruding into the dream.
Rob woke up and turned toward a mumbling sound coming from the other bag. Grandpa, face up, seemed to be praying in words only partly understandable to Rob. His hands lifted from his sleeping bag at times, as if to punctuate his words. It went on for several minutes, but finally Grandpa turned over and seemed to go to sleep. Rob stayed awake for a long time, thinking about Dad, and about Grandpa’s praying, and about his hunger. Nothing seemed to make sense. Did Grandpa really think something weird would happen? Did all that praying really mean something? Was something supposed to happen to him? He knew only one thing for sure. He was stuck with the old man. He also trusted Grandpa, though. He would be home again by the day after tomorrow, he had no doubt, and this strange hike would be over. He wished he hadn’t come, but it was too late for that. Somehow he would get through one more day and night.
He didn’t sleep well the rest of the night, waking up several times. Finally he woke to the morning light spreading from the east, which he watched, fascinated, until the trees around him were easily visible. It was only a few minutes before Grandpa also woke up, rubbed his eyes, and started getting out of the sleeping bag. Rob reluctantly did the same and silently the two of them rolled up the bags. Grandpa stopped after tying his bag, and looked toward Rob.
“Didn’t sleep very well, did you?” he asked.
“No, I didn’t. I was hungry,” Rob answered with an accusing look at Grandpa.
“Well, if you want to know, I’m hungry, too,” answered the old man. “A couple days without food won’t hurt you. Did you have any dreams last night?”
This unexpected question threw Rob off. It took a minute to remember the dream.
“Well, yes, I guess so. It was like Dad and me were trying to help somebody in a car and he was telling me to hurry, and I couldn’t. Then I woke up. That’s all.”
Grandpa listened intently as Rob spoke. He was still for a moment, and then spoke softly, almost to himself, “Good, good. He’s still with you, then.”
“Huh?” Rob exclaimed. But now Grandpa was busy untying the tarp cover and giving Rob instructions to help and seemed to be in no mood for questions. Soon they were again on their way, pushing through overgrown brush, following a trail hardly recognizable to Rob, who was now getting more used to the hike, actually enjoying some of the views. The country was a bit more open and once in awhile they would stop to rest at a view point. They spotted deer and other animals several times. Grandpa continued to point out, using his medicine staff, places he remembered, and plants that were useful for healing, such as milk thistle seed, used in drug and alcohol treatment, and a nearby large oxeye daisy. Grandpa said the stems could be made into a tincture that would help cure fungal and bacterial skin infections. Rob didn’t try very hard to remember. He no longer argued, though. He knew it was useless, and, anyway, his stomach claimed priority on his attention. Frequent stops to drink spring water helped the hunger pangs. The day seemed to pass faster than the day before.
One more night, Rob kept thinking, one more night.
The afternoon was warm, again, and in addition Rob smelled salt water at times. He was sure they were getting closer to the ocean, and finally asked Grandpa, who agreed that he smelled ocean, too. But he didn’t seem that excited about it, and, in fact, got quieter the closer they got. They also were going downhill much of the time, which made it easier, at least until Rob carelessly pushed past a branch of devil’s club, a plant he knew well and hated.
“Ow! Dang!” he yelled and stopped to shake his stinging hand. Grandpa stopped and told him to rub the underside of some nearby ferns on it.
“Maybe it was talking to you,” Grandpa said with a rare smile. “You have to wear gloves when you dig its roots up.”
“Roots? Why in the world would you want the roots?” Rob asked.
“You probably don’t remember when you were little and you had a bad bronchial cough that you just couldn’t get rid of it. I made you a medicine from the devil’s club root and it loosened it up real well…called an expectorant. Safe, too, and it worked better than the store medicines. But that’s only one use. For centuries, it was used for adult diabetes in all the tribes around here. It is the only plant that really helps. We couldn’t get along without it.”
Rob was amazed and wide-eyed as he listened. The plant he thought he hated with a passion was the plant that got him over a bad cough and helped a lot of others, too.
“You’re kiddin’…?” he managed to say.
“No, I’m not. It’s a great plant. You just have to respect it. It bites.” With a smile, Grandpa turned and continued down the trail.
This incident made Rob forget about his hunger for a while. But then the thoughts of food returned.…any kind of food. He was thinking about macaroni and cheese when he stopped in startled amazement. Was that the sound of a car?
It was. They were going down a trail bringing them to the coast highway. They could hear cars more clearly now. Rob excitedly yelled, “There’s the road!” when he first spotted, between the trees, the piece of black ribbon below them.
Grandpa, though, seemed even quieter as they stepped out onto that highway on which his only son had been killed, perhaps not far from where they stood. Rob suddenly realized what Grandpa might be thinking and grew silent, himself. Together, they waited for a car to pass, then walked quickly to the other side and climbed up a sandy bank of weeds and into groves of smaller trees. Grandpa used the medicine staff to help him up the slope. After a short time, they came to a small tree-covered hillock within sight of the ocean beach and stood silently, looking all around. Grandpa gazed a long time at the ocean shore. Rob thought of running down to the beach and splashing in the water, but the sun was low in the western sky and he knew they had to set up their shelter first. He was sure that he’d be able to do that in the morning. His stomach still growled, but he didn’t mind so much, knowing that tomorrow would, somehow, bring them home.
Rob was faster at helping get the shelter put up, now, and it didn’t take long before they were sitting on their sleeping bags, watching the day brightness grow dimmer. Grandpa was quieter than ever, so Rob dared to ask him, “How are we going to get home tomorrow?”
Grandpa looked at him with a brief flash of anger followed by a wry smile. “You are home, my son”, he said, and put his hand quietly on Rob’s shoulder. “All of this is your home, and these are your people. After all, you are growing up and it won’t be long before you are a man. So what do you plan to do then?” The hand came off and there was an uncomfortable silence.
“Well, I’ll get a job, and buy a car, I guess. But how are we getting home tomorrow?” It was almost a demand. He needed to know.
“Okay, okay,” Grandpa gave in and pointed. “See the highway? See it bending around that curve? It’s heading north, and it is only about ten miles to the Creek Road turnoff to home. It would only take maybe three-four hours to walk home from here. You’re not as far from home as you thought!”
“I guess we’re going to hike up the highway, then, huh?” said Rob.
“Maybe. Anyway, you’ll see your mom tomorrow,” Grandpa answered. It wasn’t the best answer but it gave Rob the feeling of safety that he needed. He would be so happy to see Mom again, and eat again.
But Grandpa didn’t intend to let go of his own question. “So, again, have you thought about what you want to do after high school?”
Rob squirmed. “Well, not really. The jobs at the mill pay pretty good.”
“Yeah, and the first thing they want to see is your proof of graduation, right? So you better put getting graduated on top of your list, if you want any job at all, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I suppose I should go to school every day, but it’s so boring I just hate it. I hate school. Besides, you never graduated!”
“Well, no, never had a chance to. But, now wait a minute, I did, too, sort of, and…maybe I have my graduation proof right here!” As though he had suddenly thought of something, he reached for the staff and brought it closer to Rob, whose face plainly showed bewilderment now.
“Okay, let’s see how much you learned yesterday. What do you when a person has a lot of pain?”
“You said it was that yellow flower, or was it the root. I don’t know! What does that have to do with graduating?”
“Rob, it took me years, more years than you’ll spend in high school, to learn all the things that grow that are useful to our people and can even save their lives. I had to learn from my dad how and when to gather herbs, and store them safely and prepare them properly. I had to learn all of that for hundreds of healing plants, and then I had to learn all the healing prayers. The medicines have to work with the spirits, Rob. The prayers are so the spirits of the medicines can help them work. I couldn’t just learn these things half way. Can you imagine someone wanting to get halfway well? I had to learn it all, and learn it right, before this staff was passed on to me. No one called it graduation, but it really is, in a sense. Now I’m going to show you what my own graduation staff says.
“See these jagged lines circling the top?”
And Grandpa then explained to Rob what each design stood for. Some were simply decoration, but most were representations of healing spirits, or ancient happenings or stories, or diseases, or curative powers. He emphasized that this one staff represented his power to heal.
At the end, he looked into Rob’s eyes. “Rob, you are my grandson, and you…are…special, whether you like it or not. This staff would have been your dad’s staff, and your dad is in you. You dreamed about him. He’s in you. Now why did he stop to help that other guy on the highway? The answer is important, Rob, because in spite of the way you act sometimes, you are, way down deep, like your dad. So, why did your dad take his time to stop on a rainy night, and get out of his car to help someone? You know he could have driven right on by, like the others. Why, Rob?”
In spite of his hunger, Rob had been enjoying the stories carved into that staff. He had always wondered about it. But, suddenly, Grandpa was again putting him on the spot. He had to think about his dad. He knew his dad always seemed to be helping people. But why?
“Well, I guess he liked people and liked helping them,” he managed to say. Grandpa had been waiting for that.
“That’s right. He loved people. He loved helping people. This is your land, Rob, and these are your people – the people your dad loved. And your dad is in you, Rob.
“It may take awhile, but I’m thinking that over the next few years you will discover that you have more of your dad in you than you think right now. Even if you work in the mill, I’ll bet you keep finding yourself doing things and suddenly think, ‘This is what my dad would have done.'”
Rob stared at his Grandpa. He didn’t know what to say. He liked being compared to his dad, but why did Grandpa keep talking about it? Grandpa, too, he now realized, had changed just since they started talking. He almost acted as though he liked Rob. He was friendly and relaxed, as though he had settled something in his mind and no longer felt tense and angry. A new feeling settled inside him next to the hunger. He liked his Grandpa. He didn’t understand him, but he actually liked him.
There was a long silence as Rob thought about Grandpa’s words. He wanted to say something, but it took awhile for the words to come. He caught Grandpa two or three times glancing at him. Finally he said slowly; “I guess I love my dad. I just wish he was here. I wish he was here. If you say I’m like him, well, I guess that’s okay, too.” He was upset to find a few quiet tears rolling down his cheek, and brushed them away.
Grandpa suddenly said, “It’s getting dark. We’d better turn in.” He unrolled his bag, crawled into it, and said, “good night,” then rolled over as though he were already asleep. Rob did likewise, but couldn’t get to sleep. All the things his grandpa had said to him kept rolling around in his mind. Was this the reason they went on this long hike without food, just so Grandpa could talk to him? That didn’t make sense, either. He had the feeling that there was something missing, something yet to happen. Maybe those spirits would do something? Tomorrow, surely, some more answers would come, and no matter what, they would be home to see his mom tomorrow evening.
Rob dozed off now and then but his stomach kept waking him up. In the middle of the night he again heard the monotonous praying of his Grandpa. He fell asleep again.
Some noise woke him as the dim morning light was showing in the east. Grandpa was getting out of his bag to walk away. Probably he just needed to pee and would soon crawl back in. Rob waited, but dozed off again. The morning sun had risen when he woke again and looked over at his Grandpa, but saw only the empty bag. “That’s funny,” he thought, “Grandpa should be back by now. Maybe he was just watching the dawn before he returned.”
“Grandpa,” Rob called out, “Are you out there?” There was no answer. Bothered, Rob decided to crawl out and find his grandpa. Maybe he had turned an ankle, or had a heart attack, or got turned around and couldn’t find his way back. Rob walked over to the highest point and looked up and down the wooded area, calling “Grandpa!” several times. It was light enough now to easily spot a man. Rob ran down the tree line in one direction, continuing to call, and then repeated in the other direction from camp. He looked carefully at the beach. No one was in sight. He called again, as loudly as he could. Nothing.
He went down to the sandy beach to get a wider view, and looked up and down. Just then a sparkle caught his attention far out in the water. Maybe it was a fish jumping, but it looked different than that. He peered carefully, watching it. Slowly a horrible thought formed in his mind. It was a person, swimming. And that person was swimming away from the shore, not towards it. The swimming motion looked more and more like Grandpa, swimming, and Rob yelled and ran into the water to swim in that direction. After only a few strokes, however, he realized the futility of it and, treading water, kept yelling “Grandpa” over and over. He swam back to shore, cold and shivering, and watched Grandpa moving farther away. Rob looked around frantically for some kind of rowboat. Finally he realized that there was nothing he could do. It was then that he screamed “Grandpa!” at the top of his lungs, over and over. Finally he sat on a log and cried, letting the tears flow, the choked sobs giving vent to his grief and his angry confusion.
Grandpa was gone, having swum too far out to be able to return. Rob had heard of others doing that, swimming away from this life, praying that the spirits would provide a quick end and welcome them into the afterworld.
But why would Grandpa do this now? He had seemed so friendly and talkative last night. Just when Rob thought he half understood why they came on this hike, Grandpa did this. It was stupid. Rob felt a hot anger at his grandpa, even while trying to figure out why. After awhile, he wearily stood up, shivering, and walked up toward the trees. As he came close to their camp, he saw the medicine staff leaning against a tree, in plain sight. He had missed it before. So Grandpa had taken it from their shelter, but left it in an obvious place for Rob to find. Why?
Rob put on his parka for warmth, pushed the two sleeping bags together, and sat on top of them to try to think it out. There had to be a reason. Grandpa was smart.
But then Rob remembered times when Grandpa felt especially lonely and depressed and made some remark that indicated he would welcome death. This was mostly in the last three years, after Dad died on this highway. Had Grandpa planned it to be this way?
Rob rubbed his hands over the staff and wondered what to do with it when he got back.
He would have to tell his mom, and she would cry. What would she do with Grandpa’s medicine staff?”
If Dad were alive, it would have been his staff, of course. But if it couldn’t be his dad’s, then…well, it was his! That thought struck him like a blow. But it couldn’t be his! He didn’t know anything about that stuff!
Then, it started slowly coming together. His grandpa was really trying to teach him a few of the things he would need to know, not only the plants, etc., but the caring that a tribal shaman like his grandpa, or like his dad, would need to feel. Grandpa knew that if he wanted to leave this life, he had to find a way to get through to Rob first. Once the dream convinced Grandpa that Rob carried his dad in his heart, he trusted the spirits to do the rest. Maybe they were, because Rob at that moment felt both overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. He knew he would never be the same.
The hunger pangs, forgotten since dawn, now returned to gnaw at him, rousing him to action. He untied the plastic sheet, folded it up with the ground cover, and stuffed them into Grandpa’s bag. He rolled up and pushed each sleeping bag into a pack, picked up a few leftovers, and was ready to leave. He settled his pack onto his back, picked up Grandpa’s pack with one hand, the medicine staff in the other, and headed down to the road. Carrying the extra weight made him aware of feeling weak from not eating. Grandpa’s staff, now his, felt uncomfortably strange in his hand. He reached the road, crossed to the other side, and stuck out his thumb.
Several cars passed by before an old pickup truck slowed and pulled over. Twenty minutes later, Rob was thanking the driver and getting out at the familiar end of Creek Road. He started the mile-long hike home. The two packs seemed to get heavier and heavier as he walked. He gratefully accepted a neighbor’s offer of a ride the final quarter mile to home.
He had about four hours before his mom came home. He found something to eat in the refrigerator while he worried about how to break the news to his mom. She would cry, and then pass the news on to neighbors and very soon everyone would know and come over to offer sympathy.
That evening was full of tears and comforting hugs and uncomfortable questions. Rob’s own tears came at unexpected times. He told them exactly what had happened without sharing his own thoughts about the reasons or Grandpa’s conversations with him.
His mother noticed, though, that he had cleaned and placed the medicine staff in his own bedroom. She also noticed, with surprise, that Rob was cleaned up, had eaten breakfast, and was ready waiting when the school bus arrived. He rarely missed another day.
Rob graduated with very good grades during his last two years, and then enrolled at the community college where he showed both interest in and quickness in learning basic biology and botany science courses. He began to dream of becoming a real doctor.
The next ten years went by with the usual joys and stresses of marriage and children. During this time he held a variety of jobs, but all of them were somehow in the medical field, from ambulance driver to hospital maintenance crew. He constantly took training sessions for his jobs and always was attending at least one college pre-med course. These courses were exciting for him, but also seemed somehow to sidestep the healing knowledge of his grandpa. Missing from his classes was any mention of the medicinal herbs and treatments that his grandpa was futilely trying to teach him.
The old medicine staff was kept carefully at hand. At times he quietly prayed while holding it, not at all as his grandpa had prayed, but just as sincerely. He prayed for guidance to somehow find the connection between what he was learning and the great knowledge that Grandpa had. It was puzzling to him and so he started asking questions and reading library books about native herbs and healing plants. He did find some plants his grandpa had mentioned. But there must be doctors that knew Grandpa’s knowledge also! It was a big missing gap. It was the knowledge his dad was learning, and it seemed to have disappeared. His increasing questions, though, finally led him to a naturopathic physician near Port Angeles that seemed to know much of the plant knowledge of his grandpa and encouraged him to seek a scholarship to a college that would combine both modern medicine and natural healing plants. He would learn naturopathic medicine and graduate as a fully accredited naturopathic doctor. This was the answer to his prayers.
Finally, with the cooperation of his family, he gained scholarships that would value his medical work experience as well as his Native-American lineage. With housing and tuition paid for, his family moved near the naturopathic college and the final leg of Rob’s dream was coming true. It was not often easy studying, but he set a good example for his own children and often shared what he had learned with them.
Four years later, in Rob’s tribal land, you would find his new Naturopathic Clinic, serving his people with care and love. Inside the front door is a glass cabinet displaying Grandpa’s – no – Rob’s medicine staff, with plaques explaining some of the carvings.
Rob had caught up to his dad. Grandpa smiled.
© 2012 Wayne Cooke
(Note from Wayne Cooke). I’m trying, in this story, to recreate the frustration and lonely courage involved in living the transition from the valuable culture of the Coast Salish tribes to the “modern” culture. The story of Rob is fiction, but what is not fiction is that many young tribal members of today continue to value and learn the old knowledge while succeeding well in learning the new knowledge. The future will value both.
Other books by Wayne Cooke:
“For readers who care about our world.”
They are a tremendous information value for the price of a latte!
1. Title: John Robbins’ extraordinary RECIPE BOOK, by Wayne Cooke: Price $3
This booklet tells the true story of the young heir to the Baskin & Robbins Ice Cream fortune. It describes how John and his new wife, both rebels, disavowed the “rich good life” in New Hampshire and moved to northern Washington State to grow their own food and make do on a few hundred dollars a year. It suggests you buy John’s own book, which teaches that wealth and happiness are two different things, and contains the tools for changing your life into THE NEW GOOD LIFE, (by John Robbins). This booklet has the ideas of John’s book, plus his especially healthy recipes.
2. Title: GRANDPA’S MEDICINE STAFF, by Wayne Cooke: Price $3
This is a fictional story set a half century ago in the coastal Olympics of Washington State. Grandpa is the aging “shaman” (or “doctor”) for his coastal tribe. But no one came any more to seek help from Grandpa’s profound knowledge of the healing plants of the Olympics. His own son had died tragically, and his disinterested teenaged grandson was his only hope to pass on the knowledge and the ornate staff that symbolized it. Finally, with much prayer, he conceived a plan, but it would take everything he had. Would he have the courage? Both heart-rending and inspiring!
3. Title: GOOD NEWS about the planet we live on, by Wayne Cooke: Price $3
A very serious book, The World on Edge, was published by Earth Policy Institute in 2011. It is a dire and sobering report on the state of our world… except for the second half. Cooke was so impressed by the many (74) wonderful and often amazing projects that are now improving our planet, that he went to the trouble of describing each of them, hoping to share his happy discoveries with others. He knows that most people would have no way to know the good things happening if he didn’t make it easier. This book is for environmentalists and caring people who like to stay aware of their world.
4. THE CHALLENGE (of The China Study), by Wayne Cooke: Price is ONLY $1
The real challenge, for us ordinary people, of the most comprehensive and scientifically rigorous study on nutrition in the world is simply to accept the factual statistics and make our own conclusions based on them. The findings were so startling, and so contrary to our cultural eating habits that Cooke decided to summarize them so as to make them available to a wider audience; especially so since the THE CHINA STUDY, by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, has become so popular recently. BUY IT & BE CHALLENGED!
For more information:
24203 – 88th Ave. East
Graham, WA 98338
Thank you, Wayne. That was a lovely, touching story.
I’ll share this story with my Ecosystem Explorers. Thanks!