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What Our Ancestors Pass On

Updated: Jul 12

Lety,my masseuse , comes to the house once a week to give me a massage. She is like an angel.. With golden touch and caring heart, she is a healer. She is certified as a hospice caregiver and is now also taking Saturday classes in nursing, along with Alicia, our housekeeper. This week during my massage I learned more about Lety’s family history, and suddenly all the talent she poseses makes sense. It was handed down to her from her grandfather, though even now she is unaware of that link. But it is one that seems obvious to me.

Sometimes during the more than an hour massage Lety gives me, I am nearly comatose, luxuriating in the warmth of hands applying the perfect pressure and tempo. A motion that is instinctually finding all the places it needs to go. But sometimes Lety and I talk as she works, mostly in Spanish, but some in English as she too would like to practice. I tell myself it’s foolish not to just be silent and concentrate on the delicious experience of the massage itself, but some weeks we just have too much to tell each other, and often she gives me far more time than the hour she’s supposed to spend in order to compensate for our conversation.

This week when she asked me what is new, I told her about a new book I’ve decided I would like to write. It will be historical fiction, based on my grandmother’s story. I told her about my grandfather who came from Austria alone at 16 and moved to Broken Bow, which was Indian Territory, before Oklahoma became a state. Lety listened with rapt attention as I explained about the Wild West, and how unusual his story seemed to me, a Jewish boy opening a dry goods store in 1900, marrying my grandmother, whom he’d only met through letters and a photograph before he brought her to Broken Bow. My grandfather loved those years and I loved how he came alive as he told his stories about the Choctaw people, and how I loved him.

Lety said, “Listening to you talk about your grandfather makes me think about my grandfather too. He was a “doctor del campo,” a “curandero,” a healer. When I was little we went to visit him up a mountain, an hour’s walk away. It was so high no car could drive there. I thought it strange when I visited that so many people would come into the house to spend time with him. Sometimes they brought fruits or other gifts with them. I wanted some of what they brought, and I was curious about what they were doing with my grandfather. But my grandmother, who was very, very sweet, said, “No, no no. You can’t go in there.” He had all kinds of bottles and jars and there were plants everywhere around the house. My grandmother said some were for stomach problems, some were for your heart. They would grind leaves and put them in liquid, I remember the grinding motion she made with her hands. My grandfather would never take money from the people. He said that would interfere with the healing. He was a very special man.”

Healing runs in Lety’s family, a link from her grandfather to her. Massage and nursing are natural tools for her to use to care for people. Magic runs in her veins. I don’t think Lety was even aware of that thread before she told me about her grandfather. Healing is in her DNA, like any other gift or talent that may be passed on. Long after Lety had packed up her massage table and her oils and we said goodbye, I thought how much we learn from sharing our families’ stories, and how much the richness of one’s culture can be learned and appreciated when we listen. Maybe when I finish writing my book, I might encourage other people—small groups of ex-pats and locals to do the same kind of exchange. I, for one, would be fascinated listening.

Anyway, that would be a long time from now, if it ever were to happen, since I’ve only begun doing background research and haven’t begun the long drawn out process of writing the book I would like to write next. But I’ll keep it in mind. And next time I meet with my tutor, I will ask her more about the beliefs and practices of the indigenous people who lived and still do live in the San Miguel area.

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