I leaned close, braved the flail of Mama’s brown-furred tongue. I could almost untangle what words she sputtered. Look in the woods, Suse, she might have said. On the Jamison place, around the old pond. Bee balm, boneset. Oswego tea. I remembered her telling Lilian and Ethel and me that she had learned the heal-alls from her grandmother, that when we were older, she meant to teach us what common leaves and lowly stems and potent roots we should keep in our larders. There was so much she had not told. In Mama’s fragments of speech, I wanted to hear that I was the one she had chosen, that she meant to pass her store of knowledge to me.
I wiped Mama with wet cloths cooled in the springhouse; poured for her all the water she could drink; steeped pennyroyal leaves from the ravine, made a brew, hoped that it would help her sweat and heave. I kept her windows open day and night, and I cut off her chestnut hair, coiled it in a wreath. When the doctor finally came, he put steamed flannel on her heart, hot tins on her feet. I saw Mama struggle and twitch,… Read more »