I was raised by my maternal grandparents from ages 2 to 7, and then from 11 to adulthood. My grandmother’s mother, Gertrude, did not like children. She had had six of them. And now had to put up with her offspring’s offspring’s offspring. It was more of a have-to with me. My grandparents lived close to them and took them to doctor appointments. Gertrude got to visit with me more than she would have liked.
Chet and Gertrude
When I was six, I lost my top right front tooth as normal kids do. However, the tooth that took its place, came in twisted like a corkscrew. Gertrude bestowed the pet name of “Snagglepuss” on me.
She was the only one who called me that, but she did it as often as possible. I had the tooth pulled and actually had an extra tooth bud that came in straight. I smiled at her broadly every chance I got, hoping for release from the vile nickname.
Alas, Gertrude was 4’6”. I was already nearly as tall as she was. And in retrospect, it must have seemed threatening to have a child your own size constantly grin at you like a homicidal monkey.
As I got a little older, I began to talk more with my great-grandpa, Chet. He was quiet. Never said more than was necessary. I know more of what was said about him that I knew him. From my grandmother’s stories (his daughter), I knew he had a bad temper. I knew he kicked the shins of people who were rude at dinner with hobnailed boots. I knew he was part “Indun”, or Native American and knew some magic. I knew he was a cutthroat Pinochle player.
Grandpa Green and me (in my lump state).
It was a beautiful thought for an ugly kid. I came from magical people. Somewhere under this pasty nearsighted, greasy-haired lump, there was a continuation of a magical bloodline. Not a passing on of a cheap card trick or sleight of hand, not some $8 Bill Bixby linked rings nonsense, but real magic. Something that I could like about myself that no one could really see.
The summer I was 11, sent back from my feral days in Ohio, I went barefoot every chance I got. My grandparents were supremely overprotective and forced me to wear shoes. With the damp and the heat and the wet socks and closed shoes, I ended up with plantar warts all over my right foot. I hid it at first, embarrassed and scared. But it spread and the toes began to look webbed. The pain of taking a step and desperate willingness to cut my toes off just to stop the infernal itching made me stay in my room.
They found out. My grandfather caught me without my socks. They took me to the doctor. Then to a dermatologist. Dr. Dickinson prescribed a smelly, burning lotion that smelled bad and burned worse. Then Dr. Dickinson spoke about burning them off or freezing them off. I’m sure he was a respected doctor, but to me he was a bald barbarian heaping fear and discomfort on an itchy foot wart volcano.
And he never spoke to me or looked at me. In fact he was examining my foot and reached up with his gloved hand and separated my hair. He looked at my grandmother and said “I can give you some topical lotion for this oily dandruff.” He then scheduled an appointment with them for a month later to either have my foot burnt or frozen.
I spent the next week crying. The idea that the oily, dandruffy, lumpy girl was now also going to be the limping, half-footed, clumsy girl too was crushing me. The burning and itching had not subsided. My foot seemed alien. Did I even care about it being burnt or frozen? Was it part of me still?
Enter magic. During a Pinochle game, the situation of my foot had come up in conversation. And my great-grandfather, supreme car shark and “Indun” had a trick up his sleeve.
He told me to take off my shoes and walk to the back of the yard with him. He told me to follow directions. And he told everyone else that it was none of their business. So I did.
When we got to the lot line, we sat down on the grass. He took my foot and held it and looked at it. He took a large, dry navy bean out of his shirt pocket. He considered it. I didn’t know that old people carried dry beans in their pockets. So I also considered it.
He looked up and the sky and then at my foot. He rubbed the dry navy bean over the warts, humming a bit. I watched him, thinking that I was never going to eat navy beans again. Thinking that this was too simple to be magic and too weird to be anything else.
When he was done, we stood up. He handed me the bean.
“Throw this over your shoulder and don’t look back to see where it falls.”
So I did.
The pain was gone.
Within three days, my foot was clear. And magic was real to me.
I have never had a wart since. I have never eaten a navy bean in my life.
My great-grandfather, the magic “Indun” died at 93. In the years between, I was his friend and lucky Pinochle partner. He came to Thanksgiving a couple times. Gertrude passed before him and he married a lady 30 years younger than him about 6 months before he died. They traveled a lot. She took him to see the world beyond the Midwest. I was happy for him.
Chet dancing at 93 with his new wife Ruby.
A tiny bit of belief, the smallest bit of magic can heal anyone. Everyone has a spark of divine within them, even old people, even ugly children. Don’t let it be lost to the mediocrity of every day. Allow it to be part of you, fight to keep it. Use it to do good.