My 79-year-old mom, Jeanerette Jacups-Johnny, has been staying with us recently. She fell twice in one week, hitting her head both times and getting two concussions. She has been recouping at our house for the last month. Her Doctor is worried about blood pooling in her head and pressuring the brain. We are waiting for the MRI to find out what is going on.
Having her here has given me the opportunity to take care of her, nurture her and help get her back to being independent. I figure it is payback for raising me. For making her go through the joys and tribulations of having a son who couldn’t or wouldn’t do things they way other people did. Someone living outside of the box: Someone who was given that freedom by Mom’s patience and gentle guidance.
She was the one who pushed me academically. I was not really sure about going to college, but she made sure that I was prepared if I wanted to go that way. But she did not pus h it on me or make a big deal out of it. When I told her I got accepted at Dartmouth College she said, “that's good, is your room clean.” As a grown up I can see how ironic it was that I packed all of my worldly possessions for the five day bus ride to college while using the military footlocker and duffle bag she used during her stint in the Marines after she graduated from high school.
She graduated in 1955. She left the Karuk world she grew up in. After a going away party at Uncle Bob Offields in Hamburg she said goodbye to the small town of Dunsmuir and her Aunt Violet and Uncle Leonard and headed towards Paris Island South Carolina and Boot Camp.
Riding through the south she soon became introduced to the legacy of slavery - Jim Crow Laws. As a young Indian woman she did not know if the world considered her black or white. After her first flight ever she landed in Atlanta, Georgia. It was the first time she had seen separate drinking fountains for Blacks and Whites. She said to herself, “well I am not black “ and drank from the white fountain. She chose to sit in the middle of the bus on her ride through the south, a region devoid of civil rights for people like her.
From Paris Island she went to her posting at Camp Pendleton, California. There she met Lois Moody, a Maidu Indian, who would become her lifelong friend. She was soon made a platoon leader due to her natural leadership skills. She left the Marines after her enlistment tour. She says that her time in the Marines was her first education on how the government works. She learned how they think which would help her in her future dealings with the BIA, Forest Service and other agencies that she has both battled, and worked cooperatively with to help her Karuk people.
My Mom has always been the backbone of our family. She has gone about the business of parenthood in her inimitable quiet and forceful manner. Most people only know her as the demure Medicine Woman that does what she can to heal her people and community. I know that side as well as the platoon leader Marine she has inside her. She taught my 3 brothers and me what we needed to know to be good Karuk, good men and good human beings. Now she is bestowing her acumen and grace on her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
I can trace my family on my mom’ paternal side back to my Great, Great, Great Grandmother Jenny Red Cap, my Great, Great Grandmother Mary Ike Great Grandmother Florence Harrie, (née Jacups) my Grandfather Joseph Melvin Norris and finally to my Mother Jeanerette. Saying that I am descended from a long line of resilient, wise and loving women is an understatement.
It is time for Mother’s Day; the one time a year we collectively take the chance to show those important women in our lives how much we appreciate them. They brought us into this crazy world and have helped us gain the skills to traverse it. Retaining those lessons and passing on what you have been taught is a way to honor these women every day. A spray of flowers and a card is a nice start; a hug, kiss and words of gratitude will be cherished forever.
Just my two dentalias’ worth
P.S. Since starting this column my mom is back up to 80 percent and well enough to be back home on her own. Prior to a trip to the bay area to see specialists she is working hard at rehabilitation to build up her strength and improve her balance. She is now able to resume what she considers her main job, taking care of both her Elders and the generations of young ones who are our future.
André Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California.