It was a hot Saturday afternoon and I was in the yard pulling, chopping, hoeing, and raking weeds. As my mother will attest, when I was young it was virtually impossible to convince me weeding was honorable work. I wanted nothing to do with it and did not hesitate to let Daddy Duke and Momma Rose know how I felt. Try though they might, they never succeeded in convincing me those vegetative invaders were better out of the ground than in it. Since moving from the house above the trading post and into my own home, I better understand their perspective.
As his investigation proceeded, he began to fire off questions about Navajo legends, medicine men, healing ceremonies, and cultural taboos. With his intelligent brow, round reading glasses, careful diction, and precise questioning, he might have been a professor at some expensive Eastern liberal arts college. All that was missing was a tweed jacket, rumpled white shirt, woolen trousers, bow tie, paisley stockings, and loafers.
Filling him in the best I could, and relying on Priscilla to back me up when I had no insight into the specific inquiry, I wondered at his interest in these cultural phenomena. After about 30 minutes of constant questioning from this elderly gentleman, I felt compelled to put a question to him and asked, “What is your interest?” “Well, I’m from South Carolina,” he responded, “and down home we still have people practicing Voodoo. Our West African traditions have some similarities to your Navajo beliefs.” “Oh yeah?” I replied, baiting him.
We had already considered the Navajo legend that arrowheads are made by Grandfather Horned Toad and that they are used as protection against evil spirits. I had explained how Navajo people sometimes feel they have been cursed by someone who has placed a turquoise bead or other foreign object in their body. “It takes a medicine man to extract the substance and get the patient right,” I advised.
Momentarily forgetting his geography, he asked, “Has anybody ever put a root on you?” “A root?” I replied, puzzled by the question. “Oh, sorry,” he said, “that’s South Carolinian Voodoo terminology. Down south, if you want to place a spell on somebody, you ‘put roots on them’ and then a ‘root doctor’ must be engaged to undo the curse.”
A root doctor, like a Navajo medicine man, treats ailments with a variety of remedies made from indigenous plants. Unscrupulous root doctors may be also asked to place a root on one’s enemy. This involves preparing potions from graveyard dirt, powdered snake, or other compounds.
After thinking it through, I assured him that, “As far as I know, there are no roots on me.” “That’s good. Best to keep it that way,” he cautioned, concluding the conversation and exiting the building.
As I pulled and scratched at the yard, I questioned whether I had indeed been rooted by someone who had it in for me. “Maybe it’s my parents,” I thought, remembering my youthful disgust for anything associated with weeding. Surveying my property, I wondered whether I could find a root doctor on Angie’s List or in the local Yellow Pages.