Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Corn Mother at the Linnton Food Pantry

During the summer of 2015, I decide to help at the food pantry.  It seems an unlikely place for a food pantry but each morning I could see hundreds of people coming by bus or walking or crowding into old cars.  Volunteers picked up food at the regional food bank and brought it to this small, regional community center.  People came pinwheel chairs and with walkers; with children and grandparents.

They did not need anyone else to give out food so I  thought perhaps people would like a few health screenings.  I packed a bag and prepared to do  blood pressures, weights, pulse, blood glucose and oxygen levels.   These are very simple screenings that most people could get in a grocery store.  But it seemed that what they wanted, that the machine could not give them, was someone to listen to their story and I felt honor to listen to their journey; the journey that would bring them to this place of waiting for free food in a small, crowded center squeezed between the river and railroad tracks and highway.  The trains and trucks covered us with a layer of dust and noise.   In a city of lovely parks and old, tree filled neighborhoods, the food pantry sat on a sliver of land that thing hung on for dear life.  

It was a popular food pantry.  People came from far away because, I believe, there was considerable respect and dignity.   I listen to the stories of the homeless, the sick, the injured, the immigrant; people who found themselves without food and wondering why anyhow this happened.  

Almost everyone had high blood pressure and struggled with high blood sugar.  Their health was worn down by poverty and abuses beyond reason.  It was hard to hold their head up high but I could see that the poorest of our communities have a culture of their own.   They are bound together by survival.

This is one woman's story which brings with it the story of her birth.

A thin, anemic woman sits down and sighs.   Her strength shines through the fatigue.  She is still laughing and has grown tough and determined.  She is there with a friend.  They took tri-met to get there and smoke outside until their number is called.  She tells me her story; kids, grandkids, evicted, abused.

"I had to be tough" she explains.  "I was born in a cornfield." I listen carefully.

"It was summer and the corn needed picking so my mother went up into the corn field and I just slipped out before she could get back to the house. "

I ask if she and her mom were okay and she says she guesses so.

"Born in a corn field."   She shakes her head.   "They were poor too, like me."

I tell her that women all over the world gave and give birth in the midst of harvest.   I tell her, why I have met women who gave birth in rice paddies and gathering turmeric and ranching.   I had read Pearl Buck's Good Earth and was so surprised she had a baby in the rice field.  Now I can see that all over the world. women give birth during harvest.   They pick the baby up and head back to the house with the best harvest of all - the baby.   Later some one will go get the corn or rice or roots they were working on.   She will go to bed and be given tea and forever the baby will be told the story of birth in the midst of harvest.

 I thank her for the story.   I think of her mom with four other young children trying to get the corn in.  
Too busy to feel the contractions and the baby small and willing,:coming fast.  I think of the baby born with the sky blue above her and the birds calling and the corn singing to her.   It was a great morning to be born, I tell her.   I tell her that the mom was a Corn Mother and she says she never thought of it like that.

To the woman born in the corn fields of Oregon.  May she know how beautiful she is and how strong and mazing her mother was.

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