Ross: A tribute to Indian moms and feet

5/7/10

All she ever really wanted was a foot massage.

And she’s not alone. Although I cannot site any empirical data for this notion (who would do a scientific study on such a fact?), if I had to guess, I’d say that Indian women get the least foot massages per capita of any ethnic group in America; maybe in the whole wide world. And the thing is, Indian mothers deserve it – probably more than any other group in the world.

I remember my mom, when my sisters and I were kids, worked extremely long days. She worked at Dean’s Thriftway – a now defunct store – and before that, the Pencil Factory. Of course, mom gladly worked the long days because jobs were (and are again) hard to come by. Although we happily devoured the cans of fruit cocktail, meatball stew and farina, she still sometimes liked to give us Frankenberry and Count Chocula. Therefore, long hours or not, and with no man in the house, she had to work the long hours. Her kids’ Frankenberry depended on it!

If I had to guess, I’d say that Indian women get the least foot massages per capita of any ethnic group in America.

And work she did. She’d go to work before we left for school – go outside, unplug the car, scrape the windows and make that cold journey alone. It was still dark outside when she left, the roads were icy, and it was freezing cold outside. When she got off work it was dark again, and she’d come home well after we got home from school. The roads were still icy and it was still freezing cold outside.

She was exhausted, but she’d come home with a smile on her face, happy to see her hungry kids. Of course, her smile quickly disappeared when she realized she still had to cook, possibly help her kids with homework (she took homework very seriously), and get us ready for bed. We’re talking probably another two hours of responsibility after work – maybe 8:30, 9 o’clock – before she got some “me” time.

But she never complained. This is what she signed up for by being a mom, right? Granted, she naively thought that a man came with all of these kids, and maybe even a date and a foot rub sometimes. Still, she trudged through. And when I lay down at night, I must have apologized to God a million times for my dad – that he wasn’t there to help my mom with cooking and helping with homework. But those conversations with God were my choice, my business – she never said anything bad about men or acted bitter.

She wasn’t bitter. She signed up for this.

I didn’t have to apologize to God anymore on behalf of all men – she has her man. Now I really didn’t have to rub her feet.

On Fridays, mom would let us stay up late to watch Friday Night Videos. She’d lay on the couch while we played Life or Atari or Monopoly, anxiously awaiting our favorite videos by The Cars or the Go-Gos. I always wondered why mom didn’t want to play with us – I mean, was she just lazy, or simply a party pooper? My sisters and I would listen to Journey or Smokey Robinson or XIT – mom would look tired laying on the couch with her feet up, reading a V.C. Andrews novel. She’d ask me repeatedly, “Guy, come press your mama’s feet.”

“Mom, hold on please. We’re playing Asteroids. I only have one man left.”

“Okay, baby. Don’t forget.”

Of course, I’d forget almost every time. “One man” turned into hours. I’d fall asleep watching videos and my mom or my sisters would get me up to go pee before they put me to bed. Sometimes – since our trailer was warm during the summertime – they’d just cover me up and let me sleep on the floor. In either case, my mom’s foot rub – the only thing she asked in exchange for her excruciatingly long week – was forgotten by the time she cooked breakfast on Saturday morning.

Mom had many struggles in life, like most people do. Native women who come from reservation communities and have children early tend to struggle even more – with finances, physical and mental abuse, alcoholism, bad children, etc. And she struggled with all of the above. Still, like the amazing Native woman she is, she persevered. She remarried a wonderful, if slightly grumpy, man. I felt absolution: I didn’t have to apologize to God anymore on behalf of all men – she has her man. Now I really didn’t have to rub her feet. She was taken care of.


My goal on this Mother’s Day is to ever-so-slightly increase the percentage of Indian moms and grandmoms that get their feet rubbed.

But the truth is, I never properly paid my debt to her. I never gave her all of the many foot rubs I owe her – things just got in the way. As I got older, other priorities took precedent over taking time to rub mom’s feet or even spending time talking to her like I should have. Basketball practice, phone romancing, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Playstation, girlfriends – her feet were always secondary. Which means that she was also secondary.

My selfishness was typical though. I think all teenagers temporarily forget about their parents, and all the many years of sacrifice they gave. It’s biologically wired into young peoples’ brains – we all think that we know everything from ages 18 – 25. Still, I thank God my mother’s still alive – she’s better than ever, working out like Jane Fonda – so I can have the honor of rubbing her feet for years to come. She’s a bit older and every bit as beautiful – and she’s got miles and miles of Northern Traditional dancing, working out, yoga, laundry on her feet. She needs it more than ever.

And I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to be able to make up for my negligence. Therefore, my goal on this Mother’s Day is to ever-so-slightly increase the percentage of Indian moms and grandmoms that get their feet rubbed, because Indian moms and grandmoms really deserve it.

So come on fellas, get out that foot lotion, and let’s get to work!


Gyasi Ross is an admitted mama’s boy, and an enrolled Blackfeet tribal member who began his blogging habit for Indian Country Today with “The Thing About Skins.” He maintains a blog at http://thingaboutskins.wordpress.com.

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