Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer White Buffalo

By Chris Davis

MAY 18, 1998:  The press release read, “Being with Grandmother is like standing with God.” I’d been waiting 30 years for a tip this hot. This ain’t no run-of-the-mill missing-persons case I’m working here. It’s got more twists than Chubby Checker, and only one thing is for certain: Whoever it was who nabbed God sure knew how to cover their tracks – but good. I toss back the last cold drops of my bitter cup and grumble, “If y’er half as good as you say you are, sister, you got a mighty big muumuu to fill.”

Pa’Ris’Ha, a.k.a. “Grandmother,” is a Cherokee “Wisdom Keeper” boasting a profound grasp on physics, the ability to converse with plants and animals, and the ability to summon the winds. She was scheduled to speak at a place called The Connection Center, a sort of “church of anything goes,” where pictures of Jesus hang alongside yogis, gurus, Buddhist monks, and abstract paintings. It used to be a 7-11.

When I get to The CC for a little Q&A with Grandmother, its proprietress, the Reverend Anne Gillis, greets me. She’s a real looker with a mess of red hair. “Do you mind if I sage you?” she asks. I consent. I’ve never been saged before. Igniting a bundle of herbs, she fans the smoke over me with a feather. She sages me up and down while informing me that Grandmother is running late. She gushes over the new book Grandmother is working on, and relates that a portion of it reads like really good porn. She’s my kind of minister. I case the joint while Reverend Gillis sages the rest of the room. “Grandmother is very sensitive to energy,” she chirps. The shelves house all the usual suspects – crystals, incense holders, books and candles, all for sale. The book topics range from rebirthing and relationships to cures for cancer. The Reverend expresses worry about this weekend’s turnout – apparently Grandmother’s services, while negotiable, don’t come cheap.

I’m thumbing through Richard Bach’s Illusions when Grandmother arrives. I extend my hand but Grandmother says, “We’re hugging people.” The sage smoke musta clouded my judgment – before I know what’s happening, I’m hugging everybody. Slips like that ain’t safe. They damn sure ain’t professional.

Pa’Ris’Ha, a.k.a. Grandmother (left)
During our chat, Grandmother relates the hardships of growing up a fair-skinned Indian with curly red hair. She ponders shape-shifting (people turning into animals) using Dolly the cloned sheep as scientific proof that such things can happen. I don’t follow the logic, but I’m sucker-punched by her sincerity. Then she makes an even stranger claim – that the native peoples of North America allowed their land to be taken and their people to be slaughtered. She harbors no animosity and she seeks to empower her people’s conquerors with the ancient knowledge she claims to hold.

The center is packed on Friday night, but there is not a red face in the house. Neither is there a tan face, or a brown face – in spite of the occasional dashiki, it’s strictly vanilla. The drumming begins. A guy in the crowd unleashes his inner warrior by patting his mouth and yipping like a scalded puppy. Grandmother sits and quietly speaks of abundance and thanksgiving. She tells inspirational stories and assures the room that in 20 years we will be able to do amazing things using only our brains. She attempts to tie science to religion, but her physics examples are flawed – seems she has the notion that heavenly bodies do not collide. She talks of simplifying life, and as an example, tells how she wasn’t even allowed to read a book till age 17.

During intermission people are encouraged to purchase dream catchers and leather goods made by Grandmother’s disciples. There are T-shirts for sale, too. I begin to despair that God isn’t going to show tonight when the drumming begins anew. In the second half of the program, Grandmother teaches how to shake the bad karma from a dollar bill, and how to stack dollars to insure their growth. The crowd is enraptured, and for the first time I sense a spirit moving – no – many spirits. The spirits of commerce and convenience have been awakened, as have the spirits of impulse and consumption. These are the spirits that inhabit this building – it was after all, a 7-11. If only more of my people had lived to see Indian culture grow so popular,” Grandmother laments.

Yes, I think, exactly like standing with God.

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