I masquerade for Halloween but being a wimp draw the line at Ouija boards and haunted houses.
So when my hairdresser told me about Cherokee, a senior “scientific hand reading specialist” and local legend in Newbury Park, I was skeptical.
But Cherokee does not profess to be psychic or to predict the future.
Instead, she claims to read a person’s health and personality from the appearance of their hands, while providing an ample dose of positive thinking.
“I’ve been given the gift to inspire people to do better things with their lives,” Cherokee said. “They call it spiritual counseling because a lot of people come without any desire in life. The hand helps me to pinpoint their talent.
“I want people to know this is not crystal gazing or the occult,” she said. “It’s what people put in their thinking. Our brain is our computer. Our software is our thoughts. And our read-out is in our hands.”
Medical authorities agree that evidence of certain health conditions can be seen in the hands.
But they draw the line at supporting phrenology or diagnosing patients according to the four medieval humors.
Nevertheless, according to Chris C. Plato, a geneticist with the National Institute on Aging in Maryland, “There is a lot of research being done on the usefulness of dermatoglyphics--the study of the ridges of the skin on the hands, palms, fingers and toes--and their significance in the study of different diseases, including Down’s syndrome, breast cancer and a type of leukemia.”
He emphasized that this does not mean someone with certain marks will get the disease.
According to Kathleen Fox, secretary-treasurer of the American Dermatoglyphics Assn. and assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland-Baltimore, “People outside the medical community tend to read additional meanings into the character of the palm and fingers than those within the field of dermatoglyphics.”
So, armed with the distinction between fact and fiction, I accompanied Mary White, a Camarillo real estate agent in her late 60s, to a reading.
The drapes were drawn on Cherokee’s modestly furnished single-width mobile home.
And she graciously welcomed us into the dining area where photos of her two grown sons and their families were overshadowed by 17 assorted images of Elvis.
“Cherokee is my legal given name,” she said in a soft, chirping voice. “My grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian.”
After a few introductions, everyone was seated around the dinette set. A large tape player was on the table to record the reading for clients. Cherokee rested White’s hand on a folded terry cloth and examined the hand with the aid of a flashlight.
“We see how the skin responds to gentle pressure. We read the thumbs, the size and shape of the ends of the fingers, the hair on your arms,” Cherokee said. “The nail especially tells us about emotions and stress.”
Next, she made more abstract observations. “You’re a very understanding person. You don’t limit yourself. You’re having a very good, older life by keeping active. And if a man comes into your life, grab him,” she said.
“I’m still amazed how she came up with the first initials of the two people closest to me,” White later remarked. “But I think a lot of what she said was a philosophy of life that could apply to anyone.”
Cherokee’s interest in hand reading began 25 years ago at age 49.
But she did not begin her second career until her mid-50s.
“In 1973, I was ill,” she said. “The doctor said I couldn’t work anymore and I didn’t want to go on welfare.”
So Cherokee followed her daughter-in-law’s suggestion and began a seven-year period doing readings at a now defunct restaurant in Camarillo.
“At first,” she said, “I played the part wearing a long dress and a feather in my hair. But I decided to change and became serious.”
She got rid of the costume and investigated the connection between hands and medical diagnosis.
“What began as entertaining, grew into my career. It’s fascinating,” she said.
Inspired by William G. Benton’s book--"The Laws of Scientific Hand Reading,” (England, 1900)--Cherokee recently finished her own hand-reading manual.
Diagrams explain how to interpret such things as the position of the thumb and palm lines.
“I read very positively and sandwich in the negative, because our thinking controls our lives,” Cherokee said. “And if you don’t like your life--change your way of thinking about it.”
Cherokee sees people by appointment only and is listed in the telephone directory. Readers interested in more information about the American Dermatoglyphics Assn. can write to Fox at the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, University of Maryland-Baltimore, 660 W. Redwood St., Baltimore 21201.