If you didn’t read my last post before Christmas, you might want to take a look at it now. This is the continuing story of my visit to a Hopi Reservation.
When I last left you, the Tewa elders had chosen from the gifts brought to them by the people of Sedona. It was their responsibility, not ours, to distribute the food, blankets, and clothing to the families who needed them the most. I marveled at their grace, dignity, and sense of humor – just the opposite of what I had expected. I expected the Tewa to be like me – resentful and shamed. After all, here we were – dispensing charity to people for whom it should never have been necessary. What I saw was a people who knew how to receive without rancor or judgement. I also came to see the generosity of the white people of Sedona who had given so much and worked so hard to put this all together. The word that came to my mind was reconciliation. There was also the feeling of family. In that room, I saw my grandfather and father in those elder Tewa faces. And when all was done, I was looking forward to being a guest in a Native American home. Every person who came was hosted by a Tewa elder. It was their turn to give and ours to receive. In this way was created a beautiful balance.
On the road to Ginger’s house for lunch (Ginger was our Tewa hostess), two men waved at us to stop. My friend slowed the car and one of them approached with a little hand-made doll in his hand. He was miserable-looking, as if he had been on a long, slow drunk. He was staggering a bit, and his eyes were bloodshot.
In spite of our warm reception and the smiles of the elders, let me not give the impression that poverty, despair, and alcoholism do not exist on that Hopi reservation and undoubtedly on every other one in this country. It was in this man’s eyes that I saw the long history of hopelessness among our Native American people. Behind him were the sad, poor houses in which the sad poor were living. My friend gently told him that he could sell his doll back at the community center where others were displaying hand-crafted objects. We were on our way to Ginger’s, she said, and could not be late. He accepted our decision not to stop, and said no more. This man was heartbreak in person. So there is that, let us not forget.
Ginger’s house was a modest, pleasant bungalow. Inside, three elder women were waiting to greet us. The warmth and the smells seemed to say, “Come in. You are welcome here.” The aroma of hand-grown tea brewing on the stove mingled with that of two large pots of soup, one pork and one mutton. Added to the broth was hominy from corn grown “up high on the mesa,” corn grown with seeds gathered and saved each year from a pure strain that had not been adulterated with hormones or genetically modified, corn ground by hand. Bread that had been baked in ovens outside was on the tables they had prepared for the six of us who had been assigned to Ginger.
At my table was Evangeline, an elder, her husband, Leon Nuvayestewa, and their great-granddaughter, a girl of about ten. Nuvayes-tewa, Leon told us, was his father’s name. Hopis have but one name, he explained, and Nuvayes meant falling snow, the kind with big flakes, he said with a big smile. Leon talked to us throughout lunch, studiously avoiding the football game he had been watching on the big screen TV.
The baby spinach was grown by Evangeline, picked in the spring, and dried on a big wagon wheel to be eaten in the winter. I saw blue cornbread for the first time. It was flaky and paper-thin, like a strudel pastry without the filling. And it was truly blue. The soup was comforting, and the tea was strong and hearty. We were warm, and fed, and told stories of what life was like on the mesa in Evangeline and Leon’s youth. It was not easy, they assured us. The women would haul water from a spring below to the top of the mesa. They laughed telling us about the slow trickle from the spring and how long it would take to fill a bucket. After the precious water was used for cooking and drinking, they said, there was not a lot left over for showers. And they laughed again.
On the walls were photographs of the younger generation – handsome, beautiful children in native dress who were…somewhere else. They had gone on to places off the reservation, to school, to jobs. But Tewa children on the reservation were learning their language, they told us, in classes devoted to preserving the Tewa culture.
Before we left, I promised to send Leon a copy of my book. My friend told him about my Cherokee grandfather and about The Messenger and he was very interested. While I am always cautious when explaining my book to non-Natives, I felt very comfortable telling Leon about my spirit guide, Lukhamen. Stories about spirit guides are not unusual among Native peoples, and he asked me if I would send him a copy. In return, he promised to send me a Hopi cookbook, something the elders had put together. All I could think of was a line from the movie, Dances With Wolves – “Good trade. Good trade.”
As we made our way home, the sun was beginning to set. The road stretched to the horizon and the endless sky of Arizona was a panorama of pink and lavender clouds. A sparkling star peeked through, here and there. We didn’t speak much on the trip back. I think we didn’t want to lose the feeling of harmony we had felt in that home, among people who treated us as friends, as relations. Sitting there among them, it felt as if time had folded back on itself and that it was the time when they lived on the land in their tepees, when there was buffalo, when family, food, stories, and laughter were the bonds of family, of life. For that moment, we were given a glimpse of a time that was and is no more.
Read more about a time that was and is no more in The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney. Find it on www.amazon.com. For a signed copy, order it at www.themessenger.space