How To Receive (Continued)

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 For a signed copy, order it at

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How To Receive

I’ve lived on the East Coast most of my life, but five months ago, I moved to Sedona, Arizona. I felt called here after the death of my husband. Others migrants have told me they felt called too, and none that I’ve met can say why, exactly.  It probably doesn’t matter. What matters is that we heard the call and we came. We think we are here for a reason. Whatever that reason may be, one thing is sure: I’ve landed in a great classroom.

Last week, I went with one of my new friends to visit a Hopi reservation. “It’s about a two hour drive from Sedona,” she said. “Plan to spend the day.” A group of people from Sedona have, for the past eleven years, brought clothes and food at Christmastime to the Tewa people who live on the reservation.  I said yes. And then, I wished I’d said no.

Native American blood runs through my veins, thanks to my grandfather who was either full-blooded or part Cherokee. This connection to native peoples has always called out to me – like Sedona – but I have had no contact with my grandfather’s people, and no meaningful contact with any Native Americans. My grandfather died when I was young, but I remember him. I have a photograph of him on my piano. He is seated, handsome and straight, with his six children in front (the oldest died), the baby, my Uncle Robert, on his knee, my father, the oldest boy, standing tall and solemn to his left. Standing behind the children and next to him is my grandmother, a white woman, who, I believe, was from an Irish indentured family, and for whom I am named. Not many records were kept of people like these, and my family has no documentation of their births, their marriage (which was illegal in the South) or their deaths.

I can just imagine what their lives must have been like, living in South Carolina in the late eighteen hundreds, a white woman and a man of color. No, I guess I can’t. I can only imagine one true thing about them, and that is that it must have taken a great deal of love to keep them together. And alive.

My new friend said that the visit to the reservation would be a “connection” for me. In the days before we were to go, and while helping to pack boxes of canned goods, pasta, coffee, hand lotions, and other basics, I began to feel…a growing resentment. “If we hadn’t taken everything from them,” my mind said, “we wouldn’t have to be doing this at all.” I recalled photographs of white hunters, posing proudly for the camera before mountains of buffalo hides, careless mercenaries who left carcasses to rot on the plains while they sold hides for profit and robbed an entire people of their source of food. I went through every wrong, every bit of treachery, every broken promise made to a people whose lands, customs, languages, and freedom were taken from them. I was not in a good frame of mind when we left. I pictured the people we were going to see – humiliated and angry, horribly poor, unwilling recipients of charity who would tolerate our presence and our presents because of their great need.  I became more apprehensive as we drove through a vast plain, on a road that stretched to the horizon, where long, long ago, the buffalo were indeed plentiful, and where now there was nothing except the magnificence of mesa land.

As the cars were unloaded at the community center in a place called Polacca, my friend said, “Come with me and meet the elders.” Seated along a long hallway were beautifully dressed white-haired men and women who had come to represent the Tewa people. As I went along the line to greet them, each of them smiled, took my hand in theirs, and welcomed me as if I were their daughter. I found it hard to hold back the tears as I went along, for what I saw was not what I had expected. There was a great…clarity…about these old people, a gentleness, a serenity. It was as if they were saying to me, “It’s all right. We know who we are.” Some of them were in wheelchairs. Others held canes, still others looked robust and fit, but in each lined face what I saw was my grandfather.

I learned that we were not to distribute what we had brought to Tewa families. The elders would receive the gifts and they would distribute to the families most in need. And I learned something else. When I saw the great room of the community center with tables around the wall, I realized that the boxes that I’d help put together were just the tip of the iceberg. There were tables laden with hand-knitted caps, blankets, frozen turkeys, sacks of potatoes, and all manner of vegetables and commodities. The businesses of Sedona, the stores, and ordinary citizens had sent mountains of gifts. One word came to my mind: reconciliation.

One elder after another stepped to the microphone to address the group. Some spoke in their native language with an interpreter. They were gracious, appreciative, warm, funny, and above all, welcoming.  We were, after all, visitors. This was their home, their land, and they opened their hearts to us. Afterwards, I learned, we were to be hosted by a Hopi family and given lunch. There was a big Christmas tree in the room, with hand-made decorations, and they invited each one of us to come and take one. Mine was a painted baby’s rattle. There were mounds of homemade donuts for us (which were incredibly delicious) and large urns of coffee.

As the elders walked by each table and chose the gifts they were to distribute, they stopped to chat. I stood at the table with the knitted caps. They took their time in choosing. There is something about people who live close to the land that gives them a certain…surety.  Like my grandfather, who was a farmer, their movements were unhurried. Their gaze was steady, and age gave them an aura of wisdom and dignity. What struck me was that they were familiar. They were like family, like the family I visited in South Carolina when I was a little girl. They brought back my loved ones who have been gone for a long time. They were my grandfather, my father, my aunts and uncles who live now in a photograph on my piano and to whom I speak each night before I go to sleep. They were people who knew how to give, but more importantly, they were people who knew how to receive.

To Be Continued


Read The Messenger: The Improbable Story of a Grieving Mother and a Spirit Guide by Helen Delaney. Find it at or for a signed copy, visit

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