Growing Old in the Blessing Way
Old Man Kee Bedonie sat down at the small wooden table at his place and looked out through the screen door to the east as the sun set and from there the colors of the rainbow appeared, turning everything gold, yellow, orange with a tinge of purple and finally a dark blue. But his mind was on a sing that was planned on the flat area not too far from his place. He was wondering how to get it done.
He had many sons but they were far away from home living elsewhere. Some said they would be home to help but as the time grew near they all had other things to do.
There was wood that had to gathered, cut and hauled in for the bonfires at night to give light to the doings there. Also water had to be hauled in for the livestock. Someone had to go visit relations to see if they could help.
Bedonie’s old truck could not haul all the needed things and he was not as strong as he used to be. He looked at a distant juniper fence post and remembered taking hours to cut it with an axe because the wood was so hard and then digging the corner post hole and setting rocks tied with wire buried underground to set it so it would not move. That was long ago but the post was tall and straight and never moved and was strong.
He realized he could not do that anymore…and maybe this whole sing was not going to happen as he did not have the strength to do all that was required. So he sat there and thought about who could help him—and realized that everyone around the area wanted to be paid now days. He went to bed with the thoughts of how to get this all done.
He woke up with a cramp in his leg and swung himself out of bed and massaged his leg and slowly got up and went outside to meet the early light of dawn. Then he spoke to Wind asking for some help to get these things done.
His daughter was in need of a sing. She was having a difficult time with her man having left her with three kids and she was working at a fast food place in Gallup.
She was finding the nightlife called out to her and she wanted to be young and carefree again but the children were there. She met many men and they were all no good. She had brought one home and he was tall and strong and said he would do many things but in the end he just sat around and ate and when it was time to work he left.
Old Man Bedonie got on a small tractor and started to clear out the area where the sing was going to be, leveling out the ground by dragging a metal pipe back and forth. He raised a cloud of dust that could be seen in Two Grey Hills. He worked through the morning and then took a break, going back to the small house where they lived–him and his woman.
Her hands were not as good as they used to be and he wondered how she was going to butcher the sheep? But she had already separated the sheep in the small corral and she was making a list of things they would need from town—flour, corn, squash, and bags of potatoes. As she was making the list, she asked him how they were going to do it?
Bedonie said it will get done—all the time not knowing himself how they were going to work things out… Bedonie told his wife he was going to the trading post to check the mail.
He made his way through the cedar trees to walk the mile to the store. He walked quietly, looking around the valley and thought how his great grandfather lived over there by a row of high red rocks and how his grandfather lived across the way and then he saw the tree in the distance where his own father had been born.
Here he was now alone, with no family around here. He wondered about the future, how it was going to be?
At the trading post, he went inside and looked around and it was quiet. He got himself a cold drink and took his time drinking it, standing against the counter looking at all the stuff on the shelves.
Then he heard a familiar voice. ”Hey, Shiboy.” Bedonie knew the voice. It was Joe Slow Boy, a good friend he had not seen in a while because Slow Boy had been awful sick and in the hospital.
When Bedonie turned to Slow Boy he could see his good friend had lost a lot of weight and his hair had gone all gray in a very short time. His clothes were baggy and hanging off him, but the sparkle of his eyes was still there just as bright as ever.
Slow Boy was smiling. He came up and shook his hand and reminded Bedonie, “When you came to see me in Shiprock at that hospital I looked pretty poor but now I am better.”
Bedonie smiled to see his friend up and walking around even though stiffly. They had been friends all their lives. Slow Boy had gone to trade school and become a mechanic and had married a woman from Teec Nos Pos who wouldn’t cook for him…but he said at least she looks good. Anyway, Slow Boy was happy and had his three grandsons who took care of him and made sure he didn’t do too much.
Bedonie and Slow Boy talked for a while, joking and laughing and remembering the years back. Slow Boy was an orphan. His parents had died a long time ago and he was raised by different families.
Having come from that, Slow Boy loved his children and any other kids that came his way with an open hand and heart…and the kids in the valley all knew him. He was a good man but now–because of his being sick–some folks avoided him. Slow Boy was not exactly the way he used to be…but Bedonie didn’t care.
Bedonie and Slow Boy used to say they would in their old age buy a revival tent and go around the rez and tell people they were going to hell and then save them and collect $20 donation envelopes…and then they would laugh about it…asking each other, “When are we going to buy that tent?” It was a running joke between them over the years.
Bedonie picked up the mail and started to walk home, but dropped by the Christian Reformed Church to talk to the minister, thinking he might be able to help. But when he arrived at the church, he thought again that the minister was a born again Christian and did not believe in the sings anymore. The sings were thought to be somehow against the born again religion. He did not have the energy for that conversation, so he walked on home.
That evening, Bedonie thought of only four days to get ready. He went to bed wondering if his sons would come home to help.
He woke up early to the sound of a sputtering truck engine in need of a tune-up and went outside. There, sitting in the passenger seat, was Old Man Slow Boy…with a smile on his face. “Hey, Shichei, we have a lot of work to do. I brought some help.”
With that, his three grandsons and four other boys from Newcomb jumped out. “These are my other grandsons from my first wife. They came to visit me and since there was nothing for them to do around my place I brought them up here.”
Slow Boy removed himself from the truck with some effort and pulled down one of those chairs they use for handicapped people to sit in when they are in the shower. He put it down and announced, “This is my throne.”
Slow Boy told his grandsons to take the trailer load of wood attached to the truck where Hosteen Bedonie wanted it.
So Bedonie showed them…and those young men worked hard throughout the day. They hauled water and dug fire pits, remade the shade house bigger to hold a crowd and prepared the hogans to be used for the ceremonies.
Another childhood friend, Johnny Nez, showed up. His family had collected the necessary plants and medicines for the ceremony. Nez reminded Bedonie, “A long time ago your father helped my family with a ceremony when the rain washed out the road to our place. Your father cut some logs and made a bridge for us to cross the mud and that bridge still is there and we still use it. Joe Slow Boy told me you needed help so we are here.”
Kee Bedonie and his wife Sarah stood at their door and she said to him, “I don’t know how he can do it…that Joe Slow Boy to be so sick and yet he is here to help us with his family. How will we be able to thank him for all the things he has done? I feel ashamed to not be able to pay them anything…”
Old Man Bedonie said, “He is my cousin, my brother. That is the Blessing Way, to walk in Beauty…how we all should live…”
On the last day, Old Man Bedonie’s sons showed up with their families. They said Old Man Slow Boy had called and chided them, “Where are you when your father needs you?” They brought food and their wives went out to the shade houses and started to butcher and cook.
And so it was that on a small hill with a large rock those two sat together, Joe Slow Boy and Kee Bedonie, and remembered how they used to say that ridge over there with the red rocks was the Indian side and that other ridge over there behind it with white rocks was for the cavalry and they used to play up there cutting notches in the rocks to look at the whole valley.
Afterward, they would go to that high rock and just lay there with shirts off…and talk about them two girls from Two Grey Hills.
“Yeah, I remember her…that one with ten kids now…and how her father and mother wanted you to pay for her with horses and cows…and you didn’t want her. I wonder how it would have been if you married her? I probably would have been your in-law then…shaadineh.” And they laughed as a line of horses appeared on the horizon.
The sing was about to begin.
Johnny Rustywire is Folded Rocks Clan People on his mother’s side, and born for Tsinahbiltnii, the Mountain People Clan on his father’s side. He comes from Toadlena-Two Gray Hills, New Mexico, where the mountain is cracked and the water flows. He is a father of six and grandfather of 12. He attended Indian boarding schools and grew up on the Navajo Reservation, and has been married to the same woman for 40 years, a Ute from Fort Duchesne, Utah.
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