Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Sorcerer's Smile--A reservation story for Christmas (i)

Your great-grandma says I talk like an old preacher, which is to say, too much. Maybe she’s right. She’s right about a lot of things. Of course, she knows all the stories, too. We’ve been married 67 years.

It wasn’t the time to tell the one I could have on Christmas Eve. Wasn’t the time because nobody around that tree wanted to hear an old man go on and on, not with all those presents calling out. The only story anyone needed was the one about the shepherds in the fields and a host of angels like that choir you and your friend Matt are in. Did I tell you how much we loved that concert? Grandma said you sounded like the angels–as if she knows what that sounds like–but then most anything would after singing with me all these years.

But you’re a serious boy, and I got to thinking that you meant that question you asked, and the real answer takes sometime for the telling.

I never sang in a boys’choir, and about the only thing I ever did in church when I was your age was carve my initials in the pews. Some people my age think that with abortion and all, the Lord is about to return and clean up the unholy mess, but just between you and me, Max, your great-grandfather was not near as good a kid as you are.

I had my reasons, too, even though when I was your age I hadn’t taken the time to think them all out. I was “acting out,”as they say now. When my mother died, my father did too; but he kept on breathing. In those days, when families fell apart, kids got shipped out as I did to my uncle’s farm, a story for another day.

I got in big trouble with them–I won’t go into that now–and was told, finally, that they wouldn’t have me. Dad was in no shape to take me back, and Mom was gone. It was Rehoboth or reform school, options that seemed to me, back then, one and the same. I'd never even heard of New Mexico.

But it was Christmas you asked about, and what I was thinking when you and your cousins opened those presents a couple nights ago was how times have changed. It was 1935, mid-Depression, and nobody had any money.

But there were peanuts. Tons of them. And the morning of the Christmas Eve I’m wanting to tell you about, we–which is to say, me and the Lokhorst boys–were filling a hundred paper bags with peanuts, and a few hard candies. I ate my share that afternoon, too, truth be known–but so did the Lokhorst boys, but some peanuts got into those paper bags at least.

I’d been out at Rehoboth for two months or so, and I was trying to lay low and keep myself out of trouble for once in my life. The Lokhorsts, the people I was sentenced to stay with, were missionaries to the Navajo people.

I’d never seen an Indian. “Maybe we’ll be lucky and they’ll scalp the kid” is what my uncle told other people, except he didn’t say “kid” and he said it with a crooked smile as if he meant it for a joke.

Did I say it was 1935? I think so. Dimes were scarce as hen’s teeth. But what the Lockhurst boys called “mission barrel clothes” still came in from Michigan and Indiana and even Chicago, where I’d come from, enough at least to pass out presents to the Navajos.

Here’s the deal. Even though it was cold on the reservation, me and the boys went up with Rev. Lokhorst to deliver the Christmas goods. Rev. Lockhorst never minded me much at all. He just stuck me in with his own four boys and figured they’d do all the heavy lifting, and they did. I got beat up some in those first few weeks, but then I don’t think I could have lived with myself back then either.

Besides, Rehoboth wasn’t Chicago.There were times we just got on horses and rode. Didn’t matter where–up into those hogbacks behind the mission and all around through that red desert. It took me about a week to see that Rehoboth wasn’t reform school, although those Lokhorst boys had to slap me around a little to get my attention.

So we get in the truck. You might think New Mexico is palm trees and cactus, but that place Denver look like flood plane. You're way high. Cold–sheesh! Terrible cold. But those Navajos used to ride in the beds of their pickups all over, and so did we. Wrap ourselves up good so that we all looked like blanket Indians–them and us.

Now the Rev. Lokhorst knew the people, knew them well, maybe knew them better than his own kids; but that too is another story. He’d been carefully picking clothes out of that donated stuff all afternoon, then twisting some baling twine around the bundles he shoved together because he knew who was going to show up in Pinedale, and he wanted to make sure they all got what they needed. 

Toys too. It was mid-Depression, like I told you, but there were a few battered toys. No matter. The kids loved ’em. And for just about everybody, a bag of peanuts, with a chunk or two of hard candy. No chocolate. It was 1935.
Tomorrow: A very strange and scary Christmas visitor


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