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.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Sorcerer's Smile--A Reservation story for Christmas (ii)

Well, we got out there, the Reverend and me and three of his boys–the young one stayed home with his mom. It was our job to bring the bundles to the front of the bed of the pickup, where the pastor would check ’em over and call out a name.Mid-afternoon, maybe a little later, I keep thinking it was cold, but maybe not so bad because the sun is always strong out there.

We’d parked ourselves out front of the old BIA school upon the edge of the hill, just a whistle away from a stone chapter house–middle of town, only there was no town there because Navajo people liked to keep their distance back then. Each of the families had a home place, maybe a mile away from each other. But they knew to be there when we promised we’d pull up, and they were there all right, a ton of them, more–I thought–then the Reverend had figured.About that, I was wrong.

So Gary–he’s one of the preacher’s boys–he elbows me when we’re picking up bundles from the back, and he points at a big-shouldered man, a Navajo, who was walking behind all the people, back and forth, stalking almost. “Billy Bates,” hes ays, as if I’m supposed to know what on earth that means.

I’m wondering if the guy is on the warpath,and it must have showed on my face.

“Medicine man,” Gary tells me, raising an eyebrow, as if we ought to be on the lookout. What did I know about medicine men?–nothing. He just looked mean.

“We’re in trouble?” I said to Gary.

“Dad knows him,” Gary told me, as if that was insurance.

Right then my hands were cold and I could have used a pair of gloves, too–I remember that. But when you’re young, you think you’re tough. I did anyway.

“What’s the problem?” I said, and Gary just repeated what he’d said about him being a medicine man.

“He’s going to turn us into skunks?–is that it?” I said.

“He is one,” Gary said, “or can be.”

There he stood, arms crossed, looking over his people. Later, they told me he was head of the chapter there too, almost like mayor. I guess, in a way, I thought of him then as a “chief,” but Navajos didn’t have chiefs. Neither did other Indians, but the only thing I knew about Indians came from dime novels–and I bet you don’t know what a dime novel is either, do you? Cheap stuff–let me put it that way.

Anyway, it’s Christmas and the people are happy with what they got from Kalamazoo and Englewood and wherever. Mostly it’s clothes, and it’s cold–December. I told you that.

And the kids got some toys, too–don’t remember just what anymore but old dolls and things like that, chipped faces, now and then a teddy bear or a beat up box of Tinkertoys. Cast-offs, really. Wasn’t anything I wanted, but we ate our share of peanuts.

“He’s not a Christian,” Gary said about this Bates guy.

“Some kind of witch doctor?” I said.What did I know?

What I knew was that somehow Gary didn’t like it, this Billy Bates pacing back and forth, like a man looking over a hundred beloved children.

Reverent Lokhorst was a fine man. I think he never listened to a word my uncle said about me because the moment I got out there, he handled me just like he handled any of his boys, and they weren’t angels either, let me tell you.

Before we gave all those clothes away,he had a little sermon, too–I don’t remember
what about, except there were sheep around the manger–I mean, in the barn with Jesus. Not just oxen and cattle, but sheep. I didn’t know that Navajos love sheep back then. In fact, I don’t know how anybody can. But back then they all had’em.

He didn’t speak good Navajo, not good enough to do any public speaking anyway, so he had a translator tell the people what he was saying, which made sermon twice as long. That didn’t go over big with me,but look how much time I’m taking to answer your question. Who am I to talk?

And then, when all those people had something, the Reverend turns around,steps off the back of the truck, and reaches into the cab to pull out something from behind the seat.

He grabs that bundle out, gets backup on the back of the truck, but the people don’t really see any of this anymore, see?–because they’re already walking away,starting on back to their hogans with allthe good stuff.

“Billy Bates,” the good Reverend yells.“I got one here for Billy Bates,” he said.
Tomorrow: A gift for the witch doctor.


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