Going home for Christmas is sometimes hard to do when there isn't enough beso (money) for gifts. It would be nice to go home and bring all the things everyone needs or at least maybe a gift they would like. If you don't have anything to take except yourself it seems not worth the effort.
A few years ago there was an effort to find every home on the rez in every community and put it on a map through Land Administration. The effort went to every chapter, every home and each house was recorded with the name of the family.
It was out toward Besh-be-to, just east of the Navajo Hopi Joint Use Area, or rather Jeddito, and little ways north of Toyei, you will find a small ribbon of dirt road that goes north from the highway. It is hard to see, The road is not used much and you just have to trust it goes somewhere. Chizh-a-teens we called them, wood hauling roads that sometimes just end up nowhere. It looked like one of these and so with the young Navajo college students and the chapter representative, I took it.
“Does someone live up here?”
“I don't know.”
We went down into a canyon and followed the trail. It was barely visible on the red sandstone and the four-wheel drive bounced around and we rattled along. It went north then east, maybe 12 miles or so. In the cleft of a rock in the cedars was a small home, maybe three rooms with a single window facing us. As we neared the place there was a an old woman standing inside the window looking at us. She had binoculars and she watched us as we came.
We got out and went to the door. She said, “Ohshde'" (come in)and so we went in, and after exchanging clans she related she was Tsinnijinnie.
There are many Tsinnijinnie from Wide Ruins and from around Torrean, and at some point their clan came from the Navajo Sacred Mountain to the east, I think, so that before us was a woman, a child of many of our grandmothers, who had come to this place, Beshbeto, and so made her home.
She was old, her hair all gray and she lived alone. She told us she stayed there by herself, and in the traditional way of things offered Ah-whe'—coffee—to us and we accepted it. She did not have much: a bed, wood stove, a calendar and many pictures of young children on the wall.
We told her we were going around trying to find all the homes in the area and we were looking for places people lived. Are there any more families that live around here?
She told us about some families who lived in the places she named in Navajo motioning to the west and north, and told us about how they had lived there and herded sheep, and how during this time of year used to have sings at their place, but that the old man was gone, and his wife left with the children and after a time no one had come back and so she was the only one from there now. We asked how did this place come to be known as Besh-be-to meaning Iron Water. She said that was what the old Navajo people called it and so she knew it as that.
We asked about her family and she said they are all working, some are in Kinlani' (Flagstaff), and the place of the men in long dresses (Gallup) but they had not been home for a while. In looking at the place, there was no kerosene in her lamps and her wood was low.
One of these boys with me was from Naschitti, a Morris, and he went out and without saying anything picked up the axe and while we were talking to her, went out and brought back wood, some dead trees and cut some wood for her. The young ladies went through our sack lunches and gathered the fruit and put it out for her.
We visited her for an hour maybe two, and she talked about sons, daughters and grandchildren living far off and they were going to come and see her. She thought we were them, but we weren't. She sat and spoke about them, and she did not want us to go, but we had to leave. She watched us as we drove off.
There were many elderly people like that in each chapter, small communities on the reservation. Some children work in the cities and come home on the weekend and some live far off and come back each month, bringing supplies and visiting. In every chapter and community the old people are the ones who are taking care of our reservation land, and some would like to have a visit, to be able to have someone to talk to, and hear about how life is going with their grandchildren.
Later on, I was over at the VA hospital and came across an old acquaintance named Nez. We visited for a little bit. I remembered him with his grandchildren fifteen years ago, how he played with them, acting as a babysitter, watching them. It was hard for him, but he liked it and I remember him playing with those kids, their brown faces happy and how they liked to watch him as he made fry bread.
When I saw him, he was in a wheelchair, and from diabetes had lost his feet. He is in a nursing home and they brought him in for a doctor's visit. I saw him in the hallway, by the nurses’ station.
I spoke to him from behind in Navajo and he tried to turn around and though he did not recognize me, I could see he liked to hear the sound of it. He is small now and needs help and for him he said he would like to talk to his grandchildren for just a little bit. It would make his day.
I stood there against the wall and listened to him and thought about my own sons and it would be good just to have them home, maybe to feel their hair and put my arm around them.
I wished him well and thought there I go in a few years. I wish I had done more to get home to spend some time with the old folks and give them the best gift of all…my time. To just be there and talk about nothing really, but just be home. After all, when it is all said and done, there is nothing that matters but family and friends. This is what I thought about as I saw him getting wheeled away.