Some said he was too mean; others said he was just gruff. He was a big, rough, and a hard person. His name was Hashke—it means angry and mad in the Navajo way of speaking. His name fit him.
Many avoided him and left him alone. He always found a way to get by, finding work when others couldn’t.
Some said he wasn’t too smart as far as books. His writing and figuring weren’t too good but he got by.
When he found work it was the kind most others wouldn’t do: working with his hands, fixing things, digging ditches, cleaning yards and hauling away trash. He fixed fences, and was able to manhandle most things that were too heavy or bulky for others, always finding ways to get things where they were supposed to be.
I used to see him now and again. He didn’t talk much; just sort of said, “Hey” and not much more. When he had a few drinks he was loud and a wild sort, always getting into trouble somehow. He fought a lot with folks when he was drunk and so people moved away from him when he was drinking because he was mean when he was drunk. That is how he lived his life.
One day he got sick and found his way to the Indian clinic and they told him he had to slow down with his drinking. He had hurt himself somehow and after a while he slowed down with the wild life but it was too late. The late nights, parties and good times had taken their toll on him so he moved slower and then one day he was gone.
When we think someone is a certain way, we look at them and choose to look away---they are there but you don’t really see them unless you have to. He was that kind of person, gruff and angry when he spoke and always wearing his work clothes: an old pair of Wranglers, a worn western shirt and old white cowboy boots. He favored plaid shirts. Most folks knew he lived out beyond the cedars, a place on the flat some say, others said over by Tse Lizhin---Black Rock, a little ways beyond that.
He died one day and he was gone. No one thought much about it. When they had his funeral the local church claimed his body and they had a funeral at the mortuary, a five-minute affair. Someone called and asked, “Can you drop by there and see if the grave has been dug?”
It was one of those things you find yourself doing since you live in the community and they call you to check on something when no one else is around. I said ok and went by the place, Cope Mortuary in Gallup. It’s on the west side of town. When I went in, there were two Mormon missionaries, young men dressed in brown suits. They said a few words and then it was over.
The chapel looked empty. There were no flowers; not a single card. Just a pressboard coffin covered with blue cloth---one of those the tribe provides for the $600 funeral from tribal social services.
Then I saw, slumped down in the front row was one person. He was about thirty or so. His head was down, showing that his hair was cut short. He sat quietly and after the services looked up, stood up, came up to me and said, “I need a ride.”
I told him I was headed back up north and he said that was ok. He was quiet as we left the place.
After a while, he said he had to get back home to Naschitti to take care of his grandmother. As we rode, he told me Hashke---as we called him--- was really named Stewie.
“Stewie was my brother,” the funeral goer said. “He was younger than me. I got the chance to go to school and he ended up staying home and herding sheep. He didn’t get to go to trade school at Haskell like I did.
“He wanted to but he had to take care of our parents. He was the youngest. He took care of them and stayed with them all their lives, never going anywhere.
“But he liked to read books. He had books stuffed in boxes and they covered the walls of the hogan at home.”
“I worked in Kansas,” he said, “but I got sick from working in the auto body shop, so my brother took care of me. He brought me home and told me to stay with our grandmother.
“So he did that for ten years. He brought us food and wood and hauled water and fixed things around the house. I am handicapped now and I didn’t tell the old lady he is gone. He liked to bring her sweet rolls and she really likes them.”
I listened to him as he talked and soon I was there at their place. He got out slowly and shook my hand and I thought I never really knew Stewie. He was quiet and didn’t talk much but he took care of his family. All of them.
That is quite a life to have led.
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.