There was a call. One of those you don’t like to hear. Ashie’s sister called him from Phoenix and said that their mother Nahgebah was in a bad way and that it looked like her time had come.
He left driving south to the big city and the Phoenix Indian Medical Center. Arriving there, he found they had taken his mother to a different place just a ways away to what they call a hospice—a place set aside for those who will soon be gone.
When he heard of this news he did not go alone but took his granddaughter with him as she had not seen her great grandmother Nahgebah for a long time. The girl could not remember Nahgebah since she had been nine years old and and had little memory of the last visit. So Ashie and his granddaughter went to this small place, a waiting room surrounded by a number of rooms for those people who were near the end.
It is a hard place to visit. It is quiet and clean and yet it is impersonal. And so far from home on the rez. When this time comes it should be in the quiet of one’s own place but Nahgebah was too old now to take care of herself and so Ashie’s sister had brought her to the big city.
There are no sheep, nor mesas or wide open spaces and the smell of sage is not anywhere around. It is a cold place but yet it is where she would receive the attention she needed.
It seems when you are taken away from home your heart longs for the things of home and when they are not around you close your eyes and find a spot where those things you remember come to mind.
Ashie thought that is how it is, since all that is around you is foreign you go to the place you remember, a thought and life away from where you are and as time goes by it becomes more real until you stay there and no longer see the world around you. Maybe so or maybe not, but it seemed so to Ashie.
Nahgebah was sick. They said she don’t remember anything no more and isn’t talking. When Ashie spoke to her she did not know his voice or see him and the little girl next to him was afraid to see this old woman lying in the bed with white hair because she just lay there looking into space.
Ashie sat down and looked at his mother and thought of the days of his youth, when he was young and she took care of him. His mind filled with thoughts of their old home, his father and family and the others who had gone on and how they had lived way out there on the rez. Many of them were gone now and the old place was in bad shape.
When the old go away some things are lost. The children fight among themselves for the land and who takes what. It had happened to Ashie’s family. The land was divided between the family not by agreement but by occupation and barbed wire and there were others in the community who saw the places that were good and had moved in.
It is like that at times.
But then again there are the things that come to mind about life and living, the stories told and the life lived day to day that become the fabric of life. In these times there are laughter, joy and times when all things are in balance. Family together living and finding a way to survive and go on.
The little girl Ninibah did not know what to say about this old woman. Ninibah asked a lot of questions about why she did not talk or say anything to them. Ashie told her that she was in a place that was not so far away that she was riding the wind.
The little girl looked at him with big brown eyes and asked how she can ride the wind when it is so hot outside and no wind is blowing?
Ashie told her that you are here but you are also home too. She looked at him crazy and said, “How can I be there and be here? I am here next to you, Grandpa. Ashie sat down with her in the big chair that was next to Nahgebah’s bed and told her…”All you have to do to be home is to close your eyes.”
The little girl closed her eyes and he said, “Remember yesterday morning when you woke up at home and you first saw it was morning?”
Ashie asked her what did you do when you got up?
She opened her eyes and looked at her grandfather and said…”I sneaked a popsicle from the ice box when everyone was still asleep.” She laughed at the thought.
“That’s it,” Ashie told her. “Can you tell me what kind of popsicle it was?”
“It was a yellow one; it tasted like a banana.” Ashie explained to her that in that short time she had gone home and it was morning again and the yellow popsicle was real and you could taste the bananas. “Can you taste it?”
“Yes, but not really….I want a popsicle now, Grandpa.” He laughed as she said it.
“Now,” Ashie said, “let’s see if your grandma can remember such a thing.” Ashie then stood next to the bed and talked to his mother about the Ghost Lady…and though she was laying there quiet it seemed she came out of the haze and stared off into space and old lady Nahgebah laughed.
The little girl looked at Ashie and asked, “Who is the Ghost Lady?”
Ashie talked to Nahgebah and said remember at night that old woman who lived by us would go outside at night and dance around with no clothes on and Nahgebah smiled and laughed from someplace deep inside her and light of remembrance came to her.
The Ghost Lady was so pale that when she danced around with no clothes she stood out even at night. Ashie when he was small never saw her without clothes but remembered her at the trading post with all her clothes on checking the mail. He would look at her and wonder was she really was a ghost?
Ninibah just stood on the chair and looked at the old woman whose face lit up. Ashie said to the little girl, “Sometimes when you think some things are not right or out of balance we have to try to put them back in place. You see, grandma is here because a part of her is sick but that is because there are some things she has not been getting… like the chance to wake up in her own bed and to taste a popsicle like you and to remember that it tasted like bananas but also because it tasted good even more because you sneaked it.”
“That is what we have to do sometimes and sometimes a medicineman does that for us.”
“We are made up of many parts---our body, our thoughts, the way we laugh, the things we did before and those things we are seeing right now. It is important to remember the good things and learn from them, if you try to find such things then your life will have Hozhoji, the beauty way that is what our people believe.”
Ninibah asked, “Is that because we are Indians?”
Ashie said no, because we are people. “We have to try to keep things in balance and when we don’t a medicineman comes to try to put some things back in place. Sometimes the good and bad get mixed up and we have too much of one thing and it is not good for us. If you had a bunch of popsicles would that be good for you?”
Ninibah said, “Yes!”
“What if that was all you had to eat?”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
Ashie said, “I thought you told me your favorite food was watermelons? Remember you said that yesterday when we sat outside?”
Ninibah looked at her grandpa with her large brown eyes and said, “Yes, I like to eat watermelon; I could eat it all day.”
“What about the popsicles?”
“I could eat them too,” she added.
“Then I would have to take you to a medicineman. Because you have to have some other things. Do you remember them?”
Ninibah said, “I don’t want to see a medicineman.”
“Because they are scary….” Ashie laughed at that and said they are there for a reason.
Ashie said, “Did you know that all things you remember and have done are just a little ways away?”
Ashie said, “All the things we see are around us, and all the good thoughts we think are around us but there in the wind all the things that you remember that are good from yesterday, and all the people you know are just a little ways away. All the things they have done are riding in the wind. They never go away.”
“Who is the person you think about the most?”
“My brother Hosteen.”
“He's my brother, my big brother and he takes care of me. He makes me laugh and we play together.”
“Grandma Nahgebah also has brothers.”
Ashie spoke about her brothers and the train ride they used to take to sell jewelry to tourists and when they took her to Fort Wingate to go to school. Ashie said their names, and asked Nahgebah who they were and she said from her haze each of their names. She remembered each of them.
Ninibah asked about them. Ashie told her that Nahgebah’s brothers went to war in the Pacific when she was in school and never returned home.
Ninibah asked about what happened to them and Ashie told her that sometimes when there is a war we don’t know what will happen to our families and that is why we have to be good to each other so we can remember the good things they did. Those things are not gone. They are still there riding in the wind. Their voices, their faces and smiles are just right there and with his hand he touched the air gathering them in his palm.
Ninibah said, “I want to see them.” She saw that he had crystals in his hand and wondered why?
“These are for you and grandma so you will remember all these things and these will help you see them. That is why you have such a strong name, Ninibah. It means ‘Comes With War.’ You will know all these things and these people riding the wind.”
Ashie talked to Nahgebah and how her brothers had taught her to ride a wild horse when she was young and how the horse had taken off with her. Her brothers had a set of palominos that were like the color of gold and they went after her and brought her back after chasing her all over the mountain and that she was thrown into the stream. With that, Ashie sprinkled some water on Nahgebah’s hand and she smiled because she was there.
Ninibah laughed too.
Ashie sat with the old lady all day and they talked about the days of his youth and the stories Nahgebah had told him and it was as if they had come from a long ways and met someplace on a high mesa and Nahgebah was home in Dinetah and all this was done while riding the wind….
So it goes with the Windway….and Nahgebah came back from where she was visiting and after a few days looked at her son and great grandchild and knew who they were….so it goes that some things that are thought lost are not really gone but are sitting there waiting for us to touch them.
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.