Grandfather and Me
by Harrison Lapahie Jr. (Diné)
As I left the hogan that early August morning to start my college years in Los Angeles, I remembered the way it was during my life with my grandfather, Willie Lapahie. He was a kind, gentle man who tried to teach me to find beauty and respect in myself and in nature.
He once said, "Love of life is to love every living thing". He would always wake me in the early morning to catch the solitude and stillness of our terrestrial paradise. As we looked to the east we would discover the sun revealing the fresh and vivid colors of our wealthy earth. Wild flowers, cactus, and sage outline and decorated the desert sand. The air was fresh and tepid that appeared to emanate in our mouths. There was no sound of habitation that would agitate either the soul or the mind. During these times we shared our thoughts, emotions, and love for one another.
Grandfather was a humble and righteous man who thoughts were to preserve life and nature. He often told me to enshrine that which is good and pleasing to the soul and body. He cherished his farm which he started long ago, planting seeds with nothing but his bare hands. He cherished the trees around his home land, for he had grown up with them and knew everyone. For instance, I had never seen him cut down a tree, though a number of times, had I seen him use dried up pinon trees and sage for kindling. Everything living that grew from the earth he cherished.
There were times I would feel embarrassed when he would say, "Be proud you are an Indian and never be ashamed; you have secrets that are sacred to you. Be proud that your skin is brown, for you are unique. Become a leader, my smallest son, strong and stern like the invincible mountain".
Those words echoed in my mind as if he were here by my side. I received excellent grades in high school which esteemed me from everyone else. My friends, relatives, and peers would say to me, "Dondo, someday you're going to be a leader, a strong leader. Through you, you can preserve and provide a way to hold your people and help them grow".
But since all the teachings I had received, not one did I keep. Since I left the reservation, I had forgotten how to speak Navajo and had associated with few American Indians. I dropped the Indian ways and picked up on city ways.
To see me now would bring disgrace to my people and myself. I had lost the pride and dignity I once had. At times I am confused about school and life, about my people and my race. I discovered I am just another city Indian.
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