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(1950 - 2010)
T['ógí -- Weavers - Zia Clan
Photo of Vincent Craig at National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2002. Photo by Chris Simon.
T['ógí Bít'ahnii (Navajo)
T['ógí (Weavers - Zia Clan) blood from mom.
Bít'ahnii (Folded Arms People) blood from dad Robert (Bob) E. Craig.
June 5, 1950
Crownpoint, New Mexico
|Married||:||April 21, 1975|
Krya Little Flower Johnson (adopted daughter)
Table Of Contents
Navajo Times, May 20, 2010, page A-10
Vincent Craig, the famed Navajo artist, musician, poet, composer, humorist and creator of the comic strip super-hero Muttonman, died Saturday night, May 15, at 9:10 p.m. in Scottsdale, Ariz. His battle with cancer was long, hard-fought and painful, but in the end, death came peacefully to Craig as he lay surrounded by the love of family who had gathered at Kindred Hospital to be with him.
Craig would have turned 60 on June 6.
A public viewing will be held today, May 20, from 1 - 8 p.m. at the Fort Apache Branch Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Funeral services will take place the following morning at 10 a.m. at the LDS Pinetop-Lakeside Stake Center, located at 1520 Church Lane in Lakeside, Ariz.
Following the service, there will be a 25-mile procession from Lakeside to the community cemetery in Whiteriver, Ariz., the town where Craig and his White Mountain Apache wife, Mariddie, raised their family.
Craig, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, will be buried with full military honors. Afterward, the Relief Societies of the Fort Apache LDS Branch and the Pinetop-Lakeside Stake invite all who have come to celebrate Craig's life to join the family in a feast at the Fort Apache Chapel.
Craig tenaciously fought his cancer and held on long past the time when his doctor, who described him as the toughest patient he had ever treated, said most others would have yielded.
"He wanted to stay with his family and he never gave up," Harrison Craig, Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, said of his younger brother. "His spirit stayed strong. It was only his body that could not go on."
Many times during his long hospitalization, when he could see that his family was struggling, Craig used his famous sense of humor to lift their spirits. Once, after taking a look at the sad and worried faces that surroundedf him, Craig asked, "Why all the glum faces?" This caused everyone to laugh and brought them a moment of cheer.
On April 12, Vincent's grandson, Kraig, brought an electric guitar and amp into the hospital and performed a solo concert for his grandfather. Afterward, Vincent asked for his own guitar and then performed a final, impromptu concert for his family. His granddaughter, Ashlee, joined in with him to sing a fun version of "Brand New Key."
Craig then improvised a "goodbye song" of his own words. The following evening, Kraig and Ashlee's brother, Chance, brought his violin to his grandfather's bedside and performed Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
Vincent and Mariddie celebrated 35 years of marriage on April 21.
Craig performed his final public concert in February, when he felt well enought to leave his hospital bed just long enough to take his guitar and harmonica to put on an emotional performance at the Tohono O'odham Tribal Fair in Sells, Ariz.
Along with Mariddie, Craig leaves behind three sons, Dustinn, Nephi and Shiloh; adopted daughter, Krya Little Flower Johnson; five grandchildren, all of them Craig's: Ari Carter, Kraig, Chance, Ashlee and Tristan; his mother, Nancy M. Ettsitty; siblings, Harrison, Emerson, Vivian, Elvira N. and Lucia A. Craig; along with a host of cousins, nieces and nephews.
His late father, Bob E. Craig, was a Navajo Code Talker who fought at Iwo Jima.
During his illness, neither Craig nor wife Mariddie were able to work and they incurred enormous expense. It is suggested that in lieu of flowers, which will be provided by his family, those who wish could donate to a trust fund set up to help cover some of this expense at Wells Fargo Bank, Vincent Craig Donation Fund, account No. 6734185546, registered to Mariddie J. Craig.
2. [Funeral] A Humble Man: Sons of Vincent Craig Recall a Father both Gentle and Wise
By Jan-Mikael Patterson
May 27, 2010, Navajo Times, page A-1 (front page)
Lakeside, Ariz. - His three sons summed up the life of Vincent Craig with one word - humility.
Throughout the May 21 funeral service for the revered Navajo entertainer, who died of cancer May 15, the term was repeated as his sons, Dustinn, Nephi and Shiloh, recounted the phases of his life.
Nearly 400 people attended the service, which was held at the Pinetop-Lakeside LDS Stake Center. Among them were James Junes of the James and Ernie Comedy Duo; Gallup trading post owner Ellis Tanner; singer Joe Tohannie Jr.; and Vice President Ben Shelly and his wife, Martha.
"There are no words to describe how this man before me has touched all of you," Dustinn said, describing Vincent Craig's young years in the playful blend of history and myth that his father used to such effect in his own storytelling.
On June 5, 1950, my grandparents Nancy and Bob were outside when a meteor had crashed over a hill near where they lived," Dustinn said, spoofing the Superman creation story. "As they went to inspect the crash they came across a baby boy. That baby boy was my father."
"My grandparents were trying to decide whether or not to raise him," he said. "I'm glad they did because we wouldn't be here today. To us he was our superhero."
"I really like that analogy because in many ways it wasn't that far from the truth," Dustinn said. "My father had come from humble beginning and lived his formative years until he was 8 years old in Crownpoint."
He recalled the stories his father would tell of playing with his brothers and sisters, and attending a program at a local church where he and the other children played together, drew with crayons and sang songs.
"My father's life also had its share of hard times," Dustinn said, noting that the relationship between Vincent and his late father, Bob Etsitty Craig, was bitter.
The elder Craig was a master horseman and a hero of World War II - in time the family learned that he had been a Navajo Code Talker as well as a Marine. But he was also an alcoholic who made life hell for his family, as Vincent described in an interview with journalist Diana Del Mauro ("Vincent Craig's secrets to a happy life," May 20, 2010).
"He had come back (from war) a fiery individual that would wreak havoc on my dad, aunties, uncles and my grandmother," Dustinn said about his grandfather, adding when Bob Craig eventually conquered his demons, and he and Vincent forged a relationship.
a. Creative Sources
Dustinn then recounted the fateful day when young Vincent and his brothers were sent to Wingate Boarding School.
Mystified, they searched for the reason they'd been taken from their life in Crownpoint, and surmised that it must be punishment for a time they went swimming in the stock tank near their home.
Boarding school lasted two months because "apparently his parents had made too much money for him to stay in boarding school."
Around this time Vincent's mother, Nancy Mariano Etsitty, was supporting the family, hitchhiking to a job cleaning hotel rooms in Gallup.
"It was early in his life that my father recognized his mother as his hero," Dustinn said.
Throughout his life, Vincent understood the value of hard work and once he had a family of his own, made sure his wife and kids got the best he could provide.
"He always put his family first," Dustinn said. "He was impossible when it came to spending money on himself. Instead of buying a new pair (of boots) he would have it resoled so that whatever he didn't need to spend, it would go towards the family.
Dustinn then recalled the day things changed. Dustinn was home, visiting on his birthday, and Vincent came in as the boys were on their way out to the movies.
"My dad asked where we were going and I told him that we were going to watch a movie," Dustinn said. "He said that he would wait up until we got back. When we got back he wanted to go to the hospital because he was having some pains. That was when they detected a growth."
"Of all the things he would say he said, 'I'm sorry for ruining your birthday, Sonny,'" Dustinn recounted. "I told him, 'No, don't worry about it. We know what to do. We know how to set things up. You taught us well, Dad.'"
"I know that we'll be OK because he taught us and prepared us well," Dustinn said.
"This man before me is my hero," said Nephi, second oldest of Vincent's sons.
Following high school, Vincent enlisted in the Marine Corps. While stationed in Hawaii, he met his future wife.
"My dad was struck by my mother Mariddie," Nephi said, noting that it was not the same for her. After they'd spent some time together, getting to know each other, Vincent proposed and Mariddie said, "No."
"My dad kept pursuing (her) and kept correspondence through letters and poems for years," Nephi recalled. "The first time he got to take out mom she had a chaperone. It was a trio instead of it being a one-on-one."
Eventually they married and raised three boys.
"I'm always going to cherish the way he loved all of us and encouraged us," Nephi said. "I'm very proud of my father. He fought to the very end."
"There are many beautiful things that I learned from my dad," said Shiloh, the youngest son. "One of the things that I did learn, and that not too many people know, is that 'Vincent' wasn't his birth name.
"He said, 'I don't know if the nurses at IHS screwed up but (his) name was actually Vinson,'" Shiloh said. "He told me, 'The United States Marine Corps made sure my name was Vincent.'"
b. Life Lessons
Shiloh shared a story of how "frugal, almost cheap" his father was, which generated laughter from the audience.
"I remember one time he told me, 'Son, if you want me to buy you something, you know my thoughts on that. If it's under $10 I won't ask questions,'" Shiloh recalled.
Shiloh also remembers learning from his father that "nothing in life worth having comes easy."
Vincent's philosophy about spending extended to his ride, a pickup he called "the old gitty-up and go."
"It was basically five different pickup trucks rolled into one," Shiloh said, chuckling.
Of his father's lessons, Shiloh said, "He taught us to live wholesome lives, to take things in stride and to laugh.
"We were the guinea pigs for a lot of his jokes," he said, adding that if the Vincent didn't get a laugh from his boys, the joke would never go public.
Shiloh then recalled a time when he felt down and Vincent told him, "You just can't give up. It doesn't matter how hard it gets, you just can't crawl into a trash can and give up."
The last message his father had for him came during one of Shiloh's visits to the hospital.
"He could now see how troubled I was feeling," he recalled. "All he said was, 'It's OK, my dear boy, it's all right. I'm always with you.' Then he looked at the whole family and said, 'I'm always with you, all the time. T'oo baaniskees. Think about that.'"
Following the eulogy, Dustinn played a recording of his father's final song, composed while he was in the hospital. It features an acoustic guitar as Vincent sings, encouraging people to "dream on."
Vincent Craig, who made his home with his wife's people in Whiteriver, Ariz., was interred in the Whiteriver Cemetery.
3. Songs/Music Touched Many People: Craig's Songs Create 'Mental Television'
By Noel Lyn Smith
May 27, 2010, Navajo Times, page A-1 (front page)
Window Rock - When Francis Vigil was a teenager he worked at the Hillcrest Restaurant in Dulce, N.M., where the job was tough but once the last customer left, the fun started.
That's when Vigil and his coworkers could pop in a tape of Vincent Craig music and listen to it as they closed the restaurant for the night.
"We'd sing on top of our lungs," he recalled.
Vigil, now 35, is a high school science teacher at the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque.
Although he does not listen to Craig's music as much as before, he has noticed his students now listen to it and even include Craig's songs in their class presentations.
"His songs, it becomes something that everyone knows," Vigil said.
Native American Community Academy is a charter school serving grades 6-12. Its students come from diverse tribes, but through Craig's music they come together, he said.
"Even though we come from different Native cultures, we can relate to the community Craig sings about," Vigil said.
Craig, who died of cancer May 15, became a familiar voice on radio waves when KTNN began playing his music in 1986. The relationship Craig built with his listeners was personal and enduring.
"Ever since I met him, I noticed that he was very observant," recalled Ray Tsosie, a program manager at KTNN. "The things he writes about are very descriptive. I was amazed at how observant and the words he used."
Whenever Craig had a new album out, KTNN listeners were among the first people to hear it. Craig would always drop off a copy of his latest release, along with a business card, Tsosie said.
"That's the type of relationship we had with him," he said.
As word of Craig's passing spread through Indian Country, KTNN devoted a show to his music May 20, in addition to playing excerpts from live shows and interviews from the station's archives, Tsosie and Lori Lee, a former KTNN radio personality, hosted the 90-minute tribute.
Like many of Craig's fans, the first song Tsosie heard was "Rita," which continues to be a listener favorite along with "C'hizzi," "Coffee Chili" and "Thank God for Polyester."
Tsosie said the Native American music community has lost a songwriter who had the ability to create a "mental television," to borrow Craig's own description of his work.
"He laid the foundation to what it feels like to be an entertainer here on a Native nation," Tsosie said.
There are two memories of Craig that stand out for Tsosie. The first was when Craig play at a KTNN Christmas party one year, and the second was when he opened for country singer Dwight Yoakam at the Navajo Nation Fair in 1986.
At the time Yoakam was still relatively unknown, so it was Craig whom most of the audience wanted to see.
"I know Vincent brought in a lot of the crowd," Tsosie said.
When Gallup trader Ellis Tanner started Native American Appreciation Day in 1988, he called Craig to help organize the event and Craig continued to be a featured performer for each appreciation day.
"He was by far the biggest attraction," Tanner said.
One year, some of Tanner's staff brought cases of Big Hunk - the fateful candy bar in "Rita" - and when Craig reached that part of the song, they threw handfuls of Big Hunks into the audience.
"He sang from the ehart, he would get quite emotional in some of the songs but at the end of the day he loved to put a smile on everybody's face," Tanner said. "Surely we've lost the songs he would have come up with, there definitely will never be another one like him."
Tanner said he thinks Craig's musical legacy will become similar to that of Navajo singler Ed Lee Natay.
"Natay's music is played as much today, if not more than when he was living. I think Vincent will be the same way," Tanner said.
Tanner's store was one of the first places to sell Craig's music. Among his favorite songs are "Rita" and "Navajo Code Talker," a song Craig wrote for his father, code talker Robert Craig.
Veronica Slinkey is another "Rita" fan.
Slinkey, 35, was selling jewelry at the Window Rock flea market. As she strung beads, she recalled hearing "Rita" on the radio and watching Craig sing in the movie, "Blue Gap Boyz."
"His music and comedy describe what people did, especially when they were small," she said. "I don't think people will ever grow out of his music."
4. Vincent Craig's Secrets to a Happy Life
As told to Diana Del Mauro
Special to the Navajo Times (May 20, 2010, Navajo Times, Opinion, Guest Column, page A-7)
Diana Del Mauro, once a resident of Shiprock in the 1990s, now lives in Santa Fe. She has worked as a Journalist for the Farmington Daily Times, The Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Traveling with his harmonica, guitar and flute, Vincent Craig took his cowboy poetry off the dusty resevation roads to such places as the Smithsonian Instituion and Salt Lake City, where he performed before a crowd of 2,300 during the 2002 Olympics.
His sense of humor was, in turns, playful and edgy.
Vincent told stories of growing up along historic Route 66 near Crownpoint. Grandma was his doctor, lawyer, soothsayer, comforter, he said.
And Harrison, his quiet older brother, was made-to-order for a born entertainer like Vincent.
Crownpoint, the uranium capitol of the world, is "the only place on earth where Indians glow in the dark," Vincent Craig, 59, was fond of telling audiences.
As the child of an alcoholic, a former Marine, a former tribal police officer, a specialist in tribal jurisdiction law and a court administrator for the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona, Vincent understood human losses.
He kicked the pain through song, funny stories and cartooning. Using anecdotes from Navajo culture and a playful emphasis on the Navajo dialect, Vincent dispensed the medicine of laughter to Native peoples and the outside world.
"I call it the oldest herb," he said of humor. "Treat it with care. Don't wallow in it. Don't be vindictive with it. Don't journey into humor with malice, because it's not there. And don't ridicule a specific person."
Vincent unleashed his wit through "Muttonman," which was a weekly cartoon strip in the Navajo Times newspaper. The superhero, fueled by uranium-contaminated mutton, is "more powerful than the Bureau of Indian Affairs! Able to leap Shiprock in a single bound! Faster than the BIA area director can pass the buck!"
In his private life, Vincent was long baffled by his father. The masterful horseman and war hero taught Vincent the art of humor but, he lamented, his father couldn't be counted on for much else.
As a boy, Vincent found a reliable father figure while living with a Mormon foster family in Utah. Much later in life, he found a closeness with his father that was only possible through faith and forgiveness.
On stage, Vincent wasn't afraid to point out injustices. He made the sandstone bluffs and railroad tracks of the Southwest come alive as if they were enchanted, then recalled how the federal government's surveyors divided the land.
He started a ballad full of protest: "Hey Mr. President, look at the old ones there as they cry because someone drew a line."
Next thing you know he's getting silly, talking about diets. You finally slide back into those size 32-inch Wranglers, he observes, then someone makes fry bread.
"Thank God for polyester," he crooned.
In a series of recorded interviews, Vincent Craig reflected on the people and life lessons that molded him in a comedic force. Helping others to learn to laugh in the face of adversity was a skill he learned at a very young age.
a. Stretching the Truth
Vincent's father, Bob E. Craig, served with the 5th Marine Division, part of the famed Navajo Code Talkers.
He was wounded in action in Iwo Jima, and then returned to the resevation. When he died in 2000 at age 75, he was the father of eight, the grandfather of 25 and the great-grandfather of seven.
"My dad talked about being a code talker, some of the things he saw in war and some of the things he went through. And I wondered, 'What if he's just pulling my leg?'" Vincent said.
"Yeah, that's one thing that will naturally raise its head in the mind of a child of an alcoholic parent: whether all the stories that are being told are fact or fiction, or embellishment or whatever. I wondered it secretly deep inside but I never conveyed that to anyone. It was something to myself.
"At the same time, I really admired my dad for his stature because he was six foot one. You know, he was a very big man."
"And he was an incredible horseman. He raised racehorses when he first came out of the Marine Corps. That was always his love and passion. He had one of the fastest racehorses in Eastern Navajo one time ..."
"My dad made us laugh. That was his special gift. He was a great storyteller."
"He was the non-heralded Will Rogers of the Navajo. That's what he was to me."
"He was a crafty cynic, a beautiful cynic, you know. He would articulate it in ways that made you laugh - the frustration of things, his own interpretations of people trying to do things."
"He had a lot of influence on my cartooning. I felt I cartooned for him, to a large degree."
"And he had such insight into people, his people, our people, the Navajos."
"Yeah, those were good times. He made a family gathering. Everybody had fun."
"But when he was drinking, his attempts at the same would be obnoxious. There was always that distinction."
"He was a wonderful craftsman in humor. I know that's what my mom liked about him. But it got old fast, along with his drinking."
"... And to see all of those things dissipate, it was kind of sad to me. But I dealt with it in my own way by always hoping for better things."
"My family says that I was always the innovator, growing up. I was always outspoken, an extrovert, to a large degree. That I always had answers for everything, whether they were true or not."
"Evidently, I would attempt anything. I used to be able to completely recite and play out the Tom Thumb story to my mom when I was a little boy. I loved the movies. That was my No. 1 passion when I was little."
"I had the opportunity to grow up with my grandma and tease my grandma a lot. And I think it was king of a diversion: try to make people laugh and keep people happy."
"When you learn about phenomena associated with dependency and people who end up in dysfuctional homes because of an alcoholic parent, that's one of the traits. There'll be a humorist, there'll be a serious guy, there'll be an achiever."
"When I read that, I thought, oh, my sister is that one, my brother is that one, and I think that's me."
b. The Latter-Day Saints
Native Americans, known as the Lamanites in the Book of Mormons, are believed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to be a lost tribe of Israel.
In the mid-1900s, the Indian Student Placement Program of the LDS Social Service arranged for thousands of Native Americans to live in Mormon foster homes during the academic year.
Eight months of the year, Vincent Craig lived in Utah, away from his Navajo family.
"My grandmother was Mormon," he said. "She had quite an influence on our family, and my mom was a member."
"I was baptized when I was eight years old. During the times I spent with my grandmother, she always took me to the Primary and to Sunday School and stuff like that."
"I guess when I was about eight years old, we moved to Church Rock, N.M., to the Indian Village. I spent second, third and fourth and fifth grade at Church Rock Elementary."
"And then from there I went on the placement program with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Utah. Yes, in 1962 I moved. And during school years I stayed with Melvin and Nelda Cook in Wayne County in a place called Torrey, Utah. A farming community and a farming family. And I stayed there for seven years until I graduated in 1969."
"I'm probably the only agrarian Navajo in the world. I know about cutting hay and changing water; different species of agricultural plants, apples, different varieties of apples, pears, peaches, pruning, milking cows, feeding cows. That became my forte, I guess, to some degree."
"I was there with another young boy that was a year older than me, and his name was Joe Cook. He was the grandson who had tragically lost his father in a plane crash. When his father got killed ... his grandparents adopted him. They needed someone to be with him and grow up with him, and that's how I came to be with that family."
"I had too much to do to really dwell on being affected by it in any way that was detrimental to me, I think. I had chores to do every morning. I milked cows. I had a very full schedule."
"One of the most memorable things was coming to the realization and coming to understand that the farming family that I was with experienced many of the same social drawbacks that affect any family in any culture. I didn't know how the finances of the farm was, and later on come to find out how things are mortgaged, and how things are acquired, and how things are leased out and how water shares are done, and stuff like that."
"It became apparent to me that that was a very tough life that my foster father had lived throughout his life, but he was a hard, diligent, working man. And watching him raise his family and do the things that he did, he left a great impression on me. And I think that I've always felt that desire to aspire to do things that he taught me."
"There was never a real father figure in my family as I was growing up, so he was the first impressionable male figure in my life."
c. Birth of Muttonman
A hundred million gallons of radioactive water gushed into the Rio Puerco in 1979, after a uranium tailings mill damed ruptured.
Livestock died and the Navajo people couldn't drink the water in Church Rock, N.M. This nuclear accident, considered the largest in the United States, surpassed Three Mile Island.
"When I was in BYU in 1978, Jim Largo, the editor of the Navajo Times called me at school and asked me if I would be willing to do some kind of a cartoon strip," Vincent said.
"He had seen the cartoon strip I did for the Fort Apache Scout, my wife's tribal newspaper. (It was called 'Frybread and Beans.')
"Then I had another cartoon strip at BYU called 'Benny Yazzie Undergraduate.' You know, BYU."
"So I took a stab at it and came up with an idea that me and my dad sort of developed in a funny way."
"He (my father) used to herd sheep by his brother's place behind Church Rock along the Rio Puerco during the time that they had that radiation spill at the Kerr-McGee Mine and all that water came flooding out of there."
"My uncle's livestock was always in that water. My dad had walked through that all the time; he'd take his boots off. That's where we suspect the melanoma coming from on his foot."
"So anyway, we were riding horses there one time and (my father) says, 'I wonder if this water's really safe like the government says.'"
"'To'o daatsi' adaani'. Maybe they're just pulling our leg and they've developed some different type of standard for Indians, and it actually may be bad.'"
"But, he was saying something like 'Ako ndi'. Although, wouldn't it be neat if it just sort of worked to our favor. It seems like we get through everything anyway. What if some Navajo eats some of this meat and gets super powers?'"
"I said, 'Yeah.'"
"We're just laughing."
"'Yeah,' I say, 'faster than a blazing jackrabbit.'"
"Then I said, 'Able to leap Shiprock in a single bounce.'"
"And then we started just joking about this character. No matter how he's imbued with a special power, it's got to be limited. That's just the destiny of Indians: that their powers will always have limitations on it. That he's only going to be able to fly for five minutes, and he has to do everything in five minutes."
"And that thing just started in my head. So I developed a story line and that's where it (Muttonman) started."
d. Un-Stretching the Truth
In March 1982, Vincent performed a tribute song, "He Spoke on the Whistling Wind," in the presence of his father and a gathering of World War II code talkers at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. At that time, he still wondered if his father's war stories were true and he began a quest to find out.
"Even after I'd written the song, I still didn't really have any - not vindication - but something tangible," Vincent said. "I wanted to see something in writing."
"I think it was about 1987 or '88, we were invited to a Fourth Division reunion at Camp Pendleton. During that time I had the opportunity to tour the Marine Corps Museum with my family."
"I found one of those Fifth Marine Division books, kind of like a yearbook. I looked in there, and I saw his name. It said Private Bob Etsitty Craig. Then it has a classification on the side that he was wounded in action and that he was medivac'd out of Iwo Jima."
"I kind of felt inside a little bit sad for doubting him. So because of that I was able to look at my dad in a different light. That just reaffirmed to me that he was a Marine, that he had done an honorable service to his nation, and that for whatever reason he was the way he was."
"Those were the days before post-traumatic stress was diagnosed as something that was a real tangible phenomenon to a war veterans. I guess in a way he just dealt with it in the best say that he could."
"Many of us were still naive to probably the horrors of the things that they saw. We were the first generation of the code talkers' posterity."
"It certainly was something that would be his own baggage to carry. But we exonerated a lot of those things later on in getting to know each other."
"My healing was a slow, incremented process, I think, with my relationship with my dad. It probably ran through every gamut of emotions, from hostilities, to frustration, to utter hopelessness sometimes."
"He was a hard worker when he was (working) ... but it was sporadic. So I savored, treasured those special times, and the ratio was fairly bad when you think about it." (half laugh)
"He was an all-around handy man. He was a carpenter, he was a mason. He could do anything."
"In accordance with tradition, he built his mom and ad a house when he was 15. A stone, brick house."
"And he brought these huge logs that the BIA had dismantled, these old-type bridges. They'd put the logs aside and nobody wanted them. so he went and dragged those back by a team of horses and made the beams just like this in the house."
"The house is still there. In Crownpoint, up in the flats."
"And I grew up in there. So many memories attached to that - and I never knew all that time that he had built that house."
"I found out in about 1987, no it was earlier than that. Probably about '85, '84, I guess. That he had lifted those beams up himself and had built that house, stuccoed it with mud. And that's where the family grew up. He was only 15, 16."
e. Contentment in the Hills
In the fourth grade, Vincent Craig realized that his mother was his hero and embraced the simplicity of his life.
"One Christmas - probably my mother's most gallant effort to preserve the spirit of Christmas at our house - each one of us got one little gift," he said.
"I came to grips with the reality that I was poor." (He laughs.)
"It's kind of weird, but after that I treated my mom differently. I treated my brothers and sisters differently. I became more not wanting ... those BB guns or those skates, those little amenities that became kind of luxutry items for people."
"There are a lot of things to do. Climb the mountains, climb the hills. Play."
"I guess it was escapist in a way, but still, I think it was a healthy thing to realize because I did treat my mom differently. I didn't make demands that may have tipped her over the edge, I don't know." (He laughs.)
"She was the sole provider. I don't know how she did it. I just admire that lady beyond anything I can imagine. She's still the hero mom."
"She hitchhiked every day to Gallup, cleaning motel rooms."
"I had a war dad, and I had a tenacious and incredibly loving mom. And wonderful grandparents."
f. Repeat Performance
At 24, a woman he loved declined his clumsy marriage proposal. She insisted his life was heading nowhere.
Vincent Craig was playing music in the bars of Gallup, collecting unlimited credit from the till every week.
"It wasn't a horrible thing. It was just me, and my dog, and my truck, and an $80-a-month trailer - and that was it." he said.
His buddies thought he had it made, but Mariddie forced him to realize it wasn't true.
Vincent put an end to his party lifestyle and luckily, his true love accepted is marriage proposal and became his wife.
By saying "no" to alcohol, he said "yes" to life.
With Mariddie, a councilwoman for the White Mountain Apache, Vincent had three sons. Dustinn is a videographer, Nephi is a chef at an affluent country club in north Scottsdale, and Shiloh is in high school.
The Craigs also are guardians of Kyra Little Flower Johnson, Mariddie's niece.
"As a child I swore I would never, never do that. The most solemn declaration!" Vincent said.
"But I ended up doing it. I ended up doing a lot of drinking."
"And when I was in it, I didn't want it, but here I was in it. Everything was coming to me in a variety of different ways."
"I knew deep inside that it had to stop."
And that's why Vincent needed a wake-up call, in the form of a rejected marriage proposal.
"If I'm with a bunch of students who are young and are entering that stage of their life where it's going to become accessible and easy for them, and that it's going to become the social lubricant for their existence in college or the work field or wherever they are, I try to explain to them that this is the one thing that was not meant for you," he said.
"You're going to rationalize and you're going to be creative, you're going to try to find out ways to drink and not get in trouble."
"And I can promise you as you sit here that if you decide to embrace this monster, I promise you, you will never have happiness."
"One good person with a clear mind is an incredible resource to many, because when people drink automatically they affect nine to 15 people. It doesn't matter who you are. Friends that care for you, teachers that care for you, a lot of people that love you, your family members, your congregation, your parishioners. Just so many."
"And even it you think you're worth nothing, that ratio is still there."
g. Blessings for Dad
At a fundraising dinner on the campus of Rehoboth Christian School in Gallup in 2000, Vincent told an audience of Navajos and non-Navajos that his father ended his life baptized and sober.
Vincent came clean, too. He let his father know how deeply he had been hurt: "I told him I used to pray to God that he would get run over."
"I think I was 43 years old when we finally had that (breakthrough, healing) discussion," Vincent said.
"My dad kept asking questions about what helped me." 'Why is it,' he said, 'that you've hung onto this faith through everything? Through the Marines, through your hard times in Gallup, the times when you were alone? And you're still hanging on to it.'
"And he said, 'That makes me think ... Baa ntseeskees leh.'"
Vincent explains that finding his faith took longer than that, actually.
"Establishing a relationship with my Heavenly Father was the most incredible experience of my life, for me," Vincent said. "And I was just sad that it came when I was in my early 40s."
"I think my recognition of my Heavenly Father was kind of like my recognition of my temporal father, who was my dad. They sort of fall into sync with each other."
"I couldn't really relate the way I should have done with my Heavenly Father until I was able to relate with my father. (He chuckles.) That's kind of an interesting thing to realize, and I've often thought about that."
"Even though there was a lot of resentment, I knew I loved him."
"I remember one time when they found out he had a melanoma on his foot, which is so unusual. He was going to go into surgery and I went to see him and he asked me to give him a blessing, a priesthood blessing. And I gave him a blessing."
"And I remember that day he was laying there, and I think the anesthesia was starting to set in. He reached out and he held my hand. I just had this most incredible moment. I remember that I looked up at him, and I said, 'Dad, I really love you.'"
"And I reached out and I kissed him on the forehead. And he really held my hand tight, and he says, 'I'll see you soon.' And I said, 'All right.' And he went to surgery."
"Of course, he came out all right."
"And after that, on at least two other occasions, he asked me for a blessing. So it was a slow strengthening process for both of us."
"In my lifetime, I had watched missiionary after elder after medicine man after friend after acquaintances after authority figures after judges inundating him with this: You've got to stop (drinking). And I would just leave it up to my Heavenly Father. And I would always talk to him and encourage him too."
"And then one day out of the blue, a young missionary came from the Mormon Church. And whatever special gift he had, that young boy, a 17- or 18-year old boy, touched my dad in some fashion."
"And my dad started just laughing. He says, 'Hatiishii ale. I don't know what it was about that boy. Shinitooh. When he was looking at me it felt like he could see right through me and I've been always able to shield those type of things, you know. Shi chaah naideeh.'"
"And he says, 'I would like to have you baptize me.' That's what he told that boy."
"So in 1995 the elder baptized him in Window Rock. And since that time he'd always been more profound and philosophical, in the most beautiful ways. He would ponder prayer, ponder spiritual things, ponder the herafter, ponder gauging his progress."
"It was neat to watch that, because every question (my dad) had I would do my best to answer it."
"At the same time I was starting to learn a lot of things about the Navajo Way becauses I was involved in the Navajo Common Law Project. And we started talking about those (traditional teachings)."
"And (my dad) started saying, 'Oh, that's why they did this when I was little. Oh. Oh.'"
"So it was a growing process for us in these latter years. Those things were very dear to me."
"About six months after he passed away, my youngest brother called me up on the phone one day. He was crying."
"'Oh, I had the most beautiful dream,' my brother said. 'I was hiking over this big ridge and there (Dad) was. And he was sitting away from me, and this beautiful valley ahead of him.'"
"'And Dad told him, 'I'm fine, Sonny. Don't worry, I'm fine. You won't believe what they've got me doing here.'"
"(In the dream) he kind of walked over the rise."
"'Meet my friends,' he says. 'I've been told to take care of these special friends of mine.'"
"And he was sitting among all these gentle bears. And he was just stroking them, and they were just kind of snuggled up to him."
"And my brother was just crying. He said, 'What does that mean?'"
"I said, 'I really don't know, Emerson.'"
"And then it just hit me like a bolt of lightning: 'It's that essence of the bear,' I said. 'In his medicine bundle, they had the essence of bear, badger, mountain lion and one other - I can't think what it was. And those were meant to protect him. And out of hope the greatest strength is the bear.'"
"I said, 'I feel impressed to tell you that the bear is what brought him through all that terrible, horrible thing that he went through in Iwo Jima and the South Pacific and brought him home. And just like the bear, they hibernate and they're effective for only a certain amount of time. And that's how his life has kind of been, you know, in seasons. Things work for him in seasons."
"I said, 'I think now it's time for him to take care of the bears who took care of him.'"
"We found a lot of comfort in that."
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