Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Who owns these tears?

My Navajo dad, Shizhee, tells me to always walk the way of the tratadine and asks me if I know what that means. I know. One time when we walked up the hill to the higher hill in the back of his house on the reservation, he showed me a flower. He told me to take the flower, which had pollen that resembled the sacred corn pollen, and to walk with it and to say, "Let me walk in beauty."

My Shizhee is 90 and when he sings to me and tells me these things, it makes me cry. The thing is that I am not a Navajo and he is not my real father, but he adopted me some time ago and we fit the roles. His own children don't come for visits unless it is for some money and only one or two of them out of seven try to go the Beauty Way.
My dad relocated his children from the reservation to the city to give them a better life but instead all they found was a culture so different or maybe two cultures so different, and a strange envy and anger mix for the bilagana and the chicano. They live so far from home now, but have no desire to join their Shizhee who chose to return, and who sometimes wonders why he has, because he's lost something along the road-maybe an understanding of who his people are.

Shizhee Billie sings his prayers in Dineh but he can also sing cowboy songs and 40's songs. Somewhere in this mix he finds himself. A little of this and some of that. He even has a CD of traditional Dineh songs circling the universe that he recorded a few years back when he still had an agent to field the movies and television interviews.

He walks tall in his straw panama and jeans with his turquoise bracelet and belt covered in buffalo nickels. He speaks Dineh with his friends who know little English and speaks English with a southern accent he picked up in somewhere when he was in the service in World War ll.

When I am with him, my dad wakes me at 4:30 in the morning with prayers that he calls out loudly in English from his seat on the sofa. An hour of this and then he goes out to climb the hill and say his special prayers in Dineh, while cupping his hands, calling in the sunrise. My dad is out there every day at dawn, even when it snows and the temperature drops way below freezing. If it snows, he washes his face with it in ceremony.
When he comes back to the house, he makes himself tortillas with beans and then sits down at his small desk where he creates beautiful silver work. It is something that keeps his mind strong and his tradition alive. He has been making silver for 70 years and his hand is as steady as ever.

So, I called him on my birthday from more than 2400 miles away because I needed for him to sing me "Beauty Way." He is hard of hearing but his voice boomed out with every verse of the prayer. And then he reminded me to always follow the tratadine way. I am not a Navajo. I am a Jew but I listen to what my dad says because I am to him as his own now and because I have been blessed to have two wonderful fathers in my lifetime. Yes, I cried, when he told me to walk the beauty way because he is trying to keep a tradition going for his family. Maybe I would stop crying if they would only listen. If they would return to him.