The driver wore a loose fitting, tie-dyed T-shirt emblazoned with a peace sign, looked a bit like Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, and likely had come of age during the 1960s. He leaned over, gave me a friendly wink, switched off the car, and headed into the cafe for breakfast. As I sat there uprooting noxious plants and scrutinizing this visitor from the era of Viet Nam, free love, and Woodstock, a beat-up Reservation car lurched to a stop just west of where I had seated myself.
Two 60-ish Navajo women got out of the jalopy and headed my way. Sitting down on one of the boulders next to me, they asked, “Do you know where Lena Poyer lives?” “Of course, I do,” I responded, “I used to buy rugs from her.” “She lives over there,” I said, pursing my lips in the Navajo way and indicating south towards the Reservation.
One of the women explained she was Lena’s relative, but had not seen her in decades. She had moved away, to live among the “whites.” Feigning disappointment, I said, “Really, you left us for those guys?” “Yeah,” she said, “I married one, too. My kids are half. Even my nullies (grandchildren from her son) are white.” This time I acted even more disappointed she had traded the Reservation for a stint in the Anglo world.
The woman seemed to have assumed I was serious, and that I was at least partly Navajo. Maybe it was my Portuguese ancestry, which gives me darker skin, or maybe it was the way I indicated direction with my lips. In any case, she looked at me in earnest and said, “Well, they are people, too!”
The Navajo ladies left to continue their search, and a few minutes later my guest from the 60s strolled out to his car and fired it up. As he backed out into the street, the stereo kicked in, and I heard Sly singing, “We got to live together.” I couldn’t help thinking that insight often comes at unexpected times and from uncommon messengers. Now more than ever, we need to listen up.