Recently a favorite customer of ours called and said he was interested in purchasing a necklace for his wife. “I would like something that represents my love, appreciation and respect for her.” Fortunately I had just the piece, a hand-rolled Sleeping Beauty turquoise jacla necklace by master Santa Domingo artist Andrew Lovato.
The kicker to this story is the customer wanted the necklace blessed by John Holiday. John is a beloved and well-respected Navajo medicine man from Monument Valley, a legendary singer of the Navajo Beautyway ceremony. This is a beautiful ritual that brings balance, blessings and good fortune to those blessed during rite.
I first met John in the late 1970s at Blue Mountain Trading Post, when he would have been in his late 50s or early 60s. I remembered John as a jovial man with a shimmering light in his eyes and a bubbling belly laugh. As I understood it, he had a weakness for card games and would pawn his jewelry with us when he needed quick cash. Rumor had it he was quick of mind and hand, and that he rarely lost. We also bought used ceremonial baskets from John, those he had received as partial payment for his ceremonial services. Later, when I moved to Twin Rocks Trading Post, Steve and I continued to buy John’s baskets.
At one point a friend wanted a medicine man to perform marital rites for her and her beloved at Dead Horse Point, near Canyonlands National Park, and asked us to assist. We commissioned John to conduct the ceremony, and he had a ball doing it. I can still hear his song and laugh reverberating over the canyon.
As John aged and diabetes set in we saw him less often, but knew he was still singing the Beautyway and earning ceremonial baskets. He would have a family member drive him to our trading post and honk when he arrived. Steve or I would hustle out and meet him at the car. We had no trouble selling baskets that had passed through John’s hands and felt we were in a way also receiving the blessings of this powerful practitioner.
As time went on and John no longer stopped in, we did the math and decided he must be nearing 100 years of age. We also heard his eyes were beginning to dim and the diabetes was getting worse. So, when our customer asked us to get the necklace blessed by John, I was uncertain we could accomplish the task. Nonetheless, we decided a trip to Monument Valley wouldn’t hurt. I wanted to see that spectacular landscape and our old friend once again.
Steve and I decided I should take Rick Bell with me on the quest. Rick and his wife Susie have recently joined our Twin Rocks team and are proving to be a positive influence. This outgoing and unique couple has experience in numerous fields that benefit the business, and we are only beginning to plumb the depth of their knowledge and understanding.
Because he too has a sarcastic wit and I can banter with him without getting into trouble, I was looking forward to spending the day with Rick. He is also an experienced professional photographer and writer, and his role in this adventure was to document the blessing of the special necklace.
Leaving the trading post around 10:00 a.m., we had only vague directions to John’s homestead. I would like to say we drove directly to John’s house, got the blessing and were back by noon, but that was not to be. We entered the valley through Douglas Mesa and promptly ran into a host of Natives who willingly shared with us some of the most confusing instructions ever given. With complicated directions provided in a mix of Navajo and English, complete with hand and lip gestures, we were led on a round-about journey that allowed us ample time to “discover” Monument Valley.
At one point we followed a beat-up Ford Pinto in what we decided must be the right direction, but our gas gauge redirected us to Goulding’s Lodge for refueling. After visiting a sweet and helpful lady at the Oljato Senior Center, we were back on track. “He’s ober dere”, she said, lip-pointing past Train Rock and sketching a simple map on a paper napkin. The drawing proved accurate enough that within 20 minutes we pulled into the yard of John’s home. Not wanting to barge in on the family’s privacy, we sat outside and waited to be acknowledged. Before long a middle-aged man came onto the porch and asked why we were there. We explained our quest and were quickly re-introduced to this most extraordinary individual.
When we entered the dwelling, there sat John Holiday. Although it was a warm day, he had been bundled in a blanket with his feet elevated and an oxygen tube placed in his nose. In Navajo fashion, Rick and I introduced ourselves. John nodded to Rick and recognized him as “Bilagaana Medicine Man”. He just stared at me, however, as if trying to recall my face. While John struggled to place me, Brian, John’s son and caregiver, tried to explain our previous connection. We sat face-to-face looking at each other for several minutes before I noticed recognition spark in his eyes. That wonderful laugh of his burst forth and he said, “Twin Rocks! Let’s go eat.”
It was great to see our old friend again. We learned John is 99 years old and will pass the century mark next March. It is difficult to express the respect and awe Navajo people feel towards this wonderful healer/priest, but Rick and I certainly experienced it as we visited him. Even in his aged state John is a dynamic individual with a powerful presence. After a brief negotiation with his son, John agreed to bless the necklace. Not wanting to be hindered by the oxygen tube, he removed it, readjusted his scarf and prepared his paraphernalia. Bringing out his corn pollen pouch, he began to sing.
Hasteen Holiday was focused, and strength seemed to emanate from his being as he sang. There was no doubt John was sincere. The tone of his voice, demeanor and dignified manner assured us his heart and mind were where they needed be to perform this traditional procedure. His song was beautiful and its harmonic cadence soothing. Even though we did not understand his words, we grasped the solemn purpose as this holy-man fulfilled this task. In this place so sacred to the Navajo, the Blessingway prayer repeatedly tells us to Walk In Beauty. It is easily done in that unique landscape. Rick took photographs and I sat and absorbed the experience.
Before we departed, Rick and I were offered Hasteen John Holiday’s pollen bag and invited to bless ourselves in the traditional Navajo manner. John passed us his pouch and we took out pinches of the sacred powder, putting a touch on our tongues, the top of our heads and outward to the east, the Way of Beauty.
After receiving specific directions for accepting the necklace, Rick and I said our goodbyes and departed. We both felt we had witnessed something extraordinary. A holy-man had conducted a rite to grant the recipient of the necklace all the benefits he could summon. We departed feeling uniquely blessed.