One of the hard things about Christmas for poor folks (including many Indians) is that it comes at the end of the month, when thin resources are nearly transparent, true for many, though not all, of my family. Thus, this year, my extended family who live on the Rez, decided to forego gifts, except for the small children, spending precious resources on food for a large family gathering, followed by card games.
Some of my grandchildren living in Connecticut will be the recipients of small gifts after the New Year, when I’ll be temporarily flush again. They now believe that Santa Claus requires additional time to make the long trip from Montana to the eastern coast. “It’s okay Grandma,” oldest grandchild, Ava, says. “That way, we have something to look forward to!”
That is why I am so gratified by the many unexpected gifts I received this Christmas. It takes a few days to “scatter” A Cheyenne Voice around a wide perimeter, a bi-monthly 600 mile trip, sometimes wearisome. But, also enjoyable because of visiting with advertisers, the business people who graciously sell the paper and contributors, the most recent issue on December 21, distributed just a few days before Christmas.
I look forward to delivering the paper to my very good friend Mina Seminole (Youngest Girl Child) at Chief Dull Knife College as she collaborates on a very special column “Traditional Talk” sharing old Cheyenne stories, history and culture and a Cheyenne word, devoted to the preservation of our language. While munching on Christmas treats she provided for visitors to the Cultural Center, Mina gave me a beautiful gift bag, including a gorgeous set of silver earrings, inlaid with coral. “I know red is your favorite color,” she smiled “and I got these for you at the Crazy Horse Memorial last summer.” Yet, the western card with horse images was most meaningful. “You are the only cowgirl I really know”, she wrote “Thank you for being my friend.” Ditto.
Earlier in the week, there was an unexpected knock on the door of my small rural log cabin. There stood a young man. When I opened the door he said “Hello Grandma.”
“Who are you?” I asked in puzzlement, thinking he might be a “ketch colt” from one of my sons, who have all sown wild oats, gathering quite a crop.
“Gabe Carlson,” he announced. “You are my Grandpa’s (Dennis Limberhand) sister, so you are my Grandma too.”
In Cheyenne way, this is true. I had heard about this young fellow many times from my cousin brother, actually a step-grandchild to whom he devoted much time and attention, but never before met him. Gabe, a promising young bull rider has also posed challenges, recently walking on the wild side.
“I brought you some wood,” he announced. “Would you like me to bring it into the house and stack it?”
“Yes, that would be very nice. How much do I owe you?” I asked.
“Nothing Grandma,” he responded while adding “Here is my phone number. When you need more, just call me.”
In thanking him, I said “I’m going to tell your Grandpa about this. He will be very proud of you.” (And Dennis was very glad to hear this news.)
“I hope so,” the young man replied. “I’m trying to become a better person.”
Though I greatly appreciate the wood, my primary source of heat, that was not the actual gift. The fact that he stopped by, introduced himself and thought of me was the kindness.
One of my favorite stops in the newspaper scatter is the Heritage Living Center, Ashland, a community living center for elders, greatly subsidized by the Soaring Eagle Foundation, a Catholic enterprise. Arriving at noon, I decided to have lunch there, invited to sit with Richard “Dopey” Tall Bull, Cheyenne name Sun Road. He was happy to provide additional details about his side of the family genealogy. “We should know where we come from,” he advises. So true. After this discussion, Dopey reached into his wallet, producing a twenty dollar bill. “Merry Christmas, here is some gas money,” he said. Such generosity from a person who has so little!
Finally, December 22 was the 50th birthday of my good friend Mardell Woodenlegs (Small Face Woman). She wanted to celebrate by getting out of Busby, accompanying me to Miles City to pick up the paper. I gave her a small monetary gift. When we made the usual thrift store stop, she carefully shopped, buying me a Christmas present, diving into that small amount of money. “You didn’t have to do that,” I protested.
“Be quiet” she said in Cheyenne. “I can do whatever I want to.”
Finally on Christmas Eve day, I received a phone call from another brother-friend, Butch Small. “Clem we haven’t seen you for a long time. Will you give me a Christmas present?”
“Sure, if I can afford it,” I responded, thinking he wanted a small injection of cash to go to Charging Horse Casino. “What?”
“Come up and have breakfast with us. Visit for a while.”
There you go again. Not the money, not the gift, but the thought and the time. And, Butch’s wife, my good friend, Chris Small is a chef of par excellence.
Nobody has to do anything. But when they decide to be kind, it is truly noble and in the spirit of Christmas. Thank you to all of these special people who made my Christmas so wonderful this year.
(Clara Caufield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)