Spider Woman, by Gladys A. Reichard, , at sacred-texts.com
Our family has a lurking worry. Marie writes us faithfully from Los Angeles. Everything is going well with her and Tom on the white man's ranch. But there is an unreasonable cause for her unhappiness. She is homesick for Dan. She and Tom went under an agreement to stay a year at least. In each letter there is an appeal for Dan, and finally Marie writes the trader that unless he sends Dan to her she will not stay.
Dan is seven and small for his age. He is bright-eyed and smiling, observant, curious, and original. We never go anywhere that he does not have a hundred "Looks," "Whys," and "Hows," many of which are laughingly suppressed, others of which are patiently answered. He is the miniature old man who on festive occasions wears a suit like his father's best and always his broad sombrero. He makes uncounted games out of sticks and stones, tin cans and pieces of string, ever new and thrilling.
His brother, Ben, whom I should name "Pretty Boy," is nine. He is Dan's faithful satellite and antithesis. His second teeth are gleaming white and sound. Dan's first set are still with him but they are decayed, showing only disintegrated stumps. Ben lacks vivacity, originality, and endurance. He is content to stay quietly with his grandmother when Dan rides off with Tom and Curley's-Son to round up
the cattle or horses. I asked Marie why Ben does not ride, and she said sorrowfully but also intolerantly: "Oh, he can't stand it. When he was only three months old something happened to him, I guess to his back. He is all right now, but he can't stand anything. Ruby was taking care of him. We don't know to this day what happened. She cried for two days but she would never tell us. My father sang for three months that time and he got better but he is not strong, not like other boys." I can see nothing whatever abnormal about Ben. He is charming and quiet, shy of course, but so is Dan. However, Dan's sense of inquiry soon rises above his shyness, and he must become acquainted in order to learn "why" and "how." Ben is satisfied if Dan finds out. And he cannot stand the strenuous contest with nature which keeps his grandfather, father, and uncle lean. So he is his grandmother's boy, and his mother does not yearn for him.
Red-Point is much disturbed by Marie's request. He does not like to refuse a request to any of his family if he can grant it. But this one makes him ponder, and as long as possible he staves off his decision. For the truth of the matter is, he cannot bear to think of White-Sands without Dan. He misses Marie and Tom sorely. True, Marie has been away from home for many years, but those days are always the best when all the members of the family are home. Dan has never been away in his short seven years. When his mother is gone Atlnaba and his grandmother take care of him. Red-Point must choose between his own desire and Marie's.
At last her ultimatum decides him. He has been saying: "Marie wants Dan, but I do not want to send him alone. We have been waiting for someone to take him." This has been a good excuse for procrastination, although of course many
persons have gone from Gallup to Los Angeles in the last three months.
It has come to the time for the Gallup Ceremonial, to which we are all going. Red-Point has trained Ninaba to dance to his own accompaniment of song, drumming, and calling of figures. He has finally made up his mind to send Dan to his mother. Dan, characteristically, wants to go.
We journey to Gallup with our usual capacity load. The week of the Ceremonial is the gayest of the year for Gallup. The streets, oft-times dull and lifeless, are teeming with life and color. There are Indians from near and far, and Mexicans in their colorful shawls; but the majority of the visitors are Navajo. A team of dancers from any pueblo is large if it numbers more than twenty. The Navajo are present in thousands. They come by car, by horseback, and by wagon. Covered wagons driven by smiling Navajo, beside each of whom sits a demure woman with a baby, contain all that is necessary for a day or a protracted stay. The older children peep brightly out of the rear curtain. Within the body are hay for the horses, cooking utensils of the simplest sort, and perhaps some blankets the woman hopes to sell or display. They may be her own or those of her relatives or neighbors. The horses drone along, and suddenly Gallup is a Navajo town.
Dan has never been to Gallup before, nor has Ninaba. They are two of the many, but they come with Atlnaba and their grandfather in my car. If I were not there, Red-Point would find some other car to go in. Possibly the trader would take him. If there were no other way Curley's-Son would drive his wagon the sixty miles from his home to Gallup. We meet and pass many teams, riders, and cars. To the horsemen we shout a greeting. Sometimes we stop and talk quietly with a rider
we know. What is the Ceremonial for if not to visit? The visiting may begin on the road. The Navajo drivers of wagons and autos turn out of our way far sooner than necessary, farther out than anyone would expect. Their horses are not skittish; they just turn out.
Arrived in Gallup, Dan tags about after Red-Point and Ninaba. Red-Point is known far and wide, and he has much to talk over and to attend to. An artist wants Ninaba to sit for her. Red-Point arranges the matter. He finds out the arrangements for his own performance and is insistent about promptness. At the Ceremonial grounds hundreds of Navajo blankets are shown in the exhibition hall. There too are the best specimens of other Navajo crafts. Women card, spin, and weave, a man hammers at his anvil making silver, another group sifts colored sand through practised fingers to show the white folk how sand-paintings are made.
The hall is small, the exhibitions are numerous. Whites rub elbows with Indians, meeting now a friend from New York, now one from California, and again Navajo from remote parts of the Reservation not seen for years. Good nature and gossip are rife, jokes are made and readily exchanged. Dan is almost crushed in the crowd milling about as aimlessly as sheep in a corral, but Atlnaba and Ninaba protect him and he does not murmur.
Now the hall is closed for the afternoon sports, and all move out, the whites to the huge grand stand, the Indians to the large place reserved for them in a central circle surrounded by the race track. The dazzling crowd is even more interesting than the entertainment.
There have been too many new things and they have moved too fast for Dan to get out many questions. Then the high
spot of the day for him is reached. The Navajo horsemen are showing off. Racing, bronco busting, relays, roping, contests of all sorts. He sees men win and lose. He sees them as cheerful about losing as about winning, for the Navajo have been good losers ever since legendary times. To them it is the game that counts, not the score.
The sports are followed by a few dances. Most of them are deferred until night, when huge fires will serve equally for footlights and stage setting. But Dan is not interested so much in the dances. Even if he were, there is a limit to the excitement a hardy little soul can bear, and he drops asleep, his head on Atlnaba's indulgent lap.
At evening Old-Mexican's-Son announces abruptly as usual that he knows someone who is going to Los Angeles next morning and he has bought a ticket for Dan. His grandfather accompanies him to the station and, although he is anxious to go, he makes no attempt to hide his sobs as he bids farewell to Atlnaba and Ninaba. They sit quietly as unbidden tears well over protesting eyelids. Atlnaba turns her face aside as she surreptitiously wipes away the flood with the back of her hand.
At the station Red-Point and Dan, accompanied by the trader, look for the white lady who has promised to look after Dan, but she has decided to wait over a few days. So, properly tagged, Dan is put into the hands of the kindly conductor. At first, he forgets his sorrow in the newness of everything. He sits on the edge of his seat marvelling at the landscape which flies past far faster than it ever did when he beat his willing horse into a gallop. But it is not long before he knows loneliness. It comes over him like a pall. Here are many people, all interested in him, fussing over him. He likes
their candy and oranges, but he does not understand anything they say. Twenty-four hours is a long time for a little boy to sit still and meditate on his own smallness. His grief is too deep for tears, and besides he is not a baby like Ben.
The conductor looks after him, and some of the time goes by in sleep. The sight of his mother and father after an eternity of strangeness once more opens the floodgates, and they all weep in concert.