Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chenoa's Spiritual Journey: Excerpt

"I weep with grief; encourage me by your word."
[Psalm 119:28, New Living Translation Version]

Friday, November 30, 2001
Dear Diary,
Moving! My parents want to move to Ohio, and I can't imagine why they'd want to move so far from Whiteriver. I mean the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation has been home all of my life. I guess it's all about the money, but it doesn't seem fair to me. I don't want to move away from the only home I've ever known. River is only four years old and he'll adjust quickly, but I'm not sure about myself. After all, I am fourteen. Ohio seems like a million miles from Arizona.
Chenoa Fawn Gray Owl laid her pen down and glanced out the window of her small bedroom. She was a dark, sloe-eyed beauty with high cheekbones that accented her proud Native American heritage. Her small shoulders slumped slightly and tears burned her eyelids. She fingered the hole in the right knee of her jeans and tried to make it bigger. When she couldn't tear the denim, she gave it up.
I ought to tell them I don't want to go, she thought. Yeah, that's what I'll do!
Chenoa wiped the tears from her cheeks with the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt and got off the bed. She marched out of the bedroom and found them in the living room discussing their trip to Ohio.
"I don't want to leave the rez," Chenoa grumbled, "because it's my home." She looked at them hoping they'd accept her appeal and let her stay in Whiteriver.
"Chenoa," Anna Gray Owl said, reaching out and gently drawing Chenoa down beside her on the sofa, "when you're a parent you'll have to make important decisions that not everyone will find favorable."
"But, Shimaa!" she whined, using the Apache term for mother.
Victor, Chenoa's father got out of the recliner, his mouth quirking in annoyance. "Chenoa, we've talked about this over and over. Why can't you understand our point of view? Your mother and I are thinking about our children's futures." He ran his hand through his long jet-black hair, which he kept in a short ponytail. At age forty-seven, his hair had only begun turning gray within the past year. "This is something we must do. We're not doing this to be mean."
"But my family is here on the rez. How come you've changed your mind about helping the Indian?" Chenoa wanted an answer to that question because her father's main goal in life was helping their people.
Victor sank down into the recliner, removed his glasses, and rubbed his tired eyes. "Your mother and I are thinking about your futures," he said in a stern tone. A muscle twitched in his jaw, but he seemed oblivious to it. That twitching muscle occurred at times when he was under stress. "We want something better for the both of you. Please try to understand that," he added, his tone strained.
My father's being unreasonable, Chenoa thought, sitting back and folding her arms. Life isn't fair. It sucks!
"But my family is here," Chenoa grumbled through clenched teeth. "How come you said you cared about the Indian and you wanted to help them? How come you changed your mind about that?"
Victor put his glasses back on, "Your mother and I are in agreement about the matter and that's all that needs to be said about it. We're going to Ohio and I'm going to talk to Douglas Ream about my working in his clinic with his son-in-law. Besides, I wanted to move closer to my mother now that my father has passed away. My sister and brother aren't in a very good position right now financially to help out and my mother needs help."
It sounded like a lot of mumbo jumbo to Chenoa. She looked at her mother in mute appeal. "Shimaa," she whined.
"Child," Anna said giving Chenoa's shoulders a reassuring squeeze, "you just have to understand that what we're doing is for the best."
"It's not fair!" Chenoa blurted and stormed out of the room. She ran into her bedroom, flopped down on the bed, and propped her head up with her hands. Over the years, her father never put much emphasis on money, but the past several months he had sure changed his tune. He didn't care what she thought.
River, Chenoa's little brother, burst into the room, jumped onto the bed and asked, "Are Mommy and Daddy mad at you?" He was cute. His large dark eyes were so expressive, that Chenoa could see deep into his inner soul. When he was happy, his round smiling face lit up the whole room. However, his eyes looked haunted by some inner anxiety, and Chenoa's heart started to shrivel when she saw the uncertainty in his eyes.
Chenoa got a big lump in her throat and mumbled, "No." Her voice sounded like a lifeless monotone. "No, they're not mad at me."
River brushed Chenoa's hair back from her face and peered into her eyes. "Are you gonna cry?"
Chenoa flopped onto her back, stared at the ceiling, and mumbled, "No." However, she wasn't so sure of her own answer. She tried never to take her anger out on her little brother, but she knew if she lay there, he'd pester her until she said something mean and hurt his feelings.
River lay beside Chenoa and was quiet for a minute or two, which was a first for him. "Are we going to move?" he asked his voice small and afraid.
Hot tears burned Chenoa eyes and she sat up not facing him. "I need some air," she mumbled. She fumbled for her coat on the chair by the window, put it on, and left the doublewide mobile home by the backdoor.
The bitter North Wind hit Chenoa like a cold slap in the face and wildly whipped her long jet-black hair. Low, thick snow clouds hung heavily in the sky and looked as if they could spew snow at anytime. She pulled her coat collar up and trudged through the deep snow that blanketed the ground, plodding on with no destination in mind.
I don't want to leave Whiteriver, she thought. I want to grow old and die here and let my soul walk with my Indian ancestors. I don't want to go to Ohio where there's no fresh air or miles and miles of quiet.
Chenoa heard a car horn honk behind her. She turned to see her grandfather's blue '80 Ford pickup truck with the familiar black exhaust pouring from its rusted tailpipe.
Lou Tinilzay pulled up beside his granddaughter, cranked down the window and smiled. "Daant'ee [how are you]?" he said in Apache.
"Doo dansht'ee da [I am fine]," Chenoa responded
"Good." He nodded, his dark eyes shining. Lou Tinilzay was seventy-five years old; a flannel shirt and faded blue bib overalls covered his stocky180-pound frame. "Where are you headed, Granddaughter?"
Chenoa shrugged. "Nowhere."
"It's a cold day for a walk to nowhere. Climb in and we'll talk."
Chenoa walked around the front of the old pickup and climbed into the passenger side. The cab was warm but the oil smell made her eyes burn, so she cranked down the window.
Lou shifted the pickup into drive and the engine whined like a cat with its tail caught in a window. The truck lurched twice and they were on their way.
Chenoa stared out the window for a few minutes and watched the snowy scenery that stretched for many miles. "Shichoo?" She began, using Apache term for grandfather, "have you heard my father wants to leave the rez?"
Lou shifted the truck into second gear and nodded. "Yes, I've heard."
"Shichoo, I don't want to go," Chenoa stated with a heavy sigh. "This is my home." She hoped he'd understand and talk some sense into her father.
"Sometimes we must do some things we don't want to do, Granddaughter."
"Why?" Chenoa asked. She hoped he'd tell her she didn't have to go and that she could live with them forever and ever. Just whose side was he on anyway?
"Life is full of uncertainty. We knew when Anna went to college she would be free to make the choice to leave the rez. She told your grandmother and me that if she ever found her place in the world, she would go. However, she didn't and she returned to us. When she married your father, who was not from this area, we knew that leaving would still be possible, but we didn't know when. Sometimes our paths change and we go off in different directions."
"But?" Chenoa began.
"Granddaughter," he said with a firm tone, "in order for people to live together in peace, they have to respect one another. The old are respected for their wisdom and the young because they are the future of the people. Chenoa, the outcome of this respect should keep peace within the family. Understand your father is making a great sacrifice. It's the gift of self and it's the most meaningful thing a person can give. Victor has told me he loves the Apache but he knows he cannot stay. He's making this move to keep his family strong. Although he is an Indian and not touched by materialism, he knows he is letting his children down and it hurts him here." Lou closed his fist and held it over his heart. "A broken spirit isn't a pleasant thing. I won't stand in his way and you shouldn't either."
Chenoa glanced out the window again and sighed. What if I leave the reservation, she thought, and never return? Will my spirit be broken by the absence of my people? What if I am gone so long my family forgets me or I forget them?
With hot tears burning her eyelids, Chenoa looked at Lou and asked, "Shichoo, if I moved away from the reservation would you forget me?"
She had to know the answer. After all, they had fished together, and she had listened to his Apache folk stories. If he said yes, her heart would break.
"No, Granddaughter, I'd never forget you," he said, his voice firm. "I would never do that to a part of the family. We'll keep in touch and your father promised that you and River can visit us during the summer. Nothing is definite because he hasn't had a job offer yet."
Chenoa's grandfather was right. Her father didn't have a solid job offer. Maybe he wouldn't have one for a long time, and they'd be able to stay on the rez for another one or two years. She could only hope that was the case.
"Shichoo, if I get my parent's permission, could I stay with you and Isabel?"
Lou looked at Chenoa and smiled. "If you get their permission, you'll be welcome in our home."
"We are nearing your home. Would you like me to drop you off?"
Chenoa's grandfather was a sly one. He had managed to drive around the block, and she didn't notice it.
"Yeah, I guess so."
Lou pulled up in front of Chenoa's home a few minutes later and parked the pickup at the side of the road. Chenoa jumped out and waved good-bye to him. When she went inside Anna was standing by the range making fry bread and acorn stew. It smelled delicious and Chenoa couldn't wait for supper. Victor stood at the counter preparing coffee in the percolator. He carefully measured the coffee grounds into the paper filter and closed the lid. He added water and made sure the pot was in place so the coffee could drip into it.
Anna looked up and smiled; her dark eyes sparkled. "Did you enjoy your walk?"
Chenoa walked over to the small round table with the red and white-checkered tablecloth and sat in her usual chair. "Yeah, I guess so," she mumbled. "I ran into Grandfather and he gave me a ride around the block."
Victor sat at the table with his cup of coffee and asked, "Did Lou have anything interesting to say?"
"Yeah," Chenoa answered. Carefully she told her parents what Lou said and waited for their reactions, which were slow in coming. Then she said, "I want to stay with Grandfather and Grandmother. You can take River with you to Ohio but I'm not going."
Anna and Victor exchanged uncertain glances.
"Chenoa," Victor said in a stern voice, "when we go to Ohio, we'll go as a complete family. We're not going to leave you behind to live with your grandparents."
"Why?" Chenoa whined. She just couldn't win any arguments with them. Why couldn't they meet her half way in this and give her some freedom to make her own choices?
Anna stepped away from the stove and sat beside Chenoa at the table. "Chenoa," she said, her voice firm, "we cannot leave you behind because my parents are too poor to take care of a child. They barely have enough for themselves let alone taking in a grandchild. Even if my father said it would be all right for you to stay, it would be too much of a hardship for them." Anna put her arm around Chenoa's shoulders and gave a reassuring squeeze. "And if I didn't have my little girl right beside me sharing new adventures with me, then my life would have no meaning whatsoever."
Chenoa hated being referred to as "little girl" because she felt it reflected her size. Standing 4'10" and weighing 90 pounds, Chenoa was smaller than most girls were her age. Her baggy clothes hid what little figure she had.
However, her mother was right about life having no meaning if they weren't able to share new adventures together. As much as Chenoa hated the idea of leaving the rez, the miles between them would be hard. If she couldn't be with her mother, she'd rather die.
Chenoa felt a renegade tear slip down her right cheek and she quickly wiped it away. "I don't want you to leave me behind, Shimaa. I'd rather have old Rusty Massey the shaman tie me to a post and skin me alive, slowly." Chenoa shuddered when she thought about Rusty because he gave her the creeps. When he looked at her with his one good eye she got the feeling he knew what she was thinking before she even thought it. Chenoa tried to avoid Rusty whenever she was in town because he was just too weird.
Anna kissed Chenoa's cheek and smiled. "I wouldn't let Rusty skin you alive, nor will anyone else if I have anything to say about it." Her mother sounded like a mother lioness protecting her young to the death. "We'll be together as a family and that's all that matters. Honey, if you're anxious about leaving the rez then you must take this concern to Jesus and talk to Him about it. He's a special friend you can always talk to and He'll listen to you."
Anna always called prayer "talking to Jesus". However, Chenoa wasn't yet saved like her parents. So, even if she did talk to Jesus, would he listen to her? Anna always seemed to have the right answers, but Chenoa found little comfort in this answer.
Anna's gentle hand closed over Chenoa's and she said, "You think about that, Honey. I know you'll feel better when you've made the right decision and stick with it." She smiled brightly and patted Chenoa's hand. "Now, I need you to do me a big favor and set the table for supper. Okay?"
"Okay," Chenoa said, then she got up to do as her mother asked her to do.

After supper, Chenoa stared out the window of her small bedroom. The twinkling stars dotted the blackened sky like little pinholes in a black velvet canvas. It was cold and windy outside the mobile home, and her room felt a little chilly.
The mobile home was all Chenoa's parents could afford. Although her father was a doctor and her mother was a teacher, they weren't rich, just comfortable by rez standards.
Maybe being just comfortable persuaded her father to leave the rez. Born and reared in Kill Buck, New York, a small town on the Allegany Indian Reservation, Victor became the first person in his family to go to college. After earning his medical degree, he could have gone anywhere and made a decent salary at any hospital in the country, but he wanted to help the Indian.
Victor met Anna at the annual White Mountain Apache Tribal Fair during Labor Day weekend in 1982. Victor said it was love at first sight, and they were married five months later. Then, after trying to have a baby and having two miscarriages, Chenoa came kicking and screaming into the world in 1986.
I guess I can't fight my parents about the idea of moving to Ohio, Chenoa thought. My father has pretty much made up his mind and he's moving forward with his plans. If we have to move away from the rez, why can't we move to Phoenix or Tempe? What's so great about Ohio anyway?
Chenoa sighed and walked out of the room. She found Anna sitting alone at the end of the sofa, her legs tucked under her. She was reading her Bible. After she put River to bed at 8:30, this was her quiet time.
Plopping down on the other end of the sofa, Chenoa hugged a small, frilly pillow. "Shimaa, may we talk?"
Anna looked up from her reading and smiled. "Of course. What's on your mind?"
"If we move to Ohio, can we still visit the rez? Maybe I can spend the summer here and?"
Anna put her arm around Chenoa. "Yes, child, your father and I have been considering everything. We've been praying about this together and letting the LORD be our guide. Nevertheless, you mustn't worry about all these things, Chenoa, because your father hasn't really discussed this with Douglas Ream. We must take life one day at a time and not worry needlessly. You shouldn't be anxious for nothing, but only pray about the matter."
"What happens if Dad doesn't get a job offer from Dr. Ream?" She hoped this was the case and they would get to stay in Whiteriver.
"Well, if Douglas isn't able to offer your father a position in his clinic, then he'll have to search for a good offer someplace else."
Chenoa sighed in exasperation. I'll never get a break at this rate. I'll just have to do as Anna suggested and talk to Jesus. Maybe if I tell Him how much I want to stay here He'll throw a monkey wrench in my father's plans.

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