View from the Mountains: Important to wrap every gift in our love

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2017

By Jean Brody

have a life-long friendship with a Native American man who is famously known as “Coyote.” He is a man like no other I have ever known.

He is internationally known for his work in wildlife research, particularly with wild wolves. He changed my life.

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After meeting him, I stopped teaching to go back to Washington University to study animal behavior. In that process Coyote became my friend and mentor.

One day he suggested that I, and a few others in the field, accompany him back to his reservation to meet his people, and in particular, his mother. We went by car from Missouri to Northern California. high in the mountains.

His mother — old, weathered, lined deeply — was oh so wise. Not wise about movies, plays or high finance, but about life things. She knew about people loving people, caring for their elderly, always fighting for the rights of her people.

I was shocked with how little she possessed. Her home was a rundown trailer. She slept on a mattress on the floor and cooked on a wood stove that also served as her source of heat. Her clothing was not fashionable or new, but it kept her warm and dry, as she would tell you. I felt blessed to follow her around the reservation.

For a week, I was her shadow. I slept next to her in a sleeping bag on the floor. I helped her tend a vegetable garden out of which she ate. I went with her as she checked on other friends who lived on the reservation. It never ceased to amaze me how someone with so little could reach out and help others with even less.

When the day came for us to leave, I felt sad and I told her so. She smiled her toothless smile and took my hand. “Come with me,” she said softly. Hand in hand we walked a well worn path into deep woods. It wasn’t long when she dropped my hand and stopped.

With no small talk, she dropped to her knees and with bare hands she began to dig into the earth. She let out a sigh and, out of the hole she had dug, she lifted out a very old paperback book.

She blew on it and scraped off all the dirt and then, holding it with both hands, she held it out for me to take. “We bury the things precious to us to keep them safe,” she said. I saw the book said, “Commodity Cook Book,” and below that, “Penny Power Recipes.”

I had absolutely no clue what she was giving me but I did know one thing. I distinctly knew I had just been graced with something quite dear to my new friend. She stooped to cover the empty hole and together, without words, we walked back to her trailer. Once there, we sat as she told me about what she had given me.

Apparently, for many years, the government gave the basic food groups to Native Americans and with that the, “Commodity Cookbook.” As she talked, I thumbed through the old book. It seemed to me it was written for children or at least the uneducated and it offended me. But she quickly explained how thankful she felt to have them as she raised and fed her family and lonely friends.

Then she said she no longer cooked big meals for anyone and that’s when she buried the book. Then she continued, “For years this was my prized possession and now I give it to you.”

I just sat there holding this precious gift and looked at her beautiful face and pulled her close and thanked her for showing me what a real gift should be. As we left I held it tightly knowing its value to her and for the still bigger gift — for spending time with a truly great human being.

You know, recalling  this memory makes me realize something important. It really doesn’t matter what we give someone. Of course, we buy toys for children and those toys don’t have to mean anything to us. The key is to wrap each gift in love.

My Native American friend wanted me to know what I meant to her, so she gave it thought and she knew her gift to me lay beneath the earth under a tree. To me, the walk, hand in hand, and the digging with her bare hands were part of the gift and I’ll never forget it.

To my readers over the last 28 years, I wish nothing but good health and joy for the coming year.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.