We just celebrated Gordie’s third birthday. Any monumental moments in the kids’ lives, I always reflect on how I’m as a father. I had tremendous experiences as a kid traveling, visiting and adventuring into new places and I hope I do the same for my kids. And I become nostalgic about those places I was privileged to visit, and one place that has always been adventurous in my childhood is Whiteriver. And it has been just as adventurous in my adult years.
I was once on a trip visiting friends in the White Mountains. There was a wedding my friends were attending the evening I drove in. I said I would wait at their house, but they mentioned I could attend the wedding with them. I asked if they were sure, but they continued to insist, although I had jeans and random grey short sleeve shirt. As I walked through the church foyer, and through the double doors entering the church, someone yelled, “JD’s here, he’ll help.” I didn’t know what they were going to ask but the groom came up to me and let me know one of his bros didn’t make it and they were a man short. He kindly asked, “would you mind being a groomsman.” I said “sure, but I only have jeans and this shirt.” The guys were wearing suits and tuxedos, but I proudly walked down the aisle with one of the bridesmaids. Now I’m in some random wedding photos in the wedding of a beautiful couple whom I can’t remember their names. But I’ve always known cool and funny stuff happens like that in Whiteriver, even among some of the tragic events. It’s because my Dad spent much of his 20s and brought us as kids to be reservation quite often.
One story I always remember him telling us was about blueberry hill. Blueberry hill during the 70s, I’m not sure if it’s still this way, is where many of the community outcasts and winos would hang out. They would drink morning to night, moon to sun and heat to snowflakes. My Dad was in his mid-20s pastoring in the White Mountains. He often went to blueberry hill because he liked to talk, pray and hang out with those who were struggling with life. He walked his dog out there to his friends. Occasionally his dog would go out to blueberry hill on his own and of the guys would bring him back home. Eventually one of the gentlemen from blueberry hill passed away. The friends asked my Dad to hold the funeral service which he agreed. My Dad asked one of the Apache ministers friends to attend the service with him to interpret. They got to the burial site in the middle of winter and conducted the ceremony. At the gravesite, while snow was drizzling down on the body 6 feet down, one of the friends yelled out, “hey those are my shoes.” He jumped down in the mist of snowfall and grabbed them. Someone else said, “hey that’s my jacket.” He jumped down and grabbed them. My Dad’s friend who was supposed to interpret walked away because he couldn’t believe what was happening but was also laughing with some of the other Apache attendees (the mixture of tragedy and humor is something I’ve only ever seen this with Natives). And my Dad, not quite sure what to make of it at the time, finally got them settled down and finished the ceremony. I mean, why waste a good pair of boots or jacket… like my buddy said, it’s kind of like letting a good organ go. But it made me think about what we will leave for another generation and what will we take from those who are living. And I hope I leave something tremendous for my kids, including my shoes.