Shimá Sani’(excerpt)Aug 15th, 2007 | By lyazzie | Category: Student 2007
By Laura Lee Yazzie
My maternal grandmother, shimá sani’, is a big influence in my life. She taught me traditional and cultural values. In a soft, gentle, yet stern manner, she would discipline her grandkids.
If we did not get up early, Grandmother would splash cold water on our faces. The water was so cold I would get goose bumps, but the smell of freshly made tortillas and the gently bubbling hot creamy goat’s milk on the stove would lure me to the table. We would quickly drink down the warm goat’s milk, sometimes breaking pieces of bread into the milk, our own delicious Navajo cereal.
The older sheep and goats would start stirring when they heard me coming. The sheep and goats would bunch up at the gate, jumping over each other, scrambling madly for freedom.
Grandmother would be yelling from a distance, “They’ll nibble on the grass and plants nearby. They won’t go far until it gets too hot then they’ll start looking for shade. Watch Ole Curly Horns! If he gets a chance, he’ll start leading the flock toward the rockiest, hardest mountain to climb.”
While the herd grazed, I would help Grandmother gather the paraphernalia for weaving. Or we would sit in the shade, my grandmother singing softly, spinning the wool, trying to get the wool thin as a string. When the spinning got tedious, I would start carding the wool.
Later in the evening, when the sheep and goats were safely corralled, Grandmother would start a fire. Once the wood burned down to hot glowing coals, she would spread out the coals and cook over the open fire pit. The smell of fried potatoes, mixed with pieces of mutton and freshly made tortillas, would make our mouths water and our little tummies rumble.
After supper, I would get the steel bathtubs ready while two big barrels of rain water steamed over the hot coals. My cousins and I would wash our hair with yucca soap. When grandmother finished pouring buckets of hot water into the tub, I would quickly wash myself, rubbing the abrasive soap over my body.
The soap felt like the tongue of a cat, licking the chéén off my skin. I always wanted to sit in the tub longer, but my cousin would start yelling, telling me to hurry before the water got cold. Grandmother rationed the water. She said, “Water is precious. Do not waste it.”
Finally, I would jump into my sleeping bag and watch grandmother undo her Navajo bun and let her long white hair cascade down her back. I was hypnotized by the sound of the brush stroking her hair. Sometimes she would sing a song, her soft voice luring me to sleep. I was safe and content.
My grandmother talked to me about releasing my frustrations by climbing the mountains. She explained how walking gets people back into tranquility, but the innocence of my youth kept me from understanding the wisdom.
In 1970, during Christmas break, I stayed with shimá sani’ for a week. She was very happy to see me though she was very quiet and not her usual self. She had stored away her weaving loom. She looked older and very fragile. A sadness swept over me, making my heart grow heavy.
The day before I was ready to go back to school, she talked to me about her life. My eyes filled with tears when she said, “Granddaughter, you are young, and the words I tell you may not make sense to you for a while, but I must say them. I have earned every wrinkle on my face, and I find them beautiful. These wrinkles remind me of the serenity in my heart. I have used the strength of my body to serve my family. I have used the curiosity of my mind to discover the truth. I have used the fire in my heart to love without judgment.
“The winter of my life has taught me many things. I am happy I have used all my gifts. I am content with my passage because I have given purpose to every part of my being. Now that all those things are used up, I am at peace. I have completed the vision that was given me. In time, Granddaughter, you will find this state of grace, and you will know that every step you take on the path of beauty honors the memory of those ancestors who walked it before you, clearing the way.”
That following August shimá sani’ suddenly got very sick and died. Her words are treasures to me now. I know their sacredness. I have found peace. I have been able to pass on those teachings to my children. It’s like she once told me in words that resonate with me still, “The spirit never grows old.” She gave me the strength and wisdom I need to pave the way for my children to do the same.
Laura Lee Yazzie (Diné), 53, is of the Salt, Black Streak, Big Water, and Black Sheep clans. She is a law advocate student at Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, NM, and plans to obtain an Associate in Applied Science Degree in May 2008. Yazzie lives in Lupton, AZ, with her husband of 37 years, Jackie; she credits their traditional arranged marriage as the reason for its success. They have three daughters, two sons, and seven grandchildren; her children inspired her to return to college.
As a community elected official, Yazzie is involved in community and economic development. She also advocates for victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, and dating violence by providing community education.
She loves to read, journals daily, and has a passion for writing. She says, “I am a teacher and a wise elder for the young ones.”