Lazybones and the Sheep

by Verkaro

On a day outside the reservation, the old girl told me when she was small she was given charge over a large flock of sheep. She frowned to herself over that for a moment. I sipped my coffee, keeping a pen in hand, the yellow legal pad near.

My mother... she started.

My mother would shake me in the morning and say wake up! Wake up! Lazy bones! You have one hour.

I had to let the sheep out to graze before I could go to school. It was very hard most times. Often I would cry because the sheep wouldn't cooperate. They knew all I had was a thin little willow switch.

One early morning after the sheep were in the field I fell asleep in the tall grass. It was so soft there. When I woke I sat up and looked around. No sheep. I jumped. They were gone. I ran home and right away my mother whipped and beat me. My Father and brothers left us to go try and find them. After three days they still hadn't found the sheep -- not a single one. They said we would have to call on our tribal Medicine Man for help. We had very little we could offer him; we were so poor. So, my mother whipped me again.

At night I was brought into a tepee where my grandmother sat alone with a fire. They left us and drove away.

Grandmother smiled. There was an empty cup beside her and a jug of water. She laid some sticks on the fire and I came closer to sit in the dust with her. For a long time we did nothing.

On a woolen cloth, rolled out flat, there were several small things. She handed me one.

Motioning to her mouth she showed me to chew the thing very slowly. It was bitter and I wanted to spit it out. She warned me in a little while I might feel sick but, with a pat of her hand on the dirt floor in front of me, she added, there is always this.

But I never did get sick. It was because I was so young and innocent, they say.

Together we listened to the coyotes call across the way, and an owl that spooked me, and the distant highway breathing. I prayed long with my grandmother. Soon we began to sing.

The door flap of the tepee shook and lifted like a soft breeze had come. The Medicine Man stood there, with dark paint down his cheeks and spread over his chest. Feathers were tied into his long hair. Raking the fire embers into the shape of an eagle he then disappeared through the door. With grandmother I sang and prayed until I became thirsty. She gave me drink and told me to carry on.

When the burning fire eagle began to look like a mountain far below, I became afraid of falling. But, I only sang louder. Grazing on the flat shoulder below the mountainhead, were gathered our sheep. I told grandmother I could see them all down there, alive and well. Very happy, she got up and pressed her lips to the top of my head. And, she stepped outside, sending for the men to come.

We waited. There was a rumble from a long way off and when their truck lights shone on the tepee I came out and told the men all I had seen. My Father knew the mountain shoulder I described, and so right away they left us. Alone with my grandmother we stayed in the tepee until morning light. Two days later the sheep were brought in, safe and sound.

Well, and so, there you are! she said, smoothing over her long dress at the knees. She finished the story with a shy smile.

I scratched a note on top of a note.

The old woman glanced at her husband. The entire afternoon he never spoke a thing but what he could with his eyes. She nodded to him and turned again to me.

Later I graduated school, she resumed. And, I came back to the reservation as a caseworker for children's welfare. One day, when I was still very new to the work, I met with the parents of a thin sickly boy at their home. They were very poor. Life these days are very hard for my people. It's like something heavy always upon the shoulders. I watched them busily prepare peyote for a tribal meeting. I mentioned I once had a peyote experience and told them the story of the fire eagle, the mountain, and how we found our sheep again.

Well, those two parents just sat down on the couch and looked at each other with the biggest round eyes. They said, so you are that little girl with the sheep!

Yes, she answered them. That little girl -- the one with the sheep.