Crow

( – promoted by navajo)

This was originally posted on Daily Kos in 2006, and crossposted to multiple other venues. I have added the Native American banner for republication to NAN and to the dKos NAN group. Thank you for the opportunity to further honor my friend. – GH

He was nicknamed “Crow” in high school for the famous footballer John David Crow[1], yet the name fit and lingered on for other reasons. He was Comanche; born and raised in Oklahoma as the second oldest of four children, he was also the son of a white woman and red man.  There was no mistaking the fact that he was, however, one hundred percent unique.

At 61 years old, he died, surrounded by family and friends in a place he loathed — the hospital.  Throughout his life, he made it obvious to everyone that he loved teachers (he married one) and nurses (he married two), but hated doctors.  When he passed from this life, he left a single child — a daughter — and many friends.

I met him about twenty years ago, not long after his daughter and I became friends at the college we attended together.  He became a good friend — at times a mentor, at times a student, sometimes a fatherly figure and sometimes filling the role of a (younger) brother.  He was quick with a smile, an anecdote or a silly story; he could also become deadly serious in a heartbeat, especially if he thought a friend was in trouble.


In short, he was a good man who cared about those around him, and he is sorely missed.


For a brief period, during what would turn out to be the last years of his life, we were roommates.  We split the rent on a small two-bedroom house in Oklahoma, and often took trips to Texas to visit his daughter — my best friend.  In that time, I finally began to write again.  I am grateful for that.

In Native American lore, the Crow is an omen of change.  It is often be paired with the wolf, another powerful symbol — represented in both my life and the life of his daughter by our Alaskan Malamutes. (Malamutes are one of the breeds of dog most closely tied to the original wolf ancestor of the canine species.)  Crow’s lifelong friends — those who he grew up with, who’d originally given him his nickname — cringed whenever his daughter or I referred to the Native American symbolism associated with it.  They would point out — sometimes pointedly — that he was “Crow” and that it had nothing to do with “that Native American crap.”  Their use of the word “crap” wasn’t meant to be derogatory toward Native Americans — it was meant to be derisive of the “fluffy sparkle spirituality” attitude that they perceived in the attachment of symbolism of any sort.  They were “real world” folks, and Crow’s name had to do with their favorite past time — football — as well as their young adulthood together.  But, like it or not, Crow’s daughter and I still see some interesting ties back to that symbol, and make reference to it anyway.  (In my case, sometimes just to tweak ’em.)  


Crow knew this, and while he sided with his friends, he tried to keep an open mind whenever he’d hear his daughter or I talk about symbols, happenings or circumstances.  We all had a love for strange coincidences, and the apparent capacity to attract them.


When I moved out of state, feeling like I’d abandoned my friend and knowing he’d be forced to move shortly due to the increased rent (I paid out two extra months to ensure him time to find a spot), I commented how I always knew he would be calling because of the very large, loud crow that would alight in the tallest tree right across from my desk.  He thought that was odd, but he seemed to be inwardly pleased (most of the time) by the thought of it.  He knew — and had witnessed — that I often encounter a Hawk whenever I’m making a journey of any significance or have to make a major decision.  He’s seen the Hawk show up, watched it follow me around, and marked the departure when I had done whatever it was that had apparently summoned it.  It was something that I didn’t question, and something that I’ve still not figured out how to explain when people ask me if it’s “my Hawk” or a trained pet.

I think Crow would have appreciated a picture of his totem-made-manifest; I should’ve thought of it while he was still alive.  Given some of the interesting manifestations of crows that have occurred since his passing, I am fairly confident that his spirit has no need of such things, and that he has played a role in stirring up several of the more memorable encounters.


Why, at this time, do I think of Crow?


Truth be told, he’s a friend who I think of often, regardless of the circumstance.  He was one of those people who makes such a strong, gentle impact upon one’s soul that it is virtually impossible not to sense some aspect of his effect and presence while going through the normal daily tasks of living.  However, there’s a reason for thinking of him even more, now.


Shortly before I’d made the decision to leave the state and move back closer to my family, I’d been working in the computer department of a manufacturer.  I walked out into the machine shop one day to an eerie quiet — there was a lunchtime company-wide meeting for all the manufacturing folks, and nary a soul was left in that portion of the building.  In the stillness, I heard the soft strains of the opening whistle for the song “Winds of Change” by the Scorpions.  The acoustics of the machine shop lent a spooky quality to the sonorous tones, otherworldly and appearing to come from all over.  I wondered for a moment — before dismissing it with a shake of my head — if that was one of those “coincidental happenings” that people often leaped at as signs of major change or upheaval coming.  After shaking it off, I went back about my business.


On the way home, my Hawk was sitting atop a lamppost, silently watching me approach and drive by.

When I got home, I headed off to see Crow, unable to shake the feeling that change was in the air.


Change happened.


I moved a few short months later, and Crow died a couple years after that.


Over the past few weeks, I’ve been encountering crows everywhere — if not through physical presence, then in word written or spoken, “Crow” jumps out at me.  And I’ve been hearing the song “Winds of Change” quite a bit, too, in addition to hearing the phrase or simply seeing it in print.


Does this mean it should signify something for everyone else? No, of course not.  I’m not sure whether it signifies anything.  But I do feel that, as our world rapidly approaches escalating hostilities with a nation divided and a leadership of liars, that something big is in the offing.


Really big.

Major change is afoot on several levels, evidenced by what we see in the blogosphere and some of the less unreliable traditional media — political winds are blowing, mixing it up with winds generated by global warfare and warming.  I wonder if we’re ready for it, or spending too much time looking for where the wind is originating to watch where it’s going and perhaps attempt to gauge it.


These are the times where I’d normally arise in the early morning hours, finding Crow — likely as not — either rising from his room to share morning coffee or already in the kitchen with a fresh pot.  We would start our day just chatting, and sometimes exchanging news items or discussing current events.  I regret losing that when I left Oklahoma.  I regret more the fact that it is one aspect of life I won’t get back; an ideal time of peace before the start of a day, just talking with a good friend over coffee.


The events of the past few years are ones that I would like to discuss with my departed friend.


I’ve a lot more reflections to share on and about Crow, which I’ll likely weave into future diaries.  For now, let me close by simply saying that I think we all need to find quiet moments to have a cup of coffee, tea or water with a friend, to ease the soul and gently prepare the mind for each of the coming days ahead.  It gives a sense of peace and a solid start to the day, which I hope and pray everyone reading this can secure for his or her self.


Namaste. Peace.


—————-

Footnote 1:

JOHN DAVID CROW – RB (1957)


    Crow was a consensus All-American selection as a senior in 1957 and was awarded the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player after rushing for 562 yards and grabbing five interceptions on defense. Crow helped the 1957 Aggies to an 8-0 start and a No. 1 national ranking before losing the last three games. Crow was a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Cardinals in 1958 and was selected for the Pro Bowl four times. He was named to the all-pro team of the 1960s.


Crossposted at ePluribus Media and StreetProphets.


Note: I’ll likely update the age at which Crow died as well as validating that I picked the right person that he was nicknamed after — it was the closest “Crow” I found, but I’m not 100% certain I got the right one.

UPDATE: I adjusted his age, which I’d ballparked a little high, and I completely forgot that he’d had an older sister; the John David Crow reference is the correct Crow reference.

Flora Sombrero Lind 1923 – 2010

My mother passed away on June 25, 2010 at her home in Richfield, Utah. She was 86. My brother, sister and I were by her side when she breathed her last breath.

This is the tribute I gave at her funeral:

Another elder in our Navajo Nation has left us. It is significant for our tribe to lose those who are fluent in our language and remember the traditional and ancient way of Navajo living. My husband Jeff called my mom a National Treasure. All elders of all American Indian tribes are National Treasures.

Julius Sombrero and family

From L-R: My grandfather Julius Sombrero, Uncle Delbert, Aunt Bessie, Aunt Nellie holding one of her children, my mom Flora with two of Nellie’s children standing in front of her. One of those children, the one on the far right came to the funeral, her name is Sallie.

My mom was born in Inscription House, Arizona on the Navajo reservation, it is estimated in 1923. She was number 5 of 11 children born naturally in a hogan. My mother’s father was a medicine man, a very prominent position in any tribe. We visited him, my grandmother and all our relations every summer. I love the reservation. I love to recall the sensory experience of it, the scent of sage brush, cedar beams inside the hogans, the smoke of the juniper fires burning in little pot belly stoves, coffee brewing, potatoes frying, the smell of a thunderstorm as it hit the hot red sand. It was a beautiful tranquil place, a spiritual place for me.

[more below]

I have a long diary entry from 2006 that I wrote about my mother’s older brother Robert Sombrero who inherited the medicine man knowledge from my grandfather. I want to read a short excerpt that features my mom.


The stories about Robert Sombrero were legendary in our home as I was growing up. My mother spoke with tremendous pride when recalling memories of her older brother. She would tell us that he was the “nicest, kindest man”. He would take care of his younger brothers and sisters like they were “little chickens.” My mom was a toddler when she saw her first white man. She was walking around the Inscription House trading post when she heard someone loudly enter. When she spotted the man she was so frightened that she ran to Robert. He scooped her up in his arms and she felt safe and protected. Through out the years whenever Uncle Robert’s name came up she just simply repeats “he held me when I saw my first white man…he could out run a horse…he was so nice to us…” since we’ve all heard the details for decades now.
My Relations

From L-R: Unidentified trader, my Aunt Mary, (who attended the funeral, she’s 81 now) my Grandfather Julius Sombrero, my Grandmother Elsie Littleman and my Uncle Robert Sombrero Sr.

My mother and several of her siblings were forcefully taken away to the government’s boarding school in Tuba City, Arizona in the late 1930s. My mother ALWAYS recalls this episode with pain and tears. She describes her mother sobbing as she watched her little children having their hair cut off, the tiny rolls of hair left at her feet and riding away in the back of a pickup truck. My mother didn’t stop crying for months at the school. They were dusted with lice powder and she resented this because she insists that they were clean, “we were not dirty animals, we were clean!” She said they were not allowed to speak Navajo and they were inhumanely punished if they did. Her 8 year old sister Zonnie died there, crushed and trampled in a crowd. Her older sister Nellie ran away from the school so many times that they took her shoes away. Without shoes she still ran away and only made it to the 3rd grade when she finally was able to stay home. My grandfather, Julius Sombrero missed his children so much that he would ride his horse the 60 miles to visit them when he could.

The other half of the children, including my Uncle Robert were hidden in Inscription House canyon. These kids never went to school nor learned much English. They all stayed on the reservation and lived in the traditional manner; in hogans, no electricity nor running water. They tended herds of sheep and goats. They grew corn, squash and melons. The women wove rugs and baskets to trade at the local trading posts.

The siblings who went to boarding school mostly left the reservation and became assimilated into cities, as was the government’s plan. My mother and Caucasian father, Rulon Lind settled in central Utah where we grew up. My mother did not teach us Navajo… deliberately. She wanted us to speak English well and she was advised at the boarding school as she was growing up that the Navajo language would slow her children down. We did learn a few words however when we pressed her and when we heard her speaking to our relatives on the rez.

The history of all the American Indian tribes is tragic. It is estimated that there were 8 million American Indians in 1492. They reached a low point of less than 250,000 in the late 1800s after enduring the government’s extermination order which was later changed to an assimilation project as a solution to the Indian problem. Our American Indian cultures are still endangered today and losing elders like my mom is one of the reasons. To give you a little more insight into my mother’s background, the entire Navajo tribe was forcefully removed from their lands in 1864, they were force walked almost 300 miles away to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Fortunately, they were able to return but the tribe was devastated by this trauma. However, my mother told me that our family was lucky, they were able to hide deep in the canyons and high on top of Navajo Mountain and did not go on The Long Walk. But it was still difficult for them to endure this wartime atmosphere and overcome it. In order for the Navajo to return to their lands they had to sign a treaty with many demands, one was that all the children would be given up to the government boarding schools to be assimilated. They were still enforcing this when my mom was of school age.

Flora in polka dots

My mom survived boarding school. She married Harry Butler Sr., a Navajo man in 1945 and had two sons, Harry Jr. and Tommy Ray. Harry Jr. died as an infant from pneumonia and Harry Sr. was killed when Tom was a baby. Mom was left with a 3 year old son.  She soon joined the LDS Church and served a Southwest Indian Mission among the Zuni people from 1951-53 while Tommy was being taken care of by mom’s dear friends Lynn and Myrle Fowler.

Wedding Flora Sombrero & Rulon Lind

After she successfully completed her mission her future husband, my dad Rulon Lind read about her mission in a newspaper. He was so impressed with her devotion to the church that he wrote to her and asked to meet her. She accepted the invitation and met him at the Lyric Theater here in Richfield for a first date in 1953. They were married Jan. 14, 1954 in the St. George Temple.

Dad adopted Tommy and then he and mom had four more children; myself, Spencer, Nathan and Naomi. I was born in dad’s hometown of Vernal, Utah and my brothers and sister were born here in Richfield.

Mom was best known for her sense of humor. Her broad smile and laugh will never be forgotten. She loved fresh water fishing, camping and arrowhead hunting.  She used her Navajo cooking skills she learned while growing up on the reservation to char whole corn on embers and roast meats at our campsites. She was often asked to make fry bread for large church gatherings. She loved to entertain onlookers with her dough handling skills and joking conversation. Flora loved looking for rocks for her beloved rock garden and transplanting plant snippings from her many friends. She also loved to visit her relatives on the reservation as often as possible. She loved to travel and has made many road trips around the nation.

Recent painful milestones for her and us were losing her husband, my dad Rulon in 1999, her sons Tom in 2005 and Spence in 2006.

When I saw my mother for the last time I was reminded of something an elder in the Ponca tribe said about her after seeing her photo from last year:


Our elders seem to begin to take on the look of Mother Earth as they age, with the cracks and crevices of character and living making maps across their faces.

We are going to miss our mom very much.

I would like to thank publicly my brother Nate and my sister Naomi.  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and it was difficult for me to be physically helpful to my mom. Nate and Naomi took complete care of her after our dad passed. Naomi drove back and forth between Richfield and Vernal to check on mom and attend to her emergencies. We finally moved her to Richfield to make it easier for Naomi.  In fact, when she got to the point of needing constant care Nate moved in with her 11 months ago. I’m so appreciative to him for being devoted to her every need. I didn’t worry as much knowing that she was being cared for 24/7.

I also want to thank you all for being with us today to give us strength. It’s so nice to see your faces and know that you care.

We love our mother very much and today we honor her special heritage that is a huge part of our identity. We will do what we can to keep the Navajo culture alive.

Obituary in The Richfield Reaper


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Neeta, Nathan and Naomi Lind

Funeral Program Cover