I’m a happy camper this morning. Notah is home and he opened the windows and the drapes and blinds and let the desert rush through the house! It is wonderful. In all the years I lived in the desert, we kept our doors open wide and our windows too. The only times we closed them were when the sun was beating against that side of the house. Then we closed hem to keep the heat out. Even in winter, the door was always open unless the winds were blowing directly into it. It doesn’t seem like NM when the doors and drapes and windows and blinds are closed tight. Even at night, although we did close the door, we left the windows open.
I remember once when I was visiting Mom in Rock Springs. The kids and I were staying in her little blue house. She was sleeping in the hogan that summer. The window was open and the house was dark except for the lamp that was turned down very low. I happened to look up to see this hand groping through the window, feeling for the radio that was sitting a little to the side of the opening.
“Haa’at’ish ba naaninaa?” I said. “ Daniel sha’? ” a voice answered, obviously more than a little drunk.
“Hola” I told him, ‘Doo hoghandi sida” It was a young guy, evidently one of Daniel’s friends who was probably looking for a place to crash for the night, but saw an opportunity to grab a free radio and just got caught. No maliciousness intended. He wandered off looking for Daniel and I went back to sleep, window still open.
We spent much of our life outside. Mom had a tree in front of her house, between the house and the hogan. For many years, the boys had faithfully dumped water on it and by the time Louie and I were living out there it was a good sized tree. When the kids and I visited Mom after he died the protective fence was gone and Mom put her water barrels and various chairs, stools, and so forth under it. We sat there during the day for much of the summer. One summer there was an old sofa there; another there was a bed under the tree. Sometimes when you went out to sit there, you had to flip the accumulated sand from the last little whirlwind off the old quilt that covered it, but that was okay. Or you just ignored it and sat down anyway. It was just honest sand.
A lot of times in summer we cooked supper out there over an open fire, especially if it had been hot—no sense heating the house up even more than it was. Someone would build a fire about ten feet from the sofa and carry out the stool and the iron drum top out to put on top of it, making a table. Someone one would peel potatoes—usually me—and somebody else would make tortillas—usually Mom. I wasn’t that great at shaping tortillas.
The boys would tend the fire until we had a decent bed of coals and then we’d put a grill over it balanced on four pop cans. The tortillas and meat cooked there directly over the fire. The potatoes in an iron skillet either went there or on a bed of coals at the side. We would sit and talk and watch the kids play, while we flipped the tortillas and watched the meat. The coffee pot sat close up against the coals to cook and keep warm. Once in a while Mom would send one of the boys to get some more wood.
When everything was cooked we sat the skillet on the round drum lid with the tortillas in a basin beside it and the meat piled on a plate there. Adults got a plate and filled it, then cut up the meat in bite sized portions for the kids. We all sat on the chairs and the sofa/bed. The boys sat on stools or stumps around the drum lid and ate. Everyone fed the little kids from their plates, giving them meat or potatoes. with a piece of tortilla wrapped around it. Oh! And I can’t forget the green chilis either roasted over the fire and eaten with the potatoes and meat or just raw, taking bites off the end! I can still taste it all!
After everyone was finished eating, we waited for a kettle of water to boil over the coals while one of the boys took the skillet off to scour with sand and another one filled the basin with hot water and soap. Mom or I would wash the dishes and rinse them with clean water poured over them. We piled them in a big dish pan and sent them in the house with yet another kid. The potato skillet got washed last, filled with the dirty dish water and scrubbed and rinsed, then refilled with warm water and soap and rinsed again. Not too much soap though because that destroys the patina that helps keep food from sticking. The bottom, that had been sitting in the coals, just got a perfunctory scrub with a piece of paper towel or a rag—it was beyond redemption from many, many meals spent sitting on the hot coals.
I love those days, imprinted indelibly on my memory.