You can't just push problems over the cliff

By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 27, 2013

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My late mother told a story about a mean goat.

She and her brothers herded sheep in the Red Lake valley between Navajo, N.M., and Fort Defiance. She was very young then in the fields and hills. The faithful dogs helped them herd the sheep, chasing vehicles when they were near roads.

On the west side of the valley, up in the forested hills, was a red cliff. You can see the cliff from Navajo or from Sawmill, Ariz. It faces north and northwest, a slash of red sandstone surrounded by trees.

One day they were at the cliff and decided to take care of the mean goat. They wrestled it to the edge then pushed it off. It landed below, shook itself, then bounded away.

My mother laughed when she told this story. It was a lesson that intended results are not guaranteed.

Just as, for example, when the turkey does not come out right after hours in the oven. Or the dough is wrong. Or the veggies sag.

But my mother, who passed away in 2010, was the main cook in her kitchen. Every Thanksgiving, she laid out an array of dishes, both modern and traditional. She had the turkey cooked to perfection. Her stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy made your mouth water. Her mutton stew sent steam curling through the dining room. Her chili, red and green, lay in wait for our appetites.

I remember her getting up very early on Thanksgiving day to put the turkey in the oven. She never complained and indeed it was an expression of her love for her family. As we grew up, we learned to appreciate her and the work she did to prepare and present a large feast for us.

We were not the only beneficiaries of her cooking. There was a lady in the old Church Rock Indian Village who was often inebriated. If that lady walked by our house, my mother always gave her a plate. If we had friends, they partook in the feast. Even if strangers happened to be passing by, they might leave with a plate full of her labor in their hands.

Like everything she did in her life, she taught us by example.

When I first cooked a turkey at my place for my friends, I did not take out the gizzard pouch before putting the bird in the oven. Only hours later did I discover the pouch but it didn't seem to matter to my friends. But it was a lesson learned.

In my later Thanksgiving meals, there might be three of us or 10 depending on the weather. But my mother's lessons guided me through these meals. We always had a turkey and all the fixings.

While a mean goat may not be the main worry for our leaders in Window Rock, there are always examples of something that will not go away or are so complex they defy an easy solution. These issues and problems are the responsibility of the President and the Navajo Nation Council. Here's hoping they can deal with their mean goats. They cannot believe that pushing the problems over a cliff will solve them.

We all miss our mother and grandmother and great-grandmother. I see her now and then in a double rainbow during a summer rain, a colorful sunset, in the first star of the evening, or in a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower.

Her lessons stay with us even though she is gone. I remember her laugh, her "voice like water," as one writer described her, and her constant devotion to her children and their children and the children's children.

We can all give thanks to her and her spirit, which surrounds us to this day. And we can be thankful we have each other.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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