“He didn’t know how to speak properly, how to walk properly, how to comb his hair, and she felt embarrassed for him as he shouted about restoring jobs and national honor, about a better and splendid Germany. The mob applauded, shouted. Did people really believe that he wanted what was best for Germany?”
― Ursula Hegi, Children and Fire
Scottsdale, Arizona Public Library- 2015
BEN SMITH AND HIS DAUGHTER, Samantha, known as Sam to family and friends, were giving a presentation at the Scottsdale Public Library on local Indian culture. “You don’t have to have Indian blood in your veins to realize the connection between the Earth, the sky, and the things we feel or sense as human beings. It’s just that my Navajo ancestors cultivated those feelings more than the white man did. You know what they say, ‘use it or lose it.’” Ben said.
An audience of about fifty local attendees literally leaned forward in their seats, and hung on Ben’s words. While her father spoke, Sam operated a computer generated overhead projector that showed images of the Indian culture of which Ben spoke.
Off to one side of the large well-lit room, a plainly dressed woman in her eighties hugged a tattered leather binder against her chest, while she sat quietly and listened. She also watched as Ben and Sam smiled patiently as they spent nearly an hour responding to a myriad of questions from the rapt audience that their presentation had elicited.
After the last question had been answered, and the audience gone, the father/daughter team gathered up their presentation materials and did not at first see the old woman who approached cautiously.
“Yes ma’am, please call me Ben. You have a question?”
The old woman hesitated. “Well, I read about you and your daughter and how you study the history around these parts, and wanted to talk to you about something my husband left me.”
As she spoke, Sam noticed the old woman wore a faded, blue cotton dress, with a worn leather belt that was cinched tightly around her thin mid-section. The woman’s gray hair was pulled up in a bun, and her tanned leathery hands tightly gripped the binder that contained faded yellowed papers, that stuck out haphazardly from its edges.
“I guess Sam and I could be called local amateur historians. What did your husband leave you that you wanted to chat about?”
At first it appeared the old woman was going to walk away. Sensing her discomfort, Sam approached her. “Hello ma’am, my name is Samantha Smith, but you can call me Sam. If you’d like to sit down, my dad and I would be happy to answer any questions you have.”
The old woman appeared relieved, smiled warmly at Sam, pulled out a chair, and sat down at a large circular oak table. Sam and Ben sat on either side of her. In a clear strong voice the old woman said, “My husband, who disappeared almost twenty-five years ago, left me this here book. It’s kind of a diary, I guess. I can’t prove everything he wrote in this book is true, but I know one thing, he weren’t no liar, and he weren’t one to make up no tales neither. I think maybe you two might want to take a look at it. At my age, I could drop over tomorrow, and no one would ever see this, and try to figure out what it all means.”
The elderly woman slid the binder to her right toward Sam who gently accepted what was clearly very old and precious, at least to the gray haired octogenarian who sat next to her. The binder was worn and browned with age like the old woman’s hands. The papers that stuck out were ragged and some torn at the edges. The binder smelled old.
Carefully, Sam opened the binder and began reading, while Ben and the old woman chatted. As she slowly turned the pages, Sam’s eyes narrowed in concentration, the space above her nose furrowed and her cheeks flushed.
After several minutes she turned to Ben and said, “Oh my God, daddy, you’ve got to see this. We were right!” Ben rose from his chair and made his way to the seat on Sam’s right. Sam moved the binder in front of Ben and said, “Look at the dates.”
As Ben gently turned the pages, he too became immersed in what he was reading. For the next hour Ben and Sam poured over the old binder, entranced by the tale that unfolded in front of them.
Finally, Sam and Ben looked back at the old woman ready to ask a thousand questions. Maybe a million.
She was gone.
Copyright © 2020 Mark Donahue. All Rights Reserved.