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American History
Navajo Skies See Forever


Laura swung down the street of the small town Shawnee, Oklahoma where her family had chosen to live for the summer. Her mother had never known her father and she wanted the children to know their grandfather so they were there in his town just for a short time. The girl didn't mind, it was a new place, she had not one but two jobs, she was young, full of energy and health. She had finished high school and she, at the moment,  had not a care in the world.

In an instant someone called out to her. She couldn't quite believe someone here would know her name. When she turned to look she saw one of her classmates from the boarding school they both attended the year before. He was a thousand miles from his reservation, a Navajo boy and the very last person she expected to see here.

"Hey Zack! What in the world are you doing here?" she answered his call.

"Well, it is like this, I'm at the sanitarium."

Laura tried to control her feelings but she was all at once very sad. "It can't be, not Zack! Why just last year he won a scholarship for his basketball game."

So began their friendship. She faithfully visited him every Sunday at the sanitarium even though she had to take a cab to the out of the way institution at an expense to dip into her college fund. They would primly visit in the little lobby sitting a respectful distance from each other as the nurses expected. Sometimes they would sit outside on the steps of the building.

What did a girl from the modern area of her hometown discuss with a boy who had trouble with the English language, whose life was tied up with the reservation of the Navajo? They talked about their school, his dreams, her dreams, people they knew, the little town, her work, his schedule there at the sanitarium and they were always enjoying each others time.

Laura was back in school for her first year in college and just as she had walked down the street of the strange town to have Zack call to her and surprise her, this he did again. When she looked up to see him standing at the top of the steps with a wide grin she had to laugh.

"Zack! Why am I always seeing you in the most unexpected places?"

The English language was not easy for Zack but his grin and his expressions always spoke a thousand words to her. One day she was hurrying toward the little cafe after she had drawn her six dollars for sitting in a lawyer's office answering the phone for an hour a day when she heard Zack call to her.

"Can't stop, got to go!" she told him.

"Hey, you too big time college girl now, too snooty to talk to me."

"No Zack! I am not. I am just hungry, I haven't eaten for three days and I have my check here. You know we are not all rich Navajo people with money to burn," she laughed because she did know about the uranium fields producing and providing him with the money for school.

After that Zack insisted to worry about her meals. They spent time together and sometimes he cooked, other times she did. In return she would help him with the one class they had together, history of religion.

"Come on Zack, get this. It is pronounced like Hen-do, not Highn-duh.  This is Boo-duh, not Bud-A. This is like Shar-lah-mane, not Charley main. Mr. McKay will be looking down his nose and glasses if you can't even pronounce these words,  and so as the tutoring progressed Zack accomplished a grade of C.

The two young people were close friends without ever dipping into a romantic situation. Laura knew of his responsibilities with his tribe and family and he seemed to understand her drive to go to school as well. Probably the closest encounter he would have with her was to take his hand on her head to shake her cranium back and forth when she pressed him too hard to speak the language correctly, as if to say, "lighten up on the brain work."

At the end of the year they parted company only to see each other once at the closing of their alma mater. When he hugged her and held her for the longest time, at their parting  neither of them seemed to care what her husband would think. They had become such close friends and somehow they knew this was the last time they would see each other.

"Good-bye, good-bye, little one, remember, Navajo skies see forever."

Years later when she herself was very ill with no assurance even for her life, after the birth of her last child,  two women showed up on her doorstep to borrow the phone. As they visited it was learned they knew Zack, and then some time later,  in the mail came a full newspaper story about him. He was a doctor, Laura learned, his brother was a senator. He had a grown teen-age girl and other children. His wife was beautiful.  Across the bottom of the paper was scrawled, "remember, Navajo skies see forever."

Something about this message touched Laura with a new will to live. To think her old friend had remembered her at a time when she was not sure she was going to live. His being  there for her gave her the strength she needed to fight to get well. Seeing and knowing about his bravery in all phases of his life, the fight to learn in the universities when he could hardly speak English, the battle against the dreaded disease of tuberculosis, the heart to return to his people to give back to them, all these things was what  she knew about him and it made her rise to the  battle she had to win.

Years later when she learned of his death, for some reason she wasn't sad. It was strange and then she remembered what he would have said, "remember, Navajo skies see forever."


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