Grandma and the Medicine Men

Arizona sunsets don’t mess around.

My grandmother Betty, from my mother’s side of the family, had some great stories of strange things she witnessed and experienced in her life. Most of them are intertwined with the Arizona desert, as she lived many, many years in a hilltop house a few miles outside of Winslow, AZ. While some of the finer details of this one are fuzzy (due to nobody ever writing them down), the main bit has always stuck with me.

Everett, my grandfather, was an art teacher as well as a skilled jeweler of desert stones. He was especially fond of Navajo (Diné) jewelry made with turquoise and silver, and through this he came to know some Navajo artists who eventually became friends of the family. They both had great respect for Navajo people and culture.

Sometime early in their marriage in the 1950s, Betty suddenly had some kind of health issue. This is where my memory gets fuzzy, because I can’t remember exactly what was wrong…but whatever it was, it was fairly serious and her doctor’s treatment wasn’t doing much to help. With some desperation, Everett reached out to his Navajo friends and asked them if their medicine men (tribal healers) could help.

I should add that “medicine men” is the term my grandmother used, as it’s a common English term for Native healers. I’m pretty sure there are medicine women as well.

To their surprise, a healing ceremony was arranged on the Navajo reservation. My grandparents were invited to sit in a circle with the medicine men, something very few outsiders were allowed to do. But just when they seemed to begin, nothing happened — they sat in complete silence.

That’s when Betty began hearing voices in her head, zipping back and forth:

Who are they? Can we trust them? Yes, I know them. They're good people. Should they be here? Our ceremonies aren't meant for them. I know her too. She's asking for our help.

This went on for several minutes as they debated whether or not to actually perform the healing ceremony. Imagine being in that situation, unintentionally “listening in” on a silent conversation about your worthiness! It must have been humbling.

Eventually they all agreed to help her, and they began. To my knowledge she never shared details of the ceremony itself — if you’re lucky enough to witness or participate in something like that as an outsider, I think it’s something meant for you alone.

Did the ceremony work? Well, she believed it helped her greatly, and that’s good enough for me!

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