Saturday morning, I went downtown to purchase a homemade pumpkin pie. A nice young woman bakes them from fresh pumpkins, using an old family recipe. Then she sells them in front of the food co-op. While her kids were giggling and wiggling, keeping warm under a blanket, we chatted for a bit. She told me she works as a secretary, and goes to school. She also writes online, under Spirit Words. I liked the sound of that; it was like opening a special door.
I was still thinking of that door, when an old man walked up to us and announced “I am Native American, Cheyenne-Kiowa, from Oklahoma.” The backpack he carried marked him as homeless. His clothes were worn, but they were clean. His skin was a beautiful dark brown, and his eyes showed his age. I told him I was also born in Oklahoma, and that my great, great grandma was Cherokee. He smiled at me. The writer of Spirit Words chided her little ones, to stay out of the way of passersby. The old man pointed to the two children, and said “I went to war for them, for children. I am not much, but I am someone. Just a warrior.” He looked at me and softly said “I went to war. I was a machine gunner. When I came back, I had a hard time.” I looked into his eyes, saw the pain, and just as softly, answered “I bet you did.” He asked if I might have a dollar to spare, and then he kept talking. I saw a couple of dollars folded in the palm of his hand. I fished in my pocket and reached to touch his hand, giving him a folded bill, while trying to preserve his dignity. He said “I served my country. I’m just a warrior.” I told him he was an Honorable Warrior, and he served with honor, and I thanked him. He was quiet for a moment, the he said “I heard Cher passed away. She’s Cherokee. So beautiful. I’m a old man. Gotta go sometime.” Another pause, I said “We all do. Until then, we walk the Beauty Way, right?” He smiled and answered that he tried to. He asked me, “Sister, you want a Indian name?” I felt my smile grow and answered, “Yes, I do!” He bowed his head slightly, closed his eyes, and softly sang for a few moments, first in his language, then in English. I heard only a few of his words; sunshine, beauty, smile, flowers, eyes. Then he raised his head and opened his eyes to meet mine. With a beautiful smile, he said “That’s it. Sunflower is your name.” “Sunflower.” I said, and thanked him. He talked to us a little more, mostly repeating his heritage, and his war experience, while he watched the kids playing. Then he touched both of our hands, thanked us, and slowly walked away.
I watched him go, feeling a strange mix of happy and sad. I hoped he would get a nice meal, and not drink his money away. And it was his money, not charity. He made a good trade with me. Of course, I supposed that he might give Indian names to lots of folks, maybe even the same name. Then I thought of the pain in his eyes, of his loneliness, and of his sacrifice for all Americans, Native or not. I decided to believe the sincerity that I thought I saw in his beautiful, weathered old face. I said bye to the pie lady, and headed home with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Funny, the extraordinary things that can happen when you least expect them. I went to get a pie, and came home with a new name, and the blessing that came with it. I’m writing this down, so I can keep the memory of the writer of Spirit Words and the Old Warrior, and how they both blessed my day. I hope, in some way, that my story also blesses you.
Gail ~ Sunflower