A Zuni, a Bar Maid, and a Body Man

by Elder M. Lindahl

A few weeks ago, Muriel and I received a phone call from Cibola General Hospital in Grants, New Mexico, telling us that my sister Carol had collapsed at a gas station off I-40 and was in intensive care. Having left Minneapolis several days earlier, Carol and her son, Lee, had 350 more miles to their winter home in Sun Lakes, Arizona. I decided immediately that I must go and see what I could do to help them. The next day, I flew from Minneapolis to Albuquerque and then took the Greyhound Bus to Grants, New Mexico, about 50 miles away.

The bus was almost full, but I happened to find an open seat alongside a young man. After several minutes of small talk, he volunteered, "I’m a Zuni." Wow, that took me back a few years! I had read and taught about the Zuni Indians in Social Science 101 at North Park in the late 50s. For most of us, teachers and students alike, this group lived as it were on a cloud somewhere. No one I knew had ever met one. Now, here I was sitting beside James Cheama, a real, live Zuni. A few ideas from my old lecture notes came back to me.

Jim, 23, reminded me that Zunis are known for their jewelry, weaving, Kachina dances, and carvings. In no time he pulled two pieces of unhewn rock—a piece of marble and a large piece of alabaster—from the travel bag under his seat. He couldn’t say what images might emerge from these rocks once he used his drills and other tools (no chisels) on them. Jim impressed me as a devout Zuni, one who takes the language, dances, rituals, stories, and beliefs of his people very seriously. During the hour ride together, he talked about his religious traditions and his belief in God, the Spiritual Reality beyond, who controls the forces of this world. Zunis are an agricultural people, dependent on rain, good soil, and a knowledge of the seasons. Their ritual dances are based on the belief that God will provide the rain, sun, and climate needed for good crops in response to their worship. Jim told me about his family and their jewelry artistry. He was on his way to Gallup, New Mexico to visit his girlfriend from another Native American tribe.

At one point in our extended conversation, Jim turned to me and asked about my traditions, whether my people celebrated with the seasons. He asked about my family, work, and interests. I told him about my writing interests, that I have gotten some articles published in Pietisten. I happened to have a copy of the Summer, 2000 issue along in my suitcase and gave it to him. I tried briefly to give him the background of the name, the Readers (Läsare) who started it, our immigrant church, and so on. I gave him my address and said I’d like to hear from him and maybe receive a poem of his sometime for Pietisten. I told Jim it was a pleasure and an honor to have met a Zuni. We shook hands and said good-bye as I made my way down the aisle of the comfortable coach, out the door, and onto the sidewalk.

There are no taxis in Grants, New Mexico. The hospital where my sister was is three miles from the bus stop, and it was already dark, about 8:00 p.m., when the driver dropped me off at the closed bus station which happens to be in a pet shop. Santa Fe Avenue, old Route 66, was mostly deserted, and I was the only passenger getting off. I put my suit case down on the side walk and rummaged through it, in vain, for my cell phone. Even if I could have found it at that point, who in the world would I call?

I began walking and came to the Monte Carlo Restaurant and Bar. It was open. I felt grubby, weary, and a little anxious after the flight from Minneapolis to Albuquerque, a five-hour layover there, and the bus ride to Grants. Carol and Lee, my nephew, were waiting for me in an intensive care room—I had told them I should be there by 7:00 p.m. When I walked into the Monte Carlo, I noticed several guys at the bar. I approached them and described my problem briefly. I said I’d pay them if they could give me a ride to the hospital. None of the three patrons responded, but then the little bar maid serving them spoke up and said, "I can do that." Merla led me through the kitchen to the parking lot, held the passenger door open for me, and delivered me to the front door of the Hospital. Like the Good Samaritan, she offered to come back after I visited Carol and give Lee and me a ride to the Motel 6 on the other side of town. In the morning, I called Merla and she drove us to pick up Carol’s damaged car.

Carol was driving on Interstate 40 when she was having problems. The speed limit is 75 m.p.h. At one point she brushed the side of a semi shattering her driver’s side mirror pushing it into the door and making the window inoperative. The directional signal arm was broken in half and was hanging from the steering column. The car was in a parking lot near the gas station in Blue Water Village.

After driving it back to Grants, I checked the yellow pages and found an ad for Jake’s Custom Body Shop. Jake, according to his ad, is a local man, born and raised in Grants, who has 19 years of body shop experience. He looked the car over and said he could have the parts the next morning. I explained my mission and said I needed it done right away as I had to drive it to Arizona. He let me use a loaner during the days. The body shop was busy, but Jake was unusually accommodating, friendly, and helpful. Whenever I stopped in to see the progress, both he and his secretary would inquire about Carol’s condition. Jake was able to work the car into his busy schedule and had the passenger door completely refinished, the window working, and a new mirror and directional signal arm installed in only three days. I had to return the loaner each evening and, again, I called on Merla when the distances were too far to walk. As it turned out, she was the owner of the Monte Carlo Restaurant and a very helpful person and friend. She even visited Carol in the hospital one day.

Cibola General Hospital in Grants, just 20 minutes away from the scene of Carol’s problem, is a remarkable medical facility. Just completed in July, 2000, this new hospital has state of the art medical technology, a fine staff, and excellent doctors.

The trip to Sun Lakes went well. Carol is now under her own doctor’s care and has suffered no long term effects.

Jim, Merla, and Jake, along with such prompt and competent medical attention, some would say, were "God sends." But were the stoke and the semi also "God sends?" Did God go ahead of Carol and Lee and plan the details of that unforgettable day? Did God plan for picking up the pieces of her health episode and not for the episode itself? Did God go ahead of me and plan my mission?

I don’t believe so, but I do believe that God in his "Big Creation Plan" arranged that we humans would each be responsible for our own decisions and actions, sometimes wise and sometimes foolish, and that our life adventures would somehow develop into growing experiences for us. Given the human condition and the openness of events, it is the case that both harmful and beneficial things happen in life. In the Biblical story, the tower of Siloam fell, you recall, on both righteous and the unrighteous people (Luke 13:4-5). We need inner emotional strength to cope with the regularities of biology and physics, with cause and effect, on Interstates or wherever. Strokes and semis come along in life, and sadly as in this case, sometimes come together. And the Jims, Merlas, Jakes, and excellent, prompt medical care happily do sometimes come along in the aftermath. Pray not for God’s protection from cause and effect, but for wisdom and courage to handle whatever comes in your life to His glory.

Elder Lindahl (d. 2015) was a well-known North Park University professor and long-time contributor to Pietisten.

See all articles by Elder M. Lindahl