my friend the black dogThree dogs lope across the plaza, one is the skittish yellow dog.  The black dog at my feet watches, but he doesn’t move.  They eye us, we eye them and they keep moving.  I wonder if they are curious or speculative as to why this dog is sitting quietly with a stranger. “Who’s his new friend?” I imagine them growling quietly under their breath. 

Another ten silent minutes pass.  I reach down and brush my hand over his head and neck.  I point to the small piece of fry bread on the ground, he stretches and laps it up. I stand, “Gotta move fella.” He slowly rises with me and follows along at my side as I walk to the foot bridge extending across the stream.  Half way across I stop, squat low and watch the water rushing beneath me.  I take a photo of the stream.  I notice the dog is standing next to me. I snap his picture then I stroke his head. “See ya later, Pal,” I say quietly, rise and continue on across the footbridge.  He watches me a moment then turns and runs off to rejoin his friends.

I walked into the shop sporting the sign, “Real Indian Stuff For Sale Here.”  The ceiling was low as it is in all the shops. The quiet and the coolness of the thick adobe walls is comforting. An elder gentleman is standing toward the back of the room behind a low counter.  His face is stately, wide and brown his skin, stretched leather over high cheek bones.  His eyes are dark and kind. He wears a blue hat, a cap with, “Veteran WWII” printed on it in gold raised letters. I’ll call him Walt. the Rio del Pueblo

Walt has a bit of a salesman in him, I suspect is comes from decades of dealing with the countless, often ridiculous questions and comments of tourists and souvenir hunters.  Over the years he has carved out a simple, meager living selling hand made items to those who visit the Pueblo and he does it with genuine warmth, offering details about each item. His voice is soft, matter of fact, and at first feel’s tossed to the whole room, but it is not; it is gently directed, an offering. It is for me to accept it or not. In his unobtrusive way he observes, evaluates me. Our conversation is unhurried, my first words, casual, “So you were in World War II?”

“Yes, I was,” he eyes me, his glance, subtle, curious. Am I after something? Am I a good sale? Or is this an honest conversation.  I could not see the answer cross his eyes.  Barely raising his arm, he motions me around behind the counter with a small wave of his hand.  He points to a framed photograph on the wall.  It is a sepia toned image of a young Tewa Indian in a United States Army uniform.

“You were a handsome young man,” I offer.

He smiles, “This one was taken just before I shipped out for overseas. I was stationed in New Jersey. I was twenty-two.” He points to another photo; this one is black and white and taken in a foreign country.  Veterans of that war always refer to where they went as, “Overseas.”  The world was larger then and romance held a greater importance.

“I went across North Africa, fought Rommel, 5th Army.” He tells me the Division, but I don’t recall the number.

“My father was in the 5th Army, traveled across North Africa,” I tell him.  “He too fought Rommel. I don’t recall his Division.”  Walt moves closer as I continue, “My father fought across Sicily and Italy too.”

“Me too Sicily, then across Italy to Naples and Rome.”

“Then they sent my father to France…”

“Me too.”

“You were there together.”


“Wish I could remember his division, but that’s not really important is it?”

“No, it’s not.”

“They sent him home twelve miles outside of Paris, he was too old. He told me it made him mad, he always wanted to see Paris.”

Walt’s eyes are fixed on mine now, “Too old?”

“My father was drafted when he was thirty-eight, so after three years they sent him home, thought he was too old.”

“He was thirty eight?”


“I was twenty-two and it was tough.  It must have been very tough for him.” Walt holds on my eyes for a moment, nodding slightly then lowers his eyes.

“He died a few years ago.  He was ninety-six, would have been a hundred this year.”

Walt’s eyes return accompanied by a smile. “Ninety-six, that is a good life.”

“Yes, it is.”

Walt and I just stood there, he was just looking at me and I was just looking back.  It was a long silent moment. There was nothing to be said really, it was all in the eyes, in the understanding of respect, and dignity, of life lived without regret.

“We were lucky, your father and I, we came home,” Walt’s words were private, whispered, for our ears only.

I walked into the next room and met John Mirabal, a drummer and singer of Taos Pueblo Round Dance Songs.  We chatted.  He was my age and had a good sense of humor, knew about the earth houses west of town.  I bought his CD.

As I passed again through Walt’s shop on my way out Walt said, “Now you come back soon, I’m eighty three and might not be around too much longer.”

I smiled and offered my hand. Walt took it, “I have a feeling you’ll be around for a lotta years yet.  I’ll come back.  I’ll see you again.”

“I hope so,” he smiled.

I walked out into the bright mid-day sun and could sense some part of Walt with me. Particles of life’s energy force, not unlike pollen or the breath of the sun. “Life is the mingling of souls,” I whisper to myself and walked on across the plaza.

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