“Melley Klischma…” That’s what I heard when I opened our back door that Christmas morning.
A very young David L. Eppele was bleary-eyed from the yule lights, the tree and the presents. I was right in the middle of just about the best Christmas a 7-year-old could probably ever endure.
You see, there was a whole box of homemade candy from Aunt Ellen, two boxes of apples (those good ones from Chihuahua), a crate of oranges with an official Pasadena, California, city seal and a 50-pound sack of piñon nuts to munch on while I played with my new ELECTRIC TRAIN!
Then there was the Christmas candy. Why, I was so charged up that I discovered I was working on two candy canes at the same time!
This was the morning of all mornings! It was Christmas!
The coal stove was busy emitting aromas that shouted “turkey and all the trimmings will be served within the hour!”
Genuine hand-blown glass ornaments from Germany glowed softly on the Christmas tree branches and the smell of piñon roasting right along with the turkey was a complete overload on the senses of this young man.
Why, wasn’t it just this morning that I learned the true secret to eating a candy cane that had been stuck inside a hole carved in an orange? Wasn’t that just the neatest thing? And who said you can’t make little tunnels out of slightly used but eternally beautiful Christmas wrapping paper? Oh! Just look at the headlight of the engine coming up through the tunnel!
I guess it was while I was in the middle of teaching my Lionel train how to crack piñon nuts without derailing that Dad asked me to answer the back door. I was so engrossed in all that nut-cracking that I didn’t even hear that knock on our door.
As I ran to the back door, I hurriedly tied the belt of my brand new robe, the one just like Dad’s. I thought it went well with my new slippers. I sported a new pair of genuine Levi cowboy pants and I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that I was wearing two new shirts and a pair of leather gloves. I’m not sure if my Eskimo snow hat was on straight or not…but I did wrap a big red muffler around my neck.
I flung open the back door and there, in front of me, was the oldest Indian I think I ever saw. His face was weathered and wrinkled. His hands nearly purple with the cold. He stood on one foot, then on the other, occasionally stomping his feet, to ward off the cold.
“Melley Klischma,” he said. I couldn’t respond to something I didn’t understand. I had no idea what this man said or what he wanted.
Melley Klischma,” he said again, this time pointing to an old, dirty cotton sack he was carrying….still, I could not respond.
I turned back toward the kitchen, where Mom was doing those secret things that make Christmas dinner so great. I saw the startled look on her face when she saw who was at our door.
“Joe, you’d better talk with this man…” said my mother.
My father came to the back door. He placed both hands on my shoulders as I once again heard the old man say “Melley Klischma!”
My father spoke enough Navajo to get by. I heard a couple of words I thought I understood, but not nearly enough to know just what was going on. My father and the old Indian man talked for a minute or so and then Dad turned to me and said:
“Davey, go in and get a large grocery sack. I want you to fill it with apples and oranges and a few pounds of piñon nuts. We’re going to help this old man. He’s from Gamerco. He walked the seven miles into town through all this snow to get something to eat for his family. He says the whole family is sick and we must help them.”
“Melley Klischma,” said the old man, again pointing to his old sack.
I guess it was at this moment that I finally understood what was going on. The old man was asking, in the only way he knew, for a Merry Christmas. He was asking for some food and help for his family.
I raced back into the living room and began loading oranges and apples into a grocery sack my mother handed me. I even threw in a couple of those neat candy canes…then a couple more. I poured piñon nuts into the sack until it nearly covered the fruit. Then, for good measure, I added a few more oranges to fill the sack completely. As I returned to the back door with this sack, I saw my father slip the old Indian a five-dollar bill.
I gave the old man the paper bag and stood and watched as he transferred all the apples, oranges and nuts to his cotton sack. He dropped an orange. I reached for the rolling orange just at the same time the old man did. His hand covered mine for just a brief instant. He looked into my eyes and smiled a big toothless smile. Oh, how his dark eyes sparkled!
I unwrapped the brand new bright red muffler from around my neck and wrapped it around the neck of the Ancient One…
Now, I didn’t know it at the time, but my heart sure told me I had just learned something very important. I had just learned a most valuable lesson…one that I carry with me forever. It’s far, far better to give…than to receive.