From the March/April 1989 issue
When My Brother Got in a Fight
see the illustration for this story
One warm sunny day my mother, grandmother, and I were looking for my brother in Gallup, New Mexico. We drove around by all the bars because we thought that he might be there. We drove by the Round-Up Saloon on Maloney Street and Grandmother said, “There’s Frank.”
Frank was standing by the entrance surrounded by a gang of about five boys. Mother drove on and parked our blue GMC pickup in the next block. She said, “Marlene, you and Grandmother go get Frank.” I felt shy but I wanted to go over there and help get Frank. I was wearing my new boots, Levi jeans, and a black western skirt. I felt real good about the way I was dressed. Grandmother wore a gathered skirt with a matching blouse like most of the old Navajo women. She had her black hair tied up in a bundle in the back with white string. She wore her turquoise and silver jewelry. She wore a jacla necklace and earrings and bracelets on each arm and turquoise rings on her fingers. She always wears her jewelry, except when she goes to her sheep. I glanced up at Grandmother’s face. She looked serious. Her mouth was in a firm line.
I looked around me and saw some old buildings that were about to fall down. Some others were empty. The only good-looking building was the saloon. It had just been painted brown. The sidewalks were cracked and dirty. There were drunk men and women standing all over the place. I saw some passed-out drunks lying on the ground next to some of the buildings. There were empty liquor bottles on the ground where they fell. There were patches of broken glass all over the parking lot. I heard some of the drunks snoring and I began to get a feeling of fear.
We walked on with me in front and we began to hear loud arguing voices. We got to the bar and saw that Frank was arguing with these boys. We could not hear what they were saying. Then someone yelled a string of dirty words in English and I felt mad inside. Frank didn’t answer them. Those boys had bats — the ones you hit with. Still cussing they started to hit my brother. He was yelling with pain. He had put his hands and arms up to protect his face and head. I felt ugly inside and I wanted to hit those boys back with my fists. I glanced at Grandmother. I was scared and worried about Frank. So was she.
Grandmother looked angry and said, “I’m going inside the bar and call the police and the ambulance.” Then she said, “Marlene, you stay here.” She walked away fast. I just stood helplessly and watched the boys beat up on Frank. I saw the blood on Frank’s face and felt like I wanted to cry. The boys were just laughing and giggling as Frank tried to get one of the bats to hit them with. I wanted to rush in and just make those boys get back but I felt scared of what they might do to me. I felt like I wanted to cry a bucketful of tears. The tears were running down my face and I wiped them away with my hand as Grandmother came back. She looked over at Frank. She said, “The police are coming.” I said a silent prayer for them to hurry. I was afraid that those boys might hit Frank on the head and his head might bust open.
Then suddenly I was very angry. I thought, Why does Frank have to come to this bar? Why does he have to drink? Then like a flash I wished that I was in another place, a place where it was peaceful and nice, a place where people don’t fight and drink. I wished that I could throw away all the alcohol in the world and then there would be no drunk people.
The people standing around the bar were watching the fight. They were just laughing and they were saying, “Beat him up! Beat him up!” in English and Navajo. I just wanted to beat up the whole bunch of people. I noticed the cars driving up and down the street. They slowed down and turned their necks around to see what those boys were doing. I felt like yelling and screaming at the people staring. I yelled, “What are you looking at! You don’t have to stare!” I screamed that in English but my voice was not loud enough to be heard over the noise. I yelled so loud that my throat began to hurt.
I heard the shrilling police sirens and saw the flashing lights as two blue vans arrived. The big policemen, I thought they were big like Paul Bunyans, rushed over to where the boys were fighting. They shouted, “Stop fighting,” but they kept on hitting Frank. The policemen grabbed some of those boys from behind and held them tight. Then they put handcuffs on them. The boys were wiggling around trying to get away. Frank just fell on the ground. He was lying on the ground covering his head with his hands. He was moaning. One policeman went over and checked on Frank. He said, “Are you all right?” Frank didn’t answer so he said, “The ambulance will be here in a few minutes.”
Finally the ambulance came and the men dressed in white took a stretcher out and ran over to Frank. Grandmother and I walked over to Frank as one of the police vans drove away with those boys. The men turned Frank over and began checking his heart and if he had any broken bones. I really felt scared when we saw the blood around Frank’s mouth and on the front of his shirt. They checked Frank’s mouth. All seven front teeth were missing. One of the men looked around on the ground and he found all seven teeth. He put them in a small plastic bag. They put Frank in the ambulance and they drove away. I felt ugly inside and I started crying as they took Frank to the Indian hospital. The Indian hospital is run by the government and the Public Health Service. It is free to Indians.
Grandmother touched my back and said, “Don’t cry, he’s going to be all right.” Then she prayed over and over to herself, “I wish he is OK.”
We ran back to Mother and the pickup and told her to follow the ambulance. As we drove we told Mother about the fight. I said, “Grandmother and I saw those boys beat up on Frank. I was really scared. He had blood all over his face and shirt.”
At the hospital the nurse was checking Frank’s mouth. She said, “He has no teeth in front.” My grandmother started to cry. My mother told my grandmother not to cry. The nurse said, “Frank will see the dentist and he will put the teeth back in.” Then she said, “You can go ahead and go back home because you have nothing to do here.” Then we went home to tell everybody about Frank.
When my older brother, Robert, heard about Frank he said, “When those boys get out of jail I’m going to beat them up. Then they won’t be happy.” Grandmother began to cry. Robert said, “Don’t cry.” Then he said, “They probably took Frank to jail after they checked his teeth.”
The next day we all went to the hospital. The dentist said, “He went to jail for three weeks.”
Later that day my sister, Bessie, and I went to see Frank. When we got there Bessie said, “What happened, Frank?” He would not talk to us. I think his mouth was really sore. Finally my sister took him out of jail. It cost one hundred dollars.
I asked, “Where are your teeth, Frank?”
Then he said, “The dentist said he couldn’t put them back in. Probably I will have to get some false teeth and put them in later this year.”
The next day was his birthday. He was going to be nineteen years old. So we had a birthday party for him. We had so much fun. All the family was there. It seemed like all the aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and brothers and sisters were there. Frank acted shy and crazy because of his missing front teeth. He kept his lips closed tightly so no one could see his missing teeth. When he talked he covered his mouth with his hand. We tried to tell him to open his mouth. While he was closing his mouth he would just smile a little.
I said, “You shouldn’t be ashamed of your missing teeth. You are part of the family.”
Then the family just laughed about him. We thought that he would copy my grandma the way she puts her cake in the cup. First she gets the milk and a spoon and she puts milk in the cup with the cake, and then she starts stirring it so it’ll be soft. We all thought he would do that but he just ate it without doing that. It was a cake from the bakery so it was really soft. The cake said, “Happy Birthday Frank.” Everyone cheered for him and Frank jumped up and down and laughed with us.
My big sister Gloria said to Frank, “Best wishes to you. We all hope you get your front teeth back.”
I felt real happy and I thought that Aunt Susie and I could take Him to the movie in Gallup and buy him anything he wanted.
He really likes the Bruce Lee karate movies. There was one playing at the El Morro Theater. I like the karate movies too. I think that most of the Navajos like those movies and John Wayne movies. Maybe that is why they show so many in Gallup.
Then we gave him his own car because he wanted his own car for his birthday. It was a black Buick.
Grandmother said, “We all think you are old enough to be a man and stop drinking.”
Mother said, “Your sister Bessie must always be with you when you are driving. We don’t want you to be in an accident and get hurt.”
I gave him a black hat and a ten-speed bike. He felt happy and excited. I felt real joyful about Frank. I wanted him to always have a good life. Then we all started laughing and talking. Frank and Bessie and I went for a ride in Frank’s new car. We all had a good day.