“If Only Our Ancestors Could Talk,” Ensign, September 2020
The high red canyon walls stood as sentinels watching over my maternal grandpa as he brought his sheep back home on the mesa. A hundred miles south, juniper and pine trees were the companions of my paternal grandma, who enjoyed their fragrance in the cool breeze. I’ve wondered what stories and memories these rocks and trees would tell of my Native American grandparents. They saw their daily lives and heard the prayers that still swirl across the land with each morning sun.
If only the land could talk.
I was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona, USA. We traveled to my parents’ birthplaces on holidays and while my mom cared for her mother during her declining health. I have distinct memories of my cousins from those times—playing together and figuring out life from a Navajo perspective. Those trips gave me a glimpse of the rural, reservation lifestyle that most of my family members share.
I remember watching the sun peek over the Carrizo Mountains and feeling it warm the house. I would sleep in my grandmother’s house, the one my uncle built before he died. At the end of the day, the stars would greet me one by one. When the Milky Way came to say salutations, that’s when I knew it was time to head back to the house. What would the sun and stars share about my grandparents?
If only the sky could talk.
I didn’t really get to know my grandparents. Not directly, anyway. My grandfathers both died before I could meet them here on earth. My paternal grandmother met me, her last grandchild, when I was one year old. My maternal grandmother slipped away to the spirit world when I was nine.
But recently I got the chance to focus on researching the history of these family members. I interviewed my relatives who remembered them. These interviews were filled with both laughs and tears as members of my family recounted their experiences with parents and grandparents. I learned about the quirky characteristics of my grandparents, along with the personal struggles that molded them. I found out where Grandpa Little John Báhózhóní hid his favorite snacks. A pearl-snap shirt and starched denim jeans were the daily clothing choice for Grandpa John Baloo. Grandma Lena loved to cook chicken and potatoes for her family. And now I know why Easter and Christmas were special for my Grandma Nellie. Knowing these little tidbits helped me better form a holistic image of who my grandparents were within their families and communities. Hearing these stories more fully brought them to life in my mind.
I’m so thankful those relatives can talk, so their memories have a voice.
As the sole member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my family, I feel a responsibility to go to the temple for my grandparents and other family members in my family tree. However, as I’ve started this work, I’ve learned that it’s not always easy! Names can be misinterpreted and dates can be questionable. As President James E. Faust (1920–2007), Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said, “Finding your ancestors can be one of the most interesting puzzles you … can work on.”1
As I keep working on this “puzzle” throughout my life, I know my grandparents are proud of the person I have become. I know they are safe, learning about the restored gospel and watching over their posterity. It is their sacrifices and the guiding hand of the Lord that brought me to where I am today. I am eternally grateful for what we know about the plan of salvation and temple work. I am grateful for the heritage my grandparents gave me, and I can’t wait to see them again.
We have so much to talk about.