Herman McClanahan - Navajo - Part 1 of 2
My name is Herman McClanahan. I’m half Navajo and half Spanish. I live in Window Rock, Arizona and was born in Fort Defiance, and I’ve lived here about 23 years in Arizona, and I’ve lived before that in New Mexico, and I live with my father. My father’s disabled, and I have a sister and she has a family; she has three young boys and her husband.
My earliest childhood memory kind of reminds me of how God has worked in my life. I remember one time my grandfather caught a butterfly and put it in a little carton that you put food in. This was way back when I was a toddler. He brought that in to me, and I was just in awe of the butterfly. I just remember looking at it, and it walking around inside the little carton there. I lifted the carton up and it flew off, and I didn’t understand what was happening and I looked around, I was looking all over for it, and I just felt really bad about it. “What happened? Where did it go?” Later on in the years, I thought about that; that was one of my early childhood memories, and I just thought about how people can be sometimes; how you can get attached to someone and then they leave, and you wonder what happened.
I always wondered about, I had a friend, he invited me to church, and a lot of that’s where I got a lot of my questions about God, was going to church with my best friend. Martin was his name, and ever since then, from the beginning when I started going to church, I was about eight or nine, I always had that question, “Who is God and what’s my purpose here?” and my father had the same type of questions, now that I look back on his life, because he had a lot of questions about God. I remember going to different kind of churches, going to camp meetings with my father and hearing about this God, but not really understanding because I was still young, but I was interested in it and I always wondered, “Who is God?”
I just wondered about space, what we’re out here and you learn a lot about evolution and space, and you just think, “It’s so big; how could there be a God? How could there be someone in control of that?” I always had that question.
My father, he had a drinking problem; he started having little accidents that I noticed about that kept happening to him at work. One time he was driving a semi-truck and some pipes fell off the back of the semi. They were loading them back up and they fell again, and they hit him in the back, so he had like real bad bruises on his back and was out of work for probably a week. I noticed that, and then one time he drove my Mom to work, she was working as a nurse in Gallop, and it was really snowing. There was this hill that’s called Elephant Hill, he lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a telephone wire, a guide wire, and totaled the truck and he got pretty banged up, and I just noticed things started happening to him.
I didn’t really know about his drinking problem when I was that young. I was real naïve about it, and he kept having these accidents. My Mom worked the graveyard shift one evening, and my Dad wanted to take us out so that we could let her sleep a little, and this was like probably on a Friday or a Saturday - I’m starting to forget about it. This was in November, like November 21, 1971, and we went to a traditional yabacheh ceremony, and I remember it being cold and a big bonfire, and I remember drinking an orange coke and my sister was there, she had her dolls. I just remember my Dad leaving for a while, and then coming back and telling us it was time to go, and when we were leaving we fell asleep, my sister and I fell asleep.
Back then, in a truck, we didn’t use the seat belts, but my father had crashed into a little hill. He just went right across the road and head on right into a hill. He got really banged up, we all did, because we weren’t buckled in. There was a lot of trauma to my Dad, a lot of head trauma and leg trauma. We all had broken legs. I had a broken femur, my sister had a broken femur, she had a broken compound fracture on her shin.
I still remember that night. I can remember laying there, and it was cold because it was November, and then I remember the ambulance picking us up. I could hear my Dad moaning, and I could hear my sister crying, screaming, and getting to the hospital, I can remember the cold metal when they x-ray you, and it was really hard because my Dad didn’t make it.
They had to fly him to Albuquerque; he didn’t make it, he stopped breathing and they pulled all the stuff off him, the needles and oxygen, and, I don’t know, the Lord was working, even though all this was going on, the Lord was working in my Dad’s life, because there was a nurse there, she was cleaning him off and she noticed, she saw his chest rise and he was still breathing, so they rehooked him up to oxygen, but during that time that he was off he had some brain damage because he didn’t get enough oxygen.
So now he’s dealing with that today, and I live with him and we both take care of each other. He’s doing a lot of things that the doctors said he couldn’t do. They said he wouldn’t be able to walk, he wouldn’t be able to talk, but he’s doing that. He still needs help; he can’t drive, so I help him..
My sister almost lost her leg, but my Mom insisted that she not have her leg amputated. So she didn’t.
I remember, just really faintly, things popping in and out during this time that we were in the hospital. I wasn’t doing too good. I was unconscious for a couple of weeks. When I did come to, I asked if I could look into the mirror and see what happened to me, because I know I hit the windshield. I had a lot of stitches on the chin because I hit the dashboard. I just remember that first time– I still can see myself in the mirror, and see all that what happened.
They didn’t think we would make it. We were all separated in the hospital, but someone knew that if me and my sister were put in the same room that we would do better. So I remember that, that was like a big moving day, they moved us upstairs into the same room, and we helped each other. I had a broken jaw, that I couldn’t eat while we were in the hospital, and my sister, she knew I was craving food, I was so hungry, I was on a liquid diet, and we had this little table that we could push between each other, and she would put tiny pieces of food on there. I had some teeth that were cracked, and she would pass that over and I would eat that, and that would be my nourishment. Just really tiny pieces of food, I couldn’t really chew it or anything, because my jaw was wired shut. We started getting better like that, just helping each other. I was trying to encourage her because they would come in and change the dressing; she had to have skin grafts and that was pretty hard on her because it was pretty painful. They had to change the dressing and pull it off, and I had to witness that, what happened while they were doing that. I just remember a lot of the crying and screaming.
I think that my question, “Why was I put here?” was kind of answered through that, because now that I look back I know that my Dad was searching for God, and doing a lot of things on the side that he probably shouldn’t have been doing.
God finally said, “Well, I’m going to have to teach you that I’m in control and you’re not in control.” By all the accidents I seen him go through, I know that my Dad wasn’t in control, and now my Dad knows the Lord and he’s doing better.
My sister, after we got out of the hospital, she started going to a Baptist church with the young people. They went ice fishing once, and she came back and told me, “Hey, we went ice fishing!” and she told me all about it. I thought, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.” So I went on trips with them, had fun with them, and was finding out more about the Lord. I was still a little rebellious.
My Mom- we forgave my Mom; she left my Dad. I’ve been taking care of him pretty much since the accident. My Aunt Rosalind here in Window Rock, Arizona saw how things were going; that me and my sister were the only ones taking care of my father, and no one taking care of us, and I was I think 11 years old when this happened.
So my Aunt took us into her home, and I thank the Lord that she did that, because she’s a Christian and she’s kind of the matriarch of our family. Our grandmother, June McClanahan, was our spiritual provider, just prayed for us. She oversaw a lot of our families’ activities and she passed on, so my aunt kind of picked up the torch and has been faithful and just caring about all the family members.
(To be continued)