by Leo Platero
Navajos tell Coyote stories during the Winter months and there is usually a lesson one can learn from coyote. First the storyteller introduces himself; “They call me Leo Platero.”
Navajos say if one says his or her name too many times his or her ears will dry up, meaning one becomes prideful and unable to be teachable. I don’t want to have my ears dry up.
My mother’s clan is Bit’aanii and my father is Ashchii’i, my grandfathers are Naakai Dine’e and shinali are Tl’oogi.
This modernish story is complete with hand gestures and one popular song that everyone knows.
The story is during the early 1960’s in a Utah college town and there lived three Navajos and a Pima, all were poor college students living together in an old basement apartment. There was Scott from Scottsdale, AZ but the main character is Wa’ii from Borrego Pass, NM, Monte was from Monument Valley, UT and finally there was Jimbo from Crownpoint, NM.
One cold winter afternoon, like today (hold arms and shiver) the boys lived in a old basement apartment, kinda like a place where a coyote might live. “Wa’ii is lying in his cold bedroom holding his stomach (hold your stomach like you’re hungry). How many of you have ever been hungry? (raise your hands)
Anyway Wa’ii – his roommates called him coyote and he didn’t mind and in fact he kinda like it. Their fridge was empty except a gallon of water and a bottle of mustard.
Navajos say Coyote is a trickster and always getting into trouble and we can all learn from his mistakes. In fact we can say, “Coyote is a good example of a bad example!” I’d like to say it again because it sounds good, “Coyote is a good example of a bad example!”
These three Navajo students would get a monthly check of $100. The rent in those days was $25 and the rest was supposed to go to food and maybe school supplies. The story goes that these three Navajos weren’t too smart with their money.
Usually there were two weeks of plenty and two weeks of hunger. Wa’ii was especially bad in impulsive spending. He liked to show off and he would take those pretty Navajo college girls on dates. He would take them to the movies, restaurants and to sporting events.
We find Wa’ii Coyote lying on his bed, cold and hungry. Then all of the sudden he sits up and a wicked smile appears on his face because there was a wicked idea brewing.
“Scott! Scott!, Come in here! All of you come in here! How would you boys like to fill your bellies with hot frybread, mutton stew, pop, chips and even a cake?” (rub your stomach and smile).
“Yes, said Scott, Yes! said Monte, Yes! said Jimbo. (nod your heads as if you were one of the boys).
"Scott, it's your birthday today!"
Scott looked puzzled and said, “What?!”
"Scott it's your birthday today!" Wa’ii, said as he smiled and nodded his head.
"Wa'ii, my birthday is in July!"
Wa'ii said again, "Scott, it's your birthday!" Then all three smiled as to say, "I got it,! I got it!" What's the plan?"
Wa’ii explained, “I’ll go across the street and tell those four girls about Scott’s birthday. I know they have food.”
He put on his furry grey coat and ran out.
(make four knocking motions) “Wa’ii, Come on in!”
“Guess what, girls? It’s Scott’s birthday and he’s sad because he thinks nobody remembers his birthday!”
The girls looked at each other and said, “That’s terrible!”
“I know what we can do girls, let’s plan a surprise birthday party!” said the girl from Taos Pueblo.
"I'll bake a cake," said the girl from Crystal, NM.
“I’ll call all our our friends and invite them and tell them to bring presents!,” says the girl from Ismay.
“ And I’ll get the birthday cards,” said the girl from Aneth, UT.
“Wow!, You girls know how to help someone in trouble, but you need to be at our apartment before 6 p.m. because that’s when Scott comes back from his classes,” said Wa’ii.
That evening everything was all set and Scott came home, cold, tired and hungry and went into his room for a short nap. Meanwhile everyone was quietly getting ready. Under Wa’ii’s directions the whole apartment was set; the cake, the frybread, the mutton stew, the pop, the chips and the presents. Wa’ii found places for people to hide.
(knock four times) Wa’ii knocked on Scott’s door. “Scott! Scott! come out and fix the light switch.”
In the darkness, Scott fumbled his way to the light switch and as soon as the light came on, everybody jumped out from behind the couches, the door, and closets and shouted, “Happy birthday, Scott!, Happy birthday! Scott!”
Scott was really surprised and his eyes got wide. The cake with 19 candles burning was brought out. (sing happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday Scott!, happy birthday Scott!, happy birthday to you!)
Surprised and embarrassed, Scott blew out the candles as his friends cheered, and began to shake his hand. Some of the girls gave him hugs and the boys slapped him on the back. “Congratulations old man! And the music and feast began. Wa’ii already had his plate with frybread, mutton stew, and a big heaping of chips and a bottle of pop. There was a wicked smile on his face as he began to eat. (eating motion)
Later when everybody was gone the boys started opening presents that were suppose to go to Scott. Scott said, “Wa’ii you old trickster! (shake your finger at Wa’ii)
And for almost a week, the hungry boys had leftovers, thanks to Wa’ii’s deceitful plan.
So what is the lesson of Wa’ii and the birthday party? Always tell the truth and don’t be like coyote. Say it again, Always tell the truth even if it is seven months early.
(Leo Platero is a retired art teacher and lives with his wife Mary, who teaches Heritiage Language at Blanding Elementary. He also writes for the San Juan Record - covering Whitehorse sports. He is a painter and now... a story teller.)