Grandpa Lolo's Navajo Saddle Blanket: La tilma de Abuelito Lolo

Excerpted from
Grandpa Lolo’s Navajo Saddle Blanket: La tilma de Abuelito Lolo (A Story of Friendship for Children of All Ages),
University of New Mexico Press, 2012.

Hello! My name is Junie López. I want to tell you the story about Grandpa Lolo and his good friend, Manuel Yazzie, from the Navajo Reservation.

My grandfather’s name was Teodoro, but I called him Lolo, his nickname, which is also what the rest of his grandchildren called him. When I was a small boy growing up at our small family ranch southeast of Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico, Grandpa Lolo was already 74 years old. He lived to be one hundred.

He loved farm animals, especially horses. They were his best friends. He had a team of jet-black horses called Camastrón and Magué, a male and female. They were big and strong.

He also had a beautiful black and white pinto horse called Zorrillo because he looked like a skunk. Zorrillo was Grandpa Lolo’s favorite saddle horse. He combed him, fed him well, and took him down to the Rio Puerco to drink water.

Zorrillo sometimes spent the night in the horse shed called caballeriza. Other times Grandpa Lolo turned him loose to mingle with my two horses, Bayo and Prieto. And where did he get Zorrillo? That’s what this wonderful story is all about!

From the day Grandpa Lolo got home with Zorrillo, he used only the hand-woven Navajo saddle blanket that Manuelito Yazzie gave him. Grandpa believed in nothing but the finest for his horses. And to him, Manuelito’s blanket was the best. It was soft and smooth, made from sheep wool. Grandpa Lolo never bought one single commercial saddle blanket, or subadero, in Albuquerque again.

The exchange of a cabrito for a saddle blanket for Zorrillo went on for several years. By that time, my family and I had moved to Martíneztown in Albuquerque. Grandpa Lolo continued living at the ranch in Ojo del Padre but not for long. He was getting old. By that time, he was about eighty years old. In spite of his age, he still rode Zorrillo.

My father and I visited Grandpa Lolo on weekends to make sure he was all right. Grandpa didn’t like Albuquerque, not like Grandma Lale who enjoyed the city. He preferred life at the ranch where he lived alone most of the time.

One Friday afternoon in late May, we went to see Grandpa after Dad got off of work. When we got to his house, he was nowhere to be found. We looked everywhere, but we couldn’t find him. Dad began pacing back and forth on the porch. I could tell he was worried—and nervous.

All of a sudden, I saw Grandpa Lolo riding Zorrillo up the hill in front of his house. It was still daylight, but it was getting dark fast.

I waved and then I hollered at him. "Grandpa Lolo, Grandpa Lolo! It’s Junie!" But there was no reaction.

I shouted again. "Grandpa Lolo! Over here! It’s me, Junie."

This time he heard me, but he was not looking in my direction. As Dad and I came closer to him, he recognized me.

My parents, my brothers and sisters, and I lived in a small house behind my grandparents’ home in Albuquerque. One day, when I came home from Santa Barbara School, a huge black car was parked next to my grandparents’ house. Mom said it belonged to don Bernardino, Grandpa’s friend from Cabezón. He had come to visit Grandpa Lolo.

As soon as don Bernardino left, I went to see Grandpa. As I walked in, I saw he was sitting quietly by the window next to the potbelly stove with his head down, looking at the floor. On his lap was something that was folded. I asked him what it was, but he didn’t say a word. Instead, he slowly unfolded a handsome dark gray and orange Navajo saddle blanket. In the middle there was a white baby goat, with a red stripe going across the bottom of goat’s small legs.

The blanket was a gift from Manuelito Yazzie. He wove it two months earlier, before he died. He wished very much for Grandpa Lolo to have it. The white cabrito looked like the first baby goat Grandpa gave to Manuelito.

Nowadays the Navajo blanket belongs to me, Junie López. One of these days I will donate the cabrito blanket, the tilma, to a museum. That way visitors, especially children, can learn to appreciate how Manuelito Yazzie and Grandpa Lolo, two total strangers from different cultures, became such good friends.

The End

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