NORMAN — The plane went down on the blizzard strewn night of Dec. 25, 1978.
While it would be months before the bodies, drugs, money and physical wreckage were recovered in the mountains, it would take many years before the little boy left behind would come to make sense, or at least accept, the reality of the situation.
The consequence of his father’s chosen lifestyle resulted in his upbringing distanced from the love and protection of a dad, a life distanced from the emotional and financial security that one could provide.
As a youth, the boy would look into the stands every time he scored, all the while knowing the man who he searched for had left many years prior. His name was Cris, and he died on Christmas Day.
Eventually, the boy grew into a young man, having annually experienced a sense of conflict each Christmas. The only present he longed for as absent as the one he searched for in the bleachers each athletic season. Longing can, at times, be a sorrowful path.
On the day of his college signing, his father would not be there to accompany him or offer words of advice and encouragement. Little did he know, however, that his father’s gift was coming closer into view. Having been raised a world away from the place of his dad’s people, he could not have known.
During the first week of university pre-season practice, he approached his coach and told him he had to drive cross country to find his father. And so, he packed up his vehicle and, after a long, contemplative drive, his vehicle drove onto the reservation, where generations of his family had maintained a life against all odds.
This is where his Christmas loss became his Christmas gift. This is where he found his dad. He discovered him through the culture of his ancestors that had existed previously as an allusive ghost. He felt him in the language that carried across this small, historic territory. Hatak apima hapia hoke.
“We are proud to be Indian,” he would hear during his initial stay.
His father had passed at the abbreviated age of 26. Too soon. Too young. But he left his only child many extended relations and their many gracious comforts, the first of which was acceptance, despite many years spent apart.
Today, the little boy, now approaching the age of 40 and seated next to his beautiful and articulate wife, is blessed to catch the glances of his daughter and sons from his seat in the bleachers. And, yes, I am also blessed to view their joy each Christmas as they open their gifts, while I acknowledge my own.
Nittak Hullo Chito. Merry Christmas.
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