From The Names


N. Scott Momaday

James Mammedaty, whom I loved, was a pathetic figure of a man. I suppose that he began to drink whiskey when he was a child; it was as if he had set out as a little boy to drink himself to death, and so he did, though it took him a long time, fifty years, more or less. All the stories that I have ever heard concerning drunken Indians are concentrated for me in the memory of that sad, helpless man. When I was a boy my cousins and I used to play tricks on him. We liked to jump out at him from hiding when he was drunk, most often. How cruel this was we could not then have imagined; there is no telling what fearful figures we appeared to be in his soft, bleeding mind's eye.

Jimmy, Jimmy, get under the bed,
Jimmy, Jimmy, your nose is all red
and blue, and blue.
A favorite trick was this: to fill an empty Bull Durham sack with dirt and present it to him, saying that we had found it. He could never, even when sober, bring himself to doubt that it was tobacco and that it was certainly a stroke of luck that it should have turned up in his hands.His disappointment when he opened it was always genuine, and it always delighted us.

When I was older I came to understand that Jimmy was a kind man, and very sick, and I tried to think well of him. It was painful to see how severely alcohol had damaged his mind and body, that he had deteriorated early into a grotesque caricature of the man he might have been. He seemed to like me above his nieces and other nephews, and he told everyone that he meant to leave me forty acres of good wheat land in his will. But in his last days, when he was utterly helpless, he was preyed upon by unscrupulous people, and I was robbed of the land, so I believe. It might have been a sad story, but I knew of his good intentions toward me, and that was worth more to me than the land.

He had got a loaded shotgun, and he was raving and blind drunk. He placed the muzzle of the gun against me in my mother's womb and threatened to shoot. I earnestly believe that my mother's quick temper, her propensity for great and sudden anger, saved her life and mine on that occasion. For she was without fear in proportion as she was angry, and she did not flinch. Rather, she called him every kind of a coward she could think of and dared him to pull the trigger. He was confounded, weaving and unable to focus his eyes, withering under a tongue-lashing that must have unbalanced him quite as much as the liquor he had consumed. Eventually my uncle Lester got out of bed and took the gun away.

From The Names by N. Scott Momaday, Harper Colophon Books
©1976 N. Scott Momaday Buy Now

Books by N. Scott Momaday

House Made of Dawn, HarperCollins. (Hardcover Commerative Reissue)
The Way to Rainy Mountain, Univ. New Mexico Press. (Hardcover Commerative Reissue)
The Names, Univ. Arizona Press. (Hardcover Commerative Reissue)
The Ancient Child, HarperCollins.
The Man Made of Words, Griffin. (Hardcover)
In the Presence of the Sun : Stories and Poems, St. Martin's Press.
In the Bear's House, St. Martin's Press.
          Children's Books
Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story, Univ. New Mexico Press. (Hardcover)
          Cassettes with Momaday reading his work
Storyteller, Sunset Productions.
House Made of Dawn the Names the Gourd Dancer: 'Tsoai and the Shieldmaker', American Audio Prose Library.

Back to Day 2

Back to Day 5