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richard and victor

March 7, 2010

The first year I taught school on the mission, I had only grades 1-3. The second year I had 1-4, the next 1-5 and finally 1-6. After that we began boarding the kids and sending them to Tse Bonita Elementary. The entire group numbered about 30 every year with some leaving and some coming each year as the parents’ finances changed or their transportation was upgraded or downgraded. We had several that were with us for the entire time.

The Williams girls were with us when I arrived and after a year or two, their little brother arrived. Richard was a cutie about five years old. He was the Navajo equivalent of the Peanuts’ character Pigpen—continually rumpled with a smudged face. All of us enjoyed kids and during our week as room mother we liked to dress them up in cute clothes and make them look like kids from a clothing catalogue.

We did that with Richard. He had a co-hort, Victor. Victor’s big brothers and sister had been with us for a couple years just like the Williams’ girls. He and Victor were related and lived not far from one another. He was every bit as cute as Richard and we dressed him up too. Victor was Richard’s opposite. He could go all day and come back to the dorm still as neat and clean as when he left in the morning. Sometimes the comb marks were still in his hair!

Richard though could leave the dorm room and walk maybe 15 feet down the hall to the drinking fountain at the door of the dining room and look like he had fought a battle. We considered ourselves lucky if he managed to keep his face clean. We would put him together neatly with his levis straight and clean shirt tucked carefully in and his belt buckled. The little boys all wanted a belt, with a big buckle preferably, but a plain belt was better than none at all. So when Richard was all dressed we would send him with the rest of the boys down to go to breakfast. Our morning routine was pretty well set so the timing was nearly always synchronized with the cook getting breakfast. We were seldom more than five minutes ahead or behind.

But it really didn’t matter with Richard. By the time he got to breakfast he would have pulled his shirt lose and his pants would be drooping down over his cubby little belly. Lots of times his belt would be loose and either hanging down on one side or wrapped around his arm. He wasn’t fat but he did have the cutest little pot belly. That made things difficult when it came to keeping shirt and pants secured under a belt. So his pants sagged and his shirt hung down longer on one side or the other. If he happened to be wearing a button shirt we could almost count on his having his pocket torn loose on one side or a button missing. If there was a button missing, it was usually in his mouth. The knees of his pants would be dusty and probably there would be a smudge of something on one cheek. We could never figure out how he managed to do that in 15 feet and no more than 3 or 4 minutes.

You know the little cloud of dirt that followed Pigpen around in the comic strip? Well, I used to imagine I could see one of those floating around Richard.

It was a study in contrasts to see him sitting beside Victor. Victor was fair with lighter hair. Richard had darker hair and skin. One was tidy and clean, the other was smudged and mussed. What a pair. And they were always together. What trouble one didn’t think of to find, the other did. That isn’t to say they were naughty, just very busy. I have pictures of them somewhere, packed away in 30 years of accumulated memories.

I loved them.

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