Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Seldom Disappointed...but definitely sad today

I couldn't believe it when I saw the news that Tony Hillerman died on Sunday. I had just returned home from the annual South Carolina Writers Conference at Myrtle Beach when I heard the news.

On Saturday evening of the conference (just the night before), I'd had dinner at a table hosted by a literary agent. One of the topics of conversation was what authors we always bought in hardback. I immediately responded Tony Hillerman. His Navajo mysteries were to me like Harry Potter novels were to others. I would anxiously anticipate the release date and would be first in line when the bookstore opened on the Tuesday release day. I could not get enough of Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee. Another dinner table topic was audio books - did we like them and if so, what did we like. I said that I preferred ones read by the author and again referred to Mr. Hillerman's memoir, SELDOM DISAPPOINTED, as an example.

I became intrigued with the Navajo when I was a young child. My parents loaded up the old station wagon and off we went - a three-week drive from Aurora, Illinois, through the Southwest and back. We stopped at a little roadside stand on a Navajo reservation and my parents bought me a handmade Indian doll. The Navajo woman who sewed it told me stories of children my age on the reservation. I still have that doll.

The summer I graduated high school, I spent several weeks in Spain with some friends from my Spanish class. I was wandering through Barrio Santa Cruz (the Jewish Quarter) in Seville one sunny afternoon and happened upon an elderly Navajo man selling dreamcatchers. I sat with him for a while while he told me stories and drew one of the legends on a bookmark for me. I still have that bookmark.

Tony Hillerman took all of those stories I'd heard - and many more - and wove them into mysteries that not only kept me guessing, but also increased my desire to learn more about the Navajo way. It was because of him that I kept reading more, learning more about the Navajo and other Native American nations. It was because of him that I found another fabulous mystery author, Kirk Mitchell. Both men are masters at writing well-crafted Native American mysteries that honor the Indian legends, the natural beauty of Indian Country, and the strength and beauty of the Native American people while dealing with the real problems of reservation life.

Mr. Hillerman's mysteries are all top-notch. And, his memoir is one of the most interesting I've read. SELDOM DISAPPOINTED got it's title from Mr. Hillerman's mother's favorite saying. "Blessed are those who expect little. They are seldom disappointed." He writes in his memoir, "Looking back at life, I find I have often received more than I ever expected and suffered less than my share of disappointments."

At least for this gal, Mr. Hillerman never disappointed. Here's hoping that we all receive more than we expect and suffer less than our share of disappointments during our lifetime.

Thank you, Tony Hillerman. You will be missed.

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