John David Ignacio Memorial from Snookson to Pan Tak

By Roy Cook

This picture was taken 55years ago of this author. It has been a year since I was back home in Tucson. Most of the trips in the past have been to see Relations. We are all relations, our brothers in arms, military veterans. Shared experiences learned from my uncles who served in WW II and older cousins from the Korean and Berlin wall involvements. Our generations experience is from the Cold war and Vietnam episode. Our children, nieces and nephews were in Desert Storm and some are still serving in our current Iraq or Afghanistan harms way. This weekend we are here, at Pan Tak, for the year memorial of John David Ignacio, Tohono Oodham from San Miguel, USN Vietnam era Veteran.

This June 4, 09 find me packing for a quick trip yet again to Snookson. I’ll be keeping a journal of sights seen and people on and off the San Xavier reservation. I’m due to be picked up by 7:30 am tomorrow, Friday June 5, 2009 All SSS showered, shaved and sitting on the sidewalk waiting for Jim Harmon. We load the stuff and scoot up the Laguna Mountains. We talk about Calvette, his wife, who had a previous obligation to be in Sacramento and landmarks in the East County that we both had had past experiences.

We were of an agreement to stop every 150 miles or so to walk and stretch our legs. I thought this a fine plan since I have every Burger King from San Diego to Oklahoma charted out. We hit my favorites in Yuma and Casa Grande. As we were passing, the Painted Rock turn off Jim expressed a held regret of wanting and yet not taking the time to visit that attraction. We didn’t stop this time but I had been there and I described what I had seen 30 years ago.

After Picacho Peak and coming past Red Rock the freeway construction became grueling all the way past Tucson. In fact, signage is so pitiful that I missed the 19 - Nogales exit! But still recognizable is the 4 & 6 ave. exit. We double back on 10th to 12th to Ajo Way west to Mission and south to Valencia. A few more side streets and we are at Carmella Ignacio’s nephew Clifford and Chris Pablo’s. They have offered to host Jim and me for this occasion. It is very nice to be expected and we will enjoy trailer life for a day or so. It is 3:30 in the afternoon and the first order of business is a nap! At 5:30 Priscilla Avalos, Debbie Polequaptewa, David Shaul, Matt and Carmella Ignacio arrive from the airport pick up of more folks and we talk, talk, and talk.

We shuffle into the vehicles and caravan out to David’s for supper and some chamber music that evening. We travel west on Valencia to Ryan Field and pick up Ajo Way to just before Three Points. At David’s we meet his neighbors and friends of the Ignacio family: John, Jeff, Mary, Stan, Teresa and two young ladies that make up the string quartet. David is on the harp, Teresa on the cello. Also, there are Matt, Jim, Carmella and Roy. We feast on chicken something, beef cubes, brown rice, antipasto salad, soda, juice, tea, fig Newton’s, and sinful frosted chocolate cake. About 8:45 pm, Mary left followed by Jim and me. After our goodbyes, we receive repeated directions on how to return. I am navigating and counting cottontail rabbits on our way back to Ajo way and Valencia to Clifford’s. My cousin Terry lives on the street before Clifford’s and Jim turns there, as we are circling back, we hear sirens and see flashing lights. Fire engines EMT vehicle and Pima County Sheriff squad cars near to Clifford’s! Three or four houses up there must have been a domestic disturbance. We park and get spotlighted a time or two. Later we hear a helicopter and the episode made the 10 pm evening Tucson News on the television. We clean up, take meds and pack it in for an early morning rising.

Rested, June 6 Saturday, we walk down the road and enjoy the sunrise, birds and quail moving about. Priscilla told Jim that there was a Denny’s close by so we go looking for some Grand Slams. We miss it twice. On the third try, we see a retro silver diner with minimal signage. They did have Slams and good hot coffee. We are greased up and out of the door by 7 am for the 8:30 mass at San Xavier de Bac. There is a good turn out of family and friends in the seats of the main church altar. The String Quartet is providing appropriate 15th century religious music with song in Latin. We are blessed to receive the good word and celebrate this memorial mass for the dead respectfully. Of course, we visit and touch Saint Francis Xavier, the patron saint of this Tohono Oodham built and decorated church. Our family and people have been spiritually faithful for hundreds of years to this location. We used to walk the nine miles from Tucson to W:ak and the church regularly when I was a child.

After Mass we caravan to Pan Tak, at the foot of Kitt Peak and the 7000 feet Baboquivari mountain range. This is a most glorious day on many levels. It is breezy and verdant. New life is evident all around us. John David and John Michael are buried there, side by side, Father and son. They are here at Pan Tak resting in the shade of an ironwood tree. The natural beauty of the ironwood tree violet blossoms carpets the graves.

We have come this day to this peaceful valley of vast vistas, lofty peaks sheltering the Pan Tak village. We have come respectfully, traditionally, Tohono Oodham land, Tohono Oodham people, Tohono Oodham Himdag. The Tohono O'odham Himdag consists of the culture, way of life, and values that are uniquely held and displayed by the Tohono O’odham people.

Joseph Enis introduces himself and addresses the relations as to why we are there in Oodham and then in English. He states his association with John David and with gourd accompaniment sings a Four Direction song. In his left hand, he carries two loose eagle wing feathers. Then he blessed the graves with the water of life poured from a small pot of local construction. I am introduced and I state why I am there for this veteran’s memorial and our association as brothers in arms during the Vietnam conflict. Then I explain the meaning of the song that I am about to sing and acknowledge the request of the Ignacio family for me to do this thing. With a hand drum, I sing the Kiowa Vietnam Veterans song and the KCA memorial song. Also, I ask Joe Enis for permission to place a tobacco tie offering on John David’s grave. It had been in the dream catchers’ web of the hand drum as I sang the songs and I thought it appropriate to leave them there. There were many hugs and handclasps of approval.

The gusting wind was evident as Carmella announced that all were welcome to join them for a bite to eat, at the Desert Diamond Casino, in Tucson. Most of the fifty or so join the caravan back. The day is sunny and warming. I am still riding with Jim and during the drive back he is getting more anxious and distracted. He said he was thinking about his Mother at Lake Havasu. She is 85 years of age and he wanted to use all the remainder of the time, this trip, visiting her. He drops me off at the Casino and takes off for Yuma and Lake Havasu. The air conditioning in the truck and casino is welcome despite the smokers.

The Desert Diamond is a good buffet with plenty of selections for all to enjoy the hospitality of the Ignacio family. Matt and Carmella flutter from family and friends: greeting, smiling, eating and laughing. This is a time to relax the emotional level and surrender to the joy of being home with family and friends.

Just a few who I can recall are: Alfred and Molly Numkema, David Shaul, Jose Enis, Harold and his sister Anna Butler, Carmen Mattias, Lenora Antone. Lenora had known me from years past when I was still running a business. She remembered the shawls I carried and the pow wow world of Los Angeles. Also, there are: Debbie Polequaptewa, Joanne Romero, Carmella’s niece. She was a jogger and had read some of the stories I had published. There were many more there who you will identify and I may meet in the future.

Leaving the Casino the afternoon is very fluid. Some are staying and some are being dropped off here and there and some need to catch a flight. Carmella has a full car. I am returned to Clifford’s to snooze gently into the early evening. All is just dandy in my little world alone.

I am, at this time an Oodham captive. No ride, no phone but free to be me on all levels. From 3:30 to 5:30 pm is down time with a delicious nap. Chris Pablo and Priscilla pop in at 6:30 and scoot back out. Shortly Clifford comes over and said, “Come over for some leftovers.” Stepping in the door their poodle, Peanut, wants to eat me! Mmm very tasty: Tepary beans, tortillas, white cheese, lasagna, and green chili roasted and peeled, coffee is hot and fresh.

Good conversation with Clifford about his work at Tohono Oodham Community College: tepary beans, corn, Pima wheat, and squash. He also spoke to his garden, native plants and dry farming. We talk about eatable plants we had eaten as kids. I mention verdolagas, vliedos, cooked with onions and beans and sometimes a little condensed milk. Clifford gives me a taste of Zuchul. I had known it as pinole and we used to buy it in Nogales by the kilo with or without sugar. I had been told it was a warrior’s food. And we talk some more about shared topics: TOCA and Native seeds and the artist cooperative in Sells. Clifford is an old cowboy with the broken bones to prove it.

Priscilla popped out and said she was going to bed about 9:30pm. I finally leave after saying goodnight twice. The talk was just too good. Stepping into the night, I see a familiar sky. Full moon rising briskly, mesquite branches casting crooked shadows across sandy soil. The thorns on the limbs stand watch silently. That rabbit in the moon still sees us as we rest. It is just a few steps to where I will sleep listening to the Saturday night live band music from a party behind Clifford’s home.

June 7, Sunday wakes up 3:30- 4:15 am. Yesterday is a memorable day on many levels: Memorial mass for the dead at San Xavier, June 6 D-Day in WWII, June 4, 08 Mary Ortiz Cook came home to Tucson for her eternal rest, John Michael and John David are at peace in Pan Tak. Yes, it is a memorable day on many levels.

Roy Cook: American Indian Warrior Historian