A friendship that lasts a lifetime does not always happen. We all have people who come into our lives and are there to the very end. This story is about people who come into my aunt Kathey and my life and become lifelong friends and more! I asked Kathey where we should go next? She said the White House. I reply that we can’t go back east to the White House. We are headed south for the winter. She says no, not that one, the one on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Sure enough, there is a place called The White House Ruins at the Canyon De Chelly National Monument in Chinle, Arizona.
The trip there was dangerous due to all the rain from a massive storm from the northwest. It was rolling in with these dark bubble looking clouds. And made for a long, dark, and heart-pumping adventurous drive, but we made it safe. Kathey said at sunset, she saw a cloud in the shape of a heart! Who knew that the storm brewing would have a cause and effect on my life the would last a lifetime.
Kathey asked me to check the weather forecast. We had a late afternoon storm rolling in at about four o’clock. So we decided to drive around and see what we can see. For over 5,000 years, people lived in these canyons. It was by far one of the best places we have visited. We drove around looking for a place to take our photos when the storm starts to roll in.
We decided on our location to take photos, so we headed out to a local restaurant that one of the park rangers from the headquarters of the National Park recommended. It was small but full of good smells coming from the kitchen and a sweet Navajo lady whose personality was joyful and a laugh you would never forget! We walked in. There were only two seats available but the two seats available already had eight people at their table. One of the gentlemen I found out his name was Greg waved over at us to join and looked at Kathey. She said, sure, why not? It might be fun. My mom would always say Kathey, and I have never met a stranger.
We sit at the table and find out the group belongs to a Christian art group from Taos, New Mexico. We felt right at home with these people. It was an eclectic group of people. There were painters, people who wrote, draw, and a photographer name Vance. He was there with his daughter Arwin. She was an all-around artist. Meeting her was like meeting a younger version of my aunt Kathey. When it came to art, they were both excellent at everything!
The discussion was getting a little heated for some reason. Greg was kind of mean at times to some in the group. Even his wife made snarky comments. Hey, nobody’s perfect. We really like Vance and Arwin. We had photography in common. After lunch was over, he asked what Kathey and I were going to do that afternoon? I said we were planning on going to the west side close to the White House ruins trail. We plan to stay on top and photograph the storm rolling in. He says, sounds like fun. Can my daughter and I join you guys? The rest of our group doesn’t like being out in storms. I said that’s the best time to be outside! It makes you feel alive! He says, I know!
We meet up about 30 minutes before the storm came in. The clouds were becoming dark, and you can hear the thunder coming in! It started to sprinkle, and a Cadillac Escalade pulled in the parking lot with a travel trailer and a yellow kayak on top. A couple gets out of the vehicle. The man was wearing a red jacket, she had on a purple rain jacket. They walked around for a while then join all of us waiting on the storm. They love photography also. We found out that they were from Seattle, Wa. We all gather by the rail, not very smart since it was made out of metal! The fiercest wind started to blow in and almost knocked my aunt off her feet! The sprinkling stop and boom lighting strikes, and the woman who just pulled up in her vehicle grab my hand. Suddenly, I can feel this jolt of electricity go from the tip of my pinky to the end of my big toes toenail!
I thought for sure that we had been struck by lightning, but no, we did not get hit with lighting! Kathey looked at me and said she saw stars in my eyes! The lady let go of my hand and smiled, said, you two, be careful and be safe, and they drove off. Kathey and I continued to take photos. Well, I thought I was taking pictures to find out later I forgot to put the memory card back in my camera! Anyway, we loved being out in storms taking photos! We continue to hang out with Vance and Arwin. Vance decided to hike out to the edge to see if he can see more of the canyon. Arwin, Kathey, and I were screaming and laughing; we were having so much fun! After about 45 minutes, we could hear Vance yelling something but were unclear about what he was yelling. So we shouted backed yea haw and laughing every time he yelled! All of a sudden, my aunt Kathey says is he yelling help?
Yep, he had got knocked down from a lightning strike and had a six-inch cut on the top of his head! Blood was running down his face. You could see his skull, and he could not see because of all the blood in his eyes! Thank God, my aunt Kathey was a nurse! She had her first aid kit in her backpack. She held a massive bandaid on his wound to control the bleeding! We got him in our truck and took him to the ER. They stitch him up, and we took him back to their motel. His artist group was so thankful we were there to help Vance that they invited us to hang out with them the next day. They were going on a Jeep tour of the canyon. I told them that we could not afford it, so they said they would pay. I told Kathey she should go with Arwin, and Steven and I would meet them at the White House ruin when the tour was done. Steven and I hiked down to the ruins and had a great time wandering around, discovering great photo opportunities everywhere.
I saw the Jeep pulling up, and Kathey looked sad. I went up to her, and she started crying. Greg and his wife were teasing Kathey the whole time she was with them, which Arwin told me. She told them to stop, but they did not stop! I got furious, not with just them, at myself for not going with her and protecting her. I am 250 pounds and 6 foot 5. I can handle myself, if you know what I mean. I went up to Greg and confronted him. He pretty much shrugs it off as no big deal. I walked away before I kick the crap out of this man!
I told Kathey we were leaving, and Vance and Arwin asked if we would give them a ride back to their motel. Kathey told us what happened every time she was standing in the Jeep that Greg would tease her by telling her photos would never come outright. Little did he know that my aunt Kathey was one of the best photographers on the planet. Vance apologizes for their behavior. They had been like this for years, he says.
I asked Vance, are they like that to you. He informs me that even his wife is not spared. I asked him why you would put up with that? He replies that Greg is the best artist in New Mexico with a vast gallery. He relies on the income he receives for selling his photography. I told him I would never put up with that no matter how much money is involved! I was bullied as a kid, never again!
I told Kathey that their hearts must be hurting, which is why they lash out at the people they love! Vance informs me that they don’t have a relationship with their only daughter because of their behavior. I found that to be so sad. We drop Arwin and Vance off, and we head back to our RV. We got back and were walking to the host campsite to let them know we are leaving in a week. They suggested we check out Wheatfield lake on the Navajo Nation Land. We came across the couple from last night and said hello. She was beautiful. She reminded me of a girl I was in love with from the girl’s soccer team in high school. She was probably five four and fit with short hair and blue eyes to die for. Her husband was very handsome with tan skin, probably Italian; they were perhaps in the sixties.
We would run into this same couple seven years later. We were RV neighbors for one winter in 2015-2016. Their friendship would change my life. Kathey woke up the next day and thought we would try and have a conversation with Greg. Let’s just say at the time it was not good. I would run into Greg’s wife 11 years later in a Walmart. She ran up to me and said she loved me, and they were no longer the same people. I found out that Vance’s daughter Arwin told them about the conversation I had in the truck about there hearts had to be hurting.
Greg’s wife told me that their son died when he was 15. Their son was cutting down a tree with his grandfather, and the tree fell on their son and killed him! She said it nearly killed all of them. She wanted to thank me for standing up for my aunt and not blaming them but understanding that they were hurting.
We are still friends with everyone to this day.
By Michael Vance Pemberton
Based on a true story.
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