by Kay O’Shea.
In April 1966 I was on the train heading for Winslow, Arizona. I had just become a member of Madonna House, and this was my first assignment.
When she gave me my assignment, our foundress Catherine said, "Americans need to know their own country. So many of them go to Europe, but they don’t know their own country. Have you ever been to Arizona?" " No," I said, "but I’ve been to Europe."
Little did I know how much the Casa and the people of Winslow would come to mean to me.
One of my first impressions was meeting Tony and Della Mata, our neighbours, and being invited to visit them. I had just met them, and they were inviting me to their home! In New York City where I grew up, you had to be a friend or relative to be invited to someone’s home, but in Winslow I was part of the Casa, and that was enough.
Although I enjoyed being with people and visiting, at that point in my life I was so shy that it was hard for me to meet new people. So, I watched how the others in the house greeted people and received them, and I began to do something similar. It worked, and I began to feel more and more at home with people.
One day, to my own amazement and that of Theresa and Esther, (the other two staff), I spoke to someone in my very limited Spanish that I had picked up in Winslow. Our visitor seemed happy that I tried to speak with her in her language.
One frequent visitor to our house was a little, dark-eyed, dark-haired girl named Sally.
The first time I heard her strong knock on our door, I thought there was a 200-pound man out there. But, no, it was five-year-old Sally. She would look up at me and say, "My grandma wants… " and the next words would be in Spanish. Through some pantomime, I could usually figure out what she wanted.
One of the people I got to know was Mrs. Lomantywa, the wife of the man who, with the help of his sons, had built our Hopi-style adobe house. They had lived in it until Mr. Lomantywa had a heart attack and died.
After that, the rest of the family moved back to Second Mesa on the Hopi Reservation, about fifty miles from Winslow.
Sometimes Mrs. Lomantywa would visit us or invite us to her house. She wove baskets and gave us some of her lovely handiwork.
A couple of her sons had moved to California. I remember them stopping to see what we had done with their house. They told us the stories of the building of the rooms and of the archway between the kitchen and front room.
"My brother and I spent the whole day building this archway while our father was at work," one of them said, "and it came out crooked. See, it’s still a little crooked."
During my first years in Combermere, Catherine had often spoken to us about "being" and "doing," and how, in North America we often value ourselves by what we produce, not for who we are, for our inherent dignity as children of God.
I never quite understood the "being" part until I was in Winslow for a while and I knew that I was part of the people there and that they were part of me. This was a wonderful realization and a total gift.
One of our neighbours, three streets away, once told us, "Just knowing you are there means a lot."
As I was getting to know and love Winslow and its people, I was also getting to know and love the land. I loved the wide-open spaces and being able to see sixty miles in any direction. I loved the red soil, the canyons, the buttes, and the cacti. Everything seemed to touch me deeply in this new world of the Southwest, where I spent five and a half years.
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