Momaday does not mean literally that the old men who visited his grandmother's house were made of "lean and leather." Instead, he is using a metaphor to create a visual image of how these older Native American figures appeared to his child's eye. Carrying themselves "upright," venturing forth only when the sun was out because they did not like the cold, we can picture these men as slender and tall, with little fat, particularly in their faces, where the fat of our earlier years tends to fall away in old age. We also can assume that, like the narrator's grandmother, they had "dark skin," which, in older people, can often attain a leathery appearance once it begins to wrinkle and become dry and soft. In describing the men as being akin to "lean and leather," Momaday is depicting them as having dark, slightly shriveled skin laid over lean frames; note, however, that the reference to "leather" also suggests a toughness, rather than a frailty, in them—like the phrase "tough as old boots," which also draws upon the idea of leather as something protective and enduring. These men have been made tough by their lives, although they are now old and slender.