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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ayah sits under a cottonwood watching snow fall and recalling events in her past. The sound of the wind reminds her of the songs of the holy people, the Yeibechei, and the snow is like the tufts of wool that her mother and grandmother wove when she was a little girl. Sitting under an army blanket, a gift from her eldest son, Jimmie, she remembers his birth in a stone hogan. Her mind moves to the day a representative from the government came to the ranch where she and Chato, her husband, were living to tell them about Jimmie’s death in combat. The messenger had not understood their wish not to have the body returned. She had not cried at the time but had mourned later, when Chato’s horse fell on him, breaking his leg, and the rancher for whom they worked refused to pay Chato again until he could work. She remembers grieving, too, for this eldest son after the two youngest surviving children, Danny and Ella, were taken away from her, evidently because the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) authorities feared that the children might contract tuberculosis. She had tried to foil the agents, hiding all day with the children until the government car left. However, more officials and BIA police had arrived the next day and taken the children: Ayah had unwittingly signed her permission. She remembers resenting Chato for many years, punishing him by keeping her distance, because he had taught her the skill that lost her the children. She realizes that she and Chato are really strangers to each other.

Ayah begins walking toward Azzie’s Bar, where Chato usually spends most of their monthly welfare check. She plods slowly through the snow, thinking of him as a stranger. As she enters the bar, she feels the stares of the men inside. She remembers brief visits from Danny and Ella, and how the children gradually became estranged from her, until they saw her with the eyes of strangers and could no longer speak to her in Navajo.

Chato is not in the bar, and Ayah continues her search outside. She intends to take him to the adobe barn where they sleep when they come to the village of Cebolleta; afterward they will return to the old hogan. They will tend the few sheep left and their drought-dried garden. After being displaced by the rancher when Chato was no longer able to ride, and after five years of drought, they have finally been reduced to depending on monthly welfare checks.

Ayah catches up with Chato walking along the pavement, and together they start walking out of town. She thinks about how he is becoming forgetful, calling her by her sister’s name and trying to go back to the ranch to work. She suggests that they rest in the shelter of some boulders, and she pulls the blanket around both of them. As they sit there, the storm passes and the sky clears. Ayah feels the crystal air begin to freeze. She resolves to let Chato sleep and tucks the blanket around him. Sitting with him, she feels again intense love for her children. She begins to sing a lullaby that begins by telling the baby that “the earth is your mother, she holds you. The sky is your father, he protects you.”

Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

"Lullaby" is one of the most noted pieces in Storyteller. It is told from the perspective of an old woman reminiscing about some of the most tragic events of her life, all of which seem to be precipitated by the intrusions of white authority figures into her home. She recalls being informed of the death of her son in war, the loss of her children taken by white doctors, and the exploitative treatment of her husband by the white rancher who employs him. Furthermore, these events seem to have led to a long-term alienation between the old woman and her husband. Yet she also recalls strong ties with her own grandmother and mother.

While much of the story is told in terms of these reminiscences, the present tense of the story finds the old woman searching for her husband at the local bar. The lullaby she sings to her husband at the end of the story, as he lies dying in the...

(The entire section is 1,361 words.)