Grandma’s Fry Bread – James Sarabia Reflects on Operation: Rising Mesa

There’s something about our elder Americans that can grasp a young man’s soul quicker than the glint of gold, the allure of money, and more lasting than any blockbuster film. In the devastation of Moore, Oklahoma, I had the supreme privilege of meeting a gentleman named Gerald. His father had died in World War II when Gerald was four. Sitting on Gerald’s muddy porch in what was once an idyllic neighborhood I became enraptured and deeply humbled listening to the life of service, not only that Gerald had led as a firefighter and community leader, but how each of his children had gone on to serve our country in the armed forces. As a young American, his earnest embrace on that tornado-wrecked street inside his severely damaged home was not only needed by a man whose life was dedicated to this country, but by myself in the wake of such destruction.

When I joined Team Rubicon it was to give, and I had already received more than I could possibly communicate. Here on the windswept steppes of northern New Mexico on a dusty morning road inside the Navajo Nation I was plain blessed once more in meeting a timeless beauty of a woman we very respectfully and affectionately call Grandma. See the same storm system that wrought such terrible devastation in Colorado also affected a far lesser known expanse of our nation the indigenous Navajo people call home. It spans four states, and endemic hardship has been a staple of this tribe’s history.

James Sarabia joins fellow volunteers in providing flood relief to those in the Navajo Nation.

James Sarabia joins fellow volunteers in providing flood relief to those in the Navajo Nation.

With the morning sun rising in the sky the torn screen door swung open, and out came an 88-year-old treasure with her great grandson in her hands, her daughter on the couch battling cancer, her husband long since passed, and all of her children deceased. Grandma stood tall, and commanded attention at once from every Team Rubicon member standing in her flood-strewn yard. When the antiquated dam above Crownpoint, New Mexico broke, it sent many feet of water surging through already impoverished homesteads, including our Grandma’s. She spoke to us about how she thought “what else could go wrong?” and how she felt alone with all the responsibility.

Immediately Team Rubicon sprang into action clearing debris, lining sandbags, and just being there for the sweetest octogenarian one could ever hope to meet. At one point she even donned a bandana to help before rushing back inside. As the team wound up rehabbing her yard and setting what we could straight, she emerged with a bowl of Indian fry bread and called to us “Hey grandsons! You work too hard, Grandma made you fry bread.”

Indeed Grandma’s fry bread is magical, but the relationship formed stands out even more. Grandma will not have an easy next few years, but she was quick to let us know how happy she was to know folks were out there ready and able to answer the call of help from every reach of the globe at any hour and would do so again when and if disaster struck once more. This is why Team Rubicon is so good at what we do: we get there, we accomplish the mission, and we actually bridge a gap that many Americans barely realize exists, both physically and emotionally.

– James Sarabia, TR volunteer

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