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 Order The Elder and I will sign it, for you or for whomever ever you desire.        

The Elder

$ 12.50 USD

This is my second book, a tribute to elders. It is about my years knowing these Native American leaders in the community around central California helping people recover from alcohol and substance abuse. It is an easy read but touches on the importance of elders in our society.

       Order now and I will sign your book.


Encarta Dictionary:  ELDER:

4. senior member of community: a member of a family, tribal group, or village who is advanced in years and has influence and authority within the community


                                                            Introduction in the book:


One sweltering day in August, while waiting for the green arrow at a stoplight, I see, in the rearview mirror, a tiny wheelchair making its way down the sidewalk to my right.  I feel a pang when I realize it is a friend of mine in his seventies; he is clutching a bag and using his feet rather than the wheels to propel himself along.  He is diabetic, endures dialysis every other day, yet somehow has found the energy to remove himself from his “assisted living” home, the island to which he has been consigned to live with many other ailing and dying people.  He is determined to escape at least for a few hours.  The image haunts me because this man, a fine teacher and poet, possesses a lucid mind, wicked sense of humor, and has never been more of a pleasure to be around, yet he is isolated, away from the young people who could enjoy and learn from him and who could use his buoyant view of the world.  Many of our elders live apart from their families, out of necessity, indifference, or reluctance to face ageing and death.  We can’t seem to fit them into our schedules.

Manny Moreno’s book The Elder is about many things--loss, tribute, grief, brokenness, the mending power of ceremony—but above all, his book is a plea for the reintegration of elders into the fabric of our culture.  Moreno’s book documents his long (and often thorny) relationship with revered Navajo elder and prayer man Harry Jack, especially his last years when he was changing from a spirited and healthy 500-mile runner to an increasingly incapacitated elder requiring a great deal of vigilance and attention.  He is mugged on the streets, suffers strokes, and must be accompanied by someone at all times because, after his strokes, he is unsteady and capable of hurting himself.  In spite of Jack’s infirmities and his telegraphic English (his first language was Navajo), he continues to enrich the ceremonial life of the Indian community through the power of his prayer and understanding, through his availability to those in distress, and through his luminous presence evident even to elementary school children who would write him love notes after visiting.

Jack, tough and unrelenting (applying what some California Indians call the “elder hammer”), teaches the author, and many other recovering alcohol and drug addicts (at the Central Valley recovery lodge he helped sustain), the importance of health, commitment to community, and sensitivity to the suffering of others, no matter what their backgrounds.  And the author, young and hardheaded when they first meet and seeking refuge from gang-infested Stockton, is not easy to teach. 

Deprived of his father’s protective guidance by his untimely death when Moreno was ten, the boy grows up in an environment saturated with prejudice and machismo and becomes an alcoholic constantly struggling to get free of his addiction.  Jack recognizes the worth of the young man alcohol is destroying and challenges him to learn the ways issuing from his indigenous roots.  The book demonstrates what we all know:  young people need guidance from elders who model strength without addiction or violence, and who understand, first-hand, the problems wracking native communities.  Moreno describes his first experience in the sweat lodge as “coming home.”

The relationship between Jack and Moreno is the age-old relationship between elder and younger, master and apprentice, teacher and student whereby elders teach the young how to handle power, accept mistakes, and recognize that healing and the power to heal often derive from experiences of the darkest humiliation and degradation.  According to Moreno, one elder taught him more about alcohol in a few sentences than he had learned in years of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  The elder tells him to put his hand in the fire.  He refuses.  “Are you afraid of the fire?” the man asks.  “No, but I know it can burn me.”  So you have respect for its power, and you have to have the same kind of respect for alcohol and its power.  Don’t fear it; respect it.”

Moreno takes Jack to pow-wows, ceremonies, casinos.  They dance, sing peyote songs, pray and lose their money.  They enjoy each other and laugh at the absurdities of old age.  For all of this, no matter what happens, Jack is “thankful, thankful.”  Jack learns to respect and love the younger man who is willing to help him; Moreno learns about the unglamorous work of packing a wheelchair, getting Harry to the bathroom, cleaning him up when his bladder fails him, keeping his sites on the old man’s humanity and dignity.  When I joked once about taking myself off to the tules in old age so my children would not have to deal with a millstone around their necks, the author said, “How else will they learn patience?”  Another man described how antsy young people get when the Yosemite Valley Mewuk trek across the Sierra Nevada into the Mono Basin every summer; they clamor to speed things up.  “I told them,” he said, “that we will walk as fast as the slowest elder.”  Tenderness, consideration, compassion, mercy, gentleness, patience:  these are not qualities the young usually teach the young.  Yet it is not just what the elders teach directly but what they draw out of us, that matters. 

There are three elders in this book:  Jack, the true elder of the title; Moreno, the elder-in-training, and the third:  an orphaned tradition, the ancient ceremonial life for which mainstream culture has little understanding except as it co-opts ceremonial trappings for trendy philosophies of individual development.  There is no way to become a full human being, the book seems to say, except through the rigor and persistence of ceremonial tradition as practiced and taught by those who have sacrificed to keep it alive.  It teaches the young humility and discernment, the power to think and act on their behalf and on behalf of their communities, with wisdom and clarity.  Cultural renewal resides in this devotion to the spirit and relationships, not in acquisition.   And that is why Jack is impressed when Moreno returns, scarred, from the Sundance, after four days of self-mortification for the good of the people.  His sacrifice and understanding of its value makes him a “nephew,” a member of Jack’s family of those committed to helping and healing people.

 To watch a book come into being is a terrifying and beautiful experience—terrifying, because every good story, before the hard work of getting it right, is a hair’s breadth away from non-existence, and beautiful because it is a triumph when an author, in less than ideal circumstances, finds within himself the courage to express a difficult life honestly and simply.    

The Elder is, in the end, a deeply moving account of two men who simply would not give up on each other, who taught each other how to become whole, not broken, people, joined by a current of mutual dependency and delight.  “Great Ones, pity me,” says an old Lakota prayer.  “….Truth is coming.  It hurts…. I am glad.  You can make me better.”


Lillian Vallee

                                                                    Modesto, August 2009


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