Today is Mother’s day. A day we show our appreciation for the women who’ve helped raise us to be the people we are. It has always seemed slightly inadequate to me that we only have one day. Even more so since becoming the mother of four myself. And in the same vein I know that this job is the best I’ve ever had and that I don’t need brunch and flowers every day to know what I do is important, once a month would do.
When I asked my mom what she wanted this year, she was slightly hesitant. And if you know my mom that is a shocker. She is a college professor who teaches Oration (or Speech) and is know campus wide as “The Goddess”. Now does that sound like a woman who is hesitant in anything? When I finally got the whole story out of her she’d managed, yet again, to amaze me. My mom, the young woman who walked to a donut shop every morning. Some days in near blizzard conditions to earn barely enough money to support her young family while my Da was in college trying to give us hope of a better future. The brave activist who fought against powerful corporations for the safety of our rural community. A woman who has worked tirelessly to give countless women the tools to pull themselves from poverty to provide a better life for their children. My mom who encourages every hope, every dream, each far off aspiration of her children and grandchildren, simply asked for a donation for others. But it really wasn’t that simple. Her request finds it’s roots, like so many noble causes, in a story. This story happens to be about my grandfather.
My mother and her brother were born to a young couple in their teens. My maternal grandmother found the weight of motherhood overwhelming and choose to run from her responsibility leaving her two small children with their father. This in an age when a father wasn’t given many rights. My grandfather lost physical custody of his children but never left them. He spent every moment he could showing his love for them. A hard thing for a boy orphaned at a very young age, who didn’t grow up knowing love. His story starts on the reservation he was born on. But it’s a story my mom is still piecing together. See my grandfather talked very little about the past. He wanted to live in the moment with his children. He taught them the value of hard work and embodied the idea that a man’s word was his bond. Some years back my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Anyone living with this dreaded disease knows the pain of loosing their loved one even before they pass away. My grandfather’s illness progressed to the point that he would oft times be unable to remember who my mom was. Being that she lived on the west coast while he was in the Midwest made that even harder. Shortly before he left this world my mom went back to visit him. It was a hard visit for her. He had few moments of lucidity were he would remember her. But she held his hand, walked on the beautiful land that he’d long since been unable to farm. He had a childlike innocence in the depth of his sickness that made for bittersweet memories. On the last day of her visit he had a very good day. Towards the end of that day he walked up to her, placing his hand on her shoulder with tears in his eyes and a large warm smile on his face he said “I’m so proud of you baby, you got the color of my people”. All her life the scattered members of her family would call her “the papoose”. She never understood it and never really questioned it. These would be the last words her father spoke to her as “himself”. She’d kiss him goodbye with the rare tear in her own eye. My mom is a tough cookie, she doesn’t cry much but she was always daddy’s girl and this day she knew she’d never be that again.
She returned home and decided to strengthen that bond she’d always shared with this man she’d never really known as well as she’d wanted to. She wanted to find out what her father had really meant in that last cryptic comment. It started with The Papoose. See unlike me and most of my mother’s family she isn’t blond with blue eyes and fair skin. My mom has a beautiful olive tone to her skin, raven black hair and piercing blue eyes. In the southern California town she lives in, she is often mistaken for a Hispanic because of her coloring. I am always envious when going through my annual, burn, freckle and peel summers, that I didn’t get an ounce of her tanning abilities!
Mom grew up knowing that grandpa had spent most of his young life riding the rails and working at odd jobs in small Midwestern towns. What she has now found out is that he was born on a Lakota Indian reservation. His father was a Native American his mother an Anglo. She learned that her grandmother, upon marrying her grandfather was listed by the US census as “native”. Many records were either destroyed or never kept. After all Native Americans haven’t exactly been treated with the same respect or rights as other Americans historically. Both her grandparents passed away when her father was around 10 years old. Leaving him to live at an orphanage on the reservation. He didn’t stay long, before age 11 he embarked upon his rail riding days often sleeping in barns and working for food. He eventually settled in Illinois and worked his way up to owning his own land and farming it. As a child I loved visiting. I especially loved that big old red barn and the bevy of interesting living things that could be found in the hay loft.
His living like he had has made it hard for my mom to find even a few records of her Native American heritage. She found that her grandfather was named Oliver Wendell Holmes Fitch. Likely a name assigned to him after his native one was taken away from him. She has been able to find out that her family were members of the Lakota Nation but hasn’t gotten much further than that. So what does this tale have to do with her request? I’m getting to that.
In doing her research many myths about Native American tribes crumbled for her. So many people in this country believe that every tribe has a casino now and is thusly flush with money, health care, educational and employment opportunities. This isn’t the case at all. In the Crow Creek reservation where my mom was searching the median family income is $13,750 annually. Suicide is an epidemic for Native American youth. They are in fact committing suicide at a rate three times the national average for their age group. Poverty, drug abuse and gang activity are realities on many reservations. But there is a beacon of hope for the children of the Lakota Nation. Hope brought to them by the place my mother has asked me to donate to, St. Joseph’s school. I’ve included some information about the school in the remainder of this post, please read it and visit their site. And if you feel moved to help out I’d be honored. In this case it doesn’t have to be money. The school has a list of material needs.
For every one of my readers who visit’s the school’s site and comes back here to comment I’ll add another item to the box I’m sending the school. And for every one of you who donates money or items, or enters their raffle I’ll also enter you in all of my contests through the end of the year. Even before you sign up for them you’ll have an entry. Of course you can earn more but you’ll start out ahead of the rest. Thank you for sticking around for this long tribute and don’t forget to tell your moms all the time, not just today, how much you love them! Happy Mother’s Day!!!
“…Since 1927, St. Joseph’s Indian School has provided care and education for Native American boys and girls. St. Joseph’s Indian School’s stated mission is to provide for the basic welfare of children (food, clothing and medical care) with special emphasis on the spiritual, emotional and educational development of each child, while respecting their culture and heritage.
Admission to our school is based upon their need for residential care and the desires of the parent or legal guardian. Children as young as six-years-old join our program. These students attend our private school on our campus, while high school students attend the local public high school.
These precious children come from the poorest of the poor and their needs indicate they can be successful with our professional curriculum. Our waiting list of approximately 150 students demonstrates the need for our program…”
You can find the school HERE. You can participate in a chairity raffle for a handmade Star Quilt. Find a list of items the school needs, like: toiletries, clothing and other necessities. You can make a donation via Pay Pal or set up an annual donation. They even take gift cards if you’d like to part with one. So many people are in need because of the economy. But These children have been in need for far longer. Sadly economic recovery brings them far less hope than the rest of us. Please consider giving, I know Nuggetiers have the biggest hearts around! If you’d like to learn more about Native American history or are yourself trying to research your own history you can visit the National Native American History Museum, Here or if you live in the DC area or are making the trip this summer stop by. I can tell you first hand it is a truly moving experience.