If I thought a truck had run me over during my sleep 2 nights ago, then it must have been a road grader or a tank last night. I woke with SO MUCH PAIN in my back and neck, along with a world class headache, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do anything today. I took some Tylenol – Motrin on an empty stomach is not a great idea – and sat down at the computer to try to read the news. I could barely focus my eyes. I watched the sunrise over Rapid City. As the sun came up higher, it fell right on the desk chair I was sitting in. It was surprisingly warm and extremely relaxing. By 9 AM I felt like I might want to try the day.
Our first stop was the WalMart Supercenter. The plan was to pick up my “godchild” and her sister so we could take them to the Crazy Horse Memorial for Native American Day (not Columbus Day here). Admission today was canned goods for the emergency food pantry, so we needed to go shopping. We picked up a few items for my friend’s family also. Then it was off to pick up the girls.
My friend and her husband were still there – she had finally fallen asleep and gotten some rest. They asked if we would drop them off at the hospital on our way out of the city. Of course we did. Then we went south on Rt 16 for about 45 miles to the Crazy Horse Memorial. This memorial is a likeness of Crazy Horse riding his horse that is being sculpted out of a mountain in a manner similar to the likenesses of four presidents carved into nearby Mt Rushmore. It is monumental in size for certain! We had previously seen it only from the road. The girls had never been there. So it was a first for all 4 of us and I was grateful to share it with these girls. It was something of a “long” ride (really only 40 minutes) with: the older sister who was PMS-ing and having mood swings, my “godchild” who was impatient and me with world class pain trying to ruin the day.
When we arrived, we turned in our canned goods in exchange for an entry ticket. We went downstairs in the visitor’s center to attend the Native American Day celebration. It had started just a few minutes before we entered, so we were able to see most of it. There had already been some dance and song. Then we listened to talks by prominent Native Americans: a teacher, a writer, a military man and finally by the recipient of the Native American Teacher of the Year. The talks were interesting. Since the sculpture is still under construction, they conducted a “blast” on the mountain – part construction, part celebration. There was a free “feed” – buffalo stew with roll and brownie. The stew was great – sort of wished I could indulge my greedy side by going back for seconds and thirds, but I restrained myself out of respect. After a brief run through the gift shop, which had some exquisite Lakota art, we decided to head back to Rapid.
We went back to the hospital and sat in the waiting room with the family for a while, conversing and listening to stories. You may think this doesn’t sound like much of a vacation. But this part of the vacation was intended to be visiting with friends. When you have friends, you do what your friends need.
About 4 PM my friend decided that she needed to go for a ride. Everyone was hungry, so we headed out to find supper. We opted for Perkins Restaurant. It was really a pleasant meal. The conversation was at once fun and sad. There were some humorous stories told. The tone turned far more serious when my friend spoke of her third daughter, who is currently in juvie jail. She had run away.
My friend related the story of the court session. The court appointed attorney was not knowledgeable and did not fight to have the girl released to her mother. The judge decided that, since my friend and her husband work, instead of getting welfare, she was not around enough, so she was an unfit parent. He said they would keep her daughter (who has had 2 seizures and is not receiving medical attention in juvie). From the comments she related, it is pretty obvious that racism was occurring in the court room. There were mostly Indian children that were taken from their parents. The white children were mostly released to their parents custody. Hmmm…… My friend was so hurt by being told she is an unfit mother. She works so hard to set a good example for her daughters.
On the way back to the hospital, about 6 PM, we stopped at their apartment first to drop off the older daughter. My friend’s husband got a book of jokes to share. It was humble, self-depricating humor that had us all laughing heartily.
When we arrived back at the hospital, the waiting room was empty. My friend went running to her uncle’s room, where everyone was congregated. She told me later that, in her fear, she thought they were lying to her when they said Everette had passed. She ran to her uncle’s bedside and cried out for him to wake up. Of course, he did not. My friend broke down and her strength drained from her. She was a little girl in pain after the passing of the man who had been “the closest thing to a real dad” that she had known. Who was going to protect her now? Who was going to take care of her now?
Within 10 minutes, she decided she could not stay at the hospital and we took her home. We had thought to leave after a few minutes but she insisted that we stay. So we did. She talked about her uncle, the kind of man he was and the things he had done for her. She was upset that he “waited until she left to pass on.” Another uncle, who had passed just a few months ago, had “done the same thing.” I reminded her that in Lakota belief, we stay on earth until our work for others is complete. I suggested that, when we went to dinner and shared love and support and laughter, he had probably “heard it” and felt that she was safe now, so his work was done. She had friends and a new husband who loved her and would take care of her now. I was speaking of my beliefs, but was relieved to see they must coincide with Lakota belief, because her husband was nodding quietly when I made these points. I told her she needed to take care of herself, too, in order to honor her uncle. She finally agreed that she needed rest and we started to take our leave. Leaving was extremely difficult. Neither of us wanted to let go of the other and the tears and love flowed freely again.
When we got back to our hotel room, I had hoped to write about all this and it probably would have been fresher if I had. But I couldn’t. The pain I had worked all day to ignore, with varying degrees of success, would no longer be ignored and fatigue washed over me like a tidal wave. After a couple of paragraphs, I knew it would have to wait until morning. So while my husband does the last minute packing, I am sharing with you the passing of a good man and the grief of my friend. I ask that, if you pray, you will keep her and her family in your prayers.
In a little while, we will be leaving to travel east – back to Minnesota by a slightly different route. We will stay in Sioux Falls for a night and I promise I will have happier tales to tell in my next post. But I think this was God’s way of letting us see and share more of Lakota culture than we would have by talking alone. It certainly was educational as well as emotional.
I believe that Everette is finding joy on his next leg of the journey. He no longer has to carry a worn and battered body with him.
Everette was 64 years old when he passed at 4:32 on Native American Day in Rapid City, SD. God speed, Everette.