Archive for the ‘Car trouble’ Category

Yes, still in Banff, still in Canada.  Last night, my husband and I went to see Gordon Lightfoot at the Banff Centre, a lovely performing arts center that seats about 900 people.  The concert was pleasant.  It is obvious that Lightfoot is aging but he still knows how to entertain.

The point of this post is not a critique of the concert, however.  It is to comment on Canadian behavior again.  I know, I did that before.  But it is so refreshing that it brightens my day on a frequent basis and I really want to share it.  Perhaps it will be contagious and those in the US will “catch” it.  Actually, it reminds me of the US in the years when I was young, when the US was a nation with civility (not political correctness), a desire to help others (not just via volunteer agencies) and gregariousness (not wariness).  Those are qualities I see in Canada.

When people sit around you at an event in Canada, they strike up a conversation.  I’m not talking about a simple, grudging “Hi.”  I’m mean real conversation.  “Hello.  Where are you from?  Massachusetts?  What part of MA?  I’ve met people from MA before, but from the Boston area.  What brings you to Western Canada?  Have you gone to ______?  I think you’d really like it.  What do you do for work?  Have you ever seen Gordon Lightfoot (or the hockey team or any other group) before?  I saw them ______ when I was in my 20’s.”

It doesn’t even have to be a big event.  This kind of interchange can occur in a restaurant, a bank, a store or a museum.  Canadians, or at least almost all of the Canadians we have met, both here in the West and in the eastern provinces we have visited, are outgoing, courteous, curious and well-informed about their neighbors to the south.  I wish we could say that about US citizens these days.  But having visited all 50 states, I have to admit that just hasn’t been our experience.

A prime example of this Canadian difference was something we observed last evening as we were leaving the concert.  We had gotten our car from the garage and were proceeding up the driveway to the roadway.  We had no trouble getting into the line of traffic, since Canadian courtesy extends to driving as well as direct personal interactions.

The driveway had a slight grade to it with a stop sign at the top.  The vehicle in front of us stopped and we stopped as well, leaving a good car length between us and that car.  It was a fortunate decision.  Whether due to a patch of ice that would not allow the tires to catch any traction or due to the possibility that the driver was new at driving a standard transmission, every time that car in front of us tried to advance, it rolled backwards a bit.  After the third episode, my husband sounded the horn lightly to let him know he was getting close to our front bumper.


I called it a “Canadian assistance flash mob” in the title because that was the thing that came to mind as I watched it.  Presumably alerted by hearing our horn, numerous pedestrians – men and women – converged on the car in front of us.  Everyone found a place to latch on to the vehicle which was having difficulty.  There must have been 15 to 20 people who gathered along and behind that car to push it and help the driver get out of his predicament.  As soon as the vehicle was moving forward, the small crowd disbursed and went on their ways.  We were able to proceed on our way as well.

But we were really impressed by that spontaneous event.  As we drove back to our room, we noted how things would have been different at home.  One important difference is that this would not have been the kind of thing that happened so spontaneously.  At home, people would have looked at each other, perhaps asked each other what the problem was, discussed the foolishness of the driver for getting into the situation and then moved along.  A few might have dared to ask what the problem was but felt that, alone or being so few, there was nothing they could do.  They’d have walked away, perhaps feeling a bit guilty for not helping.

If someone at home had been able to convince a group to help, they’d have hung around after to pat each other on the back for being such generous folks.

Last night there was no conference to decide how to fix the problem and there was no self-congratulation.  People recognized the problem, reacted to help in a totally appropriate way without needing to be convinced then left immediately because you don’t need to congratulate yourself or others for doing the right thing.

It happened so automatically and fast that it did indeed remind me of a “flash mob” — and it was just as entertaining in its own way.

One more reason to love Canada and Canadians!


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In all the chaos and hurry of trying to get everything cleaned up on my desk and in my inbox, I was stopped in my tracks a couple of days ago.  I was reminded of why I do the “work” I do.

I received a call from a Jane Doe, woman on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Okay, that’s nothing new for me.  I talk to a lot of folks there.  Jane is a woman I have actually visited and with whom I have spoken quite a few times.  She is a pleasant, soft-spoken woman who is  a wheelchair bound paraplegic, the result of being rearended in an auto accident by a drunk driver.

You would think Jane would be worried about herself and the fact that she lives in a small, non-ADA compliant apartment.  But several months ago, she told me the story of her two nieces.

Both her nieces are adults.  Both of them are mentally handicapped.  The two women had lived with and been cared for by their parents until the parents passed away.  At that time, one of their adult siblings was given guardianship over the two women.  The guardian decided to put the two women into a home of some sort, many miles away from the reservation and from all that was familiar to them.  No one from their immediate family visited them and, in fact, the guardian moved away to the East Coast and left them alone.

Jane Doe was the only one who visited her nieces, in spite of the fact that her car was constantly breaking down.  The women cried when she left and called her crying when she was at home because they were so lonely.

Jane, though disabled herself, was so concerned about her nieces that she went to the tribal court and sought guardianship of the two women.  They have been allowed to come to visit her — sleeping on the floor of her living room on top of sleeping bags and quilts.

Jane recently received guardianship!  However, they cannot come to stay with her permanently until she has a place for them to sleep that is not the floor. 

The living room is the only place in the apartment that they can stay.  Truly, Jane and her nieces need a proper place to live — one where a wheelchair will fit through the doorways.  But that is not likely to occur any time soon.

Jane would like to have her nieces home by the holidays, she told me when she called to ask if I could help her find a pull-out sofa bed or bunk beds for her nieces.  It’s so hard to say no to someone as generous and kind-hearted as Jane.  But it isn’t what we usually do, since a sofa bed, the best option, can be quite expensive.  I, personally, would hate to ask 38 and 40 year old women to be climbing into bunk beds, however.

We have actually located a sofa bed for $1000 that can be delivered to their home.  I’m not sure if that included tax — probably not, right?  But we don’t have a spare $1000 at this time.

I’m hoping that there will be a donor (or donors) who thinks that these 2 mentally handicapped women deserve to live with their aunt, who is so loving and giving in spite of her own needs.

If you know anyone who would like to help, direct them to ONE Spirit at http://nativeprogress.org to make the donation.

I, personally, am going to keep Jane Doe in my mind as I prepare for the holidays of giving thanks and giving gifts.  She is willing to give of what little she has out of love for her family.  She is a true inspiration to me!

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I have been up to my eyeballs in “work” for the rez, as well as “powerless” (electrically speaking – due to Irene), and have not had the opportunity to write about the rez in the way I’d have liked.  So I’ve decided to post a few shorter bits about my visit to the rez a couple of weeks ago and some of the phone conversations I’ve recently engaged in with “rezidents.”


I spoke with a grandmother this week who had returned an update form to me.  The reason I had requested the update was an email from the sponsor I had given her.  The sponsor had asked if I could perhaps find another sponsor to help with the family.  She mentioned other children.

This puzzled me since I was only aware of 2 young grandchildren, aged 4 and 7, living with this grandmother.  When I saw the update form, I understood the sponsor’s concerns very clearly.

Grandmother now had 2 adult daughters (aged 22 and 24) and 4 other children (aged 13 – in school, aged 18, 19, 20 – all attending virtual high school) living with her, as well as 6 more grandchildren (aged 17 mos, 2, 3, 4, 4 and 6 yrs old).  Don’t forget the “original” 2 grandchildren I knew about.

In case you’ve lost count, as I would if I didn’t have the update form in front of me, 15 people living in one small house!  No wonder the sponsor felt overwhelmed!

Grandmother also noted that they did get food stamps (there aren’t enough food stamps they could possibly get to feed that crew).  However they have no source of income and no transportation.  Her final comment was typical Lakota understatement, “I have a big family so it’s usually hard on holidays.”

Needless to say, I’ll be hunting for sponsors for that family.


I spoke with a disabled elder today.  She had been referred to our program by someone at Pine Ridge Hospital.  She has multiple ailments including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, a leg brace, hypertension and congestive heart failure.

She had been living in a condemned trailer (and trust me, to be condemned on the rez, it had to be pretty awful) and is now living in a new-to-her house with an adult daughter and 10 year old grandson.  I gave her a sponsor today.

The problem is the sponsor won’t be able to help with their biggest need: furniture.  They have none, except for the hospital bed she was given due to her multiple disabilities.  Not a chair or couch.  Nothing.

She said to me, “I don’t care if it’s not new.  I go to Salvation Army Thrift when I have any money.  But it would be great to have a recliner so I could put this bad leg up.”


I got an email from a long-standing sponsor who asked if I could possibly find a “food sponsor” for the family she sponsors.  She had been sending gifts as well as ordering monthly food.  But she recently retired and cannot continue to do both on her more limited income.  She is concerned that the grandmother’s recent leg amputation and the surgery that the child she sponsors required will really have a negative impact on the family.


I assigned a sponsor to 2 elder sisters who live with a niece and extended family (8 folks in the home).  The sponsor lives in New Zealand.  I’m not certain how that will work out.  I chose them because there is someone in the home who has an email address.  I hope it works.

It often surprises me that people outside the United States know more about conditions on the reservations and native culture than the citizens of this country know.

Why is that, I wonder?


I heard about a woman who worked for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.  She ran a tight ship in her office and would not keep anyone who drank alcohol or used drugs.  That was in addition to the fact that the tribe has laws and regulations forbidding that sort of thing.

There is regular drug testing and apparently there was a test done on an unscheduled basis that revealed 2 of her employees had violated the rules.  She fired them immediately.  It all seems proper so far, doesn’t it.  Ah, but looks can be deceiving, especially on the rez.

The 2 fired employees went to their local tribal council members and complained.  Instead of supporting the woman who was the supervisor, they reinstated the 2 fired employees and fired the supervisor.

What are they thinking?!  What kind of example is that to set?  In a place where alcohol and drugs play a part in more than 80% of the health and family problems, you would think they would value anyone who upheld the rules.

The rez is a world unto itself and sometimes it makes no sense — even to those who live there and tell me the stories.


I’ve saved the best for last — at least in my personal opinion.  That’s probably because it is a personal story.

You know I spent several days on the rez because my friends were having their new home blessed.  I truly got to visit this time, not just a few hours.  It was wonderful.  It was different because it was their own home, not someone else’s that they were living in, so we could all be ourselves.

I’ve already written about my Lakota friend’s first childhood memory.  That was one of the most traumatic stories I’ve heard from anyone on the rez.  I’ve witnessed the strain and discord between my friend and her mother over the 6 years that we have been friends.

The night before I flew home, when it was just my friend and I sitting and talking, I decided that I would help with their “transmission fund.”

They have an older Ford Explorer that needs a new transmission.  My friend’s husband is fairly skilled in auto mechanics (a matter of necessity if you have a vehicle on the rez) and plans to install it himself.  They have located a used one that he will take out of whatever vehicle it is in and install in their car.  However they need to come up with $350 to pay for it.  While that is not an outrageous sum in terms of transmission parts, it is a lot of money when you do not have a job.

I had not spent much of the cash I had taken with me on the trip and knew I would not need much of it when I flew home the next day.  So I took a good portion of it and gave it to her to start off the “transmission fund.”  That’s when she stunned me.

She started crying — really crying, not just sniffling or tearing up.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Here was a woman who had endured more than anyone I knew (you can read the stories in my archives under “Lakota friends”) and I had never heard her cry like this.

Finally she looked at me and said, “You don’t understand, do you?  No one has ever wanted to take care of me like this before.  Not my mother, no one.”

It was my turn to cry.

And people wonder what sponsors get back?  I got friends and a whole lotta love.

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This is the 10-day forecast for Pine Ridge, SD on the Pine Ridge Reservation thanks to Intellicast.com .
10 Day Forecast –  °F | °C
tue wed thu fri sat sun mon tue wed thu
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
Snow Showers
Snw Shwrs
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
M Cloudy
M Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy
P Cloudy

Details for Tuesday, January 11
Partly cloudy. Very cold. Wind chills approaching -15F. High 6F. Winds NW at 15 to 25 mph.
Evening: Bitterly cold. A few clouds. Low around -10F. Winds light and variable.

Intellicast.com: The Authority in Expert Weather


Now I know you are wondering why in the world I gave you the weather forecast for Pine Ridge.  Most of you don’t live there.  I want to use it to illustrate a couple of points.

I have had quite a number of calls from folks on Pine Ridge in the past week wondering if we had funds available to help with propane (which is used to heat many homes on the reservation).  These calls are from mothers, grandmothers and aunts who have small children in the house.  They have NO HEAT or they are trying to heat uninsulated, drafty houses with a couple of electric space heaters.

I don’t know if you can imagine the kind of cold that comes to South Dakota at times like this.  It is the kind of cold that can cause people to freeze to death.  It is 6 degrees, perhaps, but with the wind that is a near constant factor in South Dakota, it feels like 12 degrees below zero.

Imagine that you are a child with very little warm clothing.  You are probably wearing several layers of whatever you do have.  When you go to bed, you may huddle up with siblings to share the body heat.  Your mother gives you as many blankets as she can find in the house, which may not be enough.  You may not have a bed and your mattress or pallet may be on the floor.  You feel the cold seep up from beneath you.  Your mom puts one of the electric heaters in your room but you still feel the cold air drafts from the old windows.  You go to sleep cold and you wake up cold.  You look forward to going to school where at least it will be a little bit warm.

Today, school is delayed a couple of hours because it is too cold to wait for the bus at the usual time.  At school you feel warmer for a while.  But the heating system at the school is old and it can’t keep up with the cold outside.  They decide they will send you home because they can’t keep you warm.  But you know you will be cold at home too.

You wonder about your friend.  When you got to school, you heard that his family’s trailer had burned up during the night.  You heard someone say that some blankets caught on fire because they were too close to a heater.  The fire department did not get there in time and the winds made the fire burn fast.  You hope your friend is safe and not hurt, but no one seems to know.  You wonder where they will stay now.  Finding a home on the rez is not easy.

When you get home, it is still cold.  You can’t wait for spring.  You try to watch TV but the cold is very distracting.  Your little sister curls up next to you and you try to keep her warm too.  You are sitting under the blankets as you watch but they don’t help very much.

You know the whole thing will be repeated until your mom can get some money to buy propane.  You don’t know when that will be but she seems very worried.

You don’t know, as a child, that your mom is not only worried about heat but also food.  There is no money for that, either, and she is worried that she will not be able to feed you in the next day or two.  She is trying to find help for heat and food.  She can’t pay the phone or electric bills if she is to save for heat and food.  They aren’t supposed to shut off the electricity in the winter but they do sometimes.

If you are sitting in your warm home reading this, I hope you still feel warm.  But if you have a warm heart, you may be feeling the chill of that child.  I hope you do feel it.  If you do, then perhaps you will follow your warm heart and do something to help the children of Pine Ridge Reservation, where 90% live under the federal poverty level.

Speaking you cold, how would you like to travel 400 miles in that kind of cold in a car with no heater?  You wouldn’t like it?  Me either.

If you are a regular reader, you may recall a post about a baby who needs to get to Omaha, NE for heart surgery and her grandmother’s car was broken down.  We got a donation, but not enough for car repairs.  Grandma found another car to borrow to get them to Omaha, but the heater in the car gave out.  So they had a choice – drive to Omaha in the car with no heater (not a good idea with an 8 month old baby who needs heart surgery) or reschedule the surgery (not always easy to get another date soon and waiting is not a very good option).  Would you want to have to make that choice?  Me either.

But that’s rez life.  Hard times, hard choices for those who have no job, inadequate income to cover the needs and have young ones or elders for whom to provide care.





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You either clinked on this post because you know I have a penchant for odd titles or because you can’t, for the life of you, figure out what heart surgery and a car have in common – maybe both.

I just finished a conversation with a grandmother on Pine Ridge Reservation in SD, who called to find out if our organization could do anything to help with getting her car running again.  I explained that we do not normally do that kind of thing because of the exorbitant costs we would incur.  (Every car on the reservation could use some kind of repairs, from what I’ve seen and heard!)

But I also asked her what the problem was and why she needed the car so urgently.  I explained that, while we do not do this kind of service, we have people who have connections and sometimes one person knows another who … you get the picture.

There began the 20 minute story.  I am going to try to recall it as she told it, though I confess that I probably did not take enough notes and I am getting to that “senior moment” memory age.  I will try to do her justice.

First, I’ll set up the story and give you some general information in case you are new to circumstances on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Most cars are old and in need of repairs.  Health care is administered by Indian Health Services (IHS) and both very inadequate and of relatively poor quality.  The tribe “helps” tribal members in emergencies with minimal assistance.  Grandma has experienced all of this.  For example, on one occasion, when she needed a blood transfusion, she was given blood from a person who was allergic to penicillin.  Although it did not harm her at that time, she did develop an allergy to penicillin herself, which she had never had before.

The story she told me started with the birth Grandma’s own daughter, who is now 9 years old.  When Daughter was born, both Grandma and Daughter were very sick with an infection.  Within hours, Daughter was rushed from Pine Ridge Hospital, where she had been born, to Rapid City Regional Hospital.  Grandma was kept in Pine Ridge, where she was given penicillin for the infection.  If you are thinking “Wait a minute, she’s allergic to penicillin!  Stop!!”, you get an “A” for your memory.  So she got sicker before she got better.  It was days before she was able to get to see her baby.  By then, the baby had been moved from Rapid City, SD to Omaha, NE – they had discovered the baby had heart problems.

Grandma jumped into the car she had and drove to Omaha.  When Grandma got to the hospital, her baby needed surgery on her heart.  The surgery was complicated and after surgery, Daughter was in very tough shape.  Suddenly a “Code Blue” was called.  The doctors surrounded her baby, the nurses surrounded Grandma.  She had no experience with this kind of medical care and began to cry.  The nurses asked if she had anyone she could call.  She called her own grandmother.

Her grandmother told Grandma to stop crying.  She told her the baby could feel her despair and would be very sad.  It would be harder for the baby to survive.  Her grandmother told her that she had to be strong for her baby and pray.  Pray!  So Grandma stopped crying and prayed.  Daughter survived.  She still has medical care but she is doing well.  We just got her a sponsor.

That experience had a profound effect on Grandma.  She changed her lifestyle.

Grandma has a sister who lives in Washington state.  She recently fell quite ill and needed Grandma’s help.  So Grandma hopped into her current car, a  ’99 Chevy Suburban and started driving to Washington with her son and her son’s pregnant girlfriend.  She tried to talk the pregnant girlfriend into staying home, but the girl wanted to come.  She was only 24 weeks pregnant so it should be fine.

Grandma left the 2 young people at the motel while she went to visit her sister.  When she returned, she found the young woman in severe pain, bleeding profusely.  She immediately called an ambulance and the girl was taken to the hospital.  Then Grandma prayed.  The baby was delivered weighing 1 pound 10 ounces.  She was very small, to say the least!  She was also very fragile.  The money ran out and Grandma had to leave.  The young people were able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in that city.  Grandma had to scrounge for enough money to buy gas and food for the drive home.

The day finally came for her granddaughter to be released from the hospital to come home.  Grandma was thrilled.  What had seemed foolish, the pregnant young woman taking that long trip, had been a blessing – the baby had survived because she was born in a city where proper neonatal care was available for premature babies.  The baby probably would have died if she was born in Pine Ridge!  And now she was coming home!

Grandma asked a cousin to travel with her and jumped into the same ’99 Suburban.  As her cousin was driving during the night, while Grandma tried to sleep, the Suburban started “acting up.”  It was “coughing.”  Her cousin pulled over and woke her.  Grandma took the wheel and realized they needed a service station as she drove.  They got off the highway in the middle of the night and drove to the nearest station that was lit up.  But it wasn’t lit up because it was open; it was lit up to prevent vandalism.  The car would not run now.  How was Grandma going to get to Washington and drive home with her son, his partner and their new baby?

Her cell phone had no service there.  Grandma and her cousin pushed the Suburban (you do know the size of a Suburban, right?) closer to the building, where the found a pay phone (talk about the grace of God – when was the last time you saw a pay phone anywhere?).  They called the police and told them about being stranded.  This was in Gillette, WY.  Well, kudos to the people of Gillette, who not only found the 2 women a place to stay while the work was being done, but also found a way to put in the new fuel pump at very little cost.  Grandma was, of course, frantic because the baby was supposed to be released the very next morning.  The folks in Gillette had them on their way by morning.

As they got back on the road and drove quickly (understatement) toward Washington, Grandma got a phone call on her cell phone.  The doctors had decided to keep the baby one more day.  Grandma quipped, “Well, I guess I can slow down a little then.”

Baby had a problem that Grandma was very familiar with.  Baby had heart problems.  She has a hole in the heart, where it did not grow properly and a problem with one vessel.  She has had an apnea attack.  On Jan 12, 2011 Baby will be going to Omaha, NE for heart surgery.  Grandma will be suffering from deja vu that day — if she can get there to be with her son and his partner.

The Chevy Suburban has chosen a bad time to give up running.  Grandma is told it is an electrical problem.  Diagnosing the problem will cost $300.  The cost of the repairs will be determined after the diagnosis.  At least the Suburban chose a good place to give up the ghost, so to speak – Grandma’s back yard.  It just wouldn’t start one morning.

But now Grandma is frantic.  She has no money for all of this.  How will she get the car repaired so she can get everyone to Omaha – you see, she is transportation for Baby and her parents as well as herself.

So I told her I would spread the word to the people I work for to see if they had any ideas.

But I am also spreading the word to all of you.  This is the Christmas season.  The time of giving and miracles.  The time of the birth of a special baby.

I hardly ever ask for anything from my readers when I post.  I would rather inform you.  But this time I AM asking!

  • If you know anyone in the Pine Ridge area that can help Grandma with these repairs quickly, send me a message.
  • If you want to help create a Christmas Miracle, go to ONE Spirit and use their PayPal connection to donate for Grandma’s car repairs (be sure to put a memo designating that).  The website is http://nativeprogress.org
  • If you can’t afford to donate, PRAY, as Grandma’s grandmother told her.  Pray for a Christmas Miracle.
  • If you can do none of these things, I will pray for you, since you probably need it more than Grandma.


I know that none of us can do Christmas Miracles alone.  But if each person does what he or she is able to do, that is indeed a miracle.  A Christmas group miracle.

I believe that you care.

I pray that you will show it.

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