The story was told to me this way:
In the late 1960s, my mother was a dispatcher and jailer matron at the Rosebud BIA Police Department, she saw people come and go through for any number of various reasons. She had seen and met my father at powwows in the summers and something was there, but she knew he was married with a son, so she let it be. Then, dad got divorced. They began talking more in social settings; back then for the fear my mother had of her parent’s wrath, there was no casual hooking up, she was a Catholic Lakota winyan and conducted herself as such.
My father was a ranch hand, working various jobs between Rosebud and Wyoming but tended to land in his old stomping grounds of Norris, Blackpipe and Corn Creek. But, being a man of limited means, he didn’t have a car or any reliable transportation to visit mom in Rosebud. So his plan was simple: get drunk, start a fight and get thrown in jail. During his times in jail, he and mom would talk and get to know one another.
It’s a sweet story in it’s own, strange way, but both of them never denied the circumstances of how they eventually got together. On May 4, 1970, they made it official and married. They had good years and they had bad years. Sometimes, they drank, sometimes, they were sober; sometimes they traveled the country and other times, they stayed in Upper Cut Meat.
My brother likes to call me the “sunshine babe” now because on his reflection, after I was born, our parents became the pillars they were in life. I didn’t know them as young people, I could never imagine either of them as anyone else than loving, caring parents and good relatives. But that didn’t exclude the tough years. Some years, they fought, some years, they threatened each other with divorce. And when Native people fight, it can be with heart and soul and when we fight with the people we love, it can be an icy plain of resentment, rooted in deep hurt.
But despite all the fights, all the anger, all the resentment and all the grudges and they still stood together for 37 years until my father’s death in 2008. Even afterward, my mother considered herself both a widow and a married woman. Their gifts to my family were simple: love and fortitude.
I never understood why they stayed together and for a time, I even asked if my mom would consider a divorce. She would think about it and eventually come back with, “I took vows.”
While I was off at college, I would come home on breaks to find they shared a bed again after 15 years or so of sleeping in separate beds. By that time, they were in their 60s and it was sweet. They had come to love each other once more.
And that’s what I remember most about them: their ability to reconcile from a place of love. Even though we may not say the words, as Lakota people, we demonstrate our love by the things we do for one another. We feed each other when the other is hungry, we shelter each other and we laugh together.
I’m most grateful for the things my parents gave. Sometimes I talk about them like they were a museum exhibit, but in some ways they were. In a time and place where people “got together” without being married, they made their commitment official. In times when emotional separation would have ended other marriages, they let one another have their space and time (sometimes, over years) and found a way back to one another.
While I limit how much thinking I do about how they’re spending their afterlife, I look back at the time they had here and consider that their perpetual and spiritual existence. They continue to stand in my mind together as examples of what can be achieved if only we find love and compassion at the base of our lives.