The man in charge of overseeing the ambulance service on-site was from one of the national government bureaus. He was adamant that I live on the “white man’s” side of the town. This was a fenced in area left of the stoplight and contained the best housing, as well as all official non-Indian government representatives and employees working with the Northern Cheyenne Nation.
I, on the other hand, did not agree and was so insistent about it that my EMT-A trainees labeled me with the CB radio handle, “Agitator.” I never argued with the Indian folks, but this white man was really hard to get along with for a zealous young trainer. I wanted to live where “my people” lived; I didn’t need modern comforts that they lacked.
Ultimately, he gave in, and I was assigned a house to the right of the stoplight on the main road, near his office building. It had a carport where the ambulance could be parked. As it turned out, this was an especially good placing for the ambulance, because the house had a fist-sized hole on that side of the building. I could lay on my bed and look at what was going on outside right through the hole. The presence of the yellow ambulance covered up the view into my bedroom. (Okay, so maybe there were some down points to living on the right-side of the stoplight.)
I had been given a quick look at the house after one training session. I needed to bring any furniture I wanted to use as there was only a couple of chairs and a table in the kitchen. I was assured that the slightly hanging front door would have the hinges repaired or replaced.
My parents were fine with passing along some old furniture for me to move to my new home. They had a bed and dresser, as well as the stuffed, fabric rocking chair, whose little squeak had lulled me to sleep as a baby. Like I said, old furniture. They threw in a TV tray, too, so I would have a kind of end table next to the chair. The usual kitchen and bathroom basics were gathered, and soon I was packed up and ready to move.
The day Mom and I pulled out of the driveway, vehicle loaded to the gills, excitement for the challenge overwhelmed me. Mother, on the flip-side of things, was very apprehensive… and she hadn’t even seen where her daughter would be living! Oh my, well she’d get used to the idea, I supposed. I hoped that some of the crew would be on hand to meet my mother. I just knew she’d love them, too.
The drive was long, and our travel chatter at an end when we finally left the main southbound highway for the more undeveloped road to Lame Deer. For miles and miles, there was only the plains wilderness to see.
At last, we began the ascent up the hill. “Mom, just as we begin our descent, you will see a new housing development to the right of the road. That is the signal that we are only a short way to town.”
“Oh, good. It seems like we’ve been in this car all day, doesn’t it?” Mom turned her head to the right so as not to miss the sign of life on this barren land.
“There it is, Mom. See the lovely homes? There are fourteen of them. They’re almost finished. It’ll be so nice for the families when they are cleared to move in. Most are living in a one-room dwelling now, so it will be a wonderful change for them.”
This might not have been my best idea, because seeing the new homes rather set Mom up to picture a home I might be living in over the next several months. Big mistake!
Entering Lame Deer, I pointed out various shops and buildings, including the IGA store where I would buy my groceries. I showed Mom the little post office, assuring her that I would write to her often. Her letters to me would come to a mailbox inside that little building. Passing the service station, I let Mom know that I had a couple of volunteers who worked in that station. Okay, part of my rapid-fire chatter was to try to distract my mother from the totally muddy roads. They were, most definitely, not a pretty sight.
At last, I brought the car and little U-Haul trailer to a stop in front of my house. Mom’s head whirled around and back at me. “Honey, why are you stopping here? Is there something wrong with the car?”
Oh boy, not a good sign. “Uh, no, Mom. This is my house.” Sadly, they had not repaired the front door, hanging askew right there in front of my mother.
“This is your house? Oh, Honey, it can’t be; it’s a joke, right?” My mother took a second quick look, whipped her head around to glare at me, her eyes wide, her brows raised. After twenty-four years of parenting a prankster, she was hopeful I was just teasing her.
“Oh, Mom, it’s not that bad. Once we get unloaded and set up, you’ll see.” Sinking down into the thick, red clay mud as we left the car did not lighten my mother’s worries any. It was immediately obvious why I had urged her to wear rubber boots.
Unlocking the sun-bleached wooden front door, loose on its hinges at the bottom and listing to the left, we crossed into the living room. I patted myself on the back for having had the foresight to stretch out the faded old linoleum after the last training session with my team. I probably should have left it rolled up.
“Yikes! What was that?” Screaming, mother threw both hands up to cover her mouth while I was bent over, with tears of laughter rolling down my flushed cheeks. She had stepped on one of the buckles in the unsecured linoleum and a couple of dark grey, furry mice squealed, scampering out from under the very spot she had placed her foot. “Oh, dear! You can’t live here.”
“It’ll be fine, Mom. It just needs a bit of cleaning. How about we do that in this room and the bedroom before we unload the trailer? Once we have the living room and bedroom cleaned, we can empty the trailer. Then I can clean the bathroom and you can check out the kitchen. It’ll be a couple weeks before I can really bring the ambulance here so don’t worry about a spit polish kind of cleaning; just take off the top layers, okay?”
I waited but my mother was still in shock. I moved to leave the house and she followed, silently. Must be hard to be a mother sometimes.
Soon the furniture was unloaded. We put the various boxes in the living room until the kitchen and bathroom could be made ready. The bathroom had a metal shower cabin, but the last resident had used it as a garbage can for his peanut shells. Not at all sure why he layered the shower like that, but it was really a mess in that bathroom. The kitchen was actually better.
Throughout the process, my new Indian friends came to greet my mother. Many of the folks who came to take a peek at the new white-face moving in were unknown to me. All wondered why I would ever live on this side of the fence, but I assured them it was my choice. (I was not about to show my mother the other option, right?)
It took a couple of hours to get things in reasonable living order; but, at last, we had finished. Mom saw that I was so excited about the move that she had to admit she was happy for me. She agreed that the folks were very friendly, and indeed, seemed really glad to have me there.
Before long, it was time to make our journey back. I drove a circuitous route out of town, so that I could show Mom the grade school and a few other spots, always naming the volunteer trainees I had working in each place. I thought that Mom may feel a bit better if she could see I really did know someone here. I reassured her that I had twenty-one friends waiting to man that ambulance service with me, all fine people. She nodded her head at each name and place, but a mother is a mother, right? She’d keep praying for me and already was longing to have the project finished. As we left town, Mom’s parting comment made me laugh. “Honey, when the ambulance is running, and your part in this project is finished…leave the furniture here, please.”
The Lord had much to teach me in this land of red-clay mud streets. His constant Presence was not only my shield, but my key into understanding more of the lives of these precious people. God was also their Creator…knowing and loving them with all His heart. No wonder I felt at home with the Northern Cheyenne Nation!
****A Hilarious Lesson in Humility…Next Post