Several years ago I was visiting with Teri Dameron, federal funding and management consultant here in Omaha. Teri is a member of the Brewer tiyospaye from the Pine Ridge Reservation. I had known all of her uncles on the Brewer side of the family, and attended school with several of them at Holy Rosary Mission Indian boarding school there on the reservation. I told Teri that I knew her grandmother Laura, and told how good she had been to my mother, and what fond memories I had of her. I may have given the impression that I imagined she was probably dead by now, but to my great surprise, I learned that Laura was still very much alive, and at that time was in her mid-nineties. Even as I write this column, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are gathering on the Internet and in person to celebrate Laura’s one hundredth birthday on April 4th, 2013. Because she was born in a remote area of the reservation, the exact date of her birth is not known. However, her baptismal record is dated April 4th, 1913, and that date has been celebrated by the family for a century now. She was raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation near Slim Buttes until her mother passed away in about 1921. Her early years, following her mother’s death, were spent with an aunt in Oklahoma. In 1927 she began attending Haskell Institute where she played field hockey. Her fondest memories from Haskell are about friends she made from all across Indian Country, thus beginning her respect and appreciation for various tribal Nations. From Haskell she returned to her home reservation and studied at Chadron State College, where she met her lifelong friend, Millie Rexroat, who later served as a woman pilot with the U.S. Army Air Corps, ferrying all types of aircraft during WWII. In 1933, on a blind date, she met Fred Brewer, and they were married in 1934. Their union brought forth five sons and one daughter: Thomas, Richard, Everett, Willard, Fred and Elena. I remember Tommy especially, who was my age and a classmate and close friend at Holy Rosary Mission. Richard, as I recall from those days, was the first “Gabby,” a friendly boy well-liked by all the students. And I remember the sadness at the school as we returned from Easter holiday in 1943 to learn that Gabby had drowned at White Clay Dam, and his father perished as well, trying to save his son. Everett was known as “Little Gabby,” then inherited the name Gabby. All of Laura’s children have fared well, raising their families and getting them educated – many of them beyond high school. As a young mother at Pine Ridge, Laura worked in the IHS hospital; but when she was widowed in 1943 she was forced to find work on Ranches in Wyoming and Montana, remembering fondly ranch owners that she worked for. Later she ended up in Omaha, picking up on her career in nursing. I remember coming to Omaha years later to get my mother, who had been sent by the Indian Health Service to St. Joseph’s Hospital for treatment. We had an enjoyable visit with Laura in her apartment near the hospital. My mother later told me that Laura treated her with great kindness, and would search out all Indian patients sent there, making sure they were cared for and comfortable. Teri says that Laura continues her tender loving care at the nursing home where she now lives, often taking it upon herself to help other patients and residents in the Miracle Gardens at Douglas County Health Center. She continues her lifelong practice of walking every day, and attributes her long life to her philosophy: Says she "I've made it to be this age by staying away from doctors and pills." She has stated that the one of the hardest thing about being 100 is losing friends and family – especially her children. Philosophy is not reserved for ancients and scholars, and Laura's words of wisdom, recalled by her granddaughter Teri reflect her life of spiritual health as well as her physical health: Respect other people’s ways; Respect and appreciate God's plan for you and help others do the same; Be generous but pay your bills; Start by teaching the children all these things; Forgive folks so you have less worries and more happiness; Live life pleasing God; Face hard times by surrounding yourself with family and friends that love you; Finally, an admission: A large portion of this column are the words of Laura’s grand daughter, Teresa (Teri) Dameron. She passed the information on to me in such excellent narrative and pure love, that I found myself unable to improve on it in any way. The only thing I could provide is the ability, because of a reputation as a columnist, to have it published. Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.
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