Friday, 1 April 2016

The Peculiar Birthing of El Gringo Viejo's Father


    The generations on the paternal side of El Gringo Viejo's lineage is "spaced out".   This did not come from LSD,  but by the Clock of Ages, better known as the calendar.   To-day is the 107th anniversary of the birth of my father.  The 157th such anniversary of his father's birth occurred earlier this year, as did the 209th anniversary my great-grandfather Luther of the same lineage.

     Life produces challenges and accomplishments, and the birthing of my father was one of those combinations of events.  It was a cold time in Gwinner, of Sargent County, in North Dakota.   The first of April was never really considered planting time, but this particular year found the normally large and comfortable house of my grandparents up to the eaves in snow drifts.   All the first story windows and doors were sealed up by the snow.

     Grandfather was gone via rail to Minneapolis where he was busy buying feed for draught animals, machinery for planting and harvesting the coming season's wheat crop, and various and sundry things that were included in various neighbours' "need-list".   Much would be forwarded by rail express during the latter part of April and then sent down by drayage to Gwinner.   It would be complicated by the fact that my grandfather and grandmother were expecting a blessed event, one that would be the first and last for the both of them.

     The problem revolved around the fact that my grandmother suddenly went into labour during the very final hours of March, 1911.  Her husband was gone and would not return for at least 10 days.  There was no one around.  Travel and even moving around in the area was all but impossible.  Sleighs, sleds, wagons, the few motor-cars, were all pretty much useless during those moments.

     The fact that a gaggle of Lakota women, trundling through the drifts with their children, horses, and dogs, would confound the scene of mostly white-out for as far as the eye could behold would come to bear very much upon the immediate and distant future.   As they passed near, the women noted that the house of the White Lady was essentially shut-in, which could be easily determined.   But there were none of the little paths that still occur during such times.....going out for firewood or coal....a path to the barn to check on and/or feed the horses, cows, and other animals could not be seen.

     But the Indian women knew that the White Lady had not gone to market with her husband because she was "very big".  They also took note that there was no smoke from any of the three chimneys nor the kitchen flu.  In short, something was wrong.   The women began to dig through to the front door, and that in and of itself was quite a chore.   But, the women were used to the arduous challenges of life, and continued their steady assault until the doors were reached.   They had been calling out and had finally heard the White Lady responding weakly, trying to sound cheerful. 

     When they finally entered the house and parlour,  with dogs and horses and all, they also encountered the grandmother of El Gringo Viejo who had recently almost completed a self-delivered baby-birthing.   The women went about cleaning and finishing-up and setting a fire in the fireplace.  We were never really given any account about how the clean up was effected after boarding the horses and dogs, but I am sure something was done.

     The baby was papoosed-up and kept close to either the mother or the other women so as to control his temperature.  The baby was early, small, and frail.  In those years, and in that environment, it was no certain matter that life itself could prevail.   The women cooked and attended to the White Lady and the baby during about a three day period.  At that time, most of the group left and went on to Sargent, and then to the county seat, leaving behind the older women and a couple of younger girls (training, you know) to take care of the new mother and her baby.

     After a week, both the baby and the mother were stronger.  A man came from Fargo with a message from my grandfather, advising that he was coming back a couple of days early, which meant, any time now, since the message had been sent three days earlier.   So preparations for his arrival began, and the mother and baby were moved up to the second floor, while the over-used parlour was put back into something like presentable condition.

     Some weeks later, the White Lady and her Man made their way to the Sioux encampment along with the baby.  A great celebration was held along with some kind of blessing rendered by the Spiritual Guide of the Tribal group.  The White Lady was, you see, some kind of bleeding-heart liberal Republican of the period who was famous for doing medical work among them, along with other kindnesses.   These acts did not endear her nor her husband with the Nordic folks who predominated in the area in terms of the Caucasian cohort of the population in southeastern-most North Dakota.

     Supposedly, this humble servant who now recounts the story of the nativity of his father, is genetically most like the White Lady, who was tall and thin (5'10" and 120 pounds) like her father who was tall and thin (6'4" and 190 pounds).

There is more to tell, but perhaps at another time, when the wind is cold and blowing flakes and freezing things and while we struggle a bit for warmth and reason.
El Gringo Viejo