Fond du Lac Follies: Winter always takes a few of our elders

News From Indian Country 4-09

It may be just my memory but winter always takes a couple of our elders, My mother-in-law Geraldine Dow died recently. She lived a long life full of helping other people.

She just helped people because it was the way she was raised. Some she helped by listening and no one ever walked away from her table empty. She fed any and all that came to visit.

I have a couple of fond memories I will share about this remarkable woman.

I remember hearing the story about when she was a little girl playing with her cousins, the Pipestone bus came and she got on with them, she was four years old. Her parents found her at the boarding school.    

In the early 40s, while her husband Howard was driving tanks for General Patton, Gerry took a job as Rosie the Riveter in Seattle working in a shipyard. She contributed to the war effort.

Howard and Gerry raised their family at the Lower Sioux Community. They later moved to St. Paul so he could find work. Visiting Indians could always find a meal or a place to sleep at their home.

When I was courting their oldest daughter Patty, I paid the bride price by giving Gerry two and a half horses. She smiled and said I was thinking of getting a lawnmower and now I have one. When I left her house my belly was full.

We shall long remember this exceptional woman.


My younger sister Doris Ann also died recently, she was 61. It is hard for me to write about my sister and friend. She was always quick to offer a cup of coffee or a meal or an ear when I visited her. She told the funniest stories.

Doris was born on February 14th so every Valentines Day I sang her our traditional family song that goes: Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, you belong in a zoo, you belong in a zoo.

She moved back to the Rez from the Cities in the early 90s. I was glad because it was easier to visit her on Mahnomen Road. She was called Doe, the Mayor of Mahnomen.

Lee Staples did the ceremony that helped send Doris to the other side to meet her relatives that had passed on.

The Sawyer Community Center was where her funeral was held. The fire was burning outside. There were quite a few of her friends and relatives who came together to help send her off. Her children and grandchildren were seated on one side of the aisle. Doris Ann’s brothers and sisters were seated on the other side of the aisle. We were seated in our birth order. Empty chairs were used to signify which brother or sister had passed on.

During the ceremony, in Ojbwe, Lee Staples told Doris what she would see on her four day journey to the other side. We ate and smoked with Doris. The non-smokers took their tobacco outside and placed it in the fire. After the casket was closed for the final time Lee explained what he had said in English to us. We left knowing what to expect when our time comes.

Doris, every Valentines Day I will sing to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, you belong in a zoo, you belong in a zoo.


My sons and I went out to tap maple trees. The crew consisted of my son Matthew, his SO Jackie, sons Joseph and Aaron Ezigaa. We drilled 194 holes after offering tobacco. Two bald eagles circled us while we were tapping trees. We know they will carry the message to the Creator that some Shinnobs are still using the gift of maple sap.

I supervised from my lawn chair placed on the logging road. I pointed where I wanted them to drill, tap, and place a milk jug. At the end of the day my lips were just tired.

We collected our sap and brought it home to the fire pit and sugar camp in the yard.

We hung one kettle and began to boil. We filtered the sap as we poured it into the kettle. The snow began falling in huge flakes as the kettle began to steam. We boiled and kept adding sap to the kettle.

Dr. Vainio, his wife Ivy, and son Jacob came to see how we make maple syrup. We explained that this was our first boil. The next time they visit we will put them to work. We Tom Sawyer people in Sawyer.

My wife Patricia and her sister Cynthia pulled in from the Lower Sioux Community. They were just in time to do the finish boiling and canning of the syrup.


Mii iw

Mii sa iw


The views expressed in this column belong to the writer alone, they are not meant to represent any maple syrup makers or my sister-in-law Cynthia. Comments and pancake mix can be sent to FdL Follies, PO Box 16, Sawyer, MN 55780-0016.

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