They inspired the choice of background fabric, which shows not only horses but gray-blue "ghost horses."
There are a lot of ghosts on that land. Children frequently report their unwelcome visitations.
Anyway, in the summer of 2012, about six months after I got back in touch with Morris's now-30-year-old daughter, my husband Mark and I headed up to Green Grass, South Dakota to rehab the cabin she had shared with her dad and grandmother--where they were living when I met them.
Her 3 children had been in foster care for 3 years, and her lack of a stable residence was a major obstacle to getting them back. The cabin looked like this inside:
The leaky pipes (plumbing with duct tape??!) had been its downfall. Once disabled, it was vandalized, with doors pried open, windows broken: a proper gang hangout. Mark, like the quiet hero he is, mastered the plumbing and subfloor. I headed up the drywall-and-paint team. A kindly Christian carpenter installed windows and doors. A couple more trips and the cabin was outfitted with floor, baseboard, trim and appliances.
The ghosts are the real story, though. In a previous post, I told how, as I scraped and painted the Green Grass church, Morris had regaled me with "glory stories" of rodeo performances, band gigs, and romance. These stories always had the same trajectory. At the end he would pawn his guitar, get thrown into jail, dumped by the girl; his bad luck was his joke, his punch line. In fact, rehabbing the cabin, I found an upside-down horseshoe Morris had nailed above the front door.
I once asked him if he ever dreamed of having a guitar and playing again. "Naw, I'd just end up losing it," he'd said.
Back to 2012: Once situated in the cabin, my adopted "daughter" was on the road to getting her kids back. We talked frequently over the phone, almost every other day. There were roadblocks: more than one junky car that broke down, needed repairs, died; workmen who waited until late November to install a furnace; lots of wiring money back and forth; the inevitable boyfriend troubles. When visits began, we talked parenting issues, boundaries especially. As someone with FASD and no parenting models, she struggled to sort through their demands. But she did the work; she took the classes. And, one day this past August, the court granted her custody of her children--just before the school year started.
Imagine me now, giddily sewing school outfits, planning my trip to meet "grandchildren". Watch how it gradually dawns on me that I haven't heard from D. for five days, since her latest car break-down. Then, receiving the news, fresh from a North Dakota jail, that an impromptu trip to "buy clothes for the kids" in Bismarck had turned left at the casino and had gone straight downhill from there. Thousands of dollars of the kids' tribal money, gone. Vanished. Poof.
And just like that, a year of effort was wiped away. Her children were back in foster care, and this time, her oldest daughter wouldn't talk to her (Still won't). It felt like the end of the story.
Things have changed: for one, there is no more wiring of money. We don't talk as often anymore. But the lives continue. My Lakota daughter is taking GED classes. She reports having been sober "for a while." If there are three children still unsure who their parents are, there is one woman who has a home where she had none. And soon, a quilt to remind her to continue to aspire for something beyond mere survival.
Sometimes a quilt is the only love language I know how to speak.