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This is a time of year when I like to look back at the last year to see what changes have come. I spent much of my summer perched on a mountain outside Stevenson, WA watching over a farm so the owners could take work elsewhere The economy here is really in the tank.

The alter reality that is our local newspaper keeps claiming that houses are selling,  there are fewer homeless, and more jobs. When I look around I see something different, the local homeless camp is getting crowded, I am getting more applications for each not great paying retail job I offer and the food bank keeps running out of food.

People have been seeing hard times all over. This year my lower jaw has hit the floor many times as people have spoken with awe in their voice of my survival skills. They believe that somehow I am tougher, smarter, or more fearless than them. That I have somehow accomplished something they can't. This is not true I am very normal. I do not have special genes or take a secret pill every day. I meditated on this some while I sat on my mountain what this secret ingrediant of my person might be and if there was one how could I share it with others. What I came up with is history I know the stories of those who came before me. In my case a long line of women with spines of stainless steel who faced down certain death until death blinked. Through their stories they blazed a trail and a way of thinking that is still valid in current times. I am sure everybody has these ancestors, mine are not all that different from thousands of pioneers the difference is I know the stories.

I have come to understand that about 98% of everything is how our mind looks at things that many of the battles we face are battles with ourselves. My ancestors gave me a different way of looking at and facing hard times perhaps they can do the same for others. If so then I am sure they would glad to pitch in.

 So while I head off up the highway to spend Christmas with my 93 year old grandmother, a minor miracle in her own right. I leave you with a story from my family.

Step back in time with me to the Dakota prairie and let me  introduce to you My great great aunt Mabel, she stood just under five feet tall and never weighed more than 100 pounds soaking wet, this is her story.

I knew Mabel as an old woman, really old, she was the younger sister of my great great grandmother the two of them were the sole survivors of their family after the Wounded Knee massacre. This was a closely guarded secret, that my elders were Lakota and not Italian like the family that had found them and taken them in. The father of their new family went to considerable lengths and pulled in considerable, powerful help to cover it up. He did it to protect his girls and it worked. No records exist the clues lie in forged birth certificates and family legends of those who contributed to protecting them.

They ended up on a ranch a fair ride to the west of Deadwood South Dakota.  Mabel and My gr gr grandmother Emily went to school in Deadwood and would go and spend a week at a time there because it was to far to travel home each day. Both graduated high school in a time when it was common to quit after 8th grade. Emily became a school teacher, then married a train engineer who was later tragically burned in a boiler explosion because of his disability and the lack of safety nets in early 1900's Emily was forced to return to work to support her family She landed a good position in the state of Washington on the then very wild Olympic Peninsula teaching in a 4 room school. But the Olympic Peninsula no less wild than Deadwood Emily did what she had to do.

So it was that when Mabel married James they took over running the family ranch. Children arrived 5 of them.The grandparents who had been in their early 40's when they found the girls, grew old and died. It was a week before Christmas 1916. Mabel was 28 years old. She and the kids were getting ready for the holiday. Things were tight but good. She and James had worked late into the night making gifts for the kids all were finished and hidden. James was out feeding the cattle and would soon return.

A blizzard came out of the north. The tremendous howl of the wind lasted all night. Mabel sat by the window with the lantern cranked high. She hoped that James was in the barn, if not she could only hope he saw the light but it was not to be. Unknown to Mabel James had become lost in the storm and frozen to death not 10 feet from the barn.

Mabels world changed forever as she faced the world alone with five children to support. In 1916 a woman could not just go out a find a job. Anything she could do would not feed her family or give them a future. On top of that she had no money only a line of credit with the bank that was cut off post haste at the news of James death. The banker told her he was doing her a favor by cutting off her credit that would force her to sell the ranch and find a place in town maybe take in washing until she found a new husband. She was young after all.

He obviously didn't know Mabel. As the vultures circled hoping to pick up some cheap land from a distressed and naive little woman Mabel made plans. She had cattle feed to last until spring, some stores of food and enough to keep the fires going for heat and cooking. She increased their likelihood of surviving by hunting and shooting a deer for meat, reserving the cattle to populate the ranch the following summer.

The men of town tried to force her to see reason by denying her the slightest help. The postmaster even kept back a letter she had sent to her sister begging for anything she could spare. The arrival of spring and the arrival of a letter from her sister wondering why she hadn't heard word lately changed things a bit. The long days and nights as  she aided the cows in giving birth to their young must have been grueling yet this tiny woman did it on her own. In her own words shear terror of what would happen if she didn't keep going did the trick. Some money arrived just in time to buy seed sent by her nieces husband who was a logger on the Olympic Peninsula. It wasn't much but it was enough She rode east on her horse to get supplies snubbing the local town where they were still trying to get her to see reason and doing things to try to force her from the ranch.

 The summer was an endless stream of work when it was done Mabel had survived and so did the ranch. They were still poor, they still didn't have a nickel to their name any little problem any unforeseen calamity would have been an overwhelming disaster but they had food, fuel, feed and they still had ranch.

It was the following late spring when a sporty carriage showed up in the yard of the ranch. A well dressed woman had driven herself some 50 miles to meet Mabel. She had heard of her stubborness and determination and wanted to meet her. She admired spunk and had more than a little herself. They talked as she and Mabel rode the fields on horseback. The woman was also a widow determined to make her way in the world and determined to do it her way, unlike Mabel she had been left with a lot of money. Her late husbands banker was trying to keep her on a small allowance while he invested her money as he saw fit, all, of course, for her own good. In the end this woman became Mabels partner their combine  business sense and investment of cash along with Mabels hard work caused the ranch to thrive.

I would like to tell you Mabel got rich,all her dreams came true, and she lived happily ever after but that is not so. She was able to hire some help but she also lost one of her children to the Spanish Flu. She faced many other challenges there were victories and miracles and there were defeats. Mabel worked the ranch all of her life, she sent her kids to college, watched her grandkids grow up and finally at the age of 100 was forced to leave because she could no longer live alone. So attached to her ranch was she that she would regularly break out of the assisted living facility where she spent her final days and walk 6 miles back to her beloved home little more than a shack on the South Dakota prairie. At the age of 104 she finally died.

When she was getting ready to go to the assisted living facility she broke down her 30.06 lady Winchester rifle, the one she had used to hunt many a deer to feed her family, and put it in a box. Along with the rifle she penned the following words Where I am going they tell me I won't need this that all my food will be provided for me. I guess that's okay I'm getting a little old it's become harder to take aim my eyes are just not what they used to be.  Use this well young lady and remember to keep it oiled. She then hauled it into town and dropped it in the mail. It created quite a stir when it arrived on my desk a week later, I was a mail carrier in the wild out back and the first postal shootings had happened only days before.My co workers gathered to see what wondrous thing this unexpected package held. When I pulled out the stock one of my co workers fainted.

I oil the Lady Winchester regularly, since I am a vegetarian it hasn't seen much hunting in recent years but one never knows if it's Bambi or starvation Bambi is toast.

Mabels daughter became the first female mayor of the town where she lived, her niece Cecil was the only woman to graduate law school from her college in 1935 and went onto a long career retiring in the early 60's to pursue her love of women's rights where she became a legal expert for many organizations. Her niece Irene saved half of the historical buildings in Western Washington. This included chaining herself to a bulldozer to save downtown Port Townsend now a national historic landmark but once slated for urban renewal. I guess you could say she one that little war. Another became a executive at Nordstroms department store in the 40's. There are doctors, a senator, several teachers, mothers, artists the list goes on each has contributed in her own way to make our world just a little better for others. But there has always been a common theme, those in power have always underestimated them, patted them on the head and dismissed them. It must have been rather a suprise to these powerful folks when the old size 5 shoe walked across their face on the way to the chosen goal. My ealiest memory is of the smile on my great aunts face when the mayor of Port Townsend condecendingly told her she would get her little historical hobby. Ha, I was three and even I knew he was in serious trouble.

 But in the end it all goes back to two young girls survivors of a brutal mass murder on the South Dakota Prairie that taught all of us that have followed them what we were capable of and that we can overcome the most amazing things  if we just keep believing in ourselves, remember that our circumstances are not who we are no matter how challenging they may be they are just that challenges to be puzzled out, and never, never  give up.

Peace be with you wherever and however you find yourself today.

Originally posted to PSWaterspirit on Sun Dec 25, 2011 at 04:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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