Ho-Chunk Elder Celebrates 90th Birthday in Style
(Written by Thomas S. Tourtillott, freelance writer)
Friends, relatives, and two invited drum groups came together at the Ho-Chunk Nation’s Area I community building in Black River Falls, WI; to help make Ho-Chunk elder, Annabelle Lowe’s, ninetieth birthday celebration an occasion to remember.
In a gymnasium that was packed to capacity, Parmenton Decorah officiated as Master of Ceremonies. Troy Swallow offered a prayer of thanksgiving over the birthday meal. Marty Little Wolf took the podium as the after-dinner speaker. Birthday celebrity, Annabelle, followed that impromptu speech with a few words of her own. Shortly thereafter a photo opportunity ensued. Once the cameras stopped flashing fifty times a second, a social dance then took place for the rest of the afternoon. The drum groups, Little Thunder and Hiwasipi, provided the music for such dances as a round dance, a two-step, a potato dance, and a swan dance. Throngs of descendants danced with Annabelle as gaga showed off the strut in her step.
Just prior to the dancing, both Marty and Annabelle spoke. Read on to find out what they had to say.
Marty Little Wolf
This is a glorious occasion. She’s like the [referring to his mother, Annabelle] last of the people her age, her generation. She’s by herself; but we are her children, so we try to be by her. She gets tired, so we try to be by her. She gets tired, so we try to say a prayer because a family that prays together stays together.
So with that thought in mind, the Creator God answers our prayers and my mom, she’s okay, here. She can feel like going on, continuing on in this daily life. She was saying that someday when she retires she’s going to look forward to old age. When she got there [to old age] she asked, “Who said it was good when you get old? Gee, I just kind of ache and pain and it is hard for me to get up.”
But being ninety years old, believe it or not, she’s still got a driver’s license, in case you need a designated driver. She’s got some good stories for when the waragos [police] stop her. Boy, she knows how to get out of them. So she’s still got all her points.
I love my mom, you know…I have three sisters; hinu, wiha, and siga; that’s Julia, Annette, and Martina, and myself. We’re all over sixty. So that’s really nice for our mother. She has four of her children. And I got another one, too. Brother Norman [Snake]; we’re all over sixty. That’s really nice for our mom to have that many elder children with her and we’re all here. I’m really glad that my brothers and sisters are here to help celebrate our mom’s birthday.
And then my children; my sons, kunu Mike and all my other sons and daughters are all here to help celebrate Annabelle’s ninetieth birthday, even though it’s going to be on Monday. So here it’s an early birthday. So, mom I want to say happy birthday.
I’m a great grandfather. I have grandchildren that are parents. To me, that’s a privilege. And then there are five generations that are here with my mom. I’m just glad for my mom that she could witness this many generations here helping her celebrate her ninetieth birthday. Thinking about my mother…you know, when you have children, you are concerned about them and you want to know that they are all right, especially when you don’t hear from them for some time. My mom is still that way.
Myself, I feel thankful to God that I am an able bodied person. Still, my mom…she will call or stop over to see how I’m doing [instead of the other way around]. She would say “hello, son? How are you feeling, son?” And that’s really nice that parents are like that way towards their children and my mom, she is still that way with us. It’s really nice; I feel good about that.
I’m just trying to find some encouraging words for this after-dinner speech. I’m really glad that my sisters are here and some of my brothers are here, all you relatives here. I’m really thankful for each one of you for taking time out from your everyday lives to come over here and help my mom celebrate her ninetieth birthday. And then you also brought some gifts along with your good thoughts, good feelings, and good hearts. Thank you for your sacrifice.
Way back in my younger days when my kids were small, we used to celebrate my mom’s birthday every year. All those years we used to buy her gifts; a rain coat, an umbrella, dishes, dresses, jackets, gloves, all those kinds of things. Because of her clanship she can’t keep those things we gave her. I didn’t know that.
One day I had a ceremony at her house and in the morning we went to raise my brother Eddie’s flag. We looked for that flag in a room where my mom keeps all the gifts she has received; she keeps the door locked. We looked all over. We couldn’t find his flag, so we couldn’t honor him. When we looked for his flag I saw all those things that we bought for my mom; she had them all in that room, still brand new and in their packages.
So when the ceremony was done we just put all those things back and then on Monday morning we told our mom we went to the place where the flag was at and couldn’t find it but on Monday morning it was right there where it was supposed to be. This goes to show that God works in mysterious ways.
Once again, I want to say thanks [Ho-Chunks believe that a person can never say thank you enough] that all my children are here, except for my hayna but I know where he’s at. He had one of those OWI’s; one too many. So I hope that doesn’t happen to you guys; especially our elders, like my mom. I wish that wouldn’t happen to my mom. Otherwise, we’ll have to pass the hat around, do a blanket dance to her out. I’m just saying that because my mom likes humor, she like laughter. I appreciate her very much.
I’m going to conclude here…but before I do that I want to thank the drums for being here. All the food is picked up and everything is moved out of the way. We are getting ready to dance. I also want to thank all the women for wearing squaw dresses; this was one of my mom’s wishes, so thank you very much for doing that. So with that, I’ll say a word of thanks for your attention. Thank you.
I’m getting old. You take advantage of it when you’re young but when you get to be old like me, you lift your knee up high for every little thing. Now I can REALLY talk. I just got to hang on to something. I’m getting to that point where my joints hurt when I walk or when I sit too long or when I stay in bed too long; I have to get up every so often.
I’m thankful for all the prayers that are said for the elders. I’m not the only elder, there’s a lot of elders and I understand that there’s another elderly lady in Bluewing. I often wish that I could go visit her and talk to her and just be with her.
I don’t even know her name and I don’t even know where she lives, but that is somebody I was asking about because there was another elderly person…that’s what I was told [An elderly woman sitting at the honor table says “I’m right behind you.” Everybody bursts out in laughter; the drums roll] Are you the one [Annabelle chuckles, doing a double take in disbelief]?
My dad and her dad used to sit down and talk and make jokes and laugh. I used to like listening to them. And when I see her she makes me laugh. Just looking at her makes me laugh. Yeah, we went to school together. And we fought together [more applause, drums roll]. I’m kidding.
It’s really nice to see everybody and I would like to say again I really appreciate everything that was done and my family. They went out of their way to earn this money to be able to do what they are doing here today. And I’d like to say thank you to them and they didn’t tell me nothing about what they were doing. I knew they were up to something, but I did not know what. Now I know what they were doing because here I am. Thank you to them for all that they have done.
Once in a great while I make it to a prayer service [Native American Church]. I really like to do that; offer prayers for everybody. I feel like I’m getting closer to that time when I’ll be leaving this world. And that’s what I say everyday when I talk. I say “I’m getting ready for that next world to come.” If I say that, they too, you folks, will feel the same way; be that way. You can take care of yourselves and your thoughts and you’re doing whatever you’re doing.
I always want to put a smile on somebody’s face. That’s my motto, that I do that. No matter where I’m at, I try to put a smile on somebody’s face and I make them feel happy. I think we all ought to do that; that way we can all get along real good no matter what we’re going through. Hard times, good times. Like today, it makes a person feel good.
This morning I was kind of tired and I thought “Oh, I don’t know if I should go, I’m kind of tired this morning” but then I said my prayer and after that I was ready for the day. I asked for strength so I could finish out the day. And I would like to say thank you again, you people make me feel that way. And I would like to say again thank you to the little ones running around here; they’re going to be one day like the way I am. That’s the way I’m looking at it. I really appreciate each and every one of them.