By Barb Hauge
After Chet Huntley & Co. built the mountain resort at Big Sky, Montana, we took a tour of the area. Our youngest foster daughter looked it over and said, "I hope you're not going to live here. It looks rich and rich people are never nice." Ida Mae was a little girl who had wisdom much beyond her kin. Now, "the people who are never nice" have managed to steal from her a half million dollar settlement on her right arm which apparently should never have been amputated.
When Ida Mae felt as if life were defeating her, she would hang her head and hide behind her beautiful black hair. Once, when I asked her what was wrong, Ida Mae said, "Mom, I don't even have a right hand to salute the flag like the other kids in school." Since she had been raised as a ward of the American government on an Indian Reservation and found in a log cabin with a dirt floor and no responsible adults present and had not gotten medical attention for a broken arm until gangrene set in, I wondered if the American flag really deserved this child's allegiance! During the years we cared for the children, we were told repeatedly that they were "wards of the government." That government had certainly done a piss-poor job of taking care of its wards!
When cultures merge, there is what is known as "culture shock." Our shock was more like amazement to learn that the human spirit can survive such abominable treatment. These little children had survived by surrounding themselves in a cocoon-world of pretend. Their culture shocks with us must have been many. First, they crossed the color barrier into a different community where they met compassion but also racial prejudice and learned life could be very different from what they had known.
One hog market day we were late getting home from town and after hiding upstairs for a bit, Ida Mae rushed into my arms crying and said, "Oh, Mom, you did come home and you brought us new parkas and you're not even drunk." We found the children scored lower on I.Q. tests because they could not identify things like lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners that had been no part of their lives.
The girls were quite frightened of men who smelled of booze and told of hiding out in the woods to escape their mother's boyfriends and also drunken relatives. Maria, who went to church with a Catholic friend, refused to go to confession. When I asked her why, she said, "I have nothing to tell that old drunk man." At age nine she also told us, "Some big men give you candy and then do very bad things." After she caught up to her class, Maria was a good student, loved to read, was selected cheerleader and was an excellent basketball player.
At school Ida Mae was very shy and frightened. Our son, who was a senior, went to her room and told her where to find him at school and said if anyone gave her a bad time to come and get him. He became her trusted friend and when first learning her letters and numbers, she would practice by whispering them to Dwight.
We believe we helped the children to enjoy a happier childhood than they would otherwise have known. But no, they live in two worlds. We wish people of all races could live together in one world!