As I Remember It: Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder

Losing Baby Jane

And after I had the next baby, which was Jane – she was thirteen months younger than Sharon – that’s when we went down to the States to go and pick berries because there were no jobs around here. So people often went away, either to the hop fields or the berry fields in the States. People went different directions. They went to the different farms. The first farm we went to when we went up there that time was – it was just this cabin that was overgrown with bush. And it had no windows. It had nothing but straw on the bed. I think it was a wood bed, with straw on there! So that’s where we ended up, when I was married and had the three children. In Sumner. So we stayed there, and we moved from there to the Hatch farm, which was just couple miles down the road. And the living conditions there was a little bit better. It had windows and – so you’re really roughin’ it. It was harsh. It was pretty hard life. We went down there just, you know, to survive through the summer. We left in June, early June, and uh, didn’t come back till September, around 1954, ’55.

And my baby got sick down there. She was seven months old. Her name was Jane. She was beautiful baby. A really, really healthy, happy baby. And then in just a matter of five days being sick, she passed away. And I never did find out what kind of illness she got. I blame it on the water – I blame it on the environment we were in, because the cabins we were living in was close to the fields and there was a lot of flies, a lot of fertilizers from the fields that we worked on. ’Cause I took her with me in her baby buggy out into the raspberry fields and blackberry fields, ’cause there were the bushes, tall, and she was protected in the shade in the buggy. She was such a beautiful baby. Really good baby, happy. She never fussed. And then just before we were finished blackberry pickin’, we were in Sumner, just outside of Tacoma, and she got sick and she was sick for three days. And she wasn’t takin’ her milk. She wasn’t takin’ the bottle at all. But she was very quiet. She slept a lot. So being an inexperienced mother, I guess I was, and young – just didn’t realize how serious dehydration can be for children, for adults. Because she wasn’t taking any fluids at all. I knew she was sick, but she wasn’t fussin’, she wasn’t cryin’. So the third day she was sick I brought her to the doctor and – there’s a hospital in Tacoma that I brought her to. And I was told – after waiting there from ten in the morning till two in the afternoon – finally the doctor came and called us in, looked at her, and examined her quickly, said, “You just need to change her formula. Just put her on skim milk.”

And he said to me, “Why don’t you Canadian Indians stay in Canada where you belong?” He said, “This hospital is not for Canadian people.” So that was a real jolt for me. I just went there, I guess, blindly and out of concern. And it was like he scolded me and told me, “Go home – go back to Canada.” I guess he had his point, but, you know, we didn’t have medical coverage in those days, especially down in the States. So, brought her home. He said, “If she’s not better in two days, bring her back.”

So she wasn’t better the second day, and I brought her back to that same place. And the doctor – again we had to wait from about ten in the morning till mid-afternoon before he came around and looked at her, and by then, she had lost a lot of weight – body weight. She was really limp and, you know, just really tired. But it was so strange how she never fussed. She never, ever put up a fuss. But she would throw up whenever she tried to take her milk. She had diarrhea, but it really wasn’t, um – it was very different. It was like curdled milk going through her. So they said, “Oh, we’ll keep her in overnight for observation.” So they kept her, went home. And about five o’clock the next morning there’s a police officer at our door, ’cause we didn’t have phones. And said, “Your baby passed away last night in the hospital. Three o’clock.” So that was a real shock. [emotional]

So we went to the hospital. We went to talk with the doctors. And I was told at the hospital that she just took a turn for the worse during the night. And they were never, ever able to tell me what she died from. They insisted on doing an autopsy, because she had been in the hospital for less than twenty-four hours when she passed away. They insisted – it was the law to do an autopsy, which I was so opposed to having that done. But, because it was the law, we had to give our consent to get that done. So that took up all that day, the next day. It was into the third day before they released her. And they said we could take her home if we want, take her back to Canada. They provided – nicely covered – for the little casket. A tiny casket. And she just fit into it – she just fit nicely in it.

But they said for all the examination, test they did, they could not find what caused her death. [emotional] And I’ve often wondered, you know, it’s so unfinished for me. [emotional] We packed our belongin’s. We had this rickety old car that my husband bought down there, I think for sixty-five dollars of our berry-pickin’ money, just for us to get around in. And we left most of our stuff there because we couldn’t fit everything into the car. And we brought her home in the trunk of that little rickety old car we had. And I had my oldest child, Glen, and Sharon, the second child, she was going on to two years of age. She was almost two, and Glen was four, and Jane was seven months old.

And this lady – I don’t know where she came from, but there’s a lady, and I don’t – for the life of me I don’t know her name – it was almost like I was in a dark place. But she helped me and she was there. She prayed for me. And I don’t know if she was a minister or a social worker or – I have no idea. I just remember her being there with her hands on my shoulders and saying some words, prayer words, and – so I took that beautiful basket that my baby had been in, and I gave it to her. I said, “Thank you for all your help.” I turned that basket over to her. And she was saying, “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to do this? This is a beautiful basket.” I said, “I’m sure.” I’ve regretted it, that I parted with that basket. But at the time, that seemed like the thing to do.

So we headed back to Vancouver. My brother-in-law was with us. Stan was with us. And we headed back to Vancouver and we got into Vancouver late at night. I don’t know how late it was. Maybe it was around ten or eleven. And we didn’t know where we were gonna go. We had very little money. And this steamboat used to come from Vancouver to Powell River at that time. And we just figured, we’ll see where we go when we get to Vancouver, how we’re going to make that connection. So we were driving down on Powell Street and not knowing where to go. We were going to look for a hotel. And who should be walkin’ on the street but a friend from Klahoose – he lived in Klahoose at that time – Bill Mitchell. And Bill Mitchell was a kind of a person who was always helping people. He was always there to give you advice or guide you or – very traditional person. Always, if you didn’t have the answer for something, or you needed something done, or question about anything, “Just go ask Bill Mitchell!” and that was how we were, how everybody was towards Bill Mitchell. He was never too busy to help anyone. I said, “That’s Bill Mitchell! Lookit, Bill Mitchell is walking on the street!” He was strutting along there. And we pulled over and told him what happened. “Yeah,” he said, “I just went to the corner store and picked up something.” He said, “Mom’s in the hotel” – he always called his wife “Mom” – “Mom’s in the hotel, just down the street here.”

So we told him what happened, you know, we had this little casket in the trunk and we were just going to keep it in the trunk overnight. And he said, “No, you cannot do that.” He said, “You must not do that.” He said, “I know the funeral home,” he said. He told me, “You go stay with Mom,” he said to me and, “Take your kids and go stay with Mom. I’ll go with Willie and Stan. We’ll go up to the funeral home.” So he did that. He was like, you know, guardian angel, as far as I was concerned. He was there when we had nowhere to turn. So they took care of that, and the next morning, he said, “I’ll go with you guys.” He said, “We’ll go to the Indian Affairs office and see if they will help.” He said, “They have to help.” He was quite familiar with the different programs. Which we didn’t have many, but he was a Chief for many years in Squirrel Cove, so he knew his way around.

So they went early in the morning, and by then we had gotten a room. It was one of those cheap hotels down towards the waterfront there. So I was in bed and I had the two children with me. They were napping, and I had a nap. I woke up – I was facing the window. And at that time these windows used to open if you’d just lift it, it would open. Quite easily. And my little girl, I woke up and she was sitting on that windowsill. And we’re three storeys high. Oh my goodness! I was almost frozen, you know? She was looking down below on the street watchin’ the cars. I just kind of snuck up on her and I grabbed her. I just grabbed her and pulled her onto the bed because the bed was right up against the window. And that’s how she got up on the ledge. So I just about lost her, because if she had toppled over – not even two years old yet. I don’t know if that window was open or if she was able to push it up. Oh, it was so scary. After I got her on the bed, and I just sobbed and I cried and I was so upset. I just was so overcome. So that was a very rough time for us. I believe it was the following day that we were able to board the boat that used to come up to Powell River and used to go up north. So Bill Mitchell helped take care of those things and we got on our way.

And they were coming back on the same boat with us. And I was telling Mrs. Mitchell what happened that morning, early in the morning when my little girl was sittin’ on the window ledge. And she said, “You know,” she said, “that’s the reason why you need to really keep your children close to you. When you lose someone in your family, chances are something just may happen. When you lose someone, you’re very vulnerable. So you have to be very careful and cautious, and always be careful of your surroundings.” And I really believed that, I still believe that till today, that we are weakened when we’re in the dark. That our energy level is down, that we’re not able to function and we’re not as aware. And that’s so important, to be so aware. And that teachin’ still stands today. When we lose someone in our community within a family, we tell parents, children, siblings, “Keep your children close to you. Don’t let them go far. Hold on to them. Because they could be – their spirit can be taken.”

So that was our bad luck – our rough journey down there to the States. And from then on, I’ve never ever gone back there. It was a thing for our people to do. They used to go down there every summer, just to make a living for a few weeks maybe, from six weeks to three months – maybe longer if they went further into Yakima. Pick fruit there, apples and whatever. And the pay was not much. There wasn’t much money to be made in the berry fields. So it was just struggle, just always struggling for, you know, how we were going to survive and get back home. But we managed. We got back home. We managed to bring our baby home for burial. She was buried in our cemetery. So that was a real difficult time for us.

This page has paths:

This page has tags: