Grandma’s Moose

20 Jan

Grandma puts moose in her hair.  The cold airless container sits in her cabinet over the sink.  The writing on it is exotic and canary yellow like the blonde in Grandma’s hair.  I don’t understand how a moose got into such a small space.
“Gramma, what is that stuff?” I ask, dazed with the light fixtures on Grandma’s hair making it glow like an actress on Broadway.
“Its mousse, Lela,” she replies with a smile on her face.
“MOOSE?!” Shocked I scoot into the area between her and the wall; it’s an easy fit for a five year old.  “How is a moose in there?”
Her amusement is obvious.  My days of question asking have started since I started talking, and they haven’t slowed down.  Her eyes glint in the four light bulbs above the sink, and she tries to explain with a performance of the mousse in action.
Grandma’s hair defines her.  She’s always taken meticulous care and comfort in her hair.  She believes in showing off her pride and joy.  Back in the 70s, it touched the vaulted ceiling of cathedrals; now, it still has height but it’s carefully curled back, still clutching the past.  And then she puts moose it in.
The moose comes in a black metal can.  It is cold to the touch.  The top is shaped like my Barbie’s leg.  She lets me watch as she presses the button.  A mountain of sea foam fresh from the ocean comes squirting out.
“That’s a moose?” I’m confused; I know a moose is big and brown with antlers.  This white foam is not a moose.  This is magic.  She holds out her hand with the mousse; instead of it being a white watery substance, it is growing into cream piling higher on her hand.  “It’s growing!”  This mousse is different from the animal; I understand now.
“Give me your hand.”  She grabs the can and presses the button again.  My hand fills up with a tiny bit of white water.  It transforms into whip cream.  I’m sure it will taste sweet and delicious like Grandma’s strawberry shortcake.  My free hand is a Martian rover, needing to explore every inch of the unknown.  My fingers plunge into the white.  I try to grab a little bit in between two fingers but it disappears.  My frustration takes over.  I cannot grasp where the mousse goes.  Clapping my hands together and trying to pinch the mousse, Grandma watches me with joy in her eyes.
“Its all gone, Gramma.  Where is it?”  Whip cream doesn’t disappear like magic; it swims with the strawberry juice under the pillows of shortcake.  My hands feel like I’ve been playing with drying glue and glitter.  She takes the mountain of mousse in her hands and runs her fingers through her hair.  Her gentle curls converts into spiky curls giving Grandma a rock star look.  She could have been a star on Broadway or Hollywood instead she washes my hands in the lukewarm water with vanilla soap.
“Get dressed baby.  It’s Friday.  We’re going to lunch.”
Friday at lunch time meant yucky Clam Chowder and delicious Cheese soup.  Grandpa will be waiting for us.  His hands will be blackened and tiny bits of dirt in his fingernails.
Main Street, Shelby Montana clings to the past while trying to stay with the present.  The diner we’re going to has gone bankrupt and closed at least three times since I was born.  The movie theater where I spend my Friday afternoons has ragged velvet seating like fifty cent brothels.  But as a five year old, it was Wonderland.  The possibilities with Grandma and Grandpa were endless.  It didn’t matter where we were going; any place in Shelby was an adventure.
We park two blocks away from the diner.  Grandma and I hold hands as we window shop in the pharmacy and The Prairie Peddler.  They have new Beanie Babies today; maybe Grandma will buy me one today and chastise me for ripping the tag off.  I have over twenty of them, my favorite is my gorilla.  The monkey in the window winks at me knowing I can convince Grandma to buy it for me to keep my gorilla company when I’m away.
Grandpa waits for us in the dim lighting of the diner.  He’s been out in the oil fields all morning; he leaves earlier than I wake up.  I run and give him a hug.  I’ve missed him in the few hours he’s been gone.  His eyes twinkle like Santa, seeing him always makes me happy.
“Grandpa!  Grandma puts mousse in her hair!”  I have to tell him all about my day and everything I’ve learnt so far.  “It is white, and it makes her hair stay in place!”
He smiles, happy that Grandma still takes pride in her appearance.  Their love lightens the room and touches everything around us.  Out of everything I love about Grandpa, his hands are my favorite.  They are rough and calloused; his fingertips hardened.  He smells of oil, “Money” he says.  He and Grandma built his company, one long day after another.  Their legacy lives in an old white building behind Main Street, the walls, wood paneling and the carpet, shag.  They always have sugar cubes that I use when I’m playing horse.  I can entertain myself for hours on end waiting for them to finish their day.  Grandpa collects oil cans and pocket watches; I dust them and rearrange them for five dollars.  The oil cans are all sizes and shapes.  Some look like the Tin Man’s oil can, others are like a giraffe.
Fridays are my favorite days.  We will stay at the diner for over an hour eating our soups.  The soups are freshly made and steaming when the waitress brings them to us. She knows us by name, the Kennedys and their Cheese soup.  Grandpa switches from Cheese soup to Clam Chowder every other week; Grandma always gets Clam Chowder.  I don’t like it; it smells like fish.  Grandpa orders Clam Chowder today, and I’m upset he didn’t pick Cheese soup with me today.  My face scowls with the smell coming at me in all directions.
“Yummy!  You want to try some today, Lela?”
I never want to try it.  I made the mistake once, and never again will I taste it.  My face scrunches up with disgust.  Grandpa laughs with his entire body, his chair rocks with the laughter.
“Are you going to the movies tonight, Lela?”  Grandma bought me a summer movie pass for every Friday.  Even as a five year old, I had free reign in Wonderland; Grandma would drop me off at the movie theater at four in the afternoon and would pick me up in time for dinner.  I could be there by myself.  Grandma has hope in her eyes, after a week entertaining me I understood she needs some time alone.  Even at four, Grandma and my relationship didn’t need words.  We communicated with looks, glances, and secret smiles belonging only to us.
“Yaaaahhhh, I can go tonight,” I’m hesitant; I just want to spend time with Grandma.  I feel the end of summer creeping up on us, soon I’ll have to go back to Billings, and this fall I’ll be starting kindergarten.  My mind wanders back to the mousse this morning and I wonder if school will teach me how to be beautiful and to love like Grandma.


6 Dec

Date Taken: 12/4/12
Shutter Speed: 10/500 sec
F-stop: f/4.5
ISO: 400
Focal Length: 18.6 mm

I love wine, and I love pictures.  Why not merge the two together?  I had poured myself a glass of wine and started taking pictures of it.

The photoshop, something that I have just recently understood, gives the feeling of a neon sign–something that I really like.  The fire is blue, which gives it a cool feel, and my lip print glows in the neon light.

Night Photography

4 Dec
Stars in the Night

Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T3i
Date Taken: 12/3/12
Shutter Speed: .6 sec
F-Stop: f/4.0
ISO: 400
Focal Length: 18.0 mm

face in moon

Camera: Iphone 4S
Date Taken: 11/29/12
Shutter Speed: 1/15 sec
F-Stop: f/2.4
ISO: 800
Focal Length: 4.3 mm

Working with different types of lights to create images in blackness stopped me from growing crazy.  I felt like a child again making images in the darkness and running around my parents house.  I used quite a bit of Photoshop for the light picture; each light source is its own photo.  I also jacked up the saturation for my sister giving her almost a cartoon feel.  I gave her that feeling to portray my child-like experience playing with flashlights in the dark.
Sometimes we all need a night away from adulthood.

The moon photograph was actually taken with my Iphone, only 8 megapixels.  The clarity is not perfect on it, but I think it gives it a feel of unsureness during the night.  The tree branches created a smiling face on top of the moon giving it a creepy feel.  I walked out to my car after work and saw this picture, and I decided the world needed to feel my uncomfortableness.  Hopefully I succeeded.

Portrait and Social Commentary

27 Nov

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date: 11/20/2012
Shutter Speed: 1/6 sec
F-Stop: f/3.2
ISO: 400
Focal Length: 5.6 mm


Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date: 11/20/2012
Shutter Speed: 1/15 sec
F-Stop: f/3.8
ISO: 400
Focal Length: 10.2 mm



Most people do not realize the importance of an education, even today when a Bachelor’s degree is needed for a steady job.  Native Americans, specifically the Sioux, understand the importance of an education but cannot get off the reservation long enough to make something of one’s self.  The Sioux people have always focused on family first, and that is not a bad thing.  However, when the family holds the person back from becoming successful—a cycle is born.  Most Indian reservations feel this cycle every day, and not many can get out of the third-world countries that are reservations.  To put shame on one’s family is one of the biggest sins a Sioux Indian can make.  So how does a Sioux Indian ever exit the cycle and change his or her fate?  Harold Lewis LaRoche, my grandfather, sets a prime example of loving and taking pride in his heritage but also making the most out of life.
I might seem biased in this biography; Grandpa Harold did help raise me, but I look up to this man more than anyone else in my life, so please forgive my awesome descriptions of his story-book life.
My grandfather was born on the Lower Brule Indian reservation in South Dakota in January of 1931 to Zoe Leeds and Peter LaRoche.  Zoe Leeds was a devout Episcopalian most of her life until she married Peter, then she became Catholic until Peter’s death.  Zoe’s mother died while giving birth to her, and she was raised by her father Martin Leeds.  Martin’s Indian’s name was Black Elk, but as my grandfather described it, his name was changed to Martin Leeds so the government could remember it, which was extremely common.
Peter LaRoche was half French and half Sioux Indian; his genealogy traces back to the French fur trappers who bought furs from the Indians.  Peter’s mother was also half French and half Sioux, and Peter’s father was also half French and half Sioux.  Grandpa Harold carries his French last name with pride.
Grandpa Harold holds my heart in his hands; we might not be blood, but he helped raise me.  I have always been astonished with his accomplishments in his life.  We would sit at the kitchen table and play Gin for hours while discussing religion or mathematics together.  He was the one who got me through Trigonometry my junior year in High School, but I never realized how smart he actually is until this interview.  Grandpa was a “day student” on the reservation; he went to the local school during the day and stayed with his family all year round.  He did attend a missionary school, Stephen Mission School, when he was about eight or nine, but his reasoning to go was “to learn how to be Catholic.”  He became irritated when I asked him if the missionary school actually cut off his hair and made him give up his Indian heritage, like the horror stories tell.  He told me, “Schools were run as a military institution everywhere.  They lived by the bugle and marched everywhere.  This was not only for Indian missionary schools.”  He kept his hair short anyways; his father practiced as the community barber.  As far as giving up the Sioux language, Grandpa can still understand it, but does not consider himself fluent.  If the missionary schools have such a bad reputation, then why did the Sioux people keep sending their children there?  As Grandpa describes it, “It is because there was never enough food to go around.  The rations sent by the government never satisfied the hunger of so many Indians, and what else is there to do on a reservation except to make babies?  So, people kept having kids, and because they could not feed them—they sent them to the missionary school.”
The Sioux religion, Wakan Tanka, deems everything in life sacred.  Grandpa calls himself “always a Catholic.”  Zoe, his mother, disliked the traditionalists.  She believed traditionalists just wanted to evade God’s rules and regulations.  Grandpa Harold describes Sioux religion differently.  He sees similarities instead of differences between Wakan Tanka and God.  Both religions hold nature sacred, and man can never understand the Great Mystery that is God.
During the summer months that Grandpa was not in school, he ran around and “had a good time.”  He loved to fish, picking berries, and helping his parents.  The entire community looked after him; he would eat out of the “community pot” (a pot made out of hide on top of a rock over a fire) and help the ladies who tended the fire.  “We would pick wild berries for her or bring her fire wood.  We were always doing something.  And she would call to us, ‘Hey, boys!  You better come over here and eat!’  It could be nine o’clock at night or three in the morning.  If we were hungry—we would eat.”
When World War Two started, my grandfather was in the 7th grade.  His mother and father packed them up, and the government shipped them down to Utah in 1943.  They stayed there for three years, working on airplanes, factories, and whatever else they could.  In 1946, his family moved back to the reservation.  During his sophomore year in high school, he attended to a boarding school in Fort Thomson.  The summer came, and Grandpa’s uncle asked him to work on a ranch in Arlene, Montana.  Without question, Grandpa hopped into a car and went to Arlene.  He made “Good money, working on the ranch—seventy-five dollars a month.”  Because everyone loves my Grandfather, when school started again, “All the kids in Arlene asked me to go to school there, so I did.”  He worked on the farm after school for fifteen dollars a month during school.  He stayed in Arlene until he graduated, as Salutatorian, in 1948.
He received a scholarship to any Montana state university, and he choose Missoula.  After one semester he quit school because he felt like, “It was too big, too many kids.”  He then attended the university in Dillon Montana and stayed there for a year and a half.  In June of 1950, the Korean War started, and Grandpa did not want to be drafted.  He gathered up his stuff with his friend and moved to Seattle, “Just because we wanted something new.”  His friend found work right away, but Grandpa did not.  He walked down to the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Navy recruiter’s office, but there was a two to three month wait for shipping out.  “I saw the Marine’s table, and no one was there.  So I said, ‘Hey! I’ll join them!”  And he did.  The Marines fed him for three days, and then they sent him to boot camp.  He never saw the battlefields of Korea.  He became a NCO right after boot camp, training other Marines “how to be Marines.”  He stayed in for three years, and then went back to college at the University of South Dakota in Springfield.  He graduated from college with his degree in Mathematics, Composite Science, and Art in 1956.  He was twenty-five with three degrees and Veteran status.  During his last semester of college, the Dean actually asked him to teach an Art class because “The teacher had a mental breakdown.”  Twenty-five with three degrees, Veteran status, and teaching college art classes—it just stuns me.
After graduating, he taught high school mathematics for a while, until the government contacted him and asked him to work in Aberdeen, South Dakota as an official regulating laws and equal distribution of money on the reservation.  He stayed there until 1964.  In 1965, he met my grandmother, at his office.  They dated for about a year, even after Grandpa worked in Wisconsin and Grandma lived in Sioux Falls.  One weekend, Grandpa went to Sioux Falls for a golf tournament and met up with my grandma.  They had been talking about marriage but not specifically to each other.  But, according to Grandpa, she said, “Why not get married to each other today?” Grandpa replied, “Alright, let’s go.”
They drove to Webster, South Dakota and arrived there at five pm.  They signed the wedding certificate and license on the 15th of January, but because the judge was out fishing until 11:50 pm, they did not finish the ceremony until 12:10 am on January 16th.  My grandmother always corrects Grandpa when he says their anniversary is on the 15th.
While I could go on and on about Grandpa’s amazing life, we also talk about life on the reservation, and why reservation life exists as it does.  Grandpa spent most of his life trying to end the stereotypical reservation life; he focused on all different Indian tribes and their laws, but could not break through.
“The biggest obstacle on a reservation is the lack of jobs, money, and family income.  We never received rations because my father had gainful employment as a janitor for the school.  He made thirty dollars a month.  We couldn’t have a lot of things.  We bought groceries, and then it was done.  Only groceries.”  Grandpa tells me of a story when the Lower Brule baseball team made the state championships, “We stayed in the hotel, and most of the boys never slept on a mattress before.  They slept on the floor.  There was only supposed to be three or four boys in a room, but soon all their relatives came in, and they spread the mattress on the floor and slept like that.”  This anecdote portrays life on the reservation.  Yes, this story happened back in 1940, but the income levels of reservation life has not increased much today.  A casino and motel provide all the employment for the local Indians on the reservation, other than government jobs.  Two out of Three inhabitants are jobless.  The closest town is forty-five minutes away, and most people do not have cars.  The annual income for someone living on the Lower Brule Reservation is only about $19,000.[1]  The casino, The Golden Buffalo Casino only employs fifty people.  The Lower Brule Farm Corporation employs twelve full time people and seven part time employees.  The Lakota Food employs three full time and seven part time employees.  The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Employment Enterprise employs sixty people.  The Lower Propane Distribution Plant employs only four employees.  And the newest job opening, Sun Maka Ska employs five people.[2]  One hundred and forty-one job openings on the 66,000 acres of land owned by the Tribe, and today there are 1,095 enrolled tribal members, not including people who live on the reservation.  Over 66% of the people who lives in Lower Brule are jobless and live in poverty.
“Alcoholism,” according to my Grandfather, “is worse than they say.  Everyone spent all their paycheck, if they got one, on booze.  There’s nothing to do other than drink.  And wine—wine was the worse.  Many men died because of wine.”  Grandpa drank for most of his life.  A few years ago, he had a heart attack, and he quit drinking.  The stereotype of the “drunken Indian” follows Grandpa around even today, even after ten years of sobriety. While going to school in Missoula, Grandpa decided to fly home to Rapid City.  “‘Forty-three dollars for a ticket, but you’ll have to stay over in Billings, Montana.  We will pay for your lodging and your food.’ ‘Okay, sounds good,’ I said.  I got to Billings, to the BIG CITY, and I started walking around downtown.  I saw a couple bars, and they had signs on the windows.  ‘No Indians or Dogs allowed’ and ‘Dogs and Indians: KEEP OUT.’ One right after the other, all the way down the street.  They really didn’t like us Indians.”
The statistics show about 70% of Sioux Indians drink.  From the ages of twenty to twenty-nine almost 99% of the male Sioux Indians consume alcohol, and from the ages thirty to thirty-nine 85% of male Sioux Indians drink.  Drinking starts at a very young age; 60% of young males and 40% of young females have reported to social drinking and drinking regularly.[3]  Please make the note that underage drinking does not just affect Indian reservations; it happens everywhere, but these statistics are mind-blowing.  How does one escape the cycle of traditional drinking on the reservation?
My grandpa quit because of his health, but some are not that lucky.  In 1983, the alcohol related deaths for Indians were 4.7% higher than any nationality in the United States.  People blame 75% accidental deaths (car crashes, suicides, homicides, etc.…) on alcohol consumption in Native American communities.[4]  These numbers are outrageous; alcoholism affects most Sioux families.
So, how does an American Indian break the cycle of alcoholism or poverty?  Be like my grandfather—try everything.  From joining the Marines to Golden Glove Boxing Championship to three degrees and a Master’s in Education Administration, my grandfather has rocked it all.  He pulled out of the cycle of the reservation, of the alcoholism, of the poverty, and he has lived his life to the full extent possible.  He still holds true to the Sioux ways with the belief family comes first—he moved to Montana for my mother, my brother, and me.  He never stops giving his love to anyone who needs it, and he spreads his intelligence with anyone who asks for it.  He is truly an exception to the rule and an inspiration to us all.








“Native Americans: The Facts.”

Beatrice Medicine.  Drinking and Sobriety Among the Lakota Sioux.  Altamira Press, New                       York: 2007.

Person interview, Harold Lewis LaRoche.  4/8/2012

[3] Beatrice Medicine.  Drinking and Sobriety Among the Lakota Sioux.  Altamira Press, New York: 2007.

[4] “Native Americans: The Facts.”

Action Photos

20 Nov
Date Taken: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date Taken: 10/30/12
Shutter Speed: 1/40 sec
F-Stop: f/3.1
ISO: 800
Focal Length: 4.5 mm

Date Taken: 12/5/12
Shutter Speed: 10/400 sec
F-stop: f/3.5
ISO: 125
Focal Length 7.3 mm


Shutter Speed: 10/1250 sec
F-stop: f/4.2
ISO: 800
Focal Length: 15.1 mm

Yellowstone Trip

6 Nov

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date: 9/15/2012
Shutter Speed: 1/40 sec
F-Stop: f/5.7
ISO: 80
Focal Length: 83.7 mm
Tripod: No

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date Taken: 9/15/2012
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
F-Stop: f/4.2
ISO: 80
Focal Length: 15.1 mm

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date Taken: 9/15/2012
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
F-Stop: f/4.0
ISO: 80
Focal Length: 12.6 mm

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date Taken: 9/15/2012
Shutter speed: 1/400 sec
F-Stop: f/3.6
ISO: 80
Focal Length: 8.4 mm

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date Taken: 9/15/2012
Shutter speed: 1/500 sec
F-Stop: f/3.8
ISO: 80
Focal Length: 10.2 mm

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date Taken: 9/15/2012
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
F-Stop: f/4.7
ISO: 80
Focal Length: 23.2 mm

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date Taken: 9-15-2012
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
F-Stop: f/4.7
ISO: 80
Focal Length: 23.2

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L120
Date Taken: 9/15/2012
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
F-Stop: f/11
ISO: 80
Focal Length: 10.2 mm


Photography Presentation

23 Oct




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