Charmaine Lahmann – Walthill, Nebraska

“I hope that we don’t ever lose the attitude in our country of ‘We’re here to do something.’ – I just feel God’s put us here to do something and I hope that I’m able to accomplish that.”

“I was born here and, outside a year in Seattle and a year that I had to go live in Bancroft because I couldn’t do stairs in my home here, other than that I’ve lived here my whole life. I like the community.

I was in high school before I ever realized it was a reservation. My great-grandfather bought the land where I live now and he split it between his two daughters. It was 120 acres and so they each got 60 acres and my grandmother lived there and then they ended up buying the land from her sister. And when my dad came home from the service, they bought the farm. They lived there until they retired – my mom was only 46 when she passed away.

She had a kidney disease which I inherited, so 15 years ago I had a kidney transplant. I live there now, my daughter lives there with me because she wasn’t married when I started having problems and so she moved home. I didn’t live out there at that time, I had a house in town here. I lived there until our kids were grown up and gone and then my stepmother, who my dad had given everything to, she gave my brother and sister and I the original land. She didn’t give us all dad had, but we got the original, and that was important for me.

And then my sister and brother sold their share – I didn’t have the money to buy it, so a neighboring farmer bought it, but I have 160 acres, yet. Of course, that has the building site on it and then I rent out the other 40 acres.”

I’ve grown up here, my kids grew up here and they graduated at Walthill too. So I really never got too far away. I married a man who, when he was six years old, my mom had a picture of him pushing me in the baby carriage. So I knew him all my life. I married him and we had three children and he died at 46. He had a hereditary heart condition that we didn’t know about. And then three years ago, my son passed away. He was only 41, he was almost 42. He had the same thing, but when he died I had enough money to do an autopsy. Before, I didn’t have the money to do an autopsy on my husband, because I still had three kids at home to raise – one daughter was supposed to start college in the fall.

She had a very good scholarship to Midland [University}, in Fremont. And my other daughter graduated from Wayne {State College]. And my son, we set it up for him to go to Norfolk and he came home after the first week and he said ‘Mom, it’s a waste of my time and your money.’ And so he just worked and then he ended up getting a job with the Postal Service. And that’s where he was when he passed away. And he has two children. But since we’ve learned that this is hereditary and there is a way to check for it, there wasn’t before – well, we didn’t know it was hereditary.

My husband had two daughters when we got married. And they were four and five, so I actually raised them too, because he had custody of them. So then I have the two [grandchildren] who my natural and then I have step-grandchildren – I have six great-grandchildren and four grandchildren.

[My husband] worked at IBP – well it’s Tyson Foods now. He started working there shortly after it opened up. In ‘75 I got a job working at the post office as a clerk, part-time, which worked really good because I still had one more kid at home. A year later, a year after I started, I became OIC – officer in charge – there, because the postmaster retired. And it was just about a year that I was officer in charge, then I started as postmaster. I’d worked there 26½ years and my kidneys started going bad, bad enough that I couldn’t work any more, and I had enough year in to retire.”

“They learned a lot about the disease and they found that transplants worked very well for us, and it has. My sister and brother also had it – it was very predominant in our family. My grandfather had it, he came from Sweden and he had it, and five out of six of his kids had it. And it’s usually 50% or less and it wasn’t for us at all. All of us kids had it, but we’ve all had transplants. I got a kidney, my kidney donor was a person on my dad’s side of the family. My brother got his from his wife, which is kind of unusual. My sister got hers from her daughter-in-law.

I think having live kidneys works as a better donation than a cadaver. Though my daughter that has it is really hoping to do – they now do kidneys from cadavers and they clean ‘em out and put your DNA in it and then put it in your body. And you don’t have to take the anti-rejection medicine, and that’s caused more trouble for me than anything. Yeah, they’ve come a long way from when my mom first had it.”

“I was in a car accident – I was on dialysis for about nine months. I had a trip to dialysis and then a group of postmasters were going to a convention in New Orleans and we got tickets from Kansas City down that were a lot cheaper. So, there were six of us in the car and we came over the hill on the interstate and there was an accident at the bottom and they had us stopped. And we were sitting there waiting and an 18-wheeler came over the hill and the driver said ‘He’s going to hit us!’ and there wasn’t anything we could do. I got a subdural hematoma and I was scheduled to have the transplant and then that came up and, of course, I couldn’t do it until that was resolved. I had to wait two more months before they could do anything, but I survived that.”

“So I officially retired from there and then had the transplant and it went really well. And that was the other year I didn’t live here – I lived in Bancroft because I couldn’t do stairs. And then I moved back home here and then my dad passed away and my step-mother inherited everything. When she died, she gave us three kids the original place, and I’m back out there now.”

“When I was a senior, we went out [to Seattle] and visited, and I just loved it. You know, most people don’t like all the rain and everything, but I really liked it. Of course, we had visited at Christmas time. Because we always took our vacations – dad was a farmer and we always took our vacations during Christmas vacation. And so we were out there and she had roses in her yard, and of course, my grandmother who lived in Northern California had roses too.”

“For my kids, I had them grow up where I did because it was a good school system and you can be involved in everything. My kids were involved in sports and band and all of that stuff. Where in a big city they don’t have that opportunity because, for one thing, there’s a lot of kids, and for another, you have to be really talented. They might have been in one thing, but to be able to play in band and be in chorus, and play basketball, and of course my son played football. And I basically knew everybody – you get so you know everybody and you’re involved in the community. I was baptized and confirmed in the same church I go to today.”

“You know everybody, and that’s nice. I worked on the Winnebago Reservation and you know, at first, some of the people, they’d speak and were really friendly at the post office, but you know, when I’d see them in the city, they’d act like they didn’t see me. And I thought ‘that’s the first thing that’s gotta go.’ They need to know that I know them wherever they’re at. So we were at the mall and I just stepped in front of one of them – so she couldn’t avoid me – and word got around that I recognized them off the reservation too. I’m sure that sometimes that doesn’t always happen.

There were some Native Americans at my class at school, not like it is now – now it’s 90% Native American in our school here. And my mother was one that, you know, she didn’t know color, at all. Everybody was who they were. If they treated you good, she treated them good, you know? We just kind of grew up with that, and I think that helps too.”

“Being a mother, I think, and raising kids, is probably, to me, the most important thing you do in your life…Influencing them to do good. I felt that being a mother was important. My mom never worked outside the home, but she always worked. And we did too. We walked beans – nowadays they don’t walk beans, there’s a sprayed developed and they can spray them. I don’t think it hurts kids to work. I don’t believe in making them slaves or whatever, but it doesn’t hurt kids to work.

My kids, Virginia, the oldest girl, she walked beans for farmers and she had a regular crew. That’s how she raised money for school clothes. My middle daughter couldn’t do that because she has so many allergy problems, but she babysat. She did a lot of babysitting. My son, as soon as he was 16, why, he started working different places around. He worked at Hy-Vee, I think he liked that job the best of all of them. Raising them to be responsible adults is important, I think. That’s the most important job I did, I feel.”

I love this community and, of course, my brother and sister, as soon as they could, they were gone. But I was a small town girl, I guess. And I like Seattle and if I hadn’t been told by a doctor in Seattle that my mom had about six months left to live, I probably would have stayed in Seattle. But then I came home and my sister and brother were still in high school. And of course, dad – mom spent a lot of time in the hospital – and I would stay nights and he would come in the daytime, unless it was crop time or that sort of thing.”

“I had mentioned the Picotte Center – I didn’t realize it was even there when I was in school and didn’t know the importance of it. The first Native American doctor had built it – and she was a woman. And I’ve become pretty involved with that. Because my daughter called home and said ‘Mom, what’s important in our town?’ And all she thought of was the Pilcher Cemetery, and that’s an old cemetery, out in the country a ways.

Then when she talked to her professor, she said ‘Oh, you come from Walthill?’ and until then I didn’t know anything about [the Picotte Center]. We didn’t learn about it in school, but since we have become involved – it’s now in the Nebraska history that they teach…I feel like we accomplished something by making it known, and I conduct tours for the kids. So that’s what I do a lot of – and I never planned to become 71 years old, because my mom was 46 when she passed away.

Limited edition print available (alpha edition):
Giclée (Archival Inkjet) print w/ quotes, in window cutout, typed on artist’s 1955 Olympia SM3 Typewriter.
1” Matte Black Frame, 2” Ivory Mat, Archival Hinge Mount, UV Glass.
8″ x 10″ (Framed: 14″ x 16”)

Charmaine - Limited Edition, Framed Alpha Series
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