Who goes to the Black Hills over the 4th of July with extended family to introduce the next generation to one of the most iconic areas of our wonderful country?  I do, along with scads of other families of all shapes, sizes and origin. Regardless of the large crowds, the mood at each venue was festive. Many groups proudly donned tee-shirts announcing their family reunion or other celebratory event. With everyone mixed together at the Mount Rushmore monument jockeying for prime space to take a family picture there were only smiles and appreciative glances of others. Countless people volunteered to take on the role of photographer for these roving groups.

Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Devils’ Tower were all on the itinerary with lots of smaller venues along the way for peeling off on one’s own. We were a group of thirteen— kids, grandkids, exes and in-laws—and it worked beautifully.  The inspired choice of VRBO’s with  ping pong tables and multiple bedrooms, outdoor hot tubs and a nearby club house with pool and amenities provided something for everyone.

I’ve always enjoyed intergenerational gatherings, now even more special as they occur infrequently. But, put all of us in close proximity over 4 nights? I was somewhat skeptical of how it would all work. Would kids get along? Would adults find enough alone time to relax? And how would we make sure that nobody got stuck with all of the clean-up for our group meals?

But, the magic happened. A scavenger hunt for the kids ending with age appropriate books for each of them and a puzzle that kept all (ages 4-75) occupied for long stretches of occasional down time was a great success. Lots of giggles and hugs with grandchildren, a ping pong tournament. Opportunity for two junior chefs to show off their skills, a 4th of July parade in Lead. Groups pics of all of us in our own goofy tee-shirt designed by one of the mid-generation. S’mores on the porch while listening to rain fall on the tin roof. Loved it!

I continue to be awed by the Crazy Horse monument. While I was last there twenty years ago, I was thrilled anew by the awesome goal of carving Native American heroes faces on stone in the middle of Indian territory. Started by a sculptor who had worked on Mt. Rushmore, it clearly is a project that will take life-times to complete. I did not see much progress for the twenty years past, but know that lots of this work cannot be seen readily by the casual visitor. 

On a trip like this I read books that remind me of my place in history and locale. Murder on the Red River by Marcie R. Rendon was an interesting read about an unlikely Sheriff’s helper named Cash, a 19 year old Native American woman who had been placed in the foster care system at age five after her own mother was declared negligent. Separated from her two siblings, she was shepherded along the way by Sheriff Wheaton who mentored her in the only way she would be mentored—from afar, and carefully. Rendon brought a subtle authenticity to Cash, who suffered from PTSD from her rough life. It was a hopeful story and Wheaton’s role in helping her find her path was a study in patience and understanding. There’s nothing like solving a murder mystery for bonding potential!

The other book, Mamascatch, A Cree Coming of Age is the memoir of Darrel J. McLeod, another Native American with a troubled family life who had to surpass the generational wound of his family’s experience of forced boarding schools in British Columbia. It is a study of loyalty and perseverance. This book reminded me of one of my favorite writers, another Native American writer, Richard Wangamese. His books Indian Horse and Medicine Walk are works of fiction that deepened my understanding of the upheaval caused by forced assimilation. 

These books remind me how fortunate I am to be able to spend time with my own intergenerational family, in our own way. A blessing not to be taken for granted. Enjoy your own get-togethers this summer!