Not having met 98 year old Auntie Doll previously or spoken with her, I thought she might be a shrunken little lady with a weak hesitant voice and possibly lapses of memory. I was surprised when she gripped my hand firmly like a logger, and warmly welcomed Linda and me into her comfortable home. A zest for life still burns with a lively flame in this lady. Her erect bearing suggests resolute character.
I began by asking how we should address her. She said, “I was born Violet Madeline, but everyone calls me Auntie Doll.” She immediately became Auntie Doll for us.
Although a member of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band she has never lived on the reserve. “My grandfather on my mother’s side was Indian,” she said. “My other grandfather was French. Our family owned a ranch just north of Olalla. When I was 6 months my father died and everyone was needed to keep the ranch going. I was thinking of going into nursing but I quit school after grade 8 to do ranch work.”
“For 6 months each year our cattle were in the mountains,” she said. “As I became old enough I began riding the range. We were out in all weather. At night we stayed in a deserted prospector’s cabin. I loved horses, and I loved riding.” Almost certainly much of her inner resolve was developed during those months in the mountains, keeping track of cattle, contending with storms in spring and fall, and dealing with dangerous situations.
“One morning I was riding up a steep trail with a 30 foot drop to one side,” she recalled. “My horse was anxious. Suddenly it bucked and threw me off. I was lucky. I landed on a huge sagebrush that kept me from falling all the way down.” Another time her horse stumbled. Her head took a hard hit and she was kept in the hospital 2 weeks.
Auntie Doll never learned the language of the band but her mother taught her the thinking and culture of their people. “Mom understood the language,” she said. “Being the youngest, I was with her a lot. She talked about people who had gone before her time. She knew about the natural medicines our people use. Sometimes we dug up edible roots for food. We dried berries and choke cherries and she preserved fruit in jars.”
I asked about a deer head with splendid antlers mounted on one wall. “I shot it when I was 19,” she told us. “I was a pretty good shot and I bagged quite a few. We always had lots of food.”
As a young woman she danced in Pow Wows. “The beat of the drum is the heart beat of mother Earth,” she said. “The land is important. Young people should get an education, but they shouldn’t forget the past.”
“I was married to Reg in 1944. The next day he was sent to the war where he was a scout and a sniper. The Germans captured him and he was in a prisoner of war camp 7 months.”
After the war they bought the family ranch. “Reg had been wounded,” she said, becoming very serious. “He had terrible nightmares from the war. He was never the same. We couldn’t keep the ranch. It was a hard time. We had one son. Reg died in 1983.”
In spite of a physically vigorous life, or possibly because of it, Auntie Doll retains remarkably robust health. “I take a little pink pill and a baby aspirin,” she said, “but not every day. I try to understand life and make the best of it. There will be bumps. We have to find a way around them.”
Although she no longer attends the monthly meetings of elders, she values her connection to the band. I asked if she knows Chief Keith Crow. “Yes,” she said with conviction. “Chief Crow will do well for us.”
As we were about to go, she said “ Life is still exciting. I enjoy every day. Now that I’m so close, I’d like to get to 100.”
Auntie Doll asked me to remind family and friends to come to her 98th birthday celebration at her home in Cherrywood Estates in Olalla on May 21. It will begin at 1 pm with the potluck dinner at 4. Happy Birthday Auntie Doll!