Day 363 - Martin (3rd person I approached)
December 29, 2014 - Is anything ever really random? I believe in serendipity, and at the same time, balance it with being open to the school of everything happens for a reason. As I left my house today, on the lookout for this story, I found myself wondering who I would meet. Where is that person now? I turn left onto another street, heading somewhere, as yet unknown to meet the person that will share their story with me, today. The first person I approached just flat out said ‘no thank you.’ The second person apologized, saying he didn’t have much time for anything, and offered an email address to send him questions. I explained that’s not how this works, it’s about the here and now. He wished me good luck and on I went. Searching, and knowing the person is out there.
I turned right, heading towards the grocery store, and there was someone with his back to me, also about to head into the grocery store. I got in front of him, explained all the details of my project, showed him my blog and pictures of others, and asked if he would chat with me. Martin agreed to chat and we found a place just inside the store to sit while we chatted.
Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Martin is the youngest of fifteen children. There are seventeen years between himself and the oldest child.
“It wasn't like living with fourteen siblings really. They had their own lives, even though they all stayed living in the house. I never understood that. As soon as I could, I was out of there,” he said, chuckling to himself. Martin told me it was a house of chaos and alcoholism.
“My parents separated when I was twelve, and my father kept me. His mother, my granny, told him to. She was his boss,” he said. Martin's mother moved to Medicine Hat, and Martin only saw her about once a month.
“My father was a hardcore alcoholic and was mean. I grew up surrounded by drugs and alcohol. I knew that I didn’t want that for myself. I was scared by what I saw,” he told me calmly. When he was fifteen years old, Martin went to live with his Granny, his father’s mother.
“She was the only one in my family that didn’t drink or do drugs. She taught me about Christianity,” he told me.
His Granny lived on a First Nations reserve.
“It was a rough ride to school then. I had to be ready at 6:00am to go meet the bus that took me to school, and then it brought me home again at 5:00pm. I had gone to a regular school when I lived with my parents. This was a residential day school. The other kids teased me relentlessly. They called my ‘whitey’ because they knew I had gone to a regular school beforehand. Racism exists within and inside all communities. But my Granny always taught me not to take any grief from anyone, and to stand up for myself. They teased me, but nothing physical ever happened, not even with the older kids. I wouldn’t let them, and they didn’t try anything,” he said.
“I almost graduated, but my birthday fell at the wrong time of year, so once I turned eighteen, I just left.”
Martin had been at a bus stop one day when a woman pulled over and offered him a ride. “She was really nice and we just seemed to hit it off. I was ten years younger than her, but it didn’t matter. She was a big German woman. We dated and my Granny didn’t like that. She thought the age difference was too much. Granny told me that as long as I lived under her roof, I would do things by her rules. I left and moved in with the German woman,” he said. She had a daughter from a previous relationship, and then they had a daughter together.
“She was definitely the boss in our house,” he said, with a mischievous grin. Martin started working in construction, learning to frame and pour concrete.
“That was the only time I drank. My common-law wife told me to grow up and be a man. She said I wasn’t living with my Granny anymore and that I should drink if I wanted to. She wanted a drinking partner. So I started drinking with her,” he said. Four years after they met, she had a heart attack and died.
“I raised her daughter and my daughter, both of them, as my own.” He quit drinking.
“Me and the kids moved to Medicine Hat. I wanted to be nearer my mother and four of my sisters lived there as well. They all helped me with the kids,” he said. While applying for his (First Nations) Status Card, Martin needed to gather some paperwork.
“I had been in Medicine Hat for a few years, and I got a copy of my father’s papers. It said he was born in Prairie Ridge, South Dakota. I figured it would be good to see where my roots were from. My Granny said that it didn’t matter what reserve I was at, I’d be welcomed. So me and the girls went to South Dakota. I drove to Prairie Ridge and tracked down the band Chief. When I showed him my father’s papers, he seemed surprised. He did some checking and then told me that I was the great great grandson of Chief Sitting Bull. I was in shock,” he said (*Fact Check - see links below). Martin ended up staying at Prairie Ridge for two years.
“I got work on the reserve, and got housed there too. Once people found out who I was related to, they treated me a little differently. I felt like I had won a prize that I didn’t deserve to win. It was kinda strange, I thought,” he said.
After making his way back to Medicine Hat with the girls, Martin started working in construction again.
“I was working in roofing. I didn’t have much roofing experience, but I managed to tell them what they needed to hear to get the work, and learned on the job,” he said.
“At this one job, I noticed a beautiful young blonde laying out by the pool. It was her parents house we were working on. I just felt I wanted to get to know her. I went home and spoke to the girls first. I asked them how they’d feel if I was to maybe date someone,” Martin said.
“My daughters thought it was a good idea. They said they'd be happy to have a new mother one day, instead of being stuck with just me all the time,” he said, smiling.
“Well, I started talking to this beauty and after some time, asked her out and she said yes!” Four years later, they were married.
“Everyone got along really well. Eventually my girls started to call her ‘Mom.’ Her and I had three kids of our own. Two boys and then another girl,” Martin told me. His Granny passed away when he was thirty two.
“It was tough, and I’m glad I had my family with me. My Granny told me that if I lived a good life, that I wasn’t to worry, we’d meet again,” he said. His wife was from Vancouver, and they decided to move out west. Martin continued working in the roofing business.
“I had a heart attack while I was up on a roof one day. I fell right off the roof, but the harness saved me. I was off work for some time. The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs was making me jump through all kinds of hoops with paperwork and claims. I got tired of all that, so I went back to work,” he said. Martin had another heart attack.
“My doctor told me I couldn’t work anymore, and his office helped me to get on a disability pension,” Martin said.
Their children are all grown up and living in their own relationships now. “I’m not a grandfather, yet,” he says sheepishly.
“I don’t know if I’m ready for that!” He has had medical complications due to his heart condition, and now requires dialysis four times a week.
“I spend thirty hours a week in dialysis. I volunteer five hours a week with my church. And I volunteer about ten hours a week with a non-profit organization called ‘Quest,’” he said. Quest is British Columbia’s largest not-for-profit food exchange program. (**Fact Check - see links below.)
Martin and his wife have been married for twenty-three years now. “We’re currently homeless,” he says.
“We’re living in a SRO (Single Room Occupancy) hotel. It’s the only way we can be together. If we went to a shelter, even though we’re married, they would separate us, and we can’t have that. The hotel isn’t a nice place. It’s loud, and dirty. We have cockroaches in our room. People always ask ‘How come you’re living there? You’re not a drug addict or alcoholic.’ But it’s the only way to stay with my wife. She has scoliosis, and we need each other. We’ve been living there for two years now,” he says. They’re patiently waiting on a list, for housing.
“I’m just coming to get some food. I have dialysis at 5:00pm, and need to eat before that. My wife is waiting at the hospital for me,” he explains. We step outside so I can take his photograph. I tell him that I think he and his wife are lucky to have each other.
“I try to live a good life. I believe I’ll see my grandmother one day.” #notastranger