Philomene Stays Warm
Two dogs helped to keep George and Philomene entertained throughout the day.
Philomene, from the Rosebud Reservation, is one of the Elders receiving either propane, electricity or wood for their heating fuel this winter.
We were invited to her home she shared with her adult son, George. He added, “I’m her caretaker.”
Philomene looked tired when we arrived. “She just came back from Dialysis today,” George shared. We quickly offered to return on another day when she was feeling better, but they both still welcomed us to stay and visit with them. Philomene had been a diabetic for fifteen years. She had been undergoing dialysis for about four years. George added, “She got sick and she needed blood so they gave her some… We don’t know if it was from here or Rapid City, but she contracted MERSA. From MERSA, they had to do injections.”
George was cleaning up the house when we arrived, but it was obvious he took good care of the home they had lived in for over 25 years. “I’m the maid,” he stated proudly. The house was toasty warm when we walked through the door. George explained, “Even during the summer, when she comes back from Dialysis, I have to have the heat on.” The dialysis center is typically cold for the patients. Philomene added, “We have to take our own (blankets).”
Two additional electric heaters that could be moved from room to room also sat on the wood stove just in case even more heat was needed in the house for Philomene.
Philomene left at 4:30am, three days a week to go to a clinic near the main hospital that served the Rosebud Reservation. She didn’t have to travel as far as some patients, but the process took a lot out of her. The house thermostat registered 81̊ F when we looked at it. “I’ll be sweating and have this fan on,” George said, but he knew she would need it warm when they arrived home.
Philomene and George lived in the Rosebud community on a street named after her. Another street was named after her sister who passed away last year. Philomene wore a t-shirt honoring her sister that said, “In Loving Memory.” Philomene spoke of her during our conversation. They were getting ready for her memorial the following month and even as a visitor, you could feel the loss. Two dogs helped to keep them entertained throughout the day. They were dog-sitting for a friend and another, Mayder, was given to them after a friend passed away.
Their worst winter was probably four years ago, according to George. Their house and front door faced north and the snow drifted against the house. They had a wood stove in the corner of the living room and used it as a backup in cases of power outages or if they needed an extra boost of warmth. The home didn’t originally come with the wood stove, but the tribe installed one at their request. A small pile of chopped wood was stacked against the house outside near the propane tank for easy access. Two additional electric heaters that could be moved from room to room also sat on the wood stove just in case even more heat was needed in the house for Philomene. George had his own house out of town that he was renting out so he could be with his mother at her home full time. He had weatherized the home himself so the heat would stay in the home where it belonged.
George offered up appreciation to the donors: "A big thank you... it’s very appreciated... there are rarely people out there that come around and help us.”
Philomene collected social security, but had worked for several tribal departments throughout her work career including CHR (Community Health Representative), Ambulance, Head Start, and Transportation services. George worked for the Ambulance service first and then Philomene ended up working alongside of him as a driver. George added, “She started at the Head Start, then transportation and I came back from Job Corps and started at the Ambulance service and she came over — we followed each other!” They moved over to CHR together as well. “Being the baby, I always have to be by momma,” George joked. It was clear there was love and respect between the two and George considered himself fortunate to be caring for his mother.
As far as assistance for heating costs, aside from the LIHEAP program, there is another agency out of Chamberlain, SD, about two hours northeast of Rosebud, which assisted residents with costs two times a year. The tribe didn’t have any programs for heating costs, but their friends come through in a pinch. George explained, “…like if we ask them, they will give us $50 — and that’s probably not even a weeks-worth.” Nonetheless, he was very appreciative of any assistance provided to keep his mom warm.
The propane tank gauge was registering at 80 gallons which meant they had used 20 gallons since they filled it two weeks before. Hopefully, the 100 gallons would last them the winter, combined with their other heat sources. They might select wood next year. “Wood would really help,” George said.
George offered up appreciation to the donors: “A big thank you to whoever is doing the supporting and funding. Times are hard sometimes where we can’t get the money out of your own pocket to pay for it. That is where you guys come in and it’s very appreciated you guys have funding, because there are rarely people out there that come around and help us.”