RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now a story about another lesson. It's time again for StoryCorps, the oral history project that's traveling the country collecting your stories. Recently a StoryCorps mobile booth spent a week on the Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota. That's where Monica Mayer grew up. Here she shares a memory from her middle-school years with her friend, Spencer Wilkinson Jr.(ph)
Ms. MONICA MAYER: My father, he was full-blood German and my mother was full-blood Indian, and you know, it was pretty tough in the '60s growing up, you know, a half-breed, so to speak. And I must have been about seventh grade, eighth grade, and I wasn't doing well in school. And I'm the oldest of three girls, so my dad packed us up in his pickup, took us out to his old homestead land, which is about 18 miles north of New Town, in the middle of nowhere, and he packed us some lunches and some water, all three of us girls, dropped us off out there, like, at 7 or 8 in the morning and said he wanted all the rocks picked in the northwest corner in one big pile and that he'd come back that night to pick us up, and it better be done.
So there we were, working hard all day long. He comes back and we're dirty, stinky, sweaty, sore muscles, crying. We must have been a sight to see. And my my dad pulls up in his pickup, and I looked at him and I said, since I was the oldest--My two younger sisters are, like, hiding behind me--`Dad, we don't think this is fair we have to work this hard.' And I just remember him saying, `Is that right? Well, do you think I like working hard like this every day?' `No.' He said, `You know, your mother says you girls don't like school and you're not doing very well, and we decided that you're going to come out here and work like this, so your hind ends will get used to how your life's going to be when you get older.' So I said, `Well, if we got good grades, do we have to come out here and work this hard?' And he said, `No. That's the deal.'
Well, you didn't have to bust my head twice up against a brick wall, but yeah. My two younger sisters and I were laughing about that 'cause they remember that particular day exactly the way I remembered it. One day of hard labor changed everything.
MONTAGNE: Monica Mayer returned to Ft. Berthold after receiving a medical degree. She now works on the reservation as a family physician. Her two sisters, Holly and Renee, also work there, one in nursing and the other in social services.
To learn how you can participate in StoryCorps, go to npr.org.