A gravestone made of heartache
BY COLLEEN KENNEY / Lincoln Journal Star
Monday, Mar 13, 2006 - 11:59:36 am CST
PINE RIDGE, S.D. — This morning, he brings her petunias.
They’re purple. She loved purple.
He kneels, digs a hole in the earth on this hill above White Clay Creek, glancing now and then at her face. She looked like her mother. Same smile. I love you, Cassandra. I hope you’re having a good day. Birds chirp. The August breeze is almost cool. Clouds hang low in the sky, but on clear days, he can see all the way to the Black Hills. This tall, thin man in the baseball cap is Dale Pine, a coach and computer science teacher at Pine Ridge High School. He drove all the way to a quarry in Vermont to get this slab of black granite for his daughter’s grave. He had a basketball etched on it, an arrow with “CC” for cross-country and a grove of sturdy pine trees — one for each member of the Pine family. And, in the center, her 15-year-old face. In loving memory of Cassandra Jade Pine He’s been coming here almost every day since that December night in 1998 when she went to her basement room and sat on the waterbed with his handgun. Her mom, Lyn Pine, is a special education teacher and coach at Pine Ridge High. She doesn’t come here much. It’s too hard. She’s been going to a different place. A place she hopes will help her forget. A few weeks before graduation, without telling Dale or anyone, she moved an hour and a half away to Rapid City. To drink, Dale says. No, she tells him, she just needs to get away for a while. To think. And she told him she doesn’t love him anymore. James, who’s 11 and the youngest, won’t speak to her now. The other kids are mad, too. CaSarah, who’s 15, says she doesn’t have a mom because she left. Mom’s just dealing with a problem, Dale tells the kids. Just wait. Pray. But some days it’s hard for Dale to understand. Why now, after all the problems they’ve gone through? Cassandra was their oldest, before Dale Jr. and CaSarah and James. Before they adopted Alex, Lyn’s nephew, and his big sister Melissa and took in other young relatives over the years who needed a home. Before they took on many of their cross-country kids, too, as surrogate parents over the past two decades. Before they became role models to people in Pine Ridge. Maybe he’s old-fashioned, he tells his friends, but he loves Lyn more today than yesterday. So he’ll wait. He’ll take care of the kids, take them to counseling to help them understand. He’ll keep coming here to this hill, pulling weeds, bringing his oldest girl pretty things like these petunias. Tomorrow, he’ll drive to Rapid City. Lyn is getting out of a 30-day alcohol treatment program. Dale wants to be there to ask her to come home. “She doesn’t act like she wants to come home,” he says to a friend who came with him today. “So I don’t know.” The friend, a 37-year-old man named Delane No Neck, is childlike, slow. His body is stunted. Everybody in town knows him. He’s everywhere. Friendly. Slobbery. He tries to kiss women and rub their arms. Many people avoid Delane, but Dale watches over him, tries to keep him out of trouble. The scars on the little man’s neck are from a few years back. Some guys knifed him and left him for dead for beer money. “She’s pretty, huh?” Delane says, looking at the granite. “The flowers are pretty, too.” “I decided to plant real flowers,” Dale says, then smiles. “I figured petunias are the one thing I could grow.” There’s a speck in the pasture east of this hill. Alex Wilson Pine is riding a quarterhorse toward a neighbor’s stray cattle, herding them back home.
He’s 15. A tall, handsome kid who’s one of the best runners on the cross-country team. The Pines adopted him as a toddler. He’d been neglected. His mom drank. He could barely talk. He found Cassandra on the waterbed when he was 10. Cassandra fell and cut her head, he told the neighbors. For years, Alex forgot what he saw. He forgot her. Then one day at school about a year ago, after falling asleep on his desk, he jumped up and blurted out: I remember what happened! I remember Cassandra! Dale walks south a bit, over sage grass, to the edge of the hilltop. He looks down a steep ravine. There’s a white pickup in the trees. Some kids, he says, pushed it over the edge for fun one day.
He makes a joke about when he dies, maybe they can just push him over the edge, too. After standing there awhile, he walks back toward the Wilson Family Cemetery.
Down the hill to the north is a one-story white house with plywood over the windows. It’s the first house they lived in up here, after college. There’s a sign out front: Wilson Family Ranch. Lyn Pine’s uncle was Dick Wilson, the famous tribal chairman — a villain or hero, depending on which side you were on during Wounded Knee 2 in the mid-1970s, when the reservation was in a civil war. Lyn and her and siblings lived in that little house as kids. A few nights, they had to hit the floor when bullets flew. Dick Wilson is buried on this high hill, too. He died in 1990. So is his wife. So is Timothy Lee Wilson, a teenage cousin who died a few years back playing Russian roulette with friends. Cassandra was born when they lived in that little house down there, Dale says. They had a big garden back then. Lyn Pine used to take Cassandra to dance lessons. Ballet, tap and fancy dance. Cassandra was the reservation spelling champion in 1996 and 1997. She was Junior Miss Red Cloud Princess. She played basketball, piano, set the school record in the 800 meters. She rode a four-wheeler around town. She cruised with friends from Red Cloud High, the Catholic school a few miles north of town where she was on the honor roll. She thought 15 was old enough to start drinking with her friends, too. Lyn told her to stop. They raised her to rise above it. That made Cassandra mad. Well, all my friends get to do this, she told her mom.
She was pretty. The boys started to notice. A gang of girls started to chase her around town, trying to beat her up. Lyn used to look down on the people who hang at Whiteclay, the Nebraska town across the border where they sell beer. She thought the people who stood around drinking all day and night were just weak. Now, when she drives by them she wonders if they are trying to forget something, too. The Pine family home is a three-bedroom ranch on a street south of Pine Ridge High. It’s in a group of similar houses the teachers can rent. The homes are tidy, with picnic tables and basketball hoops. Kids ride bikes and ATVs on the streets. Before driving to the Wilson Family Cemetery this morning, Dale folded laundry in the living room. In one corner, a high stack of plastic boxes holds mementos of Cassandra: certificates, photos, school honors. Her final note. … I hope you guys and God will forgive me… On his way out the door with Alex and Delane, Dale Pine looked at an 8-by-10 photo of his wife on the wall, mentioned how beautiful she is. She’s welcome back anytime, he said. But it’s like she can’t live in the house anymore, like the bad memories outweigh the good. Dale is part Miami Indian, part white. He does sweats. Tries to keep the kids interested in traditional values. He prays as a Catholic, too. He takes the kids to Mass on Sunday. He watches as James and CaSarah light votive candles for their sister under an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who came to a poor Indian centuries ago in Mexico. Gave him her cloth with her image. And roses. He believes in miracles.
Cassandra’s rosary is draped over a statue of the Virgin Mary, standing in the dirt in front of the granite headstone. He doesn’t really believe she’s here on this hill in the Wilson Family Cemetery. It’s just seems to him this is the closest spot he can get to heaven. “The Catholic Church used to say you can’t go to heaven if you kill yourself. Now they don’t, though. And she was just a little 15-year-old girl who made a mistake. There’s all that stupid stuff you learn around here, too, all the peer pressure, the drinking and the drugging …”
He takes off his ball cap. Delane knows what’s coming next. They reach for each other’s hand. They say a Hail Mary. An Our Father. “Cassandra, I hope you can come down and help your mom out tomorrow. Maybe you can talk to her, get her to come home …” Alex should be finished with his horse chores and waiting for them by now. So Dale and his friend walk down the hill, along a rutted dirt lane that leads to the little white house. Just weeds in the garden now, he says, pausing halfway down the hill, but boy, it used to be big.http://www.journalstar.com/articles/2007/04/13/special_reports/whiteclay/p2/doc42867b0bf1ed4217018423.txt
. Cassandra Jade Pine
was born in 1983. She died in December, 1998. She was buried after December, 1998 at Wilson Family Cemetery, Pine Ridge, Shannon Co., South Dakota, USA