Contributed by Karen Wills
My mother, Evelyn Wills, wrote the following true account of her family’s move from their farm in North Dakota to Montana during the Great Depression. I’m so glad she left this memory, and I’m so proud of my grandparents. They exemplified Hemingway’s definition of courage as “grace under pressure.”
This first appeared in The Montana Journal January-February 1997.
Our western North Dakota farm family was hard hit by the Great Depression. Dad could repair any kind of machinery, but neighbors who needed him couldn’t pay. When my ten-year-old sister fell ill with appendicitis, my parents sold the kitchen table and chairs to pay doctor bills.
Then, in 1928 when I was nine, my oldest uncle left Tolley, North Dakota, in desperation. Miraculously, he found work with the Big West Oil Company on the high plains near Shelby, Montana. He sent word of the oil boom, and my parents decided to follow him west.
Dad cut down the sides of our Model T so the front seat could be folded back into a bed for the four of us on the 400-mile journey. He had $11.00. Of course, this was long before credit cards, and our bank had closed its doors.
My mother suffered from a fierce migraine during every mile on the dusty, rutted road to the unknown West. But my sister and I, dressed in knickers sewn by a neighboring farm woman as a good-bye gift, loved the adventure. We had crayons and paper and considered signs fair game for additional coloring. At night we camped with other displaced travelers, cooking suppers over little fires whose colors matched the blazing sunsets reflected in the broad Missouri River.
Unfortunately, when the time came to sleep, the curtains lowered over the Model T’s windows did a poor job of keeping away thirsty mosquitoes.
Our faithful auto did succeed at a tortoise-and-hare act as we were passed several times on the trip by a man in a shiny new touring car. He’d race ahead, stop for unknown reasons, then hurry on, passing us again. When we arrived in time to share the same campground for the third night in a row, the frustrated driver finally walked over, kicked our tire and sputtered, “What the hell kind of car is this?”
At the Big West Camp, a line of buildings on the vast prairie, the Company provided our own place—a former cook house. I remember the big stove.
By the time blooming cactus and other wild flowers softened the fields next spring, we had moved to a normal house, but drilling for oil was so close that my mother didn’t hang out the wash for fear it would be splattered from a gusher.
On hot days, we took needlework outside to the shade of the company coal house, where a cool breeze always seemed to rise from the foundation.
The Company promoted Dad, and the strain of poverty vanished. Pictures of Mama taken then show a sort of time reversal. She appears younger in each new photograph.
By having the faith and courage to pack their children into a Model T and venture west from one sort of country to another during the drought-ridden depression, my parents achieved a secure living. However, for the rest of his life, Dad kept his savings under the mattress.
By M. F. Erler
In recent years I’ve become very interested in the ancient feasts which marked the passage of the seasons, especially those of my Celtic and Scandinavian ancestors. My geographer son has even helped me build a small and accurate replica of Stonehenge in our backyard. He used a compass and calculations of latitude, longitude, and altitude to mark the position of the sunrises and sunsets on the Equinoxes and Solstices.
But what has really caught my attention are the celebrations, or feasts, which mark the mid-points between the Equinoxes and Solstices. It’s especially interesting to see that many of them are still observed in some form in our own times, though most people have no idea where they originated.
To the ancients, all these dates were known as times when the boundary between the physical and spiritual worlds was thinnest. The best example is probably Halloween, Oct. 31, which marks the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice. Ever since ancient times, this has been observed as a time when the dead were said to walk the earth for one night. Now, of course, we have costumes, Jack-o-lanterns, and trick or treat. The Catholic Church in Medieval times made it the eve of All Saints Day, a day to honor the saints who had died. Our word “Halloween” comes from the words “All Hallows Eve” or “Hallows E’en.”
Next we have Feb. 2, which marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. We call it Groundhog Day. In Medieval times it was taken by the Church as Candlemas, a service when all the candles made to be used in the coming year were consecrated. I’m not sure what the rodent has to do with candles, but there is a slim connection—candles were the main source of light and the groundhog needed light to see his shadow.
The midpoint between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice is May 1, which some of us still celebrate as May Day. This was a festival of fertility in ancient times, which appealed to the gods to provide good crops. In many climates, this was the time of year that most of the crops were being planted and domestic animals were giving birth. The ideas of flower baskets and Maypoles have probably come down to us from ancient fertility rites.
It’s taken me much longer to find information on Aug. 1 or Lammas, which is midway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. I finally got information in a book on Druids that I ran across at a workshop of Celtic Heritage in America. I learned, as I suspected, that Lammas is a feast of harvest. In northern climates, it would be just the early first-fruits. The word Lammas in Irish is Lughnasadh, and in Scottish Gaelic it’s Lunasad. Lunasa is Irish for August, too.
The ancient god Lugh, in Irish myth, is god of all arts and crafts. He is also considered to be the greatest of the gods, and the name implies he has a large head. Lugh is found beyond the British Isles, too, being depicted in early art from Sweden to the Punjab. Of course, the Irish added their own twist, weaving the story that Lugh has now become “Lugh-chromain” which is the Irish word we pronounce as “leprechaun,” certainly a crafty character if ever there was one.
So whatever time of year it happens to be, there’s something to celebrate. To me, the passage of the seasons is a reassuring reminder that whatever Fate or Mother Nature brings, life goes on. And if we don’t like the current season, another one will arrive soon enough.
By Rose Ottosen
You might be thinking to yourself as you read the title to this little essay, “What in the world does a magic bullet have in common with an ant?!
My answer: absolutely nothing. That is both the bad news and the good news. Let’s start with the bad news first, and explore the phenomenon of magic bullets. Then we will examine the ant and give ourselves the option to end on a positive note.
Magic bullets intrigue me. Though they remain illusionary, they seem real. I have been looking for them since I was a young girl. However, though my searching has not ever turned up one, some days I continue my quest, undaunted, just hoping I will be the person, at last, to discover this fast track to success. What is a magic bullet, you might ask?
For me, a “magic bullet” is the one thing that instantly will bring some longed-for reality into my life—the one thing that will usher in a sudden turn in my life’s journey that will then hand me the fulfillment of my deepest wants, needs, and greeds—my personal Aladdin’s lamp, you might say. A magic bullet is the precise incident, person or possession that will appear and guarantee me a “happily-ever-after” phenomenon and forever remove the humdrum effort required from me.
For example, I recently was quite embarrassed to admit that I ever thought there could be a magic secret potion that would provide physical fitness. I have abandoned that unreal quest and finally started to take more responsibility for my health and to get fit to my absolute core, slowly, one grinding day at a time. Also, I have given up my search to find a formula—perchance once known and now hidden, that could make me an overnight concert pianist, or better yet—a world famous harpist. On a simpler plane, I even have wondered if, perhaps, there is some kind of magic wand that I can invent and then wave as I walk through the house and make all my dust bunnies disappear, a wand that would also do laundry and even wash windows. I have even dreamed of being a published author, just waking up one day and being on the New York Times Bestseller List. Have you had that dream, too? Wouldn’t that be amazing?!
From my experience, though, I must admit that a life of sudden and ongoing success, of effortless voila, isn’t for this world, apparently. This is especially true when it comes to becoming and remaining an accomplished writer. Here is the reality: Good writing takes consistent effort. No, Virginia, magic bullets do not exist.
However, here is the good news: ants do exist, and they will help guide our way.
Across the world, scientists have discovered ants, millions of them, in the wettest tropics, the driest deserts—and even in the arctic climes. Over five thousand different kinds of these insects have been cataloged. However, I do not want to digress and turn this commentary into a scientific analysis, but rather a word map, using ants as mentors to help point us in the direction of our goals as writers: starting, completing, and publishing our voice, ultimately adding something meaningful to life’s printed conversations.
Ants, like committed writers, are tangible, real beings. Their lives are anything but magical. Their days are filled with tedium and routine—just boring repetition to those who watch them. Day in and day out, season after season, they are determined to fulfill their heart songs, many of them carrying a single grain of sand over hill and dale to deposit in a small heap that will one day become a big anthill. To us humans, they often look like they don’t know what they are doing or know where they are going, as they plod back and forth, back and forth.
Unlike writers, however, ants are not tempted to ask, “How much l-o-n-g-e-r do I have to do this? I am getting bored. I am tired. I wonder what all my other friends are doing? I want to have a cup of coffee now. I want to sleep in. I have been doing this so long, and it isn’t amounting to anything significant—is it?!”
I picture ant conversations as being very different from the way we, as writers, talk to ourselves. How do I know this is true? Simply, as stated before, ants continue their mundane tasks, century after century, across the world, working faithfully in the hidden places, to build those anthills, no matter what. No excuses. No procrastination. No compromise. Just watch them. Look at the results.
As a wanna-be published author, I suddenly “saw the light” recently while I was watching an ant tussle with a stubborn grain of sand in our yard. I followed him and discovered a monolithic ant hill, burgeoning with life, in the forest. After musing on this simple yet profound scene, I learned a great lesson. I discovered the undeniable difference between a magic bullet and an ant. I am inspired and ready to put my hand to pen and paper again, content to produce one letter at a time, like the ants’ grains of sand, which, added to over time, will become words, words that will grow into sentences. These sentences will then give birth to paragraphs. These paragraphs will evolve into chapters, and the chapters will blossom into books.
Yes, indeed, ants are determined. In addition to their innate tenacity, all ants are also social. I look forward to seeing you at the writing conference in Kalispell in September—and also at the Montana Women Authors monthly meetings, starting again in the fall. We need each other! Write on!
What does September mean to you?
LESLIE BUDEWITZ Back to school? Corduroy pants? New plaid shirts? That’s September in Montana, along with leaf-lined drives through Glacier National Park, apples ripening, and the moon dropping a little further south in the sky as it shines on star-lit nights.
And the Montana Book Festival in Missoula, Sept 12-15, in a variety of locations downtown. Friday, Sept 13, at 3:00, I’ll be discussing Recipe Writing as Storytelling: Braiding Instruction and Narrative While Serving Your Audience, with moderator Sara Bir, a cookbook author, chef, and teacher, Greg Patent, a delightfully entertaining cookbook author and columnist from Missoula, and Seabring Davis of Bozeman, a magazine editor and author who writes about the Montana food scene. I’ll bring the perspective of a novelist who writes about food. Sounds delish, doesn’t it?
29th Annual Flathead River Writers Conference September 14th and 15th at FVCC
Take time out from your writing to join a lively group of writers gathering each year to learn from experts, talk about craft, publication options and how to present yourself. This year’s theme is ADVENTURES IN WRITING.
See website www.authorsoftheflathead.org for conference details where you can register and pay dues. For dues paid members of Authors of the Flathead, we offer the opportunity to show your books on a slideshow loop that runs during the conference even if you are unable to attend. We hope you can join us. Capacity is 100. There are a few seats remaining.
Announcing the publication of Fatal Feast on August 30th, a biological thriller set in Montana. I began researching the topic 30 years ago with the outbreak of mad cow disease in Great Britain. Prion disease is an infectious protein currently epidemic in wildlife in Montana, in twenty-five U.S. states and in Canada. This book will be of particular interest to beef eaters and hunters.
Brilliant young researcher Dr. Callie Archer vows to find a cure for an aggressive prion variant of mad cow disease that killed her father. Like unstoppable super-bugs, the deadly proteins infect livestock and wild game threatening world food supplies. Unknowing humans who eat infected meat become paranoid, violent and die horrible deaths.
Federal authorities isolate Dr. Archer’s primate research project at an NIH high-risk laboratory in the mountains of Montana for protection from radical animal rights activists. While she risks her life to stop the catastrophic disease that could prove fatal to millions, a sexist director, sabotaging cohort, and a handsome rancher obstruct her progress.
Dr. Archer closes in on a cure, but murderous activists penetrate her lab, steal infected animals, and nearly kill her. As the disease spreads in ranching and hunting country, authorities suppress public information to save the country from economic disaster.
Callie’s promising treatment may be the only hope to prevent a world-wide pandemic. With forces against her mounting, can she save mankind and herself?
Fatal Feast is available as an e-book and paperback. I would love to have you write an honest review on Amazon.
The newest novel by Karen Wills, All Too Human, will be released September 18th and will be available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and local book stores.
I’m happy to announce that book two, Stalking Midas, of my romantic suspense thriller series is now available on Amazon in both Kindle format and paperback.
After book one, Instrument of the Devil, courageous heroine Tawny Lindholm is back and she’s in big trouble. Her demanding (but sexy) new boss, attorney Tillman Rosenbaum, sends her to investigate his estranged father, Moe, a victim of elder fraud. When Tawny gets in the way of a charming con woman stalking her prey, watch out. Because this predator has killed before and each time is easier.
Hope you have as much fun reading them as I do writing them!