EVELYN AND LLOYD: A LOVE STORY

Karen's author photo apr 2019

 

By Karen Wills

 

Reading the letters, I came to understand just how difficult the long hardships and separations caused by WWII really were. Dad, a teacher, became a gunnery officer on a ship in the South Pacific. Mom stayed on the Big West Oilfield with her parents in their little house. My grandparents had one bedroom, while Mom and my two-year-old brother and eventually, I, shared the other.

The letters reveal little running jokes, stories about new and old friends, and earnest concerns of a young couple managing ration books and occasional train trips to be together on a shoestring budget. Their longing and loneliness come through. Here’s Dad:

Dearest One,

       I “writ” you one letter today. What am I doing writing again? Could it be love?

Mom wrote of how brokenhearted she felt after seeing him off at the Shelby Depot after his too-brief leave. She held up until, at the café, someone put the song “Together” on the jukebox.

They weathered the war and their years apart. All of it became part of our family lore. Their letters, though, were their story alone. Here’s a piece of Dad’s last letter before coming home:

     “Well, Honey, we have written a lot of letters, haven’t we? Your letters helped out immeasurably. You have been grand throughout this whole business, Sweetheart, and I can hardly wait to get back with you, and I hope to God that we won’t have to be separated again.”

karens letters blog

 

  They never were.
Originally published February 14, 2014

Sister’s 80th Birthday

Norma

My Sister Norma

My Sister’s Eightieth Birthday Party

by Marie F Martin

I received a call from my younger sister, Doris, that we should throw our oldest sister, Norma, a birthday party because we gave Mom one when she was eighty. Sounded reasonable to me. Then my younger brother came up with the idea of doing a video for her about things she pulled as our oldest sister when we were kids. The following story is one of my favorite memories.

By the time we were in the fourth and sixth grades Norma was a complete through and through tomboy and the controller of our small Montana country neighborhood.              Norma-nator should have been her name. I was always meek and shy which drove her out of her mind.

We didn’t lack for playmates. Next door in a long green stucco house lived the Grilley boys, across the highway were the Nelsons. They were old, but their granddaughter played with us when she visited. The three Horner girls lived on the other side and on top of Saurey Hill lived the Saureys. This bunch of kids were who we played with or fought with depending on Norma’s mood for the day.

I loved to swim and fish. Luckily, a creek was only a half mile away. We would follow a country road north until we came to a spot where the creek passed under the road, made a bend and went back under the road. This area was ours. We fished and swam, built forts and ate picnic lunches there.

Shy Brookies lived in that stream. We caught them on worms and Schnell hooks, size number six. We crept, hush-hush, along the bank, not making a sound and making sure our shadows didn’t reflect on the water, as we cast our baited hooks into the water. The current carried the wiggling worms downstream under overhanging bushes where fish hid.

Norma caught her share as we all did, but woe be to any of us who made noise.

One day, walking ahead of me, Norma shrieked and high-stepped quickly in the opposite direction.

“What’s the matter?” I asked in a loud whisper. “You’re scaring the fish.”

“I almost stepped on a damn snake,” she answered.

“Not afraid of a little snake, are you?” I asked, surprised at her forbidden word.

“Of course not! I just don’t like them.”

Norma is afraid of the small green water snakes, my mind said. This was an enormous discovery! I now had an equalizer! I bided my time. Sure enough a few days later I had finally found the perfect spot to cast my line into the water.

She said. “Move that’s my spot.”

“No, it’s my spot.”

She balled a fist and ordered, “Go.”

Mumbling to myself, I trudged downstream and plopped on the bank. Movement caught my eye. I reached into the weeds and pulled out a wiggling, hissing snake. It was only a small water snake, but when I held it by the back of the neck, it dangled down a good foot. Wiggling. Mouth open and forked tongue sticking out. Perfect. I quietly circled around behind Norma and stood at her squatting back, holding the snake above her, the wiggling tail almost touching the top of her head.

She glanced up and saw what I held. “Yukkkk,” she screamed. “Get away!”

I held it closer.

She kicked and screamed like death was nearby. “Wait till I tell Mom what you did!” She ran for home.

A little guilt should have nagged at my mind, but fishing was good that day.

Darkness As A Blessing

Photo.cropped

 

 

by M.F. Erler

Well, it’s finally here.  Halloween.  Samhain to the ancient Celts.  It marks the midpoint between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  A dark time in the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere.   No wonder the Celts of Ireland and Scotland, and the Norse of Scandinavia, marked it as a time when the dead were said to walk the earth for a night.  I’m glad the Medieval Church set it aside as the Eve of All Saints’ Day, a time to remember those who have gone before us, and to reflect on their legacy to us.  So that’s what I’m doing. 

As I look into my family tree, I’m remembering all the things my ancestors have left to me.  And I’m looking for ways to pass this legacy on to my children, the next generation. Reading about all the trials and problems my ancestors went through in their lives reminds me how much we take for granted now. Things like central heating and electric lights. Hot and cold running water. That’s just a few.  

As the days shorten and the darkness seems to close around (especially in this northern latitude) it’s good to know that this old earth is still turning in its appointed course around the sun.  Even though winter follows autumn, spring will come in its time, too. Some of my friends like to be snowbirds, but I enjoy the changing seasons. Maybe I’m strange, but I think I would get bored living in a place where it’s always summer. 

Almost Pioneers

karen in her hat small

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.

Almost Pioneers 

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.montana here we come  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. kitties in a basket

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.

 

A Necessary Inspiration

By Marsha Nash Sultz

Sometimes inspiration sneaks up behind you and whispers in your ear. Sometimes it knocks you over the head with great vigor. In my case, frustration once drove me to create a solution for the unknowable.

Years ago, I was interested in family genealogy to the point of obsession. Where did I come from? Whose genetic oomph propelled me to become me? I was hip-deep in Ancestry.com when I discovered that my great-grandfather’s information ended abruptly. He was born during the Civil War in a small town in Tennessee and raised as an orphan. The courthouse records, and the courthouse, were destroyed by the townspeople to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Yankees. 

What? Who destroys their own records? 

After searching to no avail for another month I sat back, dumbfounded and upset. I wanted to know the beginning of Great-Grandpa Sam’s life. The only thing I knew from my Aunt Margie was that he was a sweet man, an orphan who was raised by neighbors. That wasn’t enough for me.

What does a writer do when confronted with a bad ending? She writes a new one.

I took the bare bones of setting, time period and characters and created my own small town, Benson’s Furnace, Tennessee. I led with a skirmish set during the Civil War in which a wounded Confederate captain is forced to remain behind, in secret. What ensues is forbidden love, betrayal and misunderstanding between certain female citizens of the town and our Captain. Twenty-five years later, he decides to return to Benson’s Furnace to atone for his past behavior.

My story becomes a saga of Southern post-war life in a small town where no one wants to talk about the past. Unfortunately, the captain’s appearance brings up memories of southern defeat and shame and the unthought-of parentage of Sam, an unintended result of the captain’s liaison with the wrong woman.

This story is wildly different from Sam’s real life. He married a local girl, fathered three children and moved to West Tennessee to become a cotton farmer. 

Do I owe Sam the truth? Did my imagination bend reality to the point of denying the existence of an authentic life? 

I can’t help but think that I’ve improved the story while paying tribute to a relative whose history remains a blank in the record book. As they say in bad detective movies, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Besides, everyone needs a satisfying ending – to a story, to a novel or to a life.