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.

The Dancing Master

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By Catherine Browning

 

When I attended high school, everyone learned the basic dance steps in PE class. This included the waltz, two-step, polka, and some square dancing. All right! I admit it was somewhere back in the dark ages. But when you were asked to go to the prom, you knew the steps. More important, your partner knew the steps, too. At the more informal dances, we all learned the twist, mashed potato . . . well, you get the idea. 

My grandson is a senior in high school. I asked him if he intended going to the prom. 

“Probably.”

“Do you know how to dance?”

“No.”

“Does whomever you will ask to be your date know how to dance?”

“No.”

Now I ask you, what are they teaching students at school these days? I’m allowed to ask this question because I’m a teacher. As of a few years ago, I just do substitute teaching, but I still qualify. 

So I asked my grandson if anyone actually danced at the dances. 

“No.”

So I offered to teach my grandson and his choice of dates how to dance. Place your bets now as to whether or not that will happen!

My daughter informed me I was too old-fashioned and that she didn’t even know the present day dances. Perhaps my granddaughter-in-law could teach him to swing dance?

Thoughts from a Newbie

Diane

Diane E Bokor is a deeply rooted Montana transplant who loves to hike, garden and explore new horizons of the mind.  She lives in Kalispell with her famous dog, Roscoe.

 

 

By Diane E. Bokor

Do I qualify to be in a group called Montana Women Writers?

I am a woman who lives in Montana.  I like to write. I was invited to take a seat at the table.  I showed up and now I am writing a short piece for the MWW blog.  If this piece gets published, I have my answer! I am shy about my writing.  I don’t have much confidence — yet. But, thank you, Montana Women Writers for your openness to a shy newbie wannabe like me.

Does everyone start with a vomit draft?  I love my fingertips on the keyboard trying to keep up with my bubbling thoughts.  It’s a race and a real mess. If I can remember to hit “save” occasionally, the thoughts are captured and the crafting of a piece begins.  It feels like good, honest work to change fragmented thoughts into cogent sentences and shape sentences into a well-formed essay. Adding commas and capitals or finding typos is as satisfying as tidying my house with windows open to a fresh Montana breeze.  I am always aware of the red pen of my 12th grade English teacher, Miss Basenbach.  She was a real hard ass and I am ever grateful.

For my current writing life, my goal is simple: write reflections on the 70 years of this life.  I have told my shy writer-self that these reflections are for the benefit of my grandchildren. That is a pure motivation and a target audience that, theoretically, will be automatically appreciative.  These current reflections are my heart’s desire, the meaningful purpose of my third act.

When discussion around a writers’ table turns to plot, publication and agents, I merely smile and listen.  What could I have to contribute to that discussion? One day, while merely listening, I heard a jokey little comment about “developing professional habits”.  It led to the discovery of Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield and that changed everything.  A switch got flipped. No more vague daydreaming. I know my purpose.  I am developing professional habits. I show up at the keyboard each day (ummm, mostly) and I capture my life stories.  I no longer feel like a fraud. I can participate in this blog because of a fresh start.

This newbie can truthfully say she is beginning to be a Montana Woman Writer.

MAKING REAL CHRISTMAS TREE MEMORIES

By Anne B. Howard

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Each holiday season as Keith and I trim a fresh tree, I always think back to my childhood and the shiny aluminum tree my parents displayed proudly, year after year. Dad mounted a rotating pink, blue and gold spotlight on the ceiling, creating a kaleidoscope-of-color effect, and he and my mother thought it was the most beautiful tree in town. I was not convinced. I yearned for a “real Christmas tree.” A freshly cut tree that smelled of the forest. A tree I could decorate with beautiful ornaments, sparkling garland, colored lights and silvery tinsel draped over its branches. I felt afraid of that aluminum tree my parents coveted, afraid and resentful, because I couldn’t go near it. “Stay away from that tree,” my mother scolded. “If you knock it over, it could cut you to pieces.” After thrilling my folks for ten years, silver was eventually replaced with “artificial green,” but I was so disappointed I cried.

That first Christmas that Keith and I spent in Montana, in 1993, after our move from Kansas to “real-Christmas-tree heaven,” I was delighted by my selection of freshly cut trees. Several years passed, however, before I realized the true extent of my options. One evening, over a bottle of wine with friends, I confessed to my obsession with real Christmas trees.

“We’re in,” my friend said. “Tomorrow we get a permit and head up Crane Mountain, on Forest Service land, to find you the freshest, most beautiful tree you’ve ever seen. Cut any one you like for five bucks.”

Excited by the prospect of selecting a fresh tree from the forest, Keith and I, and our two friends, drove quite a long way up the Crane Mountain Road before pulling the car over and trudging through eight inches of fresh snow to a broad meadow, sprinkled with trees of every variety. Immediately, I saw the tree I wanted, but before Keith could get his saw in motion, I changed my mind. For well over an hour I ran from one tree to the next, vowing that each would be “my final choice,” only to find a bare spot or a crooked trunk, which every Christmas tree critic knows is a deal-breaker. Typically a very patient man, I had pushed him to his breaking point. “I mean it, Becky. Make a decision. This is it. I’m going home.”

Meanwhile, our friends stood patiently next to their selection—a measly little thing, by my standards. I mean, they were paying the same five dollars as me for a nice big tree, so why, I wondered, hadn’t they chosen the tallest tree they could get on their car?

Growing more annoyed by the minute, Keith jumped on my latest “final choice” with clenched teeth, and began working his saw. It took the four of us, panting and groaning, to drag that snow-laden tree over the stumps and downfall, and out of that meadow, where, after another hour spent cursing and scratching the car finish and losing the tree off the opposite side, we secured her to the roof. “I’ll never get this so-and-so through the front door,” Keith declared, furious. I kept my mouth shut—it was safer that way. Unfortunately, however, he was right. The tree wouldn’t go through the front door. Or the back door. Not even with four adults pushing and pulling with all of our might, determined to force it through. “Not going. No way,” he declared, angrily.

“What about the French doors off the deck?” I suggested, timidly.

Next, they dragged the enormous Frazier Fur up the back steps and onto the deck as I raced through the house and threw open the doors. Just as I suspected, the tree slipped easily through, but was a good four feet too tall for my ceiling. By this point, I was in big trouble and I knew it. “I’ll throw the damn thing off the deck,” Keith threatened.

Then, it began to snow. Big flakes, the size of quarters, began to stick to the cold needles creating a lovely lace flocking. “Set it up on the deck,” I said, “outside the French doors. I’ll load it with colored lights and the spotlight will illuminate the falling snow. It will be beautiful.” He shook his head and rolled his eyes, but with the help of our friends, we muscled the big tree into a make-shift stand and secured it to the railing, so it couldn’t fall over.

Once the tree was lit and flocked with snow, Keith came around. In fact, I may have heard him bragging a little to our neighbors, when he thought I was out of earshot. He said it was the perfect place for such a great Christmas tree. And, yes, it was a unique holiday experience that year, having the tree on the deck, its branches ablaze with colored lights and heavily flocked with snow. Different, but incredibly beautiful—a memory I’ll always hold close to my heart as the best Christmas tree ever.

(Previously posted December 2015)

 

Montana Leaves

By Marie F Martin

The Montana Maples are in full glory along my street in Kalispell. Three of my great-grandsons showed to clean my yard. What a fun beautiful time it was. After the leaves were all cleaned up I sent them home with a container of my beef barley soup and brownies filled with canned cherry pie filling and frosted with chocolate. Just a fun slice of Montana life.

Pile’em high.

I wouldn’t want to try this move.

Buried alive.