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

Barbara Tuchman

my kingdom

By Janice McCaffrey

A book mark has been sitting on my desk for over two years now because I like the poem printed on it. Recently I looked up the poet and found that Barbara Tuchman (1903-1984) was not a poet, but a journalist and historian. Wikipedia says that she was criticized because she didn’t have a university degree and wrote history in a way that ordinary people could understand it. Seems she was ahead of her time. Nowadays easy-to-understand histories make the New York Times bestseller list (e.g. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown or The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter.)

Surfing the web I found a site with Barbara Tuchman quotes (quotetab.com). Here’s my favorites:      Human behavior is timeless.—Above all, discard the irrelevant.—One must stop conducting research before one has finished. Otherwise, one will never- stop and never finish.—Words are seductive and dangerous material, to be used with caution.                  An essential element for good writing is a good ear. One must listen to the sound of one’s own prose.           I have always been in a condition in which I cannot not write.          No writing comes alive unless the writer sees across his desk a reader, and searches constantly for the word or phrase which will carry the image he wants the reader to see, and arouse the emotion he wants him to feel. Without conscientiousness of a live reader, what a man writes will die on the page.               To be a bestseller is not necessarily a measure of quality, but it is a measure of communication.         Nothing is more satisfying then to write a good sentence. It is no fun to write lumpishly, dully, in prose the reader must plod through like wet sand. But it is a pleasure to achieve, if one can, a clear running prose that is simple yet full of surprises. This does not just happen. It requires skill, hard work, a good ear, and continual practice.             Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library.                   My bookmark says:  Without books, history is silent, literature dumb,science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.       Without books,  the development of civilization would have been impossible.      Books are engines of change, windows on the world, “lighthouses” (as a poet said” “erected in the sea of time.”     Books are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. They are humanity in print.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Writing Historical Novels

historical fiction

By Janice McCaffrey

February’s Montana Women Writer’s meeting featured a discussion on Writing Historical Novels led by Karen Wills and me. Karen read the following quote  by Fiona Veitch Smith author of Pilate’s Daughter from M.K. Tod’s blog Inside Historical Fiction:

I build my worlds in concentric circles. The outer circle is the social, political, religious, economic and historical backdrop within which my story takes place … The next circle in will include the ‘props’ that the characters interact with … the innermost circle is the emotional core of the characters living in a particular period. 

An excellent segue into my favorite topic, research. Below is a handout listing some, I’m sure not all and in no apparent order, details historical novelists use to fill in Ms. Smith’s circles.

Facts of people’s lives – names, birth, marriage, death dates and places
Food – what, how produced, hunted, gathered, prepared, served, preserved
Water – supply, how does it get to people/animals
Other drinks – coffee, tea, alcohol, juices
Living quarters – structure, furniture, room set up

Lighting – inside and out
Social structure – social classes, details in each level, reactions, impact on society and individuals
Education – schools, apprenticeships, home learning
Manufacturing – for local use, exports
Imported/exported goods – what, from/to where, how transported

Purchasing goods – where, how often, from who, display or set up of goods, barter or currency
Money – coins, paper, denominations, country’s currency
Occupations and their how-to
Heating and cooling – homes, people, animals
Clothing – fabrics, colors, patterns, how are they made, by whom
Public Health – clean water, sewage, diseases, medical practices

Personal Hygiene – cleanliness, teeth, hair, clothing
Socials – what, where, with who
Games & Sports, pleasurable past times
Story telling – oral, books, legend, lore
Neighborhoods – city, town, rural

Patriarchal or Matriarchal – societies, families, governments, values
Rules spoken and unspoken – within family, community, groups, government
History of place – country, state, county, town
Civil laws – who writes them, how they’re upheld, justice system, consequences
Geography – terrain of land

Maps
Governments – leaders, issues, controversies – past & present
Politics – local, national, global
Military – preparedness, uniforms/armor, weapons, strongholds (fort, bunker, cave, etc)
Weather/Climate – seasons, temperatures, precipitation

Communication – (usually before phones at least before cell phones)
Travel – local and distant/international, land, sea, air, walk, ride, vehicles,
Ethnic & religious customs – national, local, family, personal
Religion – beliefs, ceremonies, conversion, spreading the Word
Stereotypes – common of the time and place

Language – written, oral, dialects
Death, burial, cremation – traditions, rites

            If you think of any that aren’t on the list, please let me know and I’ll add them.