Thursday, February 8, 2018

Riding Horses

This photo was taken in 1920. That's my grandma on the horse with her brother, Dave. The two young kids on the ground are actually her niece and nephew, orphaned when their mother died in her thirties. Grandma (Mabelle) has written the names of all of them on the photo -- and, yes, the horses's name is Ben.

I've written some short stories about kids growing up in the west, since that's where I grew up, and I followed the rule to "write what you know." I once had a critique partner suggest that it was unrealistic for the low-income character in my story to have a horse, since it's expensive to keep horses (or so this person said). This may be true in urban areas, but when I was growing up, it was hard to find a ranch or farm in our area that didn't have horses, ours included.

Horses figure prominently in my grandma's recollections from childhood. I've copied below a couple of paragraphs from her "autobiography," an 11-page document she wrote in 1986. I feel quite fortunate to have received a copy with these memories which would, otherwise, have been lost forever.

"My pal, Dorothy Johnson, had a pony named Pee Wee. We rode him all summer long. We watched the boys ride backwards on their horses, so Dot and I decided to ride Pee Wee backwards. Well, Pee Wee didn't like it, so he started to buck. We didn't have a saddle, so off we flew, landing in a pile of dried thistle the wind had blown against the fence. After bucking us off, Pee Wee stood 'hip shod' and went to sleep while Dot and I picked thistle slivers from ourselves.

Another time, I 'stole' my boyfriend's beautiful black horse. I had ridden him double with my friend, but Satan (as I called this horse thereafter) knew his master wasn't there, so he jumped and ran and I couldn't get his head, as it's called. Over the corral bars we went, down a hill, across the creek. He jumped a barbed wire fence, caught his hind leg in it and away Satan and I went for a spill. Florence came to my rescue. No one else saw it happen. I was knocked cuckoo. Flo put me on Old Blue (our riding horse). We rode up into the hills to Hell Hole and stayed until I came to. Hell Hole is several miles from the farm house. We returned at twilight. Had a good excuse to tell our Ma: We had gone to hunt a team of horses that wandered away from the pasture. From that day on, I've had a bad shoulder. Nowadays an ambulance would be called and the injured person taken to the nearest hospital. We were tough but, I think, not wise in keeping that kind of an accident from our folks."

   --- Autobiography of Mabelle Irene Luthy Larter, 1986

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Writing Report: Success!

Last week, I threw out most of my old journals, around 140 spiral-bound notebooks. I'd filled these notebooks with hand-written scribbles for the last thirty years or so, and it felt good to purge my shelves, and my soul, of all those musings. Inside one of those notebooks was this little slip of paper, a note to me from the great Madeleine L'Engle, one of my literary heroes and a major influence on my life in so many categories, not the least of which is writing.

When I was just beginning to write seriously, I valued every word that, by some miracle, came out of me and made it all the way onto paper, but I'd begun to wonder if holding onto all those spiral notebooks was a bit like hoarding. I know that in doing so I was thinking I'd never produce another piece of writing, ever, so I'd better hang onto the proof that I'd done it at least once. Even if no one else valued my writing, the thought process went, at least I did--and the proof was in those boxes filled with notebooks filled with pages and pages of my writing.

I'm guessing that I took this drastic step of clearing my shelves last week because I was also on the verge of taking another big step: signing another publishing contract, this time for my second novel, "Fearless." Just a month ago, I'd made the decision to publish my first novel, "Belle o' the Waters," through a hybrid publisher, as described in this post. This new contract, though, is with an honest-to-god traditional publisher, New Meridian Arts, a small press who loved my book and offered to help me bring it to the world. I was thrilled to receive this news, but also surprised, since I thought it was going to be years before I found a publisher for this or any of my books. I was glad to be proven wrong! "Fearless" is likely to be published later in 2018, or early 2019. I will post more information about it as we get closer to the publication date.

One more thing: Madeleine apparently often signed autographs with the phrase you see here, "tesser well," which is an odd phrase, and you won't find it many other places. It is based on a concept in her book, "A Wrinkle in Time," that had such a huge influence on my life. The phrase invokes her idea of a tesseract, used by the characters in Wrinkle to travel through time, so to "tesser" means to move from one point in time to another in an extraordinary way. She believed that to "tesser well" required a certain type of inner strength. I don't know if I have what she meant, but I like to think I do, or that I at least keep trying even when there's no reason to believe success will ever come. Because, actually, sometimes success really does happen!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Homestead

This is a photo of the group of men that established our original family homestead, forerunner of our family ranch, known as the 711 Ranch. My grandfather, Ferry Larter, is the taller young man in the center back row. To his left (our right) is his father, my great-grandfather, Claude Larter, and to grandpa's right is Claude's half-brother, Will Larter.

In the front row are grandpa's brothers and one brother-in-law. Left to right are: Ray Bradshaw, Shirley Larter, Clark Larter and Fay Larter. These men established a homestead using the acreage around the Whiskey Springs Stagecoach Stop that had been founded in 1908 and run by Claude for years. The building behind them is the original homestead house, which later became the bunkhouse where traveling cowboys bunked while they worked for the ranch.

I'm not totally sure of the relationship between Claude and Will, although they are identified in the records I have as half-brothers. Claude's father (my great-great-grandfather) was Henry Neach Larter, born in Norfolk, England, in 1932. He had more than one wife. One of these wives was Phebe Maria Curtis, and she was Claude's mother -- hence, my great-great-grandmother. I'm still not sure who Will's mother and father were, but I'm working on finding out!

Phebe's father, Erastus Curtis, was 19 years old in 1847 when he accompanied his father to travel to what we now know as Utah. They came with Brigham Young in the first wave of Mormon pioneers to settle the Salt Lake area. I do know that Erastus had four wives and at least 25 children. It appears that he was a polygamist, since these marriages all appear to have occurred around the same time, in 1848, one year after the first wave of Mormon pioneers arrived in Salt Lake. One of his wives, Mary Caroline Barton Curtis, died in 1911 in a place now called Barton, not far from Whiskey Springs.

Some of this family history has made its way into my forthcoming novel, "Belle o' the Waters," due out this summer. Friends who have read early drafts of this book will definitely recognize some of the names, since I've borrowed liberally from my family tree for character names in the novel. I know so little about these early generations, though, and the details of their daily lives, even their exact relationships to one another, are still a mystery, and may always remain that way. Hence, my book is not a family history - it's a novel, totally fictionalized, but based on the history that so many of us who grew up in the western US share.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Throw Back Thursday: One Hundred Years Ago

This is a photo of my grandmother, taken when she was seven years old and all dressed up for her big sister's wedding. Grandma was born in September, 1911, so this photo was probably taken in late 1918. As it turns out, I have an eyewitness account of what her life was like at that time. My grandmother wrote a ten-page autobiography in January, 1986, and made sure we all copies. I've been reading it recently, and see that it's possible some of my urge to write came from her!

The following is an excerpt from the section of Grandma's autobiography close to the time this photo was taken. It describes events that took place that year in Rexburg, Idaho.

November of 1918 brought the end of World War I and the Armistice celebration. The Kaiser was burned in effigy on the flagpole in the middle of Main Street. I got lost in the crowd. 

I must have been doing a bit of loud crying because the curfew lady, Mrs. Barnes, took me by the hand and asked me my name and where I lived. I can remember telling her, "My name is Mabelle and I live down past the Tabernacle." 

On the way home, we met Adeline and Hank [her sister and brother] coming back to town to find me. I remember that well because I was a frightened little girl. Who wouldn't have been at that tender age--bands playing, people yelling, the stuffed Kaiser hanging up there on a pole burning and Mrs. Barnes dressed in a long black skirt and black coat, carrying a billy club looped over her wrist and a gun in her purse. No, I won't forget that.
   ---- The Autobiography of Mabelle Irene Luthy Larter, written January, 1986

And, obviously, my grandmother never did forget that, since she described it vividly nearly seventy years later. What's more, she put it in writing, so all of us can now know what life was like a hundred years ago for one very special little girl.