Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Two special project I'm supposed to be working on have me stumped. It's as close as I've come to the mysterious "writers block" I've heard so much about. I have no idea what I want to write.

I'm into the third day of trying to fix the problem and I've tried all the usual tricks to clear my thoughts, spent hours in the garden and read half the books in my summer stack. The first was Child of Light by Diane Bentley Baker, a fascinating journed of a time traveler on the ancient silk road. I loved the two novels by Jennie Shortridge: Riding With The Queen and Eating Heaven. I sat on pins and needles while I read the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and now I'm involved in non fiction, The Wicked West--Boozers, Cruisers, Gamblers, and More by Sherry Monahan.

Only the barest twinkling of light on my writing dilemma but I'm having a lot of pleasure getting there.
www.Jo-Brew.com www.womenwritingthewest www.thecreswellchronicle womenwritingthewest.blogspot.com

Saturday, August 11, 2007

From the belief that family stories can help us understand who we are and that the understanding improves our writing, I decided to try writng the few family stories that were passed down to me.

One grandma, on my mother's side of the family, was of Danish descent. A woman who carried herself with pride, wore well ironed dresses and aprons with a ruffle trimmed in rick rack. She smelled good, seldom gave hugs and rarely smiled. I'm sure she believed in the adage, children should be seen and not heard, because she seldom actually talked to us.

Still we knew she was fond of us. She was available for baby sitting when we were young and always sent a Christmas box filled with all sorts of small treats and treasures wrapped in tissue paper. Sometimes she sewed for me so I might also have a new dress, or one remade from a cousin's contribution.

I never saw her in an emotional outburst myself. About the time I was in first grade, my brother and myself went to Colorado on the train to spend the summer with her and grandpa since my mother, in California,was working. During the visit, I slipped her good sewing scissors outside without her knowledge. Before long I experimented by trying to peel one of the potatoes I found stored in the separate garage. One slip and a blade went through my thumb. When I went in the back door for help with the bleeding, she turned and saw me, "Stay right there. Don't get blood all over the floor." I stopped and she came to help but her calm was the biggest help of all.

Once, when I was older and riding across town with my parents after a Sunday visit, I overheard my mother tell my father that grandma had gotten so angry at grandpa and his fascination with their new television, she'd gone in the bedroom, shut the door and thrown her shoes at the door. I was surprised and shocked. I hadn't known adults could get that angry.

I was particularly fond of my grandfather. He seemed to like us and would take us for walks or sit on the porch and sing for us. "Hello Central, Give me Heaven,"Two Little Girls in Blue," and "It Ain't Gonna Rain No More," were favorites. Once in awhile he could be persuaded to play his harmonica. A man full of music he seldom got to express.

As I grew older and began to think romantic thoughts, I asked Grandma about their meeting. She told me she had been raised on a farm where she had to help with the heavy labor as there weren't any boys to do it. She was determined not to marry a farmer so she went into the city, Pueblo, and found a job working as a household helper for a well-to- do family. That family was fond of her and taught her about manners and ladylike behavior.

When an acquaintance introduced her to a handsome young railroad man, she was interested and welcomed his courtship. Later, he was sent across the border into New Mexico as foreman on a crew, the contact continued by mail. The time came when she had to choose between making the journey to visit Europe with the family she worked for or her beau. They decided to marry.

Her father took her to the train station in Pueblo to make the trip south to join her future husband. The train was late. When she arrived in Raton, it was too late for a wedding. Grandpa had to pay for a hotel room for her and find a place to bunk for himself. They married the next day and set up housekeeping in Railroad housing on the outskirts of town.

Although they moved frequently, their life seemed fairly stable until the railroad workers went on strike. Grandpa wouldn't have needed to go out but he sympathized
with the strikers and went anyhow. That choice went against grandma's wishes since she had two daughters to care for and would lose the railroad housing in addition to the income from the job. They did find a place in Pueblo but eventually had to put groceries on the book, a credit account.

When Grandpa did get work in a lesser position at a different railroad, Grandma skrimped and saved until the grocery bill was paid off. Later, even that job was lost as the country moved into the depression. Grandma baby sat for me until my parents moved to California and Grandpa got on with the WPA.

When the project he was working on, a beautiful brick school, was finished, they too moved to California. He and my father combined all their resources and bought a truck, begining a furniture delivery business that serviced both the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Wards stores. The start of World War Two finished that effort but the railroads were in desperate need of workers. Even though Grandpa was older than they usually hired, he was able to get a job and finished the requirments to earn his retirement.

The next part of the story is from grandma and undoubtably true. She claimed that she thought he was a gum chewer until they were married and was shocked and furious to find he chewed tobacco.

When she told me, the dislike of the coffee can spitoons hidden under the couch, disgust at the smell, and anger that he'd never quit were still there. She'd warned him not to hug his daughters or us, never to get close. His habit made him repulsive.

It wasn't until years later, when she'd passed away and he'd been alone and lonely for more than ten years, that I really thought a lot about their story and all it implied. They had been married more than fifty years, been through strikes and the depression, raised two children, cared about three grandchildren, and met three of their great grandchildren all while she was still furious with him for chewing and he'd never quit. It's hard for me to imagine; her, living with all that cold anger, and him, a man starved for affection and joy who didn't give up the tobacco. A waste for both.
www.Jo-Brew.com www.thecreswellchronicle.com www.womenwriting the west.com