Help Me Out Here…

books-messyI need your help, dear reader. You see, I’ve begun another book before the first one is sold and so I’m once more doing research. “Captured by Wind,” it’s tentatively called, my book, not the books above, and ostensibly (meaning apparently but perhaps not actually) it’s to chronicle my love of storm and winds and wandering. I come from a long and illustrious line of wind wanderers. Here, for example, is the second paragraph of the manuscript.

I’m hardly the first. Wind and wanderers have a long and tumultuous history: Moses, Odysseus, Shelly, Wagner’s Valkyries and Washington Irving’s horseman, and long streams of pioneers and Native Americans, many lost to history. The list is endless, tossed by the wind. And lest we forget, there was Admiral Francis Beaufort, hydrographer and officer in the Royal Navy, who developed the Beaufort Wind Scale still in use today. 

You can see already what a complicated task I’ve set up for myself.

I began by ordering a book about Admiral Francis Beaufort, Gale Force 10, which chronicles his life from childhood to somewhere but I’ve only gotten to page forty-three because in writing in my haphazard way when I’m trying to figure out something, and many pages after writing about my wandering childhood and wind on the farm (yes, I know, it’s a leap but makes sense in the several pages of weaving and writing…one hopes…) I wrote:

While my early wandering took me across fields, Admiral Francis Beaufort began his wandering, at fourteen, on a ship bound for China. He was to comment later that his was “a strictly nomadic family,” although well versed in both scholarship and religion, as was mine: his Huguenot, mine Quaker. The beliefs of both the Huguenots and the Quakers made them outcasts, forced to keep moving until they arrived in more northern and less settled lands, his in Ireland in the mid-1700s, mine a century later in northern Kansas.

Well. Then. You see, my great-great-grandmother, Lucinda Moore, was part of that Quaker migration although she was born a Reich and likely Moravian (there’s not a lot of difference between Moravian and Quaker although Quakers were more persecuted), at New Salem, now Winston-Salem, so then I had to go find the article my great-grandfather wrote about his mother who married three men – the first two died leaving her with assorted children, and to a dugout with Mr. Moore in a hillside in Jewel County, Kansas where my great-grandfather was born.

However, in rising from my writing to go find the article, I was sucked into a black hole of years of saved writing: on Odysseus, on Kansas history, on prairie fires, on mythology, etc etc etc, having forgotten how much I’d accumulated years ago as I was thinking of writing Kansas Chronicles about my family and my step-family and Grandpa Albert telling stories of trading with the Native Americans who had an encampment just north of our farm.

Maybe that’s what I’m writing. The Kansas Chronicles, in a different form.

But there’s still that above pile of books, culled from my bookshelves dedicated to Kansas writing, and several file folders filled with newspaper clippings and stories and history and more pieces of writing. And I didn’t even add Gale Force 10 to the pile or a photo of the digital files I’ve saved and already written in the folder called Kansas Chronicles, saved since I wrote and published, in 2008, the first essay, On Fire and Family, about burning off the prairie after I’d returned to the Kansas farm.

And that’s what happens when you find out what you thought was a fresh idea has been simmering on the back burner for years.

Thanks. I calmer now. The task is daunting, but it seems to be the task I’ve embarked upon.

Unless, of course, I can convince myself to write the Mexico book which is also partly written.

I’ll update from time to time.

An Open Letter to My Great-Great-Grandmother

Dear Lucinda, no, no perhaps I have no right to be so informal. After all, I didn’t know you nor you me. In fact, I didn’t even know about you until last summer when my husband and I drove out to Jewell County, Kansas to see the land where my mother was born, where my grandmother and my great-grandfather and great-grandmother were born, my great-grandfather your last son, the one born in Indian Country at the end of the 17th Century.

I knew my great-grandparents but not your granddaughter, my Grandmother Margaret. She died when I was young, maybe four, after the time my sister was born. We lived in Arkansas. She lived in Kansas. There’s a story of her driving down with my grandpa to visit a year or so before she died. I was somewhere down the dirt road past our house. I’ve always wandered, even when young. I guess I got that from you. Their car slowed, I expect. I imagine my grandfather rolling down his window to ask a little blond-headed, blue-eyed, barefoot girl where my daddy lived. Well, he probably didn’t say where’s your daddy, he probably asked if I knew where Jeanette Sunderland lived, that was my mother. It seems I pointed down the road and said the famous line repeated in family stories, “Ya’ll comin’ to ah house?”

That’s all I know—the story and the line. You might have been appalled at the slurring casualness of my speech; I expect your granddaughter, Grandma Margaret, might have been, as she was an educated woman and wrote poetry. All I knew was that people laughed when they heard that line at the end of a very short story. My mother was educated, and she might have cringed at my accent, I don’t remember, but then she had three children and ducks and chickens to tend. She might not have done much reading in those days. Or much pronunciation training. I was born in San Francisco, but we’d lived in Arkansas all the time I was learning to talk and my favorite neighbor, Mis McNeil who fed me peanuts, talked like that. You’d be pleased to know I grew up to be a writer and a public speaker who is very particular with her words and pronunciation.

But I knew your son, Great-Grandpa Moore and his wife Great-Grandma Moore. By the time I knew them, they’d moved to Marshall County, following their daughter Margaret who’d married a railroad man. Married outside the church—a wayward girl, I gather. I probably get that part of me from her. You wandered but I doubt you were every wayward. Great-Grandmother was a Dillon and stern but she had beautiful white hair. I guess I get that from her. The hair, I mean, and sometimes the sternness. Great-Grandpa always had bad breath but I loved to sit on his lap. He laughed all the time. I guess that means you loved him pretty well, even after moving across the country from the Carolinas, step by step, marrying and burying husbands, moving on, collecting new last names and assorted children, until Great-Great-Grandpa Moore (you outlived him too) made you a home in a dug out against a hill above a stream in Jewell County. Family legend says my great-grandpa, your youngest son, was the first white child born west of the Missouri, but I don’t know how true that is. You’d probably know. I know Kansas Pioneer is written on his tombstone just below his name.

We’re a story-telling family, so I’ve made up a story you might have told my great-great grandfather when he was young. I hope you like it.

You’re sitting with an open Bible in your lap beside the pot-bellied stove in your dug out, the home you lived in until you died at ninety-three, and a neighbor has come to visit and see if you need anything. You’re already in your late eighties and Mr. Moore, your husband, my great-great grandfather has died. You hair is still dark and pulled back into a severe bun at the back of your head. You’re wearing a hand-knit shawl.

The neighbor woman asks if you’re doing all right and you nod. “I’m fine,” you say. “I didn’t see you in church this morning,” she says. “Figured I’d ask if you needed something.” You run your open hand across a page of the great book in your lap, smoothing a fragile page. “I was reading. I’m fine.”

I didn’t know about Quakers until last summer, either, but now I’m shortchanging your story to tell another of mine. I mean, I knew about them and I’d heard Mother’s stories of her Quaker family, especially Uncle Henry who said to a stubborn mule, “I shall not beat thee, I shall not curse thee, but I shall yank on thy dang-blasted head!” I always liked that line. What I didn’t know was that there weren’t any rules or rituals in the Quaker church, nothing to argue about. Just read the Bible and be kind. That’s a pretty good rule, no rules. Maybe there’s more I don’t know about, but I never heard any stories about Quakers arguing. Just Uncle Henry, yanking on the mule’s halter because he wouldn’t drink from the tank Uncle Henry led him to.

Anyway, your story con’t.

“I was thinking about Mr. Moore this morning,” you say. “And I was remembering something that happened shortly after we got here. He went out to check on those cows we’d managed to keep alive from Indiana, and he found a party of Indians skinning one to cut it up. Isn’t that a strange way to say it…a party of Indians. Well, they were elbow deep in grease and blood, but they threw down their skinning knives and ran toward the horses. Mr. Moore said two of them had grabbed bows before he got their attention. He held up both hands, faced them with open hands, and he hollered, ‘Wait.” (You hold up your hands to demonstrate.) Not real loud, he told me, just loud enough to get their attention. They stopped. He turned one open hand toward the half-skinned cow and he nodded. Then he rubbed his belly and nodded again. They were staring at him real hard, he said, bows in one hand, reaching for something, maybe arrows. He patted his chest once and pointed over his shoulder, turned his horse, and rode away. He knew they didn’t have food, we’d heard stories of villagers starving, children mostly. They didn’t follow and they didn’t shoot. A couple of mornings later, we found a big pile of firewood down by the stream. The Indians had brought it in trade. He was a good man, Mr. Moore. I was proud of him.

“No. I don’t need anything. Thank you for coming. I didn’t have anyone to tell this story to and it needed telling. Now it’s done.”

In a Quaker Cemetary

In a Quaker Cemetery