You CAN Go Home Again–Writing Makes you Free

You CAN Go Home Again–Writing Makes you Free

 

When the invitation to join our Enid High School 55th graduating class reunion arrived, at first I tossed it aside. Enid, Oklahoma is a long way from California. It takes a whole day to get there by two planes and a car. Would I really connect with “kids” I knew back in the fifties after all these years?  Then, curiosity–who are these people now? Perhaps I could attend and include a book reading. Is there a bookstore that would host me? A few Google clicks later led me to “A New Chapter Bookstore,” a new bookstore owned by two women who are indeed starting their own new chapter in life by creating a place for people who love books. A phone call set up my path to take my books home. Thank you Becky and Coral! Before I left, I was tempted to cancel several times. Talk to people I knew about all my secrets? So scary. Too revealing. For days before I left, I hoped that I might not have to go. Yet, I knew I had to go. There was something there for me to discover. When I landed in Oklahoma City, the sweet wind caressed me, as it always had, and I began to cry. I was home. This land I loved so much embraced me as I drove to Enid in a long languorous dusk filled with silence, and wheat fields, and the two-toned call of a bird.

Before my reading the next day, I ran into some women who were the popular girls back then, girls I had admired, but now we were all grandmothers and none of that mattered as we warmly greeted each other. We had so much in common being from that place, growing up in a time so different from now. Free of my old shyness, I invited them to my reading. To my happy surprise, they came and compassionately listened to my story, and what I revealed for the first time.

Talking about shame and silence, reading from very personally revealing parts of my books to people who knew me as a child seemed to smooth away the edges of shame I had always carried. There was so much to be ashamed about–my parents were divorced, which was “not done” at the time–they considered it shameful, as did society at the time. My grandmother, who had loved her Chicago life, and who dressed like she was still in Chicago, had traveled to England on ships and brought a flair to any conversation, did not fit into that town, nor did she try to. She was an interesting “character” but no one wants their parental figure to be so different with her fake English accent and put-on airs. Later, I had to hide the darkness inside the house–her beatings, screaming, and rages as she descended into what later I would learn was depression and mental illness. I was related to someone who acted like that? No one could know and no one did know these and other shameful things. Of course, what I didn’t know then is that everyone, every household and child has their secrets. Everyone carries their own burdens,

The edges of reality blurred, the then and the now, as I stood in the bookstore in the town where I grew up, the big sky and breezes anchoring me once more to the place where my bones grew and my mind searched for understanding. At the reading, I faced people I knew and met new people. I talked about my books and my truth. The rules of silence from so long ago dissolved as I spoke, the need to hide and lie to myself and others about who I was had fallen away because I wrote Don’t Call Me Mother and Song of the Plains. Because I wrote what was true, because I visited the past so often in real life, and in my dreams and my writing, I had laid out the stories and they were now resting in my books. These acts of witnessing my young self, coming to understand and forgive my mother and grandmother for the heartache we all shared are part of the gift of memoir writing–a gift first to myself, and later, to others who identify with the story in their own way.

I had to laugh at my own joke–they say that writing a memoir will heal you–which is what I teach every day and for the last two decades. It’s true. I could see that writing had freed me of the energetic old burdens of the past as I drove around the streets of Enid, said hello to the lovely graceful wheat fields, met other classmates, and spoke of my books and my story. I was free as I spread my wings under the big sky, and welcomed a powerful hailstorm and sun that quickly shone afterward, knowing that I had indeed come Home.

Tracks to My Heart

Tracks to My Heart

This is the first chapter of my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother–A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness.

This story begins to explore a three generational pattern of mothers leaving daughters–and what necessarily comes in the wake of such troubles.

The beginning paragraphs are from a dream I kept having about my mother and me after she died.

The train bisects the blue and the green, parting wheat fields by the tracks. Mommy and I rub shoulders, sitting in the last car, watching the landscape move backward, as if erasing my childhood, all those times when she would board the train and leave me aching for her. Now, in my dream, we rub shoulders, her perfume lingering. The old longing wrenches my stomach.

Click-clack, click-clack, the train’s wheels on the track, the language of my past, my future.

Her face is soft. Her wine-dark eyes glance at me with promise, an endearing look that gives me all I ever wanted. The click-clack ticks away the time, the mother time, moons rising and falling as the years fall like petals in a white garden, our body-and-blood song haunting my dreams. Mommy, where are you?

Even as she is with me, she is gone.

***

The train station is the center of the universe, with tracks going and coming in all directions. People stand shivering in the ever-present plains wind, their hair kicked up violently when a train blows by, especially a freight bound for Chicago where, as I understand it, all sensible trains end up. To me, the Windy City, as I hear my mother and grandmother call it, is the end of the known world. It is where I began and where my mother is off to as the three of us—my mother, Josephine, my grandmother, Frances, and I—stand in a miserable clutch. I am sure they are as miserable as I am, my mothers, standing there with their arms across their chests, hips slung out, like bored movie stars competing for the same part. Maybe that’s what they are doing—vying for the part of good mother, or bad mother, depending on how you define things. To me both of them are beautiful and thrilling.

But underneath their beauty and power, a secret is buried. A secret that runs in the blood. This moment repeats for the third time what has happened before—a mother leaving a daughter, repeating what Gram did to my mother so long ago, and her mother before her. It will be years before I find out the whole story about the three generations of women who will define my life. At this moment, the ticking bomb is set to go off when my mother gets on the train. No one here claims any knowledge of this dire pattern. I can feel it, though, deep in a silent place inside me, a place of desperation, the beginning of a crack that will split my life open.

The sun pinks the sky in the west, a place where the eye loves to rest in this open land. Already the lore of its history tickles my curiosity, even though at this moment I am four years old. I hear of Indian chiefs and the frontier, if not from books, then from the pictures all around town proclaiming our cowboy heritage—neon signs, billboards showing an Indian chief in full headdress, peace pipe slung from an arm as casually as a gun. Right now the picture of an Indian, wearing only a blanket and standing in front of the Santa Fe Chief, hangs on the waiting room wall, wreathed in smoke rising like a mysterious code to the ceiling.

I read the code here, tapping feet in open-toed suede shoes. I stare at my mother’s toes, as if to memorize an intimate part of her, bringing my gaze up her shapely legs, my stomach in a pang, the scenes that brought us to this moment fresh in my mind.

***

Mommy and I came here a few months ago from Chicago, where we had lived after my father left. I don’t know much about him, except that he went off to the war, and came back too, but not to us. She cries when she looks at his pictures. Every so often she shows me a small black-and-white photo of a man wearing an army captain’s hat and grinning as he leans casually against a brick building. The crease in his pants is knife sharp. With her slim fingers, she caresses a photograph of herself against the same wall, wearing a big fur coat.

“That was the night before you were born, a cold night in March. What a wonderful thing that was for your mother.” Mommy often talks about herself like that, as if she wasn’t in the room.

I remember our time in Chicago, when Mommy would talk on the phone forever in the evening, twisting her hair in tiny ringlets all over her head, or knitting scarves and sweaters. I remember the amber light that shone over her like a halo, and I remember that I’d do anything to get her to scratch my back with her sharp fingernails.

But a few months ago, we left Chicago; it was my first time on the train. The ride was thrilling: the sound of the whistle, huge clouds of gushing steam, great deep rumblings of the engines that sounded like scary monsters speeding us by green fields and blue skies all around, with little towns along the side of the track and people waving, waving as if they knew us. The whistle tooted a special hello to them. What fun.

That night the porter unfolded the special bed that was our seat, pulling down a shade made of thick green cloth. I loved the little tent he made for us. My mother had a dreamy look on her face, staring at the sights as the wheels click-clacked beneath us. She wore her cotton nightgown, and I my pajamas. We cuddled between fresh cotton sheets. The train rocked us back and forth, back and forth in a sweet rhythm that one day I would remember as the best moment we ever had, Mommy and me. On the train, together. The next day, we arrived in Wichita where I met Gram, Mommy’s mother.

She looked like my mother, with the same pretty face. Her voice was soft as she sifted my fine hair away from my forehead in a gentle gesture and smiled at me with soft brown eyes so dark I couldn’t see the pupils you can see in most people’s eyes. She was nice to me and called me Sugar Pie. But Mommy and Gram—whew—they sure did surprise me by fighting all the time. I’d watch, or hide in the hall, while they yelled, screamed, and cried. Almost every day. It was terrible to hear; it made my skin itch. I scratched the itch, making red marks on my arms. Their cigarette smoke filled the air.

When Mommy rushed off to work each morning it was quiet and nice in Gram’s little house. Windows let in the sun through the Venetian blinds, making pretty patterns on the hardwood floors. Gram read stories to me, and we made bubbles with soap in the sink. She taught me to eat prunes every morning. I began learning how words make stories come alive—Cinderella, Snow White, the Three Bears. Every day I waited for Mommy to come home. I loved her throaty voice, the way she touched my hair for a moment. I was always slinking around trying to get more hugs out of her, but she was not much for that.

One evening, everything seemed different. Mommy yelled. Threw down her purse. Lit cigarette after cigarette, the frown between her eyes deepening with each puff. Gram edged around her, as if she were looking for a way to either blow up or not fight at all. Finally the explosion came, my mothers opening and closing angry mouths. I kept my eye on them while I put dishes on the table.

“I hate this place,” Mother said, stomping her heels on the floor.

Gram made a nasty face. Their voices had sharp edges, and got so loud I had to put my fingers in my ears. They were so loud, so angry, sounding like screeching birds. Then something happened. Mommy got really quiet, which scared me even more, and said, “That’s it; I’m going back to Chicago.” I can’t say how I knew it, but I could tell that she wasn’t going to take me, and that if she left me now, it would be forever.

I watched her walk back and forth across the floor. The seams in her hose were crooked. Mommy never had crooked seams. I sat on the floor, my stomach in a knot, while I traced the patterns in the Oriental rug. I wanted to get lost in those swirls, like in a dark forest in the fairy tales. I could get lost and never be found again.

***

So here we are, waiting for the train. My chest is tight; there is darkness and ice all the way though me. I am shivering. How can she leave? She knows I don’t want her to go. My mother stands apart from me and from Gram, far enough to show that she is the one leaving, the one who will go alone on the train. I dread the train that’s about to take her away. All around me everyone acts normal. People bustle around getting ready, the train men push luggage carts, kids jump up and down. Words that I cannot say gather in my mouth, fill my whole body. Every muscle wants to run to her, grab at her and scream, “Please don’t go,” but I know that she and Gram don’t want me to do this. I don’t want to make them mad; I don’t want them to look at me with those dark eyes of disapproval. I couldn’t stand it. So I pretend.

The wind blows through me, whirling my dress. Then the sound of the whistle cries out, as if in pain. A deep sorrow lurches through me. I hold my breath to keep myself from crying. The light appears at the far end of the tracks and gets bigger. I can’t stop any of this. The huge train tears into the station, rumbling the earth beneath my feet, kicking up my hair with the blast of wind. A scream comes out of my mouth, but no one hears me. The locomotive is too huge, too powerful and frightening, and it is coming to take my mother away.

Mommy and I are wrapped in invisible gauze, wrapped tight so it can’t break, but as she touches me softly with her fingertips, and leans over to give Gram a kiss, I can feel the fabric unwrapping, unwinding us until just a thin piece is left. She hugs me lightly, as if she’s afraid I’ll cling to her. Her musky smell clings to me. She click-clacks toward the train on her high heels, almost as if she’s glad to get away. Her seams are straight, and she is so beautiful with the sun on her face as she climbs into the train car.

Mommy, Mommy, I chant silently, bringing my fingers to my nose to inhale her memory, her scent on my skin.

How I want to be on the train, to cuddle up with Mommy the way we did before. But when Gram looks at me with such sadness in her eyes, I know that I need to stay with her. It’s funny that she was so mad before, but now I can tell she is sad, though she doesn’t say it in words. I take her hand and stand with her as we watch the train disappear down the track in a puff of smoke.

The train whistle cries its lonely song, lingering in the wind that crosses the plains. It will call for me all my life, in my dreams and while I am awake. The train song, the train’s power and promise, are etched deep in my soul from this day forward.

 

 

 

 

Home–a Place of Memory, Surfing the Edges of Time

I just returned from “home,” Enid, Oklahoma, where I read my memoirs and attended  my high school reunion–more to come on that. All over town, I encountered places of memory so profound I felt I was surfing layers of time. This photo is of a small lake bordering what was Phillips University back in the 50s, tucked away in silence and peace, a place where I visit in my dreams and memories, a place of encounter that changed my life. After Rusty died, I began to write for the first time. It was a beginning I never could have imagined developing into something that would fill and heal my life. Sixty years later, I return here to speak with him, to remember. On a May afternoon this spring, standing where the winds of memory were rustling the trees, there he was, smiling.

I share him through a poem I wrote long ago to honor a boy who died too young.

August 14, 1961

Rusty was sixteen,

then, and always:

the red dirt road, the hose,

the blue Dodge where we talked

about things that mattered

by the silent lake–iridescent dragonflies,

summer sun, canopy of green leaves, mockingbirds

calling out our future–if only

we could understand.

 

The day he died, I washed and curled

my great-grandmother’s white hair over my fingers,

reading her skull like a phrenologist,

deep indentations and history.

Ringlets haloed over her pink scalp,

her liquid mind flowing in and out of memory.

I called her Grandma.

 

Her black granny shoes stamped the buckled linoleum,

creased knuckles curled around the enamel teakettle,

slammed it on the cook-stove,

(hated new-fangled gas). Outdoors by the garden

wood was chopped and stacked into cords

by three sons.

 

She pumped the engine in that stove,

pounded out pie crust ripe with white lard.

I peeled buckets of tiny green apples with brown holes, bruises,

imperfect apples perfect for compost

and our pie.

Thick virtuoso fingers wedged the rich crust

high around the rim so the apple juice wouldn’t spill.

 

Even when you’re young

you come to count on the

moon ripening into its fullness,

cycling through years that peel off like skins.

That lost boy, his green eyes forever empty,  

sleeps in deadly gases flooding the

fine bones of his face, entering molecule

by molecule his blood and his heart.

He can not count on anything now

but this death by drowning in the wide

plains night, caressed by the silent, hot wind.

 

Black coffee percolated in the dented aluminum pot,

striking the glass top with its burned beak.

Iowa summer sucked lace curtains in and out,

in and out above our feather beds.

Grandma’s world, 1880 and 1961, time suspended.

Wings of clouds promised afternoon rain.

The letter came while the fire

burned its hottest, Grandma prodding oak and pine,

demanding heat for the zenith of perfection,

apple molecules burst in the summer afternoon.

 

The letter said he had passed

to an unknown place.

His father begged him to come back, sobbing,

clinging to the coffin that day in the sun,

white roses fluttering like chambers of the heart.

 

Grandma worked like a midwife, brown eyes burning,

flesh of her arms swinging, her strong hands

mixing the elements–apple and lard, flour, salt, cinnamon,

magic transforming into pie in the dark caldron of the oven,

oxygen and heat and gases an alchemy,

a god.

 

She sliced the crisp crust, apple and cinnamon singing out,

juices scalding, so much life, burning like lightning,

like death.

 

I crumbled to the floor,

hot oven baking my back,

needing the heat to strip me

as she asked how old he was,

did I love him.

Through New Eyes: Writing a Second Memoir–Finding the Heart of My Mothers

Yes, I say mothers, plural because my mother’s mother raised me after I was six, and I saw my mother once a year as I grew up. In my first memoir, Don’t Call Me Mother, my mother, grandmother, and all the other adults who shaped my life were viewed through the eyes of a child who grows up to adulthood and motherhood through the book. It ends with the death of my mother, where I fall into a spiritual experience of love and forgiveness with her. She’s unable to talk or reject me any further–a lifetime of rejection is reflected in the title Don’t Call Me Mother. When my mother was ill and dying in Chicago, my arrival to help her was news to her friends. “We didn’t know she had a daughter.”

It was a long journey to rise up from shame about my often hysterical, warring, dramatic mothers as I wrote my first memoir. Still immersed in the dramas and pain through the twelve years of writing, and not writing, the book, I found a healing path as I peeled away layers of feelings, diving deep into the memories of missing my mother, her many arrivals and departures on the train, and the complicated years of history with her mother, the  grandmother who was raising me.

Everyone gathers on the platform. I stand right on the tracks and gaze down to the silvery place at the horizon where they meet, trying to imagine what is beyond it. The whole day is magic – my mommy will be here soon and all will be well.

A beam of light hovers far off down the track. The train seems suspended for a moment as in a mirage, not moving, then the earth begins to tremble and the whistle splits the air. The power of the onrushing train shocks me, my heart pounds hard. People scatter as the steel beast roars in fast. When the brakes take hold, the train keeps going for a few moments, its brakes screeching. I put my hands over my ears. Finally, amazingly, the huge train shudders to a stop.

I wonder if I will recognize my mother. I watch a heart-stoppingly beautiful woman step down, my heart pounding. She wears open-toed shoes, carries a paper bag and a small suitcase, and walks purposefully toward Gram. I watch them watch each other, and then I know it’s her. I break into a run, patent leather shoes tap tap tapping on the bricks. “Mommy, Mommy.” I fling myself at her, grabbing her legs, looking up into beauty itself, my mother’s soft eyes, her dark wavy hair. She smiles and kneels down so I can kiss her cheek. I can hardly believe that she is real.

“Hi, Mommy. Do you think I’ve grown?”

“Hi, Linda Joy,” Mommy says casually, as if we’ve been apart only a few hours. She kisses my cheek lightly, stiffens, and gets up.

“Hello, Josephine,” my grandmother says in her cool voice, stiff too, her shoulders taut.

“Hello, Mother.” Her cool gaze is full of something I can’t translate, her voice thick.

The great silver train growls and coughs under the wide blue sky. The drama that will come next is set in motion, accusations, broken dishes, cries in the night.

Josephine, red hair and flair

Even at the age of eight, I could see that something profound and troubling existed between the two of them, a seedling of insight that grew into an extended research project throughout my life. I was obsessed with solving the puzzle–why they tensed up and looked grimly at each other instead of hugging and smiling like other families did at the train station.

Some of the clues came from other members of our family in Iowa. My great-grandmother Blanche, the storyteller-holder of history in the family, told me some stories for the first time as she hacked at the weeds in the garden.

“Did my mama know your mama?”

She grunts as she hoes a patch of weeds. “Oh Lord, yes. When your mama was a little girl, she’d visit my mama in Muscatine. Your mama, Jo’tine – that’s what we called her – would come to see me at the farm where the rest of my kids were growing up. Such a pretty little girl she was, with those big, brown eyes. Poor little thing.”

I wonder what she means.

“She don’t do right by you, I tell ya. At least Lulu has the sense to take care ’a you. But this business ’tween Lulu and Josephine . . . well, you’re too young to understand. I don’t know about those two.” She stomps on a beetle that had been working its way toward a tomato plant.

I try to imagine all these mothers. Our history, my history, reaches so far back. Blanche, Gram, Mother, and me – we all come from here. Next to Blanche I feel very small and young. I look up at her, the mother of the mother of the mother. She knows everything. I decide to stick to her to find out things.

I stick to Blanche all her life, and she delivers the history of the family. I gather clues for the next sixty years, and they lead to my memoirs– Don’t Call Me Mother. And now the clues have led me to discovering my mother and grandmother all over again in Song of The Plains.

Blanche and Lulu, my grandmother-1895

My new memoir is a love song to the Great Plains, Mother Earth who embraced and nurtured me in the long emotional deserts of my life when either I was rejected or I had to protect myself against various kinds of assaults. I could always go out into the landscape and be received.

***

The Great Plains is a wonder of contrasts.

The deep-indigo night sky is splashed by a wash of stars scattered across the dome above your small self.

In the white brilliance of daylight, it echoes with lonely notes from meadowlarks and red-winged blackbirds resting on stark tree branches and fence posts, dangerous barbed wire trembling in the wind.

The sounds of the birds and the sense of space, so large you can’t grasp them with your two-dimensional mind, etch the edges of your loneliness, giving it form, making your heart reach out for the simplicity of light and wind, red dirt and birdcall.

In this moment you are at one with All That Is. You are free.

 

***

Blanche’s wisdom and stories about our family and her youth in the nineteenth century–midwives delivering children, boiling the laundry every week in a pot outdoors, cooking on a wood cook stove–and the fragmented truths she was unable to string together into a cohesive story about my grandmother leaving behind my mother as a young child, about the distress she felt about my mother leaving me behind when I was a little girl. Perhaps her stories were meant to give me the threads I would need to weave together the layers of the deeper truths of their story, things I could never have known until I pursued them through the hallways of history and landing us finally on the pages of Ancestry. com.

There I was able to find the heart of my mother and grandmother. They each had told me bits and pieces of their story but nothing that wove together. I discovered that “facts” can unearth insights–I’d always thought psychology created insights more than events and information.

Carl Jung says we inherit the unresolved issues of our parents. They live on in our bodies and our dreams. Perhaps the past itself is a dream, a saga made of all the bodies and yearnings of all those who went before us. They’re silent then, after death, but for wisps of remembered stories, ghosts in photos, the line of a cheek or the shape of an eye. They mark us with their stories; they’re in us and with us. But we must separate from them and create our own narrative.

***

I see now that my mothers were once children, aching for love, and they grew up in a world where women had no power, no permission to have a life, no way to say no to the traditions that were strangling them. I found them young, as girls, with hearts full of hope. Then, as young women, a magnet for men, who for a time would ease the ache. I know such moments too–each of us repeating our search for wholeness in our own era. In my new memoir, I walked in their shoes and told their stories, weaving a mosaic of the stories I’d been gathering for a lifetime. Now that the book is published, when I hold it in my hands, it offers me peace. Finding the true essence of my mothers, chasing our story through more than 100 years of history, I see the love they tried to offer, I understand them better, and the old ache is swept away. Sometimes I read their letters to me, wishing I’d answered them. Sometimes I look at their photographs and feel the soft touch of their fingers on my cheek. Though they have been gone for many years now, the relationship still continues and softens, and finds its center in love and in compassion.

 

 

Don't Call Me Mother. By Linda Joy Myers

Two memoirs celebrating generations of mothers

Tips to Break Through Your Inner Critic Voices

Tips to Break Through Your Inner Critic Voices

Silenced

If you are writing a memoir, or even a novel, and wonder how you can break through the inner critic that silences you, this is a perfect moment to move forward and get unstuck.

As a memoir writer, I know how tough it is to confront the forbidden stories and write them down. Once voice says, “Go ahead, it’s the truth,” while another says “You can’t say that, it’s rude.” Or “What will people think if they know these things about me?” Or the real stinger, “They might get mad at me. They might accuse me of lying.”

You have your own list of what your inner critic says.

Typical Inner Critic messages:

  • I don’t know how to write.
  • Who cares about my story anyway?
  • I’m too self-involved.
  • What difference does it make if I write my
  • story?
  • Maybe I’m making it all up.
  • My family will never speak to me again if I write that.
  • This is boring

Family and friends are the “Outer Critics.” These are some of their voices:

  • You’re writing a memoir?
  • For heaven’s sake, must you air the family laundry?
  • Don’t you dare write that while we’re alive!
  • You think you have a right to these stories?
  • Don’t darken our door if your write about
  • that
  • .It didn’t happen that way!
  • All you can do is think about the past!

 

TIP: The best thing to do with your list is to write it down and get it out of your head. Then argue back with it. Answer each doubt that is raised, work on affirmations like, “This is my story. I have a right to tell it.”

TIP: In your first draft you can spill out the whole story. No one knows what you are writing until you share it. Sharing should be done carefully! You want to keep up your story energy all the way through your first draft.

TIP: Write out as many affirmations as you can think of and put them on your wall. They might be phrases like this:

  • The words that flow are good, just right for that day.
  • I will protect my writing from naysayers, including myself.
  • Each paragraph I write gives me strength and forward
  • motion.
  • Every scene I write helps me to find a new perspective
  • and joy in my life.
  • When I learn new skills, I am energized and excited
  • about my writing.
  • I look forward to my writing time.
  • I honor and preserve my time to write

These practices about the critic voices may need to be repeated as you write your book. I used to have a vile, abusive inner critic that kept me silent for months at a time, but I kept returning to these exercises, I kept working on my story bit by bit as I tried to free myself. That’s why I’m so passionate about helping you learn to break through and write your stories.

–Keep writing

Linda Joy

 

 

Happy Birthday, Lulu–From Farm Girl to World Traveler

Happy Birthday, Lulu–From Farm Girl to World Traveler

For years, I wanted to understand Lulu Frances, the girl who became the woman who was my grandmother. She was always “Gram,” the person who rescued me and raised me, the person who offered me the gifts of music and culture. She also grew to be fierce and scary, out of control at times with her anger. But Lulu’s beauty and innocence in the early photographs I have make me feel tender toward her.  Perhaps they reveal her original self, who she was before she was hurt or disappointed or  lost. Maybe she was lost even then—I’ll never know. The photographs of Lulu when she was young are the ones that stop my heart.

In that little girl above I see wistfulness, resignation, and a clear eyed view toward her future. She told me of her big imagination then, how she’d run through the corn fields laughing as the big leaves slapped at her body. Her world, if she had not escaped it would have been years of washing, childbirth, rough hands, and more resignation. Perhaps even then she was wanting something more. It is the girl who wanted something more, and got it, that I celebrate today. It’s her birthday, and I have spent years trying to understand her. Through writing Song of the Plains, I believe I have woven the fragments of story together and can honor her. Certainly I have forgiven her for the years of abuse. My guess is that she might have needed to forgive herself. That when she was older and dying slowing of smoking and depression, her young life was a dream.

By the time this photo was taken, she had eloped–gasp–an act that was “against the rules” in 1911. She escaped her working class background by marrying up. Her husband, Blaine, was 18 years old, she was barely 17, and they scandalized their families and community. No, she was not pregnant.

Miss Lulu Garrett, who resides at the Stineman home, had been united in Marriage to Blaine Hawkins at Des Moines, IA, on April 4. The letter which conveyed the announcement of the nuptial event was from Miss Garrett. Mrs. Hawkins, who is less than eighteen years of age and has been a student of the Muscatine high school, left this city at the opening of the spring vacation and declared at that time that she was going to Sterling, Ill., to visit with the La Grille family, formerly of Muscatine. It appears, however, that the girl proceeded to Des Moines, where she met Mr. Hawkins and the matrimonial event took place that had been previously planned.The groom is the son of R. G. Hawkins, editor of the Wapello Republican, and is well known at Wapello. He left there a short time ago for Des Moines and had been employed as a printer in the Capital City. He is under 20 years of age. The many Muscatine friends of Mrs. Hawkins will be surprised to hear of her marriage, as not the slightest intimation had been given out as to the romantic turn which affairs were given.

Years later, when I met my grandfather, Blaine, I could sense the electricity between them. Even at the age of eight, I sensed a history through their body  language, the way that words hung in the air. I would spend my life trying to find out their story. It’s in my book Song of the Plains.

It’s this woman, traveling by herself in the 1930’s that I discovered in my research. Four times she traveled on the Ausonia, the Montclaire, the Duchess of Bedford to England, staying a month at a time. She traveled on buses and trains, traveled to Scotland, to Ireland, and soaked in the history and the landscape she loved so much. She used to say to me, “I stood in front of a castle and knew that I was born at the wrong time.” So romantic she was.

The Ausonia

Following in her footsteps–I didn’t know these details about her travels until I researched her in Ancestry,com, I have traveled to England and Scotland, and I would take her with me, the few shreds of stories I had. I too visited castles, ruins, and took tea in London. This year I found out through the DNA test that we are 75% English. Well, some things ARE inherited!

I celebrate you Lulu for the courage for the life you lived, at least for a while. I wish you good travels today.