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Historical Novels -Bobi Andrews

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

PILGER, NEBRASKA, Small Town, Big Memories

The town of Pilger, a small village near Humbug Creek, in
Stanton County was largely destroyed on the afternoon of
June 16, 2014.  However, the memories of Pilger and of my family
roots can never be destroyed by a tornado.  Growing up in
Nebraska, tornados were a rather common threat, but often
limited to small, open farm areas.  But wind storms came each
summer. As a child, I remember the heaviness of a searing,
hot afternoon, the dead ominous silence while leadened storm
clouds formed and turned black,and the hurried escape to the
outside cave before the circling wind tore down trees in our
cottonwood grove.  On one occasion in the late 1940's, the
neighboring town of Winside was hit especially hard and I
remember seeing bathtubs in the field and stalks of corn penetrating
clear through telephone poles. 

Pilger is special to me.  It is where my grandfather and
great grandfather are buried. It is where on Decoration Day
(yes, that's what we used to call Memorial Day), my extended
family drove from Wayne and gathered in the Pilger
Cemetery placing on their graves large red peonies and multicolored
bearded irises, which we worried would bloom in time
for the occasion.  While older folks placed their memorials
and remembered, my cousins and I roamed the graveyard,
tangling sky-blue buffalo beans into long strings of necklaces. 

My great grandfather, Cephas Ellis, farmed near Humbug
Creek, but loved best fishing in the Missouri River.  It was
here, he, a converted Quaker, carried on his own lay ministry
and earned the affectionate title, Father  Ellis.  It was here
Gr Grandma baked those so-good cookies and believed that
God intervened and saved her husband from a broken ice floe
in the Missouri River when bringing their son's family from Iowa
to Nebraska during an especially frigid January.

Grandpa Charlie Ellis owned a livery barn, a gathering place
for boasting,  carrying on local gossip, and hearing the latest
news.  Now, you have to understand, Charlie (I was old enough
to remember him) was a special Charlie--a bronco rider, and
teller of great stories when the Indians inhabited the great prairies. 
He wouldn't have been Grandpa if he didn't fish at Two-Bit
lake and crank home-made ice cream.  He made for my sister and
me a special fishing pole from a broomstick, eye screws,
and an old reel to use during our annual fishing trips to
Park Rapids and Bemidji Minnesota lakes.  There was something
special about this fishing pole--it attracted bullheads better than
my brother's store-bought pole. Grandpa with loving patience
and with copper twisted above his forearm to take  the pain from
rheumatism, cared for my grandmother through years of debilitating
illness.  He was a man of good humor and extraordinary kindness.

Over the years, there have been many coincidences where I have
been reminded of my Nebraska roots.  In the 1960's my husband
and I moved cross country to Delaware.  As it turned out, our new
next door neighbors were from Stanton, Nebraska. Although I'd found
extensive Quaker records of Ellis's, during my early genealogy research
I was at a brick wall needing to discover the identity of my great
grandfather.  My brother returning home to Broken Bow happened to
stop by the Pilger cemetery where he found Cephas Ellis RIP waiting
to be discovered.   

My brother, celebrating his 84th birthday this year, has lived most of
his adult life in Broken Bow. My  Nebraska nieces and nephews frequent
Facebook and generously share their families and activities. The Pilger
Centennial Book published in 1987 has been a genealogist's dream.
The church organist in Sugar Land Methodist is from the same area in
Nebraska. And wherever Nebraskans congregate, the by-gone feats
of Saint Tom Osborn and the return of good fortune for the Big Red
Nebraska football team is to be forever hoped for.

My thoughts, prayers, and best wishes for the victims of the Pilger tornado
are in my heart.  God Bless!




Thursday, June 12, 2014

FAST FORWARD--THE DIVIDED FAMILY



A number of individuals finding on Amazon my historical novel,  Dear
Mama, Love Sarah, tell me of their new-found awareness of the
profound effect the Revolutionary War had on families, such as the
family of Reuben Simpson.  The focus of the story is Sarah Sherrill
who found herself in the untenable position of her Sherrill family
entrenched and staunch Patriots and her husband, Reuben Simpson,
a loyal Tory. The story culminates when Reuben leads a regiment of
Loyalists against the Patriots in the Battle of Ramsour's Mill.
Disowned by her father, her children lose all contact with their
grandmother, and Sarah, sadly loses her  mother with whom she
enjoyed a very close relationship.  It is an emotional and heart-felt
story of tragedy, danger, retaliation, and renewal.

In writing historical fiction, I recant historical events and
circumstances of remarkable people, not necessarily aiming to
mirror any particular happening in today's world. 
However, with Dear Mama, Love Sarah, I have become
acutely aware that the story is not just recollecting and interpreting
history, but understanding that families are being divided by war
and politics every day, and have been since before and after
the Revolutionary War.  Of course, the Civil War was rife with
stories of brother shooting brother, with its accompanying hatred
reaching down challenging reconciliation to each succeeding
generation including our own.

Today, families in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq --numerous African
countries -- are forced to fight or flee their countries leaving members
of their families split in both distance and  philosophy and facing
constant danger.  As parents become elderly, adult children often try
to keep in touch and provide the necessary support for their safety and
well-being.  We may find this difficult even if the separating 
distance is but a few miles.  What if you were here in America
and your parents were across the world in one of the war torn areas.
If parents, how would you keep your family together and raise your
children in a refugee camp?  How would you handle the anger and
disillusionment of kin who chose to support the "other side" of a
controversy?  Would you, like Sarah, dream at night that your kin
was shooting the members of your family in the heat of battle? 
What if  this conflict was under one roof splitting your family
and years went by with no resolution?

When family separation hits home, it is shattering.  I have a writer
friend who has faced the Syrian crises with her parents and other
close family members.  In Syria, her kin experienced their homes
destroyed, children separated and sent out of  the country to
safety, and elderly parents displaced and forced to move a
number of times--daily conflicts even to the point of losing a
parent to illness without being with them in their final hours.
Loss of family is not just a word, it is a monumental tragedy!

The one unifying belief among diversified cultures is the reverence
and  importance of family ties.  We do not get here by ourselves nor
do we live  in isolation of others.  Sarah with her letters kept hope
alive that she and her children would again be in the company
of her Mama.     

A pause . . . a prayer . . . a gesture of understanding.
Peace comes within the hearts of each individual.  Families of
the past and families of the present deserve no less. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

90's the new 60's -- The Longevity of our Ancestors




The fastest growing segment in our population is the individuals
entering their 90th (and above) years.  My previous blog, "Amazing, Really 
Amazing" highlighted such an individual. You need to know more about 
Bernice Steele! 

She and her daughter visited my sister, Rose, recently.  They got to
talking about Dear Mama, Love Sarah.  We have to remember
individuals entering their nineties were born sometime in the early
1920's (many years before electricity), with some born as far back
as the turn of the century.  Taking into consideration they knew their
parent's and perhaps their grandparent's lives brings alive a unique
perspective into how our forebearers lived.  This insight indeed lends
credence to how Sarah ( Dear Mama, Love Sarah) lived.  I could
write an "addenda" to my story based on Bernice's personal revelations
of the times.

--She remembers the days they ground horseradish with a hand
grinder.  The entire house stunk something terrible.  (I knew that
making soap was disagreeable, but not about the horrors of grinding
horseradish.)

--With ten children in the family, Bernice did every kind of work,
often outside shocking oats in the field.  Her mother would bring
out ginger water which consisted of ground ginger, vinegar, sugar
and water from the pump well--no ice.  She remembers it tasting
great on a hot afternoon.

--Bernice remembers her mother as always being pregnant.  (With
Sarah's thirteen children it would have been no different for Rilla
and the other children of the Simpson story.)

--The rare treat of opening up a jar of home canned beef.  One
can only imagine the amount of work that went into preserving
beef in a jar.  Pickled hog's head (head cheese) was a treat in the
winter.   An entire meal could be put together from food stored
in the cellar.

--Her family consistently went to church on Sunday. Bernice's
mother would get up early and make three pies and put a
roast in the oven before they went to church.  Her dad always
invited people from church to come and have dinner with them.

--Because of their large family, her mom made ten loaves of bread
every third day.

--Her dad and mom made their own beer and root beer.  (I
remember my dad telling his story of his home-made root beer
exploding in their attic on a hot day in Nebraska.)

Because there was always so much work to do, Bernice's social life was
limited. The first time she "ate out" she was with her boyfriend.  She was in a
complete dither when he asked her what she was going to order.  The
dialogue went much as follows:

            She stammered, "What are you ordering?
            Upon his response, she answered, "I'll take the same."

Bernice related that with all her responsibilities, she didn't have time to
be creative or grow her own interests.  Even though the family consisted
of ten children, each child was wanted.  The work load, however, fell
on older brothers and sisters.

Bernice at 98 years is alive and vibrant to this day.  Today, we believe
that beyond the genes we inherit, our longevity is largely based on modern
medicine, our chosen way of life, diet, and exercise.  To many, faith in
a higher being strengthens our years on this earth. 

Discovering Bernice's life's journey, I can't help but draw some parallels
relating to "diet and exercise" so promulgated today. They didn't need 
to take the dog for a walk or join a fitness club.  Let's take a look:

Their food was largely "organic"--straight from the garden to the table. 
Don't suppose they did much "bug spraying" or find foods loaded with
preservatives.  (From my own ancestors' causes of death, there was
too  much "lard" and other cholesterol-producing meat and fat products.)
During many earlier periods, sugar was not always easy to come by,
but any decent supper included "dessert".    (My parents didn't have
canisters of sugar or flour, but had entire bins where sugar and flour
were bought by the 25 pound sack.  Some of our clothes, particularly
pinafores and aprons, came from printed flour sacks.)

Our current YMCA "Silver Sneakers" or other popular exercise programs
do not come close to the exercise regime of our mothers and grandmothers.
Take a chart of recommended exercises and see what I mean:

 1.  Churning butter                                 Exercise of the arms and forearms.

 2.   Scrubbing clothes on a washboard   Exercise of back and arms

 3.  Hanging wash clothes on a line         Stretching of the back 

 4.  Scrubbing floors on hands and knees  Exercise of the back and arms

5.  Making beds                                     Stretching arms and shoulders

6.  Kneading bread                                Stretching fingers and wrists

7.  Walking a crying baby                       Exercise and balance of legs and

                                                                 thigh hamstrings 

8.  Shocking barley and oats                   Lifting and muscle development

9.  Milking cows                                      Arm, hand and finger exercise

10.  Peeling apples                                  Finger exercise and coordination

11.Sweeping                                            Arms and shoulder coordination

12. Scooping chicken feed                       Arms, shoulders, back exercise

13. Spading a garden                               Every muscle in the body

14. Stooping to pick beans and peas        Back muscle development; squats

15. Digging potatoes                                Back and arm muscle development

16. Spinning                                             Arm, foot, and eye coordination

Our ancestors theme of longevity was often Eat well, Work hard, and Bless the Lord!









Tuesday, May 6, 2014

DEAR MAMA, LOVE SARAH SCORES AGAIN!










You can imagine my pleasure in opening an e-mail
 
and finding the message,  "I've just finished reading
 
Dear Mama, Love Sarah, and I so loved being caught up in the story that
 
I wanted to write you straight away."  Melody Di Piazza goes on to say
 
she is kin to Reuben and Sarah, and like for me, Sarah is our fourth
 
generation Great Grandmother. 
 

One of the pleasures of writing from family histories is that you run into

kin you otherwise would never know about.  After all, at the level of 4x

grandparents the number is 32 to share with some kin.  We all have scads of

cousins.
 

Melody goes on to say, "I was overwhelmed to stumble across your book. 

It was absolutely delightful the way you took this couple out of the dank

of history and breathed such a robust life into them."

 
Melody and I have wondered about the same thing were it us living in those

difficult times.  She states it very well:  "Through these years of research

I had often wondered about Reuben and his Loyalist sympathies.  We

Americans  so readily wave the flag, and truly most of my own ancestors

were Patriots.  However, I've always wondered what I would have done

and thought during those Revolutionary times.   Would I have betrayed

my King and "God given" system of government I had been brought up

to love and respect?  It is a complicated question and one I do not think

we can honesty answer today. "

 
Most family researchers are delighted to find  "stories" of their ancestors. 

We are just as likely to draw conclusions and judge harshly some who have
 
been considered "black sheep."  I like Melody's point of view:

 
"One thing I learned decades ago in this business of family researching

is not to judge my ancestors.   They were who they were in the times and

places they lived.  We cannot ask them to live by our mores.  I must

compliment you on your writing as I found myself engrossed in the Loyalist

cause.  You did a splendid job of building Reuben's case while setting

Sarah's misery against it.  What a heart rending time it must have been

for the entire family. Thank you for writing a lovely tale of what might

have been."

 
To Melody, my heart-felt thanks for your comments and insight.     

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Amazing, Really Amazing


  
Feedback from readers is always a thrill, but can you beat the
following?  I don't think so! 

Bernice found out about Dear Mama, Love Sarah from my sister,
Rose, who lives in Bettendorf, Iowa.  Bernice is not just an ordinary
 reader--she is 98 years old and loves a good story.  

Seems Bernice has a younger sister (age 96) who lives in a
San Diego nursing home. This sister is very alert but has poor eyesight.
The sisters call each other frequently, and as we might do, they inquire
 about what each is doing.  On a recent occasion,  Bernice replied
that she was reading a really good book written by a friend's sister and
illustrated by her friend.

Not to be bested,  the San Diego sister told her daughter about the
book, to which the daughter bought Dear Mama, Love Sarah for
her coming visit on Mother's Day.  As a surprise, she will read the
book to her mom so the  two sisters can "talk" about it. 

Bernice is ecstatic that they had this "special phone call" and is looking
to share the book over the phone.  Says she can't wait for my next
book to come out and is ready to read Dear Mama again!

What could be more inspiring in our golden, golden years than to
be able to find a good book to share and enjoy.  

PS.  Dear Mama, Love Sarah is set during the revolutionary war
and I don't think for a moment that either sister could be fooled as to
the times and customs of the period since they grew up with the stories
their grandparents told.  Bernice had a new one I hadn't heard of.
Back then, they would butcher a hog and fry pork chops for storing--
immersing the chops in a lard crock pot for storage in the cellar. 
Hmmm. Sarah's Cukes and Bernice's Pork Chops--pretty nifty
wouldn't you say?    


Saturday, April 12, 2014

BRAZOS WRITERS --A THOROUGHLY DELIGHTFUL GROUP

Photo from  Wikipedia
This week, I journeyed up Hwy 359 among the blue bonnets and Indian paint brushes to College Station to visit with the Brazos Writers about writing fiction from a historic point of view.  They are an exciting group representing varied interests, each enthusiastic about writing and sharing their experiences with one another.  The evening started with dinner with George Latimer, President of the group, and then off to the Bachman Community Center. 

The gist of my presentation centered on mining family history to tell stories about notable people who lived in Colonial America but whose lives were not necessarily chronicled in history books.

Sometimes searching family roots is like dumping a jigsaw puzzle from the box with only two or three puzzle pieces upright to give a clue.  The goal  of writing is to find CONFLICT that a wide audience will find interesting.  I found researching the following items helpful:

            1.  Genealogy family trees with names, dates, locations to establish
 the cast of characters.  Family trees and maps essential.  (I use
FamilyTreeMaker software, although there are others.)
            2.  Historical events occurring during the time period in which the
characters would have participated.  Use a "You are there approach."
            3.  The physical environment in which the events took place with
appropriate descriptions; i.e., if I were standing in their midst, what 
would I see?
            4.  The neighborhood--who lived in the same area and their
connection to the main character(s).  Discovering "friends" and 
"enemies."  Describe characters sufficiently so when used later they are
remembered.
            5.  Life styles of the period--clothing, food, social activities, customs,
hardships, everything.   The use of a story board.
            6.  Relationships  (Love, hate, romance, friction, interfamily
 marriages)  Lots of drama here.
            7.  The sequencing of the CONFLICT to follow the evolution of action
            8.  The targeted ending.  Sometimes the hardest part of the story.

The "meeting after the meeting" at the local Wings Restaurant was a chance to learn more about the members, and to hear what was capturing their writing imaginations.  This is a group of up and coming writers!

It will be fun to download some of their stories on Amazon and enjoy some good reads.  


  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

WHEN LIFE TURNS UPSIDE DOWN

You never know how lucky you are until something unexpected
happens that changes every minute of every day.  Four months ago,
my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and three weeks later,
Cancer.   A double whammy for a guy who already was battling
debilitating medical conditions for those growing into their golden years.

Needless to say, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has had us as their
revolving door "guest" for many tests, and last month, surgery and skin
grafts.  His radiation for the remaining cancer that was not removed
during surgery begins in a week--every day for six weeks.  Then the
same thing over again for additional cancer suspected of sneakily
lodging elsewhere.

When family members become ill, we soon learn it requires full
concentration on a 24/7 basis. No writing.  No blogging.  Few
social meetings. A lot of worry.   I didn't know what it was all
about for friends who had undergone similar challenges until I,
myself, am walking in their footsteps.

Friends and family have been great and the outpouring of prayer
has been appreciated! I hope to find moments to reconnect with
my blog, facebook, book clubs, and contacts in my family history
and writer's world. The George YMCA exercise gang boosts my
spirits and my Sugar Land Methodist church has been there with
food and prayers. The Missouri City Methodist Alzheimer's support
group has been right on!

At the end of the day, I am comforted knowing that this, too, will pass.