My visit to a Hudson book club last month turned out to be a very unique experience. It began with not-unique sleet and snow driving conditions that
caused most of the members and me to be late. Subsequently, we were told that our reserved private dining room had been inadvertently double booked and the other group was already in the room. But this book club group had read my book and their pulsating perseverance spurred them to accept a narrow hallway-size room in the back of the restaurant.
So we sat in the windowless hallway facing each other along the two walls so close our knees almost touched. My reward was a wonderful meeting/discussion. What a gracious group of women, and wow, they were set for discussing THE DIRTY DAYS and to learn much more about life in those times! Meanwhile, the bad weather conditions had escalated outside. But my almost two-hour energetic discussion with these very bright women was worth my hazardous twenty-mile drive back to St Paul.
I would do it all again in a minute!
On October 3, 2012, my two adult children and I left the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport for what would be my final journey home to the farm and small town nearby where I grew up in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.
We landed in Oklahoma City where we spent an afternoon and evening with family who now live in the area. Our original plan was to caravan as a group to the location of my story, THE DIRTY DAYS, a tiny town near Altus, OK. But, three weeks earlier, my younger sister Sue (pictured with me on the cover of my book), passed away—and so our plans were changed. Sue and her family were no longer able to journey with us.
So my son, daughter, and I drove by car from Oklahoma City to Altus—a trip of about 2 ½ hours. Along the way, I reminisced about my childhood—and my children listened patiently. I couldn’t believe how many random thoughts about my growing up in this place that were long forgotten all came rushing back to me as we drove by memory-inducing sites and places.
Arriving in Altus
We checked into a delightful hotel in Altus, a Hampton Inn, with lots of rural charm and ambiance. Luck was on our side—I got a FREE suite upgrade! My daughter did, too. My son was down the hall in a regular room and I slept that night feeling the security and warmth that comes from knowing your children are safely sleeping in rooms next door.
The morning after we arrived in Altus, my younger sister Jane and her husband Charlie arrived from Oklahoma City to join us for the short drive to the town my daddy, Mother, and I visited often—for supplies, to go to school, to see the banker—a town of approximately 400 people—similar in size to what it was when I was a youth. We left the hotel in Altus in two vehicles.
We drove for about 30 minutes, then arrived in the town near the tenant farm where I grew up. My children were eager and ripe with questions—mostly questions about the locations of the events in my novel. Can we find “Wanda May’s” house? Which building was the “bank?” What about “Mr. Offner’s store?” Where’s the “school?”
So much had changed in 70 years! Many of the businesses on Main Street were now empty—and old! I couldn’t find “Wanda May’s” house—torn down many years ago, I supposed. My school was no longer there—but a new school had been built in its place on the same location. The old hardware store—“Mr. Elkhart’s” in my book, was the only business I recognized. Much bigger now and in a new building—and very successful.
We stopped for a delightful visit with the current manager of the store, still family-owned after over one hundred years. It was the manager’s great-grandfather who started the business—and it was his son (the manager’s grandfather) who knew my daddy. My heart leaped to find at least one thing I could hang on to from my growing-up years so long ago.
At the end of our delightful conversation with the manager, my son, Dan, asked for directions to the cemetery. Armed with the information and intent on seeing my baby sister’s 82-year-old gravesite, we took one last drive down Main Street, then drove to nearby Rock Cemetery. The jovial mood set earlier was now replaced with melancholy.
Next Week: MY JOURNEY HOME—The Road to the Cemetery
Since publishing my first book, THE DIRTY DAYS, in June of 2012, I have been privileged to enjoy several book signings—local and otherwise. I’ve loved them all—and I’ve been touched by each experience, all for different reasons.
While I’ve met many new friends at each event, for which I am grateful, I cherish the renewal of family ties, seeing old friends, and connecting with former students. A joy I hadn’t anticipated!
January 2013. I have not made a New Year’s resolution. I never have. I’m eighty-seven and ever since I was a child growing up in the 1930s I have been a day-by-day resolute person—marked by firm determination, according to Webster’s. It was determination, perseverance and my resilience to defeatism that caused me to be among the survivors of the Dust Bowl and the simultaneous Great Depression.
I’ve now stacked up more than six decades not living in the Dust Bowl. Four of those decades were in beautifully green Wisconsin and the remainder of those decades in equally impressive Minnesota. But I’ve never outgrown the lessons I learned surviving the poverty and drought-stricken, dusty Oklahoma Plains.
My Minnesota friend, Mary, who also grew up during the Great Depression in a small town amid the rolling green hills of eastern Wisconsin, often said, “My family was poor during the Depression, but I didn’t know we were poor.” Knowing her father brought home a weekly paycheck, I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking her what she thought poor really meant.
I never told Mary that I intended to write a book about my life growing up in the Dust Bowl, and when the time was right, I finally wrote my story. When she heard the news that it was published, she was overtly crestfallen, lamenting because she hadn’t written her book, which she had promised to herself that she would do someday. Quickly, however, she purchased my book and read it in two sittings.
She called me as soon as she finished the final page, and with tears in her voice, declared, “Norma, you did a wonderful job.” She immediately became one of my most avid supporters and talked up my book to her friends and family, as well as to old high school friends still living in Wisconsin. And I was very glad that I had “bitten my tongue” those many years ago.
It was largely Mary’s warmth and caring that made this New Year’s Eve dinner with our dance club friends much better. I was in a great deal of pain from an old back injury and couldn’t stand very straight, or walk smoothly—much less dance. Twice during the evening, my five-foot-two friend Mary held my hand in her delicate hand while walking with me (a bit stooped, yet still taller than most women) to the lady’s room.
I was humbled by Mary’s caring, just as I’m humbled every time I see my published book, and when people want to talk to me at my DIRTY DAYS signing events, or at basketball games—or anywhere. I don’t need to make a New Year’s resolution to continue my addiction to writing. People keep me inspired and determined. And so I’m now on to my next adventure: writing short stories to be published someday in a mini-story collection.