Thursday, July 25, 2013

Treasuring Books

My mother was a reader and a saver. Growing up during the Depression, books were a luxury purchase and much treasured when received as a gift.
Mother went to college through the generosity of a childless uncle and his wife. Uncle’s wife shared Mother’s love of reading and later left us many boxes of books. They became the backbone of my youthful summer reading. I worked my way through Gone With The Wind, War and Peace, Anna Karenina and other thick volumes.
When Mother died, the books found a home with me. One cold, snowy day I searched the collection for something to read. I pulled out Katherine by Anya Seton and found a card inside. The book had been a new release when mother received it as a 1954 gift from Mr. Barksdale, her employer during the war years. He gave her a book every Christmas while she was his secretary and continued the habit for the rest of his life.
I settled in with the red volume and a cup of tea. The title character was a real person, Katherine de Roet, born in 1350 England. The book’s endpapers offered a family tree. Katherine’s descendants included Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. This lengthy, fictionalized account of Katherine’s life occupied me for many evenings.
Halfway through the book, a nagging thought began to distract me. There was something I had forgotten. I dug out the family history notebooks, stored away after several years of obsessed research. Sure enough, Katherine was Mother’s own ancestor, a fact neither she nor Mr. Barksdale ever knew.  

Cynthia S. Becker writes biography and short story for middle grade readers and adults. Her first-place LAURA story is available on the WWW website (2008). Cynthia is the 2013 President Elect of Women Writing the West. She lives in Southern Colorado with her husband and two spoiled cats.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Lowdown in Leadville

Leadville's Tabor Opera House, built in the heyday of the silver boom.

When I researched and wrote Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen, my award-winning biography of Elizabeth Tabor, my search for information about The Tabors and their Matchless Mine took me to the nooks and crannies of Leadville’s mining district. 
This June, I was invited by Bob Hartzell, former director of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum in Leadville, to present Elizabeth Tabor's story during a special event. The plan was to invite museum members to a banquet honoring Mrs. Tabor, followed by my PowerPoint presentation about the Tabors’ life in the boom town and my research findings. Guests were invited to wear period clothing, which motivated participants, including myself, to show off Victorian finery. A signed copy of Baby Doe Tabor was included at each place setting.
After the banquet, the group of twenty people drove to the shack at the Matchless Mine where Mrs. Tabor lived her final years. We shared more stories in the dimly lit cabin. Although we witnessed no supernatural occurrences, we felt strongly that Mrs. Tabor’s spirit was present.
The next morning, we met again at the Matchless Mine for a tour of the site. Our guide was retired geologist Fred Mark, a remarkable researcher who combined a passion for history with his professional knowledge and expertise in geology and mining. After hiking over some rough terrain to study the property, we returned to the restored headframe where I signed more books.
The weekend was easily one of my most fun and fascinating experiences as a writer. Leadville is still working its magic, and I look forward to more adventures there.
Leadville, 100 miles west of Denver, boasts many historic attractions. Stop by the visitors’ center on Harrison Avenue to pick up brochures and maps, for current access, hours, and road conditions. They can provide directions for a walking tour in town as well.
Joyce B. Lohse is administrator for Women Writing the West. When she is not writing historical biographies, she enjoys lurking around in cemeteries and archives looking for stories.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Sweet Ride

Blog Coordinator's note: Remember the summer you got your first vehicle? The freedom you felt? The road trips? WWW President Erin Gray remembers in this look at her "sweet ride."
Erin Gray's original "sweet ride."
I was fifteen, earning my driver's permit when Daddy bought the Nissan. The deal was simple: I could keep the truck as long as I maintained good grades. Gas was my responsibility and doable back when twenty bucks filled the tank.

I have many wonderful memories with that truck, most with my best friend, Erin Taveira Glenn by my side. We took that truck places in the mountains we probably shouldn't have. We lost a muffler and about washed the entire vehicle crossing what looked like a stream. Looking back on the experience now, I think it was more like a river!

I repaired and repaired again the Nissan, making is last for over half of my life as my first choice of transportation. I've strapped dogs, friends (more than the legal capacity), and car seats in the cab. I have push started that truck more times than I could possibly remember, including an entire semester when my husband, Eric and I were too broke to fix the alternator.

This last winter, we again dumped money into the Nissan, Eric scratching his head at how stubborn his wife can be in refusing to get a reliable vehicle. How could I part with something that has been with me over 16 years? We made a deal: The truck had to last for a full year to justify the most recent repairs. We shook on it.

It lasted three months. Right into the coldest part of the winter. With mixed emotions, we drove to the car lot and purchased my first vehicle since turning sixteen. And I love it. I love that it has air conditioning and heating. I love that it starts when I turn the ignition, and that I don't have to push it. It doesn't whine and cough in the cold. It is completely reliable. I feel safe loading up the kids, and safe on the slickest of roads. It doesn't have the odor of wet dog mixed with who-knows-what-kind of air fresheners and cleaning agents. No scars or dents.

But I found that early in the morning when I jumped into the new vehicle, I missed the smell of old vinyl and dust, and the curiosity if today I would be pushing the thing down the hill, or flooding the engine to get it going. Strange a person can miss those tasks.

What did I do with the Nissan? I sold it on Ebay. It was hard to let it go. But sitting in my driveway was doing neither of us any good. And it couldn't have gone to anyone better. A kid's dad bought it. It was just like the one he had owned, and he wanted to fix it up for his son. He loves it, and for that I'm glad.

It was a sweet ride, taking me through the adventures of adolescence and into adulthood. And the new vehicle? Well, my seven-year-old son, Ethan has dubbed it his sweet ride. We'll see.

Erin S. Gray writes historical fiction for adults and young adults. She backpacks through the very mountains about which she writes and was inspired to begin her novel, Moonshine Murder, after stumbling across an abandoned cabin during a trek deep in the San Juan Mountains. Erin is the 2013 president of Women Writing the West, and an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. A graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in English, she lives in southwest Colorado with her husband and two young sons.