THANKSGIVING, ARIZONA TERRITORY 1888

EXCERPT FROM ROSE OF SHARON

At noon on an unusually balmy Thanksgiving Day, the ranch yard was jumping with activity. Guests were arriving, but not Miss Jacks. Blake had delayed so long in inviting the teacher, she had accepted another invitation by the time he got up his courage to ask. Rose had something to say on the matter when she approached him as people gathered.

“I surely do wish you’d invited Miss Jacks. I think she’s sweet on you, too.”

Blake blushed in shades of pink below his tan. “Why do you say that?”

“You mean about wishing she’d come or that she’s sweet on you?”

“I don’t know, both, I guess.” He didn’t look at her, struggling to find something to distract them both.

“She watches out the window when you come to school and she asks about you.”  Rose answered with a big smile. “I just plain like her, and you do, too.”

“Better look to our guests,” he mumbled, even redder in the face.

The Tomlins, with their father and husband home from the sawmill up Carr Peak, accounted for six visitors and brought peach pies and “smashed” potatoes, as their three year old called them. The elderly Browns added home-canned green beans and cornbread to the table. Blake’s fresh caught wild turkey roasted in the yard pit with the children taking turns at rotating the bird on its spit. Venison steaks and ears of corn were added to the feast as they came off the grill.

“I think that turkey is about done, don’t you, Miz Brown?” Jim was quick to seek the experienced woman’s counsel.

She demurred, just briefly, and then spoke in a thick, lady-like southern accent. “I do believe you are right, my boy.” She prodded the leg of the bird and juices ran into a pan sitting in the fire for that purpose. “We will have us some fine gravy to go with the Tomlin’s taters. Please take that pan in the house and I’ll work it up.”

“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll do just that.”  Jim grinned and caught up the pan with a coarse cloth serving to protect his hands.

“Come along, Rose,” said Mrs. Brown. “Y’all can be of help and learn at the same time.” She put her arm around the child’s shoulder and Rose snuggled into her embrace.

“My mama made good gravy.”

“I’m sure she did, child. Ours will be different from your mama’s, but I think we will do alright.” They busied themselves with the drippings, flour and milk, whipping it to a frothy blend in a separate pot. “Did your mama ever use our desert sage in her gravy?”

“I don’t think so, Ma’am. .” She watched Mrs. Brown open a tiny cheesecloth bag to reveal a dusty gray matter and stir a small quantity into the gravy. “Maybe my grandma back in Texas used it.” She couldn’t remember for sure.

“I suspect you are right, my dear.” She tapped Rose’s hand gently. Jacob, Rose of Sharon’s twin, ran in and grabbed the pan back from the pair, yelling as he went, “It’s done. We can eat.” Rose carried the thickened and flavorful gravy out to the table while Mrs. Brown brought out her beans and the potatoes. Others scurried about pouring milk and coffee, placing utensils around the table, heading back into the cabin for last minute needs.

“Mr. Brown, sir, would you do us the honor of carving the turkey?” Blake asked. He handed the tools over to the older gent.

“Don’t mind if’n I do.” Though from somewhere in the south, his speech wasn’t as genteel as his wife’s and that caused some folks to wonder how they’d come together. But, in the custom of the west, it wasn’t something polite folks would ask. As far as their neighbors knew, they’d been in the area for more than thirty years and had no children or other family. They’d put in orchards of apples and walnuts early on and prospered in feeding the workmen and families of the San Pedro River Valley and its mining communities.

When the group settled at the table, Blake asked if one of the twins would recite the old Bobbie Burns grace after explaining its family history to those gathered. Jacob and Rose, seated on opposite sides of the table, nodded and spoke the grace in chorus as they’d practiced for a week.

“Some hae meat, and canna eat,

And some hae none that want it.

But we hae meat and we kin eat,

So, let the Lord be thankit.”

“Why, thank you, children. That was very nice,” said Mrs. Tomlin. “I’d like to learn it for our family to say.”

“It’s in old Scottish, my mama said, but I bet you could learn it.” Rose was proud to pass on her mother’s custom to one and all. She stated it line by line, with first Mrs. Tomlin repeating and then others joining in. Jacob’s grin spread ear to ear as the old refrain was echoed about the long table.

“It’s surely fitting for us this Thanksgiving for ‘we hae meat and we kin eat,’ just as it says.” Mr. Brown leaned over and kissed his wife which got all the young ones giggling.

“Mr. Brown, you surely do taste sweet as ever,” she said. Giggles gave way to pure laughter.

With bowls and dishes flying up and down the table, the meal was the richest feast many had seen in months. For the Welty twins, it was a little reminder of meals taken at their grandmother’s table back in Texas. Those memories were growing faint, especially as their new life filled in voids and emptiness with laughter, good stories and new friends. Later, around a campfire, the grownups talked while the children ran about in a game of hide and seek. The talk was quietly shared over coffee and a bit of brandy in some cups. The Tomlins and Browns expressed regrets for not getting to know the Welty parents before the raiders came and killed the parents while the children watched from nearby.

“I surely wish those young’uns had known where to come to us for help. That walk across the desert had to have been awful,” said Mrs. Tomlin. She was gently bouncing her newest child in her arms.

Jim spoke up. “Yes, ma’am, it was hard on them, but I don’t know if we’d have caught up to the murderers without Blake here recognizing them from the twins’ description.”

“The marauders were blabbing about what they did at that place in Bisbee, so somebody would have gone to check, I’m sure,” Blake answered.

Mr. Tomlin added, “Maybe so, but by the time the sheriff could do that, they’d have been long gone.”

“You got that right,” said Jim.

“The important thing is for them to grow up believing the Good Lord will keep watch over them from now on.” Mrs. Brown said this with an emphasis in her voice.

“Yes’m,” said Blake. He silently renewed his vow to protect them with his life, if need be. “And they need a mother,” Mrs. Brown added

                                                  Blake squirmed in discomfort and thought of Elise Jacks for the umpteenth time that day.

A quietness settled on the adults as the sun moved to the west and the shadows of the Huachucas descended into the canyon. Birds were twittering the last songs of the day just as the children drifted closer to the fire. One by one they sought its warmth. Three year old Benjy Tomlin climbed into his father’s lap while his two older sisters found comfort nearer to their mother and Mrs. Brown. Rose and Jacob squatted on the ground between Blake and Jim with Rose resting her head against Blake. He settled his arm on her shoulder.

One of the ladies started to hum the old hymn “Now the Day is Over.” Soon, everyone joined in, singing the words.

FROM THE LAND OF SKY-BLUE-PINK

At sunset tonight, a special treat of sky-blue-pink skies lasted brief moments before turning to candle-orange and magenta and the dark of daylight-murdering skies. So many things in life go fleet-footed away from us in moments, hours and even years that can be too short. A whispered endearment. A smile on granddaughter’s face on receiving balloons.  A breeze sending autumn’s leaves scurrying to the ground.

Today had many such moments for me. Several came as my friend Robin Moore (aka Robin Cleary) read from her NANOWRIMO piece. You know, the 50,000 words in thirty days that leaves writers exhausted, perhaps frustrated and definitely brain-irrigated. Her words leapt about with emotional tension as horse and, then, man, fought to overcome nature’s fierce destructive path. I was there in the eye of the storm, wanting to make things right for the animal and horrified when the man intervenes to the detriment of both. This was very powerful writing: descriptive, bold and energetic. I didn’t gasp for breath but could have easily if the writer had gone on reading her work.

Returning Light: After the Storm by Sandra Merwin

Such is the power of words. To terrify,to entertain, to challenge. To make us laugh, cry,  frown in consternation. To cause us to argue, sympathize or become confused. And to do so much more.

When Mom’s car wouldn’t start this morning, Allie pronounced that it was out of gas…not so with this Hybrid  but how clever of the five-year-old to come up with those words to explain the problem…another function of words.

Swimming through words of confusion later, I finally understood what was being asked of me…a simple request for help. With my globetrotting daughter, briefly back in Chicago, we caught up on our mutual happenings over her glass of good wine as I did so vicariously. Our words mixed, flowed and sometimes had to be spelled out for the lousy connection we had. But, we waded through the morass of clicks, rattlings, and electronic buzzes until we reached clarity and understanding.

Words, words and more words. They make us, berate us and hammer sense out of us. Floating as sounds through the brain. Visual images to our closed eyes, landing on page or computer site until they finally evolve into sentences, paragraphs, letters, chapters, books and we think we are communicating. We speechify, narrate, listen and contemplate.

About then, a sky-blue-pink sky happens on the horizon and we are at a loss for words, It is too magnificent, transitory and there is no way for us to hold onto the magic. Except in words when we try to share the impact with others. When the poet combines images with emotions and finds the words to capture the essence of the event. The poet records it, we read it and recognize the import of his words.

And so, Robin captured moments from her experience or her imagination, fit them together with words and enticed us along for the ride, actually and figuratively. This is the epitome of the writer’s gift: to bridge reality and imagination with sparkling, emotion-ridden and exquisite language.

TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW

The more I read the more sensitive I become to writer style, voice, use of words and phrases, pacing, use of tension, story development, characterizations, etc, etc. This sentence reads like the table of contents in a writing primer, perhaps Creative Writing 101. I never took the course but had an excellent, even unparalleled, liberal arts education at Occidental College.

 I haven’t always been comfortable with pen and paper…or my mother’s old (1930’s) Royal portable typewriter. The science teacher pushed his words on me for my valedictory speech in high school: stodgy, 19th century prose that was an embarrassment. A few months later, I sat before my first “Blue Book” essay exam, froze up, wrote a tiny page and a half and got a C+. By the time I got to grad school, I could do the first and last draft of term papers on that old Royal the night before they were due. Research, of course, was sought before that date and incubated much as it still does.

While I devoured books all my life, I’d never been trained to analyze what I was reading or how the writer wrote. I escaped into the stories, their imaginary characters and settings and wished I could write, too, but knew I wasn’t worthy.

Writing was something that special people way above me did. Not something I could aspire to.

Instead, I became a social worker and learned to observe setting, behavior, character structure, family and group dynamics and write of these in case notes and other documents. Thirty years of writing court reports and occasional ventures into writing poetry and short stories gradually led me to storytelling and getting it all down on paper. Now, I am immersed in the doing of it.

So what led me to take up the topic of  REVIEW? If you’ve read my last three blogs, you know I’ve been out and about in the Great Northwest…collecting new books. Okay, that wasn’t the primary goal but it was an accomplishment. And I fulfilled it to the brim of my car trunk.

So far, in the week I’ve been home, I have read two books by Women Writing the West writers: THE GOOD TIMES ARE ALL GONE NOW by Julie Whitesel Weston, a memoir, and THE BARGAIN by Irene Bennet Brown, an historical romance. Both are exceptional writers and I decided I needed to return to reviewing books I especially like. You can find both books reviewed by me and others on Amazon and on Goodreads.

I decided that I owed it to these writers, sitting in their writing rooms with just the computer between them and their readers, to acknowledge their work with words of my own. Okay, they got a measly bit in royalties of what I spent on their book but I doubt that is reward enough. Both are prize-winners and may not need my endorsement but I’m giving it to themanyway.  Do you know what?  They each graciously thanked me and praised my use of words; one joined Goodreads and is now a follower of my blog. The other says she will use my review in her next series of readings.

For me, this is the ultimate in paying it forward among writers: to buy(or win) the book, render an honest opinion and keep at it.

When did you last write a review? 

What did you
want to share with the world about the book and its impact on you?
 

Will you do it now?