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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

INCORPORATING FAMILY HISTORY INTO OUR STORIES by CHERYL PIERSON



Have any of you ever incorporated your family history into your writing? Do you like to read books that are based, however loosely, on factual happenings?

My mom was the oldest of eleven children. She knew everyone in our family and how they were related. Because she and my dad grew up together in a tiny little town in southeast Oklahoma (their high school had a graduating class of twelve), she also knew quite a lot about his side of the family as well.

But when I was younger, I was not interested in the stories she told me. It was only later, when I
was grown and had children of my own, that I began to wonder and ask questions, and by that time, her memory had already begun to decline.

If you have ever read the book, The Education of Little Tree, (by Forrest Carter) or seen the HBO movie, this story might sound familiar. When Andrew Jackson decided that the Indians were to be assimilated into the white man’s world, he put lots of plans into action that would take years to snowball and evolve into what they eventually became—a truly shameful period in the US governmental policies and procedures. One of Jackson’s plans, besides Removal, that was carried through into subsequent presidencies, was the idea of assimilating Native American children in white homes to integrate them more completely. The Native American children were taken from their villages
and given to willing white families (along with a tidy little government stipend for their troubles) to raise.

My great-great-great grandfather was one of these children. We don’t know his real name. It was changed when he was delivered to his new “family,” a Presbyterian minister and his wife. Their last name was Walls. So his name was changed to Walls, and he was given the first name, David. Forbidden to speak his language, he was forced to forget all the ways of his People, and dress in white man’s clothing, go to white school. But he was never going to be white, and his place in the world was divided so drastically that he could not fit in anywhere. Eventually, the Rev. Walls sent David to medical school in Missouri. When he returned to the small town where he’d been raised, he was a doctor who rode to his patients on horseback. Later, he married and had children, but it was not a happy union and his son, my great-great grandfather, became an alcoholic whose own children, in turn, left home as soon as they possibly could. My great grandmother, his daughter, married at 13. Her older sister left home one day and never returned. No one ever knew what became of her. This is a picture of my great grandmother, Josie Belle Walls McLain Martin (1882-1972). She was around the age of 25 when this was taken in 1907. (Not a lot to smile about--she had four children and her first husband had been killed in an accident. She married a man who had 6 children of his own, and they eventually had 7 together...times were really hard.)

JOSIE BELLE WALLS MCLAIN MARTIN--made around 1907 when she was 25 years old. Already getting gray.



I’ve often thought of these children that were abducted by our cavalrymen, and taken away to their white “families”, forbidden everything familiar and forced to adopt completely new and different ways, even down to their speech and childhood games—and their own names. Can you imagine it? To never be allowed to see your mother and father again. Siblings separated and “given” to different families, their heritage and connection with one another lost forever. How many tears must they have shed? And how lonely and separate they must have felt, how isolated, even into adulthood…so that most of them, I imagine, never were able to fit in anywhere in the world.

ONE MAGIC NIGHT by CHERYL PIERSON (Cover by Livia Reasoner)

Thanks for stopping by today! I will leave you with an excerpt of ONE MAGIC NIGHT, and a look at the brand new cover (which I am in love with!) I'm giving away TWO COPIES of ONE MAGIC NIGHT! Leave a comment with your contact information in case you are one of my winners!


BLURB:

Dr. Shay Logan has just returned to Talihina, Indian Territory, from medical school in Missouri. Shay
hopes to settle down and make a life for himself, but how? He doesn’t belong to either world, Anglo or Indian He's made the acquaintance of Katrina Whitworth at the July 4th town social, and the attraction is mutual from the very beginning. Shay begins to have hopes and dreams that may be out of the question…but Katrina seems to have stars in her eyes for him as well. Will she risk everything to be with him?

THE SET UP: Katrina makes a social blunder, and Shay follows her into the woods to apologize to her, but when they return, Katrina's drunken father humiliates her. To make matters worse, her former beau shows a side of himself she had not seen before. Can Katrina and Shay have a life together that they so badly want?

FROM ONE MAGIC NIGHT:

As his hand started its descent, Katrina turned away. But Shay’s arm shot out, grasping Whitworth’s hand and holding it immobile.

“You will not.”

Three words, quietly spoken, but with a heat that could have melted iron, a force that could have
toppled mountains.

Katrina’s father’s face contorted, his teeth bared, finally, as he tried to jerk away. He didn’t utter a word. He stared up into Shay Logan’s eyes that promised retribution, as the seconds ticked by. Finally, he lunged once more, trying to pull free, but Shay still held him locked in a grip of steel. Only when he released that grip was Whitworth freed.

“You presume too much, Doctor Logan, unless you are assuming the care and responsibility of my
daughter.”

“Papa! Oh, please!” Katrina felt herself dissolving into a puddle of less than nothing beneath
stares of the townspeople of Talihina. What had started as an exciting, beautiful evening had become an embarrassing nightmare. It was torture to think that she was the cause of it all. How she wished she had stayed home with Jeremy as she’d first planned, before Mrs. Howard had volunteered to keep him company.

Now, Papa was saying these things that she knew he would regret later. It was always this way when he drank too much. These accusations had gone beyond the pale of anything he’d ever said before. But Shay Logan wouldn’t realize that. He wouldn’t know that Papa would be sorry tomorrow.

Evidently, there was one thing Shay did recognize, though. She saw the very slight flare of his nostrils as he drew in the scent of alcohol on her father’s breath, and in that instant, there was a flash of understanding in his eyes.

“You’ve had too much to drink, Mr. Whitworth,” he said in an even tone. “I will overlook your behavior toward me because of that, but not toward your daughter. She has done nothing, yet you would strike her, and cause her shame.”

“She’s my daughter,” Whitworth replied sullenly.

“But not your property, Whitworth. Never that. You owe her an apology.”

“No, Shay, really—” Katrina began, then as her father whirled to look at her, she broke off, realizing her mistake. ‘Shay,’ she had called him. As if she had known him forever. As if she was entitled to use his given name freely. As if she were his betrothed.

“‘Shay’ is it, daughter? Not, ‘Dr. Logan’? Shay.” He spat the words out bitterly. He drew himself up, looking Shay in the face. “I’ll not be apologizing to her—or to you. And I’ll expect nothing less than a wedding before this week’s end. Do you understand me, Doctor?”

Shay had lost any patience he might have harbored. “You understand me, Whitworth. You will not dictate to me, or to your daughter on such matters of the heart. As I say, the alcohol has got you saying things you’re going to regret, and—”

“Threatening me, are you? Threatening me?”

“Truman.” Jack Thompson stepped out of the crowd and smoothly came to stand beside Katrina. “Let’s put this…unfortunate incident…behind us, shall we?” He confidently tucked Katrina’s hand around his arm. “I can see that the church auxiliary ladies have almost got everything set up for this wonderful Independence Day meal—” he frowned at Mrs. Beal, nodding at the picnic tables behind her. She jumped, motioning the other ladies to resume the preparation.

He gave a sweeping glance around the group of onlookers. “I, for one, am ready to eat! How about you all?”

Katrina was swept along at his side as he walked toward the tables, speaking to acquaintances and friends, laughing and…and seething with tense anger the entire time. She could feel it in his body, with every step he took and the tightness of his grip as he covered her hand with his. Katrina glanced back over her shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shay, but the crowd blocked her view.

“Smile, my dear,” Jack gritted into her ear. “I’m hoping we can still salvage your virtue, no matter what happened, really, between you and the good doctor. If I see him near you again, I’ll kill him.”



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18 comments:

  1. I can not imagine what it must have been like for those people. I know it was hard for my husband and I to leave the U.K. for Canada, but at least we could speak the language.

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    1. Julie, even into the 20th century, some of the things done to Indians have just been unbelievable. I had an older lady as a writing student of mine who is Choctaw. She told of a childhood of being raised in an orphanage, then going to a tuberculosis hospital that was for Indians. There was one nearby for whites. They experimented on the Indians to know how to treat the whites. Some of the experiences she had would make a horror novel.
      Cheryl

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  2. The horrors one people give to another, and it hasn't stopped. I agree, it is unimaginable to be taken from your own family and raised by another. Yet we seem to do it all the time. History is full of such horror stories. That we can look back and see it for what it was, and give it voice in our writings is hopefully healing. Like you, however remote, my families stories do end up influencing my works.

    Fascinating excerpt. Doris

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    1. Doris, I never knew my gr gr gr grandfather, of course. But I've always wondered what happened to him. I wanted to give him a happy ending in my story. I'm sure it was very different from his actual life.
      Cheryl

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  3. It's discusting sometimes what one human will do to another.

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    1. Oh, it truly is! And even to the children. Just awful.

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  4. And people still can't get along. Nothing much has changed.

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    1. You're right, Morgan. Assimilation was a huge failure and we are still seeing the ramifications of it today. A very sad time in our history, for sure.

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  5. I loved that book. The situation with Indian children was unforgivable. Doesn't it make you ache for the poor dears? I wonder if any were able to locate their parents and siblings later.

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    1. You know, Caroline, I have often thought of that. I'm sure they did, but being raised so differently it would be hard to go back to their earlier way of life, I would imagine, wouldn't you? Have you ever read "Lost Sister" by Dorothy Johnson? It's a short story, but truly one of the very best ones I have ever read--about a white woman who is taken (based on Cynthia A. Parker, I think) and then returned to her family years later, and what happens. WONDERUL STORY!
      Cheryl

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    2. Forgot to say, thanks so much for the compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It really meant a lot to me.

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  6. It is beyond sad that prejudice and hatred are still prevalent. I can't imagine a family being split apart simply because white men dictate that they are "improving" the children.

    Meanwhile, I enjoyed reading about your family. Have you ever considered using their story in a book? (alisab8888@outlook.com)

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    1. Alisa, I would love to do that someday. My mom, being the eldest of 11 kids, talked a lot about her growing up years and the things that she learned from her grandmother, her dad's mom. She went over to spend the night with her a LOT, and my gr grandmother told her about her growing up in TN. She eloped with the headmaster at her school and they ran away from TN to Indian Territory. I think she was about 15 or so. She was born just after the Civil War and had so many stories she told my mom. Mom always said she wished she would have paid more attention, and now, I wish I had, too.
      Cheryl

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  7. Hi Cheryl, what a tragic piece of family history. It wasn't until college and I read the life-changing book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee that I ever really learned what happened to our native tribes. Nothing I was ever taught in school, for sure. Fortunately things were different when I taught American Lit. I could bring this information to the students through Chief Seattle and Joseph etc. I am shivering even now.

    I don't think I have anything very interesting in my family history but their pioneer spirit and immigrant courage. thanks for sharing this history and pictures! xo

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    1. Tanya, I think every family has interesting history--we just don't know it. That's why Laura I. Wilder's books are so important to our literature. A lot of what she wrote was just ordinary daily stuff, but it's interesting because we would not have that accounting of it, otherwise.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I have a lot of pictures of my family (old pics) that I need to go through and write on so future generations will know who they are.

      Cheryl

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  8. I remember this part of your family history. Quite amazing. Your family certainly had some great history to pass down. I wish I had paid more attention to my parents when they spoke about our family, too. Maybe we were too busy having our youthful adventures to appreciate our family's history. I loved this story. Your new cover is just gorgeous.

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    1. Sarah, I loved the cover, too! Fantastic, isn't it? Livia is a genius with covers. I, too, wish I'd paid more attention to my parents. Dad didn't talk much about his family like Mom did, but thankfully, his sister is still living and I have learned so many interesting family facts from her! Thanks for coming by, Sarah!
      Cheryl

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  9. HEY HEY HEY! My two winners today are...

    ALISA BOISCLAIR AND JULIE DUFFY!

    You guys are hitting the jackpot lately! LOL Will send your prize code to you two tomorrow. Congratulations, and thanks so much for stopping by today!

    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete