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New WordPress Blog!

I've set up a new WordPress blog (with the help of my web-wrangler) because it gives me more options than the blog on this website, including the ability to post more photos, the ability to link with social media across the web, and a subscription service that sends a dandy version of the blog directly to your email inbox. Try it out.

Notes from a Western Life at WindbreakHouse.WordPress.com

You can continue to read the blogs here, however a few of the very long blogs under the category of "Writing: Where I've Been" will only appear on the WordPress blog.



An Index of Blog Topics
may be found lower down in this left-hand column so, for example, you can search for all blogs with "Writing Suggestions."

A dated archive of blogs is also available below the index.

Click here to jump to the index, or scroll down to see a selection of photos related to the blog posts.






Blacksmith or Wordsmith

Iron legs from yesteryear.

Smaller iron items inside.

The scrap-iron table.



Dust, Grass, and Writing

Like the native grasses, the roots of writing go deep and reach out in many directions.

Tough prairie grass roots splitting open a rock.

Green life may be found under dry debris.


Fringed Jacket Foofaraw

Turtle carved from bone.

Turtle made of silver.

Warrior Woman pin.

George's grizzly bear claw earring.

Powwow jingle cones made of tin.

Brass bell.

A tiny dream catcher.

Harley Owners' Group pin in honor of Jerry.

Wally McRae's cufflink and tooth.





South Dakota Poet Laureate? Not Right Now, Thanks.


"An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position."



Don't just click "like" about some political story you read.


Pick up the phone or write a letter and make a difference.



Ah! The Bathtub.

A brass hook on a nearby wall to hold my robe or a towel.

A removable wire basket stretches across the tub to hold my soap and sponges.



Windbreak House
Now on Facebook.


If you Like me on this Facebook page you'll get notifications of my newly-posted blogs as well as announcements about my books, writing retreats, and other events to do with Windbreak House.

www.Facebook.com/​WindbreakHouse

No kitten videos, but I post Tuesday Writing Tips, Wednesday Word Posts, and various other writing-related stories, announcements, book reviews, photos and the occasional joke.



Ah, Spring!


Want to know more about this critter?

See the Gallimaufry Page for more about the bird, including more photos, and some odds and ends that don't fit anywhere else on this website.



More Stories and Essays by Linda
may be found on this website.

* Home Page Message archives
Many of these essays have writing advice. All have photos, some have recipes, a few have poems.

* Poetry Page essays
Read suggestions for writing and performing poetry and the stories behind some of Linda's poems.

* Critter Stories
Brief stories and photos of birds and wildlife seen on Linda's ranch may be found on this page.

* Gallimaufry Page
Stories and photos that don't fit anywhere else.



Linda on YouTube

Nancy Curtis, publisher and owner of High Plains Press, recorded a couple of videos of Linda reading her poetry and posted them on YouTube.

To see Linda read "Where the Stories Come From"
click here.

To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
click here

Or go to www.YouTube.com and search for Linda Hasselstrom.

You may also want to visit the High Plains Press facebook page where you will find these two poetry videos and much more about the many great western books-- poetry and non-fiction-- published by High Plains Press.

Thanks, Nancy!

# # #





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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog



Unable to Forward

January 5, 2015

Tags: Letter-Writing, Death of a Friend, Family: Mother

I've just had the sad experience of reading a cheery Christmas card I sent last year to a good friend with whom I've been corresponding for about 15 years. Though our meeting was brief, at a conference where we were both speakers, we bonded instantly and immediately began exchanging holiday letters. We wrote only once a year, but our letters were individual, personal and long-- about our writing, about our gardens and the things we were cooking. We exchanged recipes and recommendations for books to read.

Last year at this time, I was looking forward to receiving her holiday letter. She was a role model for me. In her 80s, she remained vigorous and curious, working on a long book that depended on her Greek translations. She’d given up a summer place to move full-time into her primary home, but she showed no signs of mental decline. Her most recent book had been about death and dying, based on her experience with her mother. It remains on my shelf, still unread.

In my Christmas card, I asked her how her new book was coming along, and conveyed to her the compliments of a friend who was enjoying a previous book she’d written. I asked about an older book of hers I wanted to locate.

Why am I reading this letter again?

Because her card came back to me marked “UTF”: Unable to Forward.”

My heart told me what that meant, but I spent considerable time online finding her address, mapping the location of her house and looking at a photograph of it, overgrown and neglected.

And then I found her obituary-- she had died “after a long illness.” But she had written to me the previous Christmas, filled with good cheer and encouragement. I cried for an hour.

I know this woman had a daughter, though another daughter had died some time before. I know she maintained a hearty correspondence with many people and was beloved by many more who had read her books.

I deeply sympathize with whatever hardships might have accompanied her illness and death. But I can’t help wishing her remaining daughter had turned to my friend's no doubt meticulously maintained address book and to let her friends know she was ill, or that she had died.

And here's the purpose of writing about this: If a loved one in your family has died this year, please make that final effort: write to their friends. Even a postcard would do. Think of the people who, like me, were enjoying this season and anticipating that annual letter. Let them know; if you can’t bear to provide all the details of the death, at least give them the fact that it has occurred. Let that be your final gift to your dead loved one.

When my mother died, I found her address book to be fairly confusing, with scribbled-over addresses going back years. But with help from her companion, I went through it and notified everyone whose address I could decipher. In return, I received letters about friendships that extended through fifty, sixty, seventy years, from people saddened by her loss, but grateful to hear from us, glad to know that, as one woman put it, “the song has ended.”

Please, for the sake of those you loved, tell those that they cared about that they are gone. They’d thank you for it if they could.


Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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Book Review: A Wilder Rose
by Susan Wittig Albert

November 25, 2013

Tags: Book Review, Writer: Susan Wittig Albert, Writer: Laura Wilder, Writer: Rose Wilder Lane, Family: Mother, Story Circle Network

. . .

If you loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books about her pioneer childhood, you should read A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert.

If you are reluctant to believe that Laura’s daughter Rose may have written the books, you must read this novel.

When I was rescued from my existence as the daughter of a divorcee because my mother had married a rancher in western South Dakota, Laura Ingalls Wilder became my guide, my sister and my best friend. I was nine years old when we moved to the ranch and I entered the small-town grade school, a society of rural kids who had known each other since birth and didn't care for "city kids." My happiest moments began when the teacher who wrangled five grades in the "lower room" read to us from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her "Little House on the Prairie."

Suddenly I could imagine myself living happily ever after among the neighborhood ranching and farming families. My parents made my childhood as educational as possible by buying a cow for me to milk and filling the chicken house with egg-laying hens. At home as at school, we spoke of Laura's family as if they were neighbors, as indeed they had been on the Dakota prairie a couple of hundred miles east of our home.

With my degree in American Literature, I was teaching and writing professionally before I met scholars of prairie literature who raised doubts that Laura had written her books alone. Some said that Laura's daughter Rose, a best-selling author in the 1920s and 30s, was deeply involved with creation of the books. Various scholars examined the abundant evidence-- Laura's other writings, Rose's writings, their letters to each other-- and concluded that Rose had edited Laura's work extensively, had rewritten it, or perhaps had written it in the first place.

These opinions met considerable resistance. Neither editors nor readers wanted to believe anything that alters our nostalgic image of the housewife seated at her well-scrubbed kitchen table writing masterpieces with pencil in a yellow tablet after gathering eggs and before starting supper on the wood stove.

A Wilder Rose features Rose Wilder Lane telling her story to a writer friend, Norma Lee Browning, allowing Rose to speak for herself. Rose's words are drawn directly from her letters and diaries. Each element of the novel is founded upon the historical record, including the writings of Laura, Rose, and various writers and editors who shared their lives.

Rose was a successful journalist, magazine writer and world traveler, author of Henry Ford's Own Story (1917), Diverging Roads (1919), The Making of Herbert Hoover (1920), and The Peaks of Shala (1923) among other books. In 1928, at her mother's request, she moved from Albania to her parents' Missouri farm to help the aging couple. She built them a new home and turned the old farm house into a writers' retreat, often filled with friends from all over the world. Rose's magazine writing paid the bills for both households-- until the stock market crash of 1929. Suddenly writers could hardly find sales in the formerly lucrative magazine market and both Rose and her parents were nearly destitute.

Then Laura wrote an autobiography she called "Pioneer Girl," more than 300 tablet pages she intended as a book for adult readers. Naturally, she brought the manuscript to her daughter, assuming Rose's professional connections would ease publication.

Rose was an experienced and well-paid ghost-writer for, among others, Lowell Thomas, a world traveler and broadcaster. Had she known she was going to ghost-write eight novels for her mother, she might have created her usual contract to do so.

Instead, she spent several months creating a coherent story from her mother's manuscript. Editing and revising, she drew more memories from her mother, but Albert indicates that, so far as is shown by the available documents, Laura never saw the first five chapters of the book. When the editor asked for 25,000 additional words, Rose rewrote the entire book, drawing on Laura's written vignettes to create additional scenes. Little House in the Big Woods was published in 1932, bearing the name of Laura as author. Meanwhile, Rose wrote Let the Hurricane Roar, a novel also based on her family history, published in 1933. She continued to write and publish her own work throughout the time she worked with her mother's writing. From Laura's initial outpouring came the material from which Rose produced subsequent books.

The character Rose, speaking to her friend Norma, considers how this deception evolved. "Would I have felt differently if I had known that this book was only the first of an eight-book series? Would I have asked for recognition and a share of the royalties if I had known that each book would take two or three months away from my writing projects and sap whatever meager store of energy I might have for my own work? Perhaps."

Because the author draws on Rose's own words throughout the novel, the conclusion is inescapable.

Susan Wittig Albert's introductory note to A Wilder Rose clarifies her position on the writing relationship between Laura and Rose:

"I have treated the real people as fictional characters and the real events as fictional events. I have chosen some storylines to expand and dramatize and omitted others. I have put words into people's mouths and listened in on their internal dialogue. I have invented incidents and imagined settings. In all this, I am exactly as true to the real events, settings, and people of A Wilder Rose as Rose and Laura were to the real events, settings, and people of the Ingalls family's pioneer wanderings across the American plains. The books they wrote are fictional representations of Laura's life as a child growing into young womanhood."


Therefore, the novel's central question becomes: how will each reader react to realizing that our concept of Laura writing her novels alone is impossible? How will readers who have loved Laura's stories accept that these two admirable women told lies of commission as well as omission? What justification might exist for the fiction they maintained all their lives?

Albert's novel is so moving and so convincing in part because her development of the characters of Laura and Rose echoes details true to the character of the prairie people where I grew up and where I live today.

Our relationships with our parents are complex and convoluted. Rose was burdened because, she wrote, she had burned the house down. Her story was that while her mother was ill after the birth and death of Rose’s baby brother, Rose stuffed too much hay into the wood stove and caused a destructive fire. If the story was true, Rose, little more than a baby herself, was already doing the hard work necessary for a prairie life. She knew that actions have consequences and we have to live with them.

I can identify with Rose's guilt. Growing up on the prairie with parents much like hers, I learned the same lessons early. Even accidents have repercussions and a responsible person acknowledges them and accepts blame if necessary. Guilt is a burden that moves many of us in many directions today, and Rose thrived on it through much of her life. Could she have assumed responsibility for that fire to avert blame from her mother? We will probably never know, but the idea is not impossible.

Rose wonders if her mother thought "that affection somehow 'spoiled' a child. That life was real, life was earnest, and too much coddling insulated us from that essential truth, which would shortly be visited upon us by cruel experience." Similarly, my father often quoted the "life is real" saying while my mother frequently assured me that it was her job to make sure I was not spoiled so I’d be ready for the horrors of real life.

Laura deplored fiction, including the best-selling novels her daughter wrote, but she insisted that her own writing was the truth. Even though I have always written nonfiction, my mother, until she died at 92, never stopped urging me to "get a real job."

As Rose ponders her mother's disregard for the life of a professional writer, she wonders, "Do any of us ever outgrow those old childhood hurts, or do they grow and fester in our spirits the whole length of our lives?"

The question might apply to any of us; as Albert has remarked, "the family censor sits on our shoulders, editing our pasts." I could believe that Rose was so anxious to create a better relationship with her mother that the deception became immaterial. When I found myself publishing a book that contained truths I knew my mother could not accept, I presented her with her own special manuscript copy-- from which I had removed anything that would disturb her rosy view of our lives. She loved showing her personal copy to nursing home visitors. "My daughter wrote this," she would say.

Perhaps as Rose took the written drafts and rewrote them, her mother became immersed in planning the next book. When Rose brought or sent Laura the finished drafts, she might simply have mailed them. Perhaps she convinced herself that the published version was what she had written. Even when my co-editors and I heavily edited manuscripts for our three anthologies of autobiographical writing by Western women (Leaning into the Wind, Woven on the Wind and Crazy Woman Creek), novice writers often told us how pleased they were that we had not changed their words!

And what about some of the editors who had seen Laura's writing before Rose worked it over? Did they suspect the truth? Perhaps they ignored their suspicious, afraid to lose such popular books.

Still, the Rose of the novel believes that her mother is deeply uneasy. "That was her mother’s way; the more troubled she was about something, the less likely she was to say anything about it to anyone." Precisely so do the people in my Dakota neighborhood behave today: the more unpleasant the topic, the less likely they are to talk about it. Rose and Laura never discussed their collaboration in public. Likely they never discussed it in private.

I've met many writers like Laura, people who enjoy writing as a pastime but cannot take it seriously as a profession. Laura says to her daughter in A Wilder Rose "The more I see of the hours you have to put in, the better satisfied I am to raise chickens. . . . I could never let myself be driven the way you are, Rose." Albert says the statement is almost a direct quote from a letter Laura wrote to her husband Almanzo from San Francisco in 1915, when she was visiting Rose.

Casual writers are not driven, but real writers must write and they may not be patient with anyone less serious about writing. Wanting to help her mother make an income as Almanzo aged and the farm income dwindled, Rose could have done the familiar work of editing and rewriting as a labor of love or duty without considering the job any different than dozens of others. However, in working for her mother, she didn't get the payment she so desperately needed.

What would you have done? Or perhaps more directly-- since I am a writer whose mother wrote journals and poetry when she was young-- what would I have done if my mother had brought me a manuscript to edit for publication?

I would have been flattered; I'd have worked hard to make it publishable. And because she was my mother, I would never have asked credit or payment, assuming that she would treat me fairly.

Albert presents another justification for Rose's work with her mother's memories, one I find particularly attractive. Rose's childhood was lonely and poverty-stricken. Writing her mother’s pioneer childhood as beautiful, abundant and generous might have been a way for Rose to do several things at once. Perhaps she wanted to imagine her parents' lives as more satisfying; perhaps she wanted to erase her mother's hardships by writing stories that made it brighter. The novels invent for Rose a mother who loved her as well as provided generously for her well-being. Did she create a happier childhood for herself, as well as for her mother? Did she enjoy creating a marriage partnership unlike her unsatisfactory union?

Every writing is a new challenge, one of the factors that keeps us working at the profession. Rose thinks that "from the day she’d begun professional writing-- almost thirty years now-- she had always felt that way. Whatever else she was writing-- it just wasn't good enough. It didn't meet her expectations of what it should have, could have been." Moreover, she felt each piece of writing completed was her last, that she’d never be able to find another worthy idea. I know no serious writer, including me, who hasn't wondered the same.

Moreover, many successful writers have had a fallback profession like teaching or selling insurance. Rose was writing furiously in the deepest darkness of the Depression of the 1930s, trying to survive on almost nothing while she helped her aging parents make enough money to live on. She had no insurance against failure, no spouse to support her. So she wrote constantly for money-- magazine articles, novels, nonfiction works-- anything to create an income.

Albert's scholarship has convinced me; the novel's structure allows the reader to understand and empathize with the way Rose was drawn into a collaboration that became a deception. Despite Rose's fame, she never received credit or financial benefit for the books. Laura got the pride of authorship; Laura got the royalties.

More importantly, Rose convinced me.

I don't care who wrote the books. Laura's voice, as Rose interpreted or created it, is still that of my guide and friend. Perhaps Laura's daughter made the storyteller a better person, helping her say what she could not express herself.

I was also delighted to learn what a very good writer Rose Wilder Lane was; she has much to say to our current political situation. Since her own writings were so much different than those of her mother, she proved her writing skill by creating the voice of the kindly storyteller for her mother's stories. Few writers are so skilled. Her benevolence created books loved by millions.

Interviewer Lynn Goodwin asked Susan Wittig Albert what advice Rose and Laura might give to aspiring writers. The differences, as Albert sees them, are intriguing.

Rose, says Albert, might say "“Write, write write . . . . And be sure to keep a day-to-day diary of your various writing projects . . . to satisfy the curiosity of the researchers who may come along and want to know what you were doing on a particular day." Such a diary became part of the background for this book.

And Laura? She'd say, "Tell the story you have to tell, as well as you can tell it. . . . And . . . it’s very good to have a daughter who is a professional writer."

* * *

Susan Wittig Albert is the national bestselling author of 50 adult novels and works of nonfiction, as well as more than 60 novels for young adults. She says, "I have a deep admiration for women writers who keep on keeping on through hail and high water. . . . Rose was one of those women."

She calls this work a labor of love, but notes that when she originally proposed it as narrative nonfiction, editors were enthusiastic about the writing, but worried that Laura's fans would not be pleased. So Albert chose to take a more direct route, self-publishing through her own Persevero Press. As major publishing houses have consolidated and narrowed their focus, this option becomes more and more attractive to authors, even well-known writers with proven records of saleable writing. And this, too, should encourage writers, particularly women, and particularly we who write about sometimes unpopular topics.

# # #


Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book to read and review, but no other compensation.


For more information:

See an interview with Susan Wittig Albert and additional information about women writers, at Story Circle Network (www.StoryCircle.org).

And for details about the lives of Rose and Laura, including photographs of the homes where they lived while writing, as featured in the novel, see AWilderRoseTheNovel.com


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Adoption Birthday: Remembering Judge Davis

August 14, 2013

Tags: Birthday, Adoption, Family: Mother, Family: Father, Judge Davis, Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum, Childhood

Linda in 1949
As my mother took pictures of me playing in a ten-foot snowdrift outside our door, I wonder if she reconsidered the wisdom of moving from Texas back to South Dakota!

. . .
Today, August 14, 2013, I have been Linda Hasselstrom for sixty years. In celebration of what my family always called my “adoption birthday,” I am posting a note written in 2004.


Remembering Judge Davis
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Written for the Custer County Historical Society, June, 2004.


I was nine years old. I don’t remember my birthday that year, but a month later, on August 14, I was adopted by my mother Mildred’s new husband. A photograph shows me on adoption day in a ruffled plaid dress in front of the old brick courthouse, clutching a little white purse with [my] white shoes perfectly aligned. I’m smiling stiffly. Adoption was a new experience.

After the ceremony my legal father, John [Hasselstrom], bought me a gold ring I still have, and we all had ice cream. I didn’t realize that by becoming the daughter of a rancher I had changed the direction of my life forever. I didn’t realize I had pledged my soul to a ranch, to acres of tawny grass and dry creeks that would absorb my blood and sweat, as they had my father’s, and still look parched. I was still dreaming of prancing black stallions; now my dreams are full of waddling cows. [1]


When I wrote that passage in one of my first books, I’d been studying the photograph I described, discovering in it not only memories but information I did not consciously recall. Later, I realized that photographs merely freeze particular moments in time. A photograph exists only as a flat surface, without the taste, texture, smells of a genuine recollection. Moreover, the instant of the photograph, captured and looked at many times, may actually replace the memory.

Looking more carefully at that photograph helps me remember vignettes about the way my mother and I arrived at that place and time, having our images recorded by my new father, my mother’s third husband. Before that day, I had been fatherless. After it, I had both a real father and a biological one: an important distinction. And I had a trusted friend, something I have failed to appreciate until recently, more than fifty years later.

One of my earliest memories is of crouching under the kitchen table while Mother screamed and smashed my biological father’s liquor bottles in the sink. [2] (Mother had a ferocious temper, but she played it like a violin. A practical woman, she knew that when she was through being angry she’d probably have to clean up the mess, and it would be easier if the liquor ran down the sink instead of splashing all over the kitchen.)

I remember, later, sitting on my mother’s lap on a train, looking out into darkness, at the windows of lighted railway cars behind us uncoiling like a golden snake. My mother was doing something very traditional for women whose husbands have betrayed them: she was going home to her mother. We moved to Rapid City just in time for the Blizzard of 1949. As my mother took pictures of me playing in a ten-foot snowdrift outside our door, I wonder if she reconsidered the wisdom of moving from Texas back to South Dakota!

For four years, my mother worked to rebuild our lives. Divorced from my biological father, she called on her mother, Cora Hey, to live with us for awhile in Rapid City to take care of me; mother worked full-time, first in a bank, and then for a law firm. [3]

I spent most of each summer living with my grandmother and my uncle, my mother’s brother George Hey and his wife. I think Grandmother lived with us in winter through the year I attended kindergarten, walking me to and from the school each day. But eventually, she moved back to her home and I had to walk home, let myself into the house, and wait for my mother. Those experiences taught me a lot about independence and patience. And I learned to be the only girl I knew without a father– a situation considerably more rare in the early 1950s than it is today. [4]

Looking at that photograph, I was so sure my memory of the day was accurate that I wrote about my parents’ marriage and my adoption without looking for the supporting documents. [5] I wrote that my parents were married on Memorial Day weekend in 1952, and that I was adopted that same year.

Prompted by my promise to write about these events for the Custer County Historical Society, I did what I should have done in the first instance: check my facts. I learned that, contrary to my memory, my parents were married in 1952, and I was adopted more than a year later, in 1953.

On May 29, 1952, my mother and John Hasselstrom dropped me off at the home of my Uncle Bud (Cleo Truman) and Aunt Fern Hey, in Fairburn, and drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to be married. They always told me that they got to the Clerk of Courts office just as it was closing for the holiday weekend, and talked the clerk into issuing the license anyway. The documentation proves this is correct; the receipt shows they paid cash-- $2.25-- for their marriage license at 5:05 p.m. [6] They walked about a block to the First Congregational Church, where they were married by a minister whose wife was one of the witnesses. [7]

I don’t know where they spent the night, but I believe they may have visited the Wyoming Hereford Ranch outside Cheyenne before they came home. At that time my father was raising registered Hereford cattle, and we later visited WHR several times to buy bulls. Mother let me take photographs with her camera; I carefully annotated the pictures with the names of the bulls and the men who showed them to us.

The adoption day photograph shows me a particular moment in time from a particular day, and any story I tell about that day will be true to be best of my recollection research. But, now that I have done a little research, I realize that for nearly fifty years I have believed I was adopted only a few months after my parents’ marriage.

Knowing that I was adopted more than a year after my mother’s third marriage, I guess that John Hasselstrom was unable to adopt me right away because my parents needed to convince my biological father to give up his parental rights. [8]

Digging deeper among the facts, I find the final judgment in my parents’ divorce. [9] The document awards “care, custody and control” of Linda M. Bovard to Florence M. Bovard, [10] but acknowledges the right of R. Paul Bovard to “visit with said child at all reasonable hours, provided such visitation does not interfere with the welfare of said child.” The decree further required R. Paul Bovard to contribute to my welfare in the amount of $75.00 per month until I was sixteen, or until the court ordered payment to stop. According to my mother, these payments were never made. I remember receiving letters from my biological father, and I know that I answered them-- some of those letters were returned to me upon his death, when I was notified as his next of kin. [11]

A careful look at that adoption day photograph requires me not only to do research, but to reflect on my memories. My mother usually dressed me in ruffled, lacy pink dresses. Even at ten years of age, I hated pink, hated “fuss and feathers,” as my grandmother called it. Maybe we compromised on the plaid dress as being more practical for school. Our hopeful smiles on that adoption day hid the fact that we would disagree about almost everything for another fifty years. For the rest of her life, her gifts to me were usually pink and fragile; I immediately discarded them, or traded them for something plain, solid, and hard-wearing in earth tones. She never stopped trying to make me into a delicate little lady and I never stopped rebelling against her efforts. I once wrote, “Mother wanted a daughter who would be a lady swathed in silk, but I was born to love denim.” [12]

As soon as we moved to my father’s ranch, a year before my adoption, I had an excuse for being a tomboy instead of a lady: horses. From the moment of my adoption until I was nearly fifty years old, I was my father’s shadow, recreating myself in his image. [13] Boots, jeans, hats-- those were my work clothes, not pink ruffles. And my mother’s constant refrains were, “You’re not going out like THAT!” and “My God, when are you going to cut that HAIR!” After his death, when her memory failed and she stopped repeating these old songs, I missed them.

In the adoption photograph, my mother’s hair is still dark brown, smoothly curled. She is smiling at my father, who is taking the picture. The street was so quiet that day-- August 14, 1953-- that he could stand in the middle of it while he fumbled with the camera’s focus. [14] Nowadays, Custer’s citizens seem happy when the street is considerably busier.

Until my father’s death in 1992 and my mother’s in 2001, my family always celebrated the day I was adopted as my second birthday of the year. The photograph shows what we were wearing, and has led me down these twisted paths of memory, but it doesn’t show the most important thing that happened to me that day.

The document of my adoption states that the County Judge, having “examined all persons appearing separately and being satisfied from such examination and the report of such investigation that the child is suitable for adoption and the petitioning foster parent is morally fit and financially able to have the care and training of such child,” decreed that I should be adopted.

Oddly, those dry official words bring back a memory that is filled with movement and texture. I remember climbing the stairs to the third floor courtroom with my parents; I’m sure my father made a wry comment about being breathless. I only dimly remember what happened in the courtroom. Probably Judge D. Webster Davis sat in his judicial robes behind a high desk, while my parents and I stood below him. I’m sure Judge Davis took my parents aside and satisfied himself about those moral and financial requirements.

But what I remember most vividly about that day is what happened next.

The Judge instructed my mother and father to wait, and probably ushered them to a bench like a church pew in the hallway outside the courtroom. Then he walked away with me. I remember the sound of his robes brushing the floor, and I think he took my hand. I now know, because I have visited the courtroom, that we walked through it to his private chamber. I hardly noticed where we were going; I was caught up in astonishment, seeing my parents sitting, left behind. My father was leaning forward impatiently, his mouth pursed as if he’d like to object, while my mother stared after me. But they sat meekly on that bench because the Judge told them to. I was amazed that anyone had the power to make my mother and father do anything they didn’t want to do.

The Judge ushered me into a room that seemed dim, filled with dark oak furniture and perhaps dark drapes. We both sat, and he leaned forward so his face was level with me. I recall his voice as warm, comforting. [15] I believe he asked me to tell him about my life, about moving from Texas to South Dakota, and then from the city to the ranch. I think he asked how my mother treated me, and what I remembered about my biological father. I probably told him that though I wrote my dad a lot of letters, my mother said he never sent us money.

He asked me if I wanted John Hasselstrom to be my father. I imagine I told him what I’d told my teacher: that I was happy to be getting a horse and a daddy-- in that order.

And then he explained that if I didn’t want to be adopted, that I could stop the whole process simply by telling him so right then. He said that, although my parents had a right to decide to marry one another, and change my mother’s name from Bovard to Hasselstrom, that I didn’t need to change my name, or be adopted if I didn’t want to. I’m sure he told me that I was old enough to make this decision myself, and that he would wait while I thought about it.

I remember him turning away, to give me privacy to think, perhaps moving papers on his desk. And I’m sure, because he was so serious and so gentle, that I gave the matter all the thought I could manage, and told him that I did want John Hasselstrom to be my father. [16] I wouldn’t be surprised if I mentioned that horse I’d been promised, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t have one yet. But other photographs show that, besides the new house my father had built for us, we had a dog, and I had spent considerable time climbing trees: pleasures I’d been denied living in town with my mother. So I am sure that I was pretty convinced John Hasselstrom would be a good father-- as he turned out to be.

When Judge Davis was satisfied that I knew what adoption meant, he turned back to me with a slip of paper in his hand. “This is my name, and my telephone number,” he said, putting the paper in my hand. “Now, if you ever change your mind about this, you can call me and tell me so, and we’ll do something about it. If that man ever mistreats you, or if your mother hurts you, or you even have a question about how they are treating you, you call me. Anytime, day or night. I will help you if you just tell me.”

And he looked at me, and smiled. I can’t picture his face as I write these words, but I can feel the comfort of his words, and that smile.

Try to imagine the effect of these words on a ten-year-old girl who, for more than half her life, had been without a father. My mother worked hard and only in retrospect have I learned to admire how she managed to keep her dignity and respect as a working single mother in a time when such women were rare.

Mother had made serious efforts to find me a father while we lived in Rapid City; I have dim memories of several of the men she saw at that time. One of the partners in the law firm where she worked [17] took an interest in me, giving me a beautiful doll each Christmas. My mother put the dolls on a high shelf in her closet, and told me she was keeping them for my children. They became remote, unreal, as if they did not belong to me. [18]

A father seemed similarly unattainable. I had already learned from my mother-- probably in spite of her best intentions-- that men were not to be trusted, that they were the enemy, dangerous and dark and distant.

But when Judge Davis spoke to me, I trusted him. I knew nothing at all about him; I had forgotten his name until this promise to write my memories of him for the Historical Society sent me back to search for the relevant documents.

Still, I recall putting that scrap of paper carefully into the little white purse in the photograph, and cherishing it for years. I remember stepping back into that hallway with my head up, feeling the power of the robed man behind me, the confidence he’d given me.

Reflecting on what his gesture meant to me, I think Judge Davis must have been the first person, except for my mother, that I trusted after our terrifying midnight flight away from my father’s insanity. I never called Judge Davis for help. I wish now I had written or called him to thank him for his promise. If my mother had known about the piece of paper, she’d have made me write one of my labored thank-you notes.

I kept the conversation secret from my parents, and somewhere I lost the piece of paper, but I have never forgotten. I now believe that each time I have trusted someone without any particular evidence, relying on my instincts alone, it is because I saw in that person’s eyes the same promise Judge Davis conveyed to me: that his word could be trusted.

# # #

Footnotes:

[1] Going Over East, p. 3.

[2] Feels Like Far, p. 14.

[3] Feels Like Far, pp. 14-15. Mother worked for the firm of Whiting, Wilson and Lynn, which is currently Bangs, McCullen, Butler, Foye & Simmons, in Rapid City, South Dakota.

[4] Feels Like Far, pp. 14-16.

[5] Feels Like Far, p. 16.

[6] Laramie County Clerk of Courts receipt number 598586 for marriage license number 25127, May 29, 1953.

[7] The First Congregational church was then located at 208 W. 19th Street; the site is now a parking lot for a bank. The Minister was Lincoln B. Wirt, witnesses Florence Wirt and Josephine E. Simmons, possibly church secretary. For the past fifteen years, I have lived in Cheyenne, about 8 blocks from where my parents were married.

[8] If my biological father, R. Paul Bovard, objected to my adoption, his objections were probably set aside because he had contributed nothing to my support. A letter from Walter G. Miser, lawyer, of Rapid City South Dakota dated July 3, 1953, confirms that the District Clerk of Hidalgo County, Texas, confirmed my mother’s statement that he had paid nothing into the registry of that court since September 27, 1947-- four months after their divorce. The official adoption document states that my biological father had been notified of the pending adoption and failed to comment, that John Hasselstrom agreed to treat me “in all respects as his own lawful child should be treated.” That requirement created some interesting implications about fifty years later. See “Badger’s Daughter,” Feels Like Far, pp. 212-216.

[9] No. 15,602, in the District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas, 93rd Judicial District, dated May 23, 1947. My parents were married April 16, 1938 in the First Presbyterian Church of Morgantown, West Virginia.

[10] I’ve never known my mother as Florence, only as Mildred, which I understood to be her middle name. However most of the early documents show her given name as Florence. Her birth certificate, showing her name as Mildred Florence-- which is how she signed documents most of her life-- was not filed until December 4, 1940, when she was 31 years old.

[11] According to my journal, R. Paul Bovard was dead on arrival at Oceanside City hospital in San Diego, CA, Sunday afternoon, May 11, 1969. I received a telegram announcing his death the next day, along with a request to call the county coroner’s office. When I did so, I was told that as next of kin I needed to give permission for an autopsy. I was 26 years old and had not seem my father in twenty years. What if I don’t? I asked. His remains will be retained here until an autopsy is done, reported a dry voice. Indefinitely? I asked. Yes, he answered. I gave permission. A letter from the County of San Diego to R. P. Bovard’s brother Ike in Pittsburgh, PA, says his estate consisted of a “few items of clothing” which were “of no value and were abandoned,” a joint bank account with his brother “showing a balance of $6.77,” and cash in the amount of $14.17 “which will be absorbed for mileage charges, etc.” I did not receive a copy of the autopsy report or the death certificate, but his brother informed me that the cause of his death was heavy drinking combined with heavy medication. He was 61 years old. His body was cremated and the ashes were buried at the foot of his sister Ruth’s grave in a country cemetery in McVille, PA, beside his parents. I once visited the grave.

[12] Feels Like Far, p. 12. Actually, what I wrote was “Mother wanted a daughter swathed in silk, but I was born to denim,” and an editor altered the line without my permission.

[13] While I never thought of John Hasselstrom as my stepfather, I once referred to him in print by that description, and infuriated him. Feels Like Far, pp. 195-6. He was so angry, that later on, his memory damaged by undiagnosed strokes, that he left me nothing in his will.

[14] Among the adoption documents is my revised birth certificate, According to the Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, State File No. 78951, I was born legitimate in the county of Harris, city of Houston, at 1911 University Blvd., though no hospital is mentioned. My mother was Florence Mildred Baker of Wheatland, Wyoming, and my father was John (no middle initial) Hasselstrom of Hermosa, South Dakota. My mother’s marriage to my biological father isn’t mentioned, nor is the fact that she was living in Houston with him at the time of my birth. A researcher without other information might wonder how a woman from Wheatland, Wyoming, and a man from Hermosa, South Dakota, managed to have a legitimate child in Houston, Texas. One clue exists: the birth certificate was filed August 28, 1953, more than ten years later. Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t have children, since my bloodlines have vanished in the paperwork. And this information only raises more questions: Why did my mother give her residence as Wheatland, WY, (where she was born) when she had been living for several years in Rapid City, South Dakota?

[15] Recollecting now, it seems to me his voice was like that of James Earl Jones, the black actor-- but I wonder if I am merely substituting the sound of his beautiful voice for one I don’t really remember.

[16] Until the end of his life, I called John Hasselstrom “father,” never “dad,” and he called me “child,” which sometimes annoyed me in later years.

[17] Mr. Lynn, whose first name I should also research, though I knew him always as Mr. Lynn because that’s now my mother referred to him.

[18] When I got the dolls back after my mother’s death, I gave them to the Salvation Army without a pang.


# # #

For more information:

The Custer Courthouse of this story is now a museum in the city of Custer, South Dakota. You can climb the creaking wooden stairs, enter the court room, and peer in the door to the judge’s chambers.

www.1881courthousemuseum.com

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Bess Streeter Aldrich

August 1, 2011

Tags: Book Review, Writer: Bess Streeter Aldrich, Family: Mother, Childhood, Christmas, Friend: Hobie & Lois, Life of a Writer, Living in a Small Town

Cover of "A White Bird Flying"
. . .
My mother grew up on her family ranch with an interest in books that lasted her whole life; she read to me, quoted writers to me, and turned me into a reader-- though she’d rather not have turned me into a writer.

Once we moved to the ranch, both my parents encouraged my reading habits; I was always allowed to open one gift before they got up on Christmas morning and it was always a book and I always read quietly until they arose. Sometimes, though, if I was reading in the middle of the day they encouraged me to stop reading and go hoe the garden.

Mother preferred romantic poets-- she’d kept poetry books from her college days, some inscribed as gifts from suitors, and quoted the Brownings often. She loved the books of Bess Streeter Aldrich. No doubt I considered my tastes superior to my mother’s because I never read Aldrich. But recently my faithful correspondents (Hobie and Lois Morris), modern homesteaders in upstate New York, mentioned how much they enjoy her work. They also compared my writing to hers, praising us both for bringing the prairie to life.

So I decided it was time. Yesterday I finished A White Bird Flying, originally published in 1931 and kept in print by the University of Nebraska Press. The story of Laura, the writer, bears some close resemblances to Aldrich’s own biography and to mine as well.

I could identify with Laura when she pictured herself as a writer, standing outside her own emotions sometimes until she almost missed the important part of human interactions. Laura was a hick when she went to college, just as I was, and stumbled over some of the same problems with sororities, studying, and her friendships with both men and women. Somehow, she grew to believe that she could not be a writer in Nebraska, just as I at one time concluded that great writers had to live in New York, if not California. I suspect that Bess Streeter Aldrich may have thought similarly, but she spent her life in small towns and wrote nine novels and numerous other works about the life she lived.

Since I encourage you to read this book, and others by Aldrich, I won’t tell you how Laura solved her dilemma. Aldrich’s descriptions of life in a small town in Nebraska are filled with details that made me laugh and cry over their resemblance to the places I’ve known and loved.

And writers, especially those from small towns in the Great Plains, if you read nothing else of hers, please go to Aldrich's website and read “Why I Live in a Small Town,” published in Ladies Home Journal in 1933.

# # #

For more information:
Bess Streeter Aldrich’s website

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Go With the Grain: Bread Therapy

July 12, 2011

Tags: Bread-making, Childhood, Family: Father, Family: Mother, 4-H Club, Singing Badly, Grinding Grain, Mental Therapy Alternative

Linda with hand-kneaded bread, 2009.
. . .
Bread is benediction, scenting the air with an aroma finer than blessed incense. To create bread-- mixing, kneading and shaping loaves-- is to forge a sacrament of consecration for a home and all who dwell in it.

Baking bread became an important part of my life when I was nine years old and my mother married a rancher. Avid to become a real country girl, I bought a red western hat to match my birthday cowboy boots, and joined 4-H. The Buttons and Bows 4-H Club was dedicated to teaching me how to preserve my young Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. Years and years and YEARS before yuppies discovered whole grain goodness, I attained the highest goal imaginable in our community by winning a purple ribbon at the State Fair for demonstrating bread-baking.

My narrow fame roused me to dreams of standing in a bright light while thousands applauded. Not long after my bread-baking success, I mounted the community hall stage to sing our 4-H club song, wearing a fringed blouse and skirt with a toy pistol strapped around my waist. My mother sang in a beautiful voice, but I was baffled by musical notes and never sang the same one twice. "My bones denounce the buckboard bounce," I bawled, "And the Cactus hurts my toes." I seem to recall yanking the cap pistol out of its flashy holster and firing it in the air as I quavered, "East is east and west is west and the wrong one I have chose."

Like my stubborn grandmothers crossing the plains, I forged ahead, making up in volume for lack of pitch. "Let's go where I'll keep on wearin those frills and flowers and buttons and bows." In the middle of my second shot at the chorus, I dared to look at my mother's face, and experienced a blinding bolt of understanding: I cooked better than I sang. My brief stage career was over when I stumbled down the steps; I vowed to dedicate myself to cooking.

My parents were determined I experience every advantage of country life; soon I was feeding caged rabbits and gathering eggs from a dozen hens. I learned to milk a cow and hoe the garden; it was several years before I realized that the tasks my parents advertised as "country experiences" were what other kids called chores.

Gnawing a sandwich at lunch one day, my father stared out the window; I'd learned to recognize such thoughtful pauses as a prelude to jobs guaranteed to enrich my adaptation to country culture. "My Maw," he finally announced, "baked bread three times a week. Why don't we ever have any homemade bread around here, Wife?"

Since my mother never learned how to bake bread, I was instructed to learn how. Soon I was baking bread once or twice a week. Using my mother's cookbooks, I devised a personal recipe that called for stone ground whole wheat flour. I bought a grain mill with my allowance, and traded butchering rabbits to a neighbor for organic wheat, already hulled.

Early on baking day, I'd scoop a double handful of slick dun-colored grains into a high-rimmed pan with a screen bottom. The wheat kernels were tinged with pink, like a tanned face blushing; I loved the silky feel of the fat grains running through my fingers. My father taught me how to winnow remaining hulls and mouse droppings from the wheat. We'd step off the back porch, backs to the constant breeze, and jerk the screen upward, tossing grain into the wind. The chaff and anything lighter than wheat blew away.

Back inside, I'd trickle a handful of grain into the hopper of the grinder permanently mounted on the kitchen counter, and turn the handle. Metal plates rotated, drizzling cracked wheat. I put each batch of wheat through the crusher three times, leaving a few tawny nuggets of grain. If I'd ground it another time or two, my flour would have been as fine as commercial varieties, but I liked a chewy texture.

Once the flour was ready, I'd scald a cup of whole milk, dipped from the jug in the refrigerator and dump the yeast into warm water. By the time the milk was hot, I'd have honey from a neighbor's bees, or dark molasses, in my big mixing bowl with chunks of butter I'd churned earlier in the week. The hot milk softened the honey enough to stir, until the mass was cool enough to risk adding yeast.

Adding the first cup of coarse wheat flour, I always debated with myself. The pale white flour my mother bought at the grocery store for pies and cakes smoothed the texture of the bread, making it rise higher in the pans, but I hated using anything store-bought. Sometimes I added wheat flour I'd milled a half-dozen times, until it was nearly as fine as the bleached kind. I saved the smaller grind for cakes and pie crusts, but my cakes never won prizes at the County Fair. "Tough!" the judges would write, slapping a white ribbon on the plate. Smug in the knowledge my cake was nutritious, I just smiled.

Once I'd added five cups of whole wheat flour, the bread dough was the consistency of concrete mixed for a bridge. Even if I gave in to my mother's pleas and added white flour, a double batch of bread dough was a weighty matter. I'd lift the ball out of the bowl and heave it onto the bread board, inhaling the fertile scent of yeast, the faint perfume of honey or molasses.

Bread dough is less predictable and only slightly less independent than a two-year-old child, and about the same weight. And like a child, if the bread is to develop a strong texture, it must be worked hard. I'd grab the outer edge, fold it to the inside and push with the heels of my hands; broken wheat kernels prodded my fingers. I'd rotate the globe of dough a quarter turn, fold and push, again and again and again. When my arms began to tire and the warm mass stuck to my fingers, I'd dip up a bit more wheat flour and scatter it across the board under the dough. I'd brush my sleeve over my forehead to soak up sweat, and begin again. Turn, fold, PUSH; turn, fold, WHACK; turn, crease SHOVE. My muscles hummed in rhythmic harmony with the natural world that provided the ingredients of that bread. As I pound and stretch the dough to its proper texture, my mind slipped into an ancient cadence. Tension subsided; my pulse beat to a simpler strain.

Up to my elbows in bread dough, I can let my mind meander. I can conduct rational and irrational arguments, THUMP the dough to emphasize what I should have said. I CAN analyze human and animal behavior while neatly folding and flipping. Decisions I've avoided for weeks have made themselves while I poke a finger into the shiny dough to check the tension.

No matter my mood when I began baking, kneading improved it. Baking bread is cheaper than other forms of therapy, like seeing a psychiatrist, drinking, or using drugs, and has offered me more consistent help. And I can eat the results; nibbling a therapist is always ill-advised.

Besides improving my mental health, blending dough provided as much exercise for my biceps and upper torso as if I'd lifted weights. Kneading makes me breathe deeply, pulling yeasty air deep into my lungs. When I finish, the dough is glistening and elastic, and both the dough and I are bouncy with vitality.

Once the dough is kneaded, it must be patted into a sphere and replaced in the bowl to rise until it doubles in bulk; waiting for its slow growth provides a chance to catch my breath and meditate.

I release any lingering hostility by punching the risen dough hard to drive air out. Briefly, I knead it again,; my breathing slows in rhythm with the strokes. Once I've shaped the dough into loaves and fitted it into my battered pans, I'm free to think again, or wash the baking dishes if I'm expecting company to eat my the homemade bread.

Baking, the bread scents the house with mingled fragrances; wheat smells nourishing, an incomparable odor, impossible to imitate. While waiting, I remove butter from the refrigerator to soften. The climax of the true bread-baking experience is the first taste. Tradition prohibits cutting the loaf; the true gourmet rips the end of the loaf away, burning her fingers. Cries of "Ow! Ouch! Yikes!" may punctuate the air; after all, some expensive therapists recommend screaming. Every pain disappears as I slather butter on a ragged mass of hot bread. Sorrows evaporate as the yellow seeps into a rich brown universe; the only problem is whether I can gnaw off a bite before the butter runs down my arm.

I open my mouth wide, and tear off a solid bite. The universe wobbles on its axis, then settles into an age-old throb of grace. Homemade bread.

# # #

written 1994; published on the Windbreak House website 2011.

For more information:
The recipe for Linda's hand-kneaded bread shown in the photo above may be found in the Home Page Message archives of this website.

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Mother's Day

May 8, 2011

Tags: Mother's Day, Gardening, Family: Mother, Family: Grandmother, Family: George, Family: Jerry

Linda's grandmother, Cora Belle Hey and mother, Mildred Hasselstrom, in Hermosa, 1978.
. . .
I’ve spent this Mother’s Day very pleasantly. I did some laundry, made a huge pot of green chile, read a bit, and wrote a bit. And I planted nasturtium seeds among the radishes and lettuce in the herb garden. I also moved a few plants into my rock garden, decorating it with shells and rocks and other objects I’ve picked up here and there on my walks for years. A dozen bright aqua insulators from the old telephone poles wind like a stream through the sandstone, agate, quartz and other stones.

Seeing the sand dollars and other shells I picked up on beaches in Manzanita, in Maine and in Scotland, a spoon George carved from bone in a bowl Jerry carved from a pine burl, all brought back good memories that flowed through the warm spring air like the songs of the blackbirds and meadowlarks.

Wherever I was during the past few days, I have wished a “Happy Mother’s Day” to every women older than I am that I encountered. Several of them sounded surprised as they said “Thank you!”

Many women, on this day, have been presented with corsages and cards, taken to dinner, saluted with roses or carnations in church or in restaurants, and in various ways remembered and thanked for giving birth. I, too, have been remembering my mother, who died in 2001, my grandmother (the only one I ever met) Cora Belle Hey, and various women who treated me as well and taught me as much as any mother could have. Then, too, I’ve been remembering my four step-children, and the joys of sharing their lives.

And I’ve been thinking about all we women who, for one reason or another, are not mothers. The reasons vary. Some of us chose not to have children for a variety of reasons: because there are too many people on the planet; because we believed we might have important work to do; because we believed we would not be good mothers. Some of us tried and failed. Some of us have lost children at various stages of their lives, from conception to adulthood.

I’m not suggesting that we declare a Step-Mother’s Day, or Bereaved Mother’s Day. Just don’t forget that we’re here too, and we have made contributions to the world in other ways.

# # #

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Grandmother's Rocking Chair

May 3, 2010

Tags: Rocking Chair, Furniture, Family: Grandmother, Family: Mother, Family: Grandfather, Family: Uncle George, Childhood, Oil Lamp, Living in the Country

Grandmother's rocking chair is in use at Homestead House, my writing retreat.
. . .
This essay was first published in Manoa, Summer 1997, Volume 9 Issue 1, pages 105-108.

* * *

When we moved into the four-square house on a tree-lined city avenue, I lugged the ugly oak rocker into the sun porch and covered it with grandmother's yellow quilt, just as I'd decently wrap an aunt caught outside in her undies.

Two years later, I carried the rocker into the back yard. Sunshine outlined the shape of the back, graceful as a handmade fiddle, but shiny gray paint masked the chair's oak skeleton, and the seat was a slab of three-quarter inch plywood.

First I yanked off the seat cushion, remembering when Mother bought the oatmeal-colored wool speckled with red and green, on sale of course. I hated the ungainly skirt she made for me to wear to high school. Thriftily, she turned the leftovers into a pillow stuffed with odd pieces of foam. She used roofing nails, driven crooked, to anchor the ugly contraption. When I yanked at the cushion, powdered foam drifted like pollen into the breeze.

I stared at the chair, thinking of better jobs: cleaning house, revising an essay. Stripping this relic would take hours. No wonder my ancestors slapped on a dozen layers of paint. I could paint it in an hour, park it on the porch to decay in peace, if not dignity.

Instead, I attacked with rough sandpaper on an electric palm sander. Gray paint dribbled down as powder, revealing raw oak etched with dark lines from the original stain. Probably the chair fell prey to my mother's infatuation with the 1950s craze for blond furniture, called "limed oak." When she married a rancher, she bought a massive dresser, double bed, and two dressing tables heavy enough to be real oak. The unnaturally pale finish made them look, I thought, remarkably like plastic.

Determined everything would match, she stripped a Mission Oak buffet, smeared white paint over it, then rubbed until the surface was dingy gray.

The buffet loomed over my childhood, half-filling our narrow dining room. Before family dinners, I knelt before it to get out mother's china and silver, while she scurried around the kitchen reciting the names of the patterns and promising that when I married, I'd choose my own. Drying the china after Sunday dinner, I'd kneel before the gray hulk again, vowing to restore its golden youth with oil rubbed gently into pure unvarnished wood. Some evenings, I'd open the bottom drawer and stare at Grandmother's crocheted tablecloths, wondering how her gnarled fingers could weave such loveliness.

Neither of my marriages produced china, so mother begged me to take hers when she moved to the nursing home. When I cleared the house for renters, I left the buffet and table in the house. An expert says the white paint penetrated the grain so deeply it can't be removed. My partner and I already had furniture.

But I couldn't leave the rocker. Each time I looked at it, I saw Grandmother's brown fingers curved around the knot of oak at the end of arm rests bulging like her muscular arms. During the summers I stayed with her, she'd sit in the rocker on the screened porch before she fixed supper. I sat on the slab of sandstone she used as a step, listening for bobcats and trying to catch toads. Grandmother said if I picked them up I'd get warts. I was looking forward to the experience; I'd never seen warts.

The chickens hurried to catch every bug in sight before the world went dark. I looked across the valley at the shadows running up the cliffs, plunging into the crevices like dark coyotes. The cliff tops shone gold for a moment, then went dark. The air chilled, tasting dusky and wild. A sliver of deep red appeared above the cliffs, swelling until I took a deep breath to scream, "Fire!"

"Red moon," Grandmother said. "Feels like fall all right, doesn't it?"

"Yeah. Can't I stay here instead of having to go back to town? I could go to school with John and Susan, and then maybe they wouldn't close the school."

"Oh, your mother wouldn't like that. She don't think our little school is good enough for you."

"Did you ever go to church, Grandma?"

"I wanted to go when the children were small, but it was such a trip with the buggy that we hardly ever did."

"It seems like church but different when I'm out here. God must really like the world."

She chuckled. "Walt always said he served God by taking care of this land, and I served Him by taking care of the children. Since Walt's been gone, when I walk around the hills here, I feel close to him and God both." Darkness wrapped comfortably around us. "About time to light the lamps I expect," she said as I jumped up, ready. "Be careful with the chimneys, and don't set your hair on fire."

I left the door open to help my eyes adjust, and felt around on the cupboard for matches. The dark smelled of fried chicken. A row of jelly glasses gleamed with white paraffin on the counter beside the wood stove.

I gently lifted the lamp chimney, turned the blackened wick up a little. Then I inhaled, struck the match on the side of the box, and ran it along the top of the wick. It caught at once and the blue flame flickered up into yellow. Eyes on the wick, I blew out the match and delicately turned the brass knob until the flame danced along the edge of the brass.

With both hands, I picked up the chimney by its fat belly and placed it on the lamp, holding my breath. Often the fire flared up and sooted the clear glass. Then I had to get out my polishing rag and start all over.

Instead, the flame fluttered into a soft radiance, so the eyes of the cookie jar squirrel glistened. The light brushed the brass bedstead. Above it, pictures of Grandmother's children and their children watched me like ghosts.

Sanding in the sunshine, I find circular scars under the gray paint, where someone removed the original finish with a drill sander. Maybe my uncle, who worked Grandmother's ranch. Suddenly he stands in my back yard as I first remember him, laughing with youth nearly fifty years ago. I hear this is the year he'll sell his cows, give up the ranching that has been his life since he came home from war to help his mother.

After the first day's sanding, my shoulders and wrists throb for hours. But the chair rocks lightly when I carry it outside the next day. Sanding, I lecture my grandmother for letting this travesty happen to a lovely piece of furniture. Grinding deeper into the chair's history, I uncover a dozen nail holes around the seat, evidence of several replacement cushions after the original disappeared. I notice the chair's feet do not quite fit the curve of the rockers, which aren't oak but softer pine.

Getting a sunburn I won't notice until evening, I study the chair, deciding it was not originally a rocker. Perhaps my Grandmother got it from her mother when she went West with her young husband to work for a logging company in Oregon. I'd seen a faded photograph of her at sixteen, just before she married Elmer Harry Baker, who became my grandfather.

For a moment, I can see a dark-haired girl sitting in a stately oak chair in my sunny yard. She holds a baby with golden ringlets-- my mother-- and gazes up at her husband, the grandfather I never knew. Beaming, he says, "Cora Belle, I can make that chair rock for you."

Elmer died when he fell in front of a moving logging train in 1913. Not long ago, I found his obituary in a couple of papers of the time, saying he was beheaded by the train. Just twenty-four, he left grandmother a widow with a four-year-old daughter and an infant son. She rode the train to the home of his relatives in Wyoming, a few miles from where I live now. I can picture the rocker swaying with the train's motion among her few possessions. She must have repaired its worn cushions, keeping the chair to grace her household as she married again, and bore two more sons.

Rocking gently through long summer evenings, crocheting and listening to her granddaughter read aloud, maybe she saw her young husband's face, recalled past joys. That’s what I plan to do, now that the rocker looks as I remember it from my childhood.

# # #

For more information:

Website for Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writers
Published by the University of Hawai'i

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Poetry in Daily Life

April 19, 2010

Tags: Poetry, Cowboy Poetry, Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Poet: Badger Clark, Poet Laureate, Family: Father, Family: Mother, Horse Riding, Horse: Rebel, Writer's Almanac

. . .
In 2009, I was asked to write about “poetry in daily life” for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering magazine. This is what I wrote.

The lines of quoted poetry are cited at the end of the essay.

* * *

One sweet mornin’ long ago, my mare and I were trailing cows and calves home from summer pasture near the Badlands, where the sharp crests dream in the sunset gleam.

My father’s green ‘49 Chevy pickup idled in front, while Rebel nipped slow cows on the tail, and I day-dreamed about riding wilder horses after faster cows.

I kin ride the highest liver
‘Tween the Gulf and Powder River


For my twelfth birthday, I’d gotten Sun and Saddle Leather by Badger Clark, South Dakota’s poet laureate and one of the finest cowboy poets ever. I began to hear “The Legend of Boastful Bill” in my head.

So Bill climbed the Northern Fury
And they mangled up the air


While I recited, Rebel twitched an ear, jingling her bridle to the hoofbeat rhythm. By the time the cows ambled home, I’d recalled most of the words. My father didn’t care for Bill’s methods:

I’ll cinch ‘im up and spur ‘im till he’s broke

but he could recite most of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Snowbound.” Mother preferred ballads:

Summer of 'sixty-three, sir, and Conrad was gone away--
Gone to the country town, sir, to sell our first load of hay.


She’d learned “Kentucky Belle” in grade school. When she was 91, we recited it together, tears in our eyes, reminiscing about the past, or, as Badger put it:

Men of the older, gentler soil

Poetry is part of everyone’s daily life. The advertising jingle you can’t get out of your head is someone’s best effort at making you remember. After 25 years, I can still see the blonde driving the pickup with this bumper sticker:

You’ve never lived
until you’ve loved a sheepherder


If you remember a line, it’s likely poetic. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called poetry “the best words in the best order.” Making a living as an itinerant writer, I drive a lot, remembering good lines to force the ads and bad jokes out of my brain.

Over the Springtime plains I ride,
Knee to knee with Spring


Poetry romps me through bleak regions with bad radio stations, keeps me from tuneless singing. With poets as passengers, I’m never alone. Badger reminds me:

I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
over me and the big today.


A day that starts with poetry is better than one without. Online, I often read www.cowboypoetry.com and The Writer’s Almanac. I hate going to town, but when I do, I warble:

We’re the children of the open and we hate the haunts o’men,
But we had to come to town to get the mail.


Badger lived just up the road, and answered my sixth grade letter [oops, I was guessing, because I hadn’t yet found the letter; I was in eighth grade] with encouragement to write, so I can almost hear him chuckle:

And we’re ridin’ home at daybreak--‘cause the air is cooler then--
All ‘cept one of us that stopped behind in jail.


Letters piled on the seat, I hurry home to my real work, declaiming as he did:

“Just a-writin’, a-writin’,
Nothin’ I like half so well
As a-slingin’ ink and English--
if the stuff will only sell.”


* * *

By Linda M. Hasselstrom
First published in the magazine for the 25th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Held in Elko, Nevada, January 24 - 31, 2009.

# # #

Quotations in the essay:

One sweet mornin’ long ago,
-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

the sharp crests dream in the sunset gleam.
-- from "The Bad Lands" (Badger Clark)

I kin ride the highest liver
‘Tween the Gulf and Powder River

-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

So Bill climbed the Northern Fury
And they mangled up the air

-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

I’ll cinch ‘im up and spur ‘im till he’s broke
-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

Summer of 'sixty-three, sir, and Conrad was gone away--
Gone to the country town, sir, to sell our first load of hay.

-- from "Kentucky Belle" (Constance Fenimore Woolson)

Men of the older, gentler soil
-- from "The Plainsmen" (Badger Clark)

Over the Springtime plains I ride,
Knee to knee with Spring

-- from "The Springtime Plains" (Badger Clark)

I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
over me and the big today.

-- from "The Westerner" (Badger Clark)

We’re the children of the open and we hate the haunts o’men,
But we had to come to town to get the mail.

-- from "From Town" (Badger Clark)

And we’re ridin’ home at daybreak--‘cause the air is cooler then--
All ‘cept one of us that stopped behind in jail.

-- from "From Town" (Badger Clark)

“Just a-writin’, a-writin’,
Nothin’ I like half so well
As a-slingin’ ink and English--
if the stuff will only sell.”

-- inscribed by Badger Clark on a copy of Sun and Saddle Leather, and quoted in the Preface to the 1952 edition, written by “R.H., who is not identified in the book.”

# # #

For more information:

See my other blog posting about my childhood correspondence with Badger Clark ("My Brush with Fame: Badger Clark").

Western Folklife's website for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

The Badger Clark Memorial Society's website

Cowboy Poetry Website page dedicated to Badger Clark

Website for The Writer's Almanac
Garrison Keillor recounts the highlights of this day in poetic history and posts a short poem or two.

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My Brush with Fame: Badger Clark

April 5, 2010

Tags: Brush with Fame, Poet: Badger Clark, Family: Mother, Family: Grandmother, Family: Father, Cattle, Horse Riding, Public Appearance, Hermosa School, Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum

. . .
My contact with Badger Clark was brief and by letter, but his influence on my life has been huge. I may have first encountered his poetry in the Custer County Chronicle newspaper where it regularly appeared during my childhood. My mother gave me my first copy of Sun and Saddle Leather in 1955, probably for my twelfth birthday. My first copy of Sky Lines and Wood Smoke is number 252 of 1000 from the numbered edition of 1958, and I believe my grandmother Cora Belle Hey gave it to me.

To memorize Clark’s poems, I practiced reciting them while moving cows to pasture. I’d read a particular poem two or three times before starting the ride. The rhythms-- iambic pentameter-- fit perfectly with the movement of the horse, and feeling that rhythm could sometimes help me find the line I was searching for in my brain. On days when the cows were slow, my father probably heard me bawling, “At a roundup on the Gily one sweet morning long ago” to make them move. A few years ago I was present when Paul Zarzysky momentarily froze while reciting that poem, Badger’s popular “The Legend of Boastful Bill” in front of a crowd in New York City; I was proud to be able to bellow the line to him.

I also recited several of Badger’s poems in declamation contests; my favorite, which I discovered still lurking in my brain and recited at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, a few years ago, might be “The Westerner.”

It begins,
My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains
and each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.


Mumbling this poem under my breath at key points in my life has helped me make my own trail.

Another of my favorites is “The Plainsmen,” (Men of the older, gentler soil,/ Loving the things that their fathers wrought) or maybe “From Town” (We’re the children of the open/ and we hate the haunts of men.) Of course, his most popular and best-known poem, “The Cowboy’s Prayer,” is often reproduced on place mats, t-shirts, mugs, and funeral programs as having been written by “anonymous.” This happened even during Clark’s lifetime, and he was philosophical about it.

Why was I writing to Badger Clark? From a reference in his letter, after much brain-cudgeling, I concluded I wasn’t merely writing as a fan. I believe that the seventh and eighth grade students of Hermosa Grade School, under the direction of Mrs. Anna Tubbs, put together a historical project in 1957. We interviewed older residents of the communities around Hermosa, recorded their stories, and made a scrapbook. We dedicated that scrapbook to Badger Clark, and made plans for the class to visit him. (In an effort to locate the original, I’ve now volunteered to catalog some collected documents at the Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum.)

Here’s Badger Clark’s letter, postmarked Custer, SD, Feb. 7, 1957 2 p.m., and typed on a manual typewriter on paper with a simple letterhead:

* * *

Badger Clark
Custer South Dakota

9 February, 1957 [yes, for whatever reason, it's dated after the postmark]

Dear Linda,
Thank you very much for the honors you confer upon me by dedicating your scrapbook to me. It is hard for me to realize that I am becoming an old-timer, though not a pioneer. For so many years I have looked to older men as old-timers but now, all of a sudden, those men are gone and there seems to be nobody left but men younger than I. It is a strange feeling and someday, a long way ahead, I hope, you will experience it.

As I have written Mrs. Tubbs, I have no speaking engagements this spring and you are free to set your own date, but, as I told her, with a big crowd and a small cabin, it might be well to put it in April or May when, with good luck the weather will be warm enough for the party to spread out on the porch. I’ve entertained as many as twenty-five young people here in the house, but that’s about the limit. If you want to have a lunch and roast wieners, I have both a range and a fireplace.

Last, I want to congratulate you on being able to express yourself on paper. Writing and reading are both neglected arts in these days. The other day I heard of an eighth-grade boy, writing some sort of an exercise for school, who had to ask his mother how to spell “catch.” And every now and then I get a letter from a college graduate which contains misspelled words or bad grammar, or both. It is a pleasure to get a letter like yours.

Good Luck.

Badger Clark

* * *

Apparently my class was not able to visit him that spring, because his second communication to me is a 2-cent postcard postmarked 2 p.m. April 26, 1957.

* * *

Badger Hole, 25 April.

Dear Linda: I shall be away for nine or ten days during the first half of May and in fact it is hard for me to know just what days I shall be at home during the month. This is my busy season, you know-- commencements and the like, and I expect the last month of school will bring various special occasions for you. As it is so late, I believe we had better postpone our party until after school begins in the fall. The weather will be more dependable then, for one thing. That may look like a long time to you, but when you’re my age, you’ll know it ain’t, it ain’t, it ain’t!

B.C.

* * *

Badger Clark died that fall, September 26, 1957, at age 74.

. . .

Last summer, I was asked to record some of my thoughts about Hermosa history for the Hermosa Arts and History Association; I am, I realized, one of the older residents able to do so. And just as Badger predicted, while the date of these events may seem to be a long time ago, “it ain’t, it ain’t, it ain’t!”

# # #

For more information:

The Badger Clark Memorial Society's website
Find information on Badger Clark and his work, purchase copies of his books, and learn about visiting The Badger Hole, his cabin in Custer State Park.

Cowboy Poetry Website page dedicated to Badger Clark
This page includes a huge treasure trove of information about Badger Clark, including some of his poetry, an introduction to the 1922 edition of Sun and Saddle Leather, information about recordings of cowboy poets reciting Badger’s work and musicians who have set it to music, and much, much more. The site even includes my report on the first annual workshop in his honor I taught in 2006, with photos of The Badger Hole, and information on the movie about him, Mountain Thunder.


Resources include:

Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark
Edited by Greg Scott, published (2005) by Cowboy Miner Productions. This book (432 pages) includes all of Badger Clark's short stories; poetry, including more than two dozen previously unpublished or long out-of-print poems; essays; letters; and photos.

As of 2010, the Cowboy Miner Productions website is no longer active. For more information on this book:
Cowboy Poetry website's page for Greg Scott's book

For my review of this book:
Cowboy Poetry website's book review by Linda M. Hasselstrom

I am fortunate to have a copy of the first, 1935 edition of the Sky Lines and Wood Smoke, printed at “The Chronicle Shop” in Custer and copyrighted by Francis Case. I also have The Badger Clark Story, published in 1960 and now out of print, by Helen F. Morganti, a formidable newspaper woman and writer whom I knew slightly when I lived in Deadwood. I’m told this is available for $8 postpaid (quantity discounts available) from Black Hills Books & Treasures, 112 S. Chicago Street, Hot Springs, SD 57747 605-745-5545.

Also in my collection, and still available, is Jessie Y. Sundstrom’s Badger Clark, Cowboy Poet With Universal Appeal. $12.45, postpaid. Make checks payable to Jessie Y. Sundstrom and send to send to: The Badger Clark Memorial Society, Box 351, Custer, SD 57730-0351. This book (about 65 pages) includes much personal history for Badger Clark, three poems, photos, and a bibliography.

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