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

Lightning, Fire and Neighbors

Linda with large, round hay bales of the size that burned in the night.
. . .
The usual June afternoon thunderstorm struck around 7pm on June 25, more violently than many storms, whipping rain at us from the southwest, pounding my raised bed tomatoes down, even driving rain through the siding to drip down the basement door. Lightning was frequent and close, slamming the hillsides and splitting the air in all directions. A few small shards of hail fell, but nothing like the baseball-sized hail we heard had pounded Rapid City the night before. When we surveyed the rain gauges around 9pm after most of the storm had passed, we found .60 of rain.

Just before we went to sleep, we thought we smelled smoke. As usual after such a storm, I turned out the lights and went to the deck, where I looked in all directions for any sign of flame. I looked mostly at the buildings I could see-- Homestead House and its barn and other buildings, at a shed in the pasture, and in the direction of the various hay yards where piles of round bales wait for winter use. I particularly looked toward the field that had been hayed that afternoon, thinking that lightning might have struck one of the round bales of hay lying in the field.

But we weren’t really worried. "Too wet to burn," we said, because the pastures are full of green grass.

We’d both spent busy days. Jerry mowed around our buildings in the morning while I worked with other Hermosa Arts and History Association volunteers sweeping and rearranging furniture and display cases on both floors of a massive old building in Hermosa. (Another story: for ten years, members of the association have been renovating the building, which will serve as a museum and gathering place for the community.)

In the afternoon, we went to the Great Plains Native Plant Society open house at the Claude A. Barr botanic garden in my front pasture. With the help of a botanist, we walked through the grass, looking at the native plants marked earlier by Cindy Reed, GPNPS leader. And we found one plant new to most of us, Fame flower, a succulent so tiny that you’re only likely to see it if you’re on hands and knees with a magnifying glass handy.

But Jerry and I were both awake about 3am with aching sinuses from the change of weather, when the dogs suddenly started barking and ran to the basement. I went to the living room and could see a light by the basement door. Just then a voice spoke from the deck outside the living room, a neighbor saying, "Linda, there’s a fire." The time was 3:15.

Let me be clear about what my neighbor, Bill, had done with that simple statement. He had awakened about 2:30 and smelled smoke. He got up, looked around his house, and determined that the smoke was coming from the east, the direction of my house. He got dressed, got his wife up and dressed, got in his pickup and drove down his ranch road toward the highway. When he topped a hill, he could see the fire and knew it was on my property, a mile or so east of my house. He guessed it was a shed or hay bales, so that with the wet ground and grass, it was no threat to anyone’s home-- but property was burning. Unable to reach us by telephone (our cell phones were off), he drove the muddy road to my house to be sure that I would know about the fire. Neighborliness is not simply living next door to someone.

I yelled for Jerry, yanked the door open, and could see flames flickering east of us, but couldn’t tell if they were in a hay yard or in the cattle shed that stands on the other side of the railroad tracks.

I called my lessee, Rick, and we decided against calling the fire department. We figured the fire was in a haystack and no amount of water can put out such a fire. Jerry and I grabbed shovels and tools, and headed east, while Rick got on his tractor and headed toward the fire from his house to the north.

Before we got far, a fire unit from the Hermosa volunteer fire department joined us, and we wallowed through the muddy field and pasture roads until we could see that the fire was burning bales near the end of a long collection of them on the east side of the railroad tracks and on the other side of a long gully fully of water. In the dark, unfamiliar with the terrain, neither of us could figure out how to get across the gully without getting stuck. When Rick arrived with his tractor, Jerry and I followed him to a crossing. The fire truck left. With Jerry’s help, Rick laid down the barbed wire of the fence.

Rick's tractor is fitted with a grapple fork, like a large hand. He drove this into the yard and started moving hay bales that hadn’t yet started burning. Each bale weighs about 900 pounds and on some trips he moved two at a time, stacking them away from the fire. Eventually he’d isolated about 10 burning bales in the center of the hay yard.

By that time, a fire unit from Fairburn had arrived, not knowing the Hermosa truck was gone. Rick began driving the tractor to the burning bales, grabbing one at a time, and backing out onto open ground, where he’d scatter the burning bale as quickly as possible. Then he’d go back for another.

With the neighbor who had arrived with the fire truck, we started using our shovels to break up the burning bales so they’d burn faster. Each time Rick dragged a bale away from the burning pile, he’d turn and drive through the bales he’d brought out earlier, breaking them up as the smoke swirled around the tractor. He had to keep moving fast so the hoses on the tractor’s hydraulic system wouldn’t burn. We knew he couldn’t see much through the rolling yellow smoke, so we stayed well out of his way.

The tractor roared back and forth, bouncing flaming bales in all directions. Each time he drove through a burning pile of hay, the speed of his passage sucked the smoke after him so it looked as if the back of the tractor was on fire. Whenever he stopped, he dug dry hay out of spots where it had been trapped on the tractor so it wouldn’t start burning.

Gradually we got the bales broken down. Each time a fire died down, one of us would break up the unburned parts of the bale with a shovel to let air into it, and it would explode into flame again.

I became aware that the smoke smelled just like drying hay: sweet, not smoky at all. During breaks, we leaned on our tools and exchanged neighborhood news and gossip, and reminisced about previous fires we’ve fought.

All our area fire departments are now dispatched by a call to 911, but most are still volunteer forces, so neighbors are always helping neighbors. In addition, anyone who finds out about a fire in the area jumps in a truck and comes to help.

While we were working on this fire, one of the men got a call from a neighbor who had been called by another neighbor who was on his way to work in Rapid City, saw the fire, assumed (correctly) that it had been reported to fire officials by someone, but called to let them know the fire existed. The neighbor, knowing whose place the fire was likely to be on, called one of the men working the fire to see if they had it under control or needed more help.

Meanwhile, a pin started to slip out of Rick’s grapple, which would have crippled the tractor for further use. All three men dug in their tool boxes and finally got that fixed. Rick also called his son to bring pitchforks, to make it easier to break up the hay.

Finally the Fairburn truck left, and we beat down a few more pieces of hay and headed for home at 8am.

Rick collected a harrow and dragged it over the remaining burning hay, breaking it up so it would burn completely, and also worked the burned hay into the wet green grass. His son fixed the hay yard fence so the cattle couldn’t get into the good hay, and Rick used the grapple bucket to dump a few loads of water from the nearby gully.

By 10am the fire was out, but the wind has come up, so we’ll be watching during the day to be sure it doesn’t flare up in a new spot.

No doubt lightning struck the bales during the storm early in the evening, and the fire smoldered through the storm, including the half-inch of rain, until it got enough strength to burst into open flame. We still don’t know who called the fire department-– perhaps someone from one of the subdivisions high on the hills to the west, or perhaps a passerby on the highway. But we’re grateful.

I was just thinking yesterday that it’s time to write my usual summer checks to the volunteer fire departments in the area. Once again neighbors, both on the fire trucks and off, have saved each other.

# # #

For more information:
The Great Plains Garden Page on this website
Great Plains Native Plant Society website

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RoseMary Goodson: Part III -- Ten Years Later

A vase of bookmarks created by RoseMary Goodson.
. . .
This is a follow-up to my 2001 story about RoseMary Goodson from South Dakota Magazine, posted below.

RoseMary Goodson will be 94 years old on September 27, 2011 and she’s still painting, and “keeping busy,” as she puts it.

Her daughter Emily has been working to catalog all the paintings RoseMary made in her lifetime-- an impossible task, since some were sold and she’s not sure where they are. But the ones she’s found, she’s photographed, and RoseMary slices up photographs of the paintings, laminates them, punches a hole in the top, adds a ribbon and bead, and presto! She has a beautiful bookmark.

She sent me a few of these bookmarks several years ago, and retreat guests at Windbreak House love them. So RoseMary started sending me more; now I have several vases of them at Windbreak House, where writers use them as they are reading a dozen books at once during the retreat. When it’s time to go home, each writer usually selects a bookmark or two to take along, sometimes begging one for a friend.

And I’ve taken them to talks I give. In Chamberlain last fall, I laid out a selection of my books on the sale table for people to peruse as they entered to be seated before my talk. Folks would stroll in, glance at the books, and then start visiting with friends. Then I was inspired to scatter a handful of bookmarks the length of the table. Within a few minutes, most of the crowd had left their seats and were scattered along the table, looking at bookmarks-- and picking up books. So I told the audience a little bit about RoseMary as I finished my reading, and made them a deal: buy a book, and take a bookmark for free. I’m sure the bookmarks helped sell books.

# # #

For more information:
Go to RoseMary Goodson's website to learn more about RoseMary's life and see a gallery of her paintings.

Update 2012: RoseMary (who is going on 95) has a hard time with correspondence now and Emily's project of cataloging RoseMary's original art is falling by the wayside. They used to post a contact address on RoseMary's website but no longer do so because they aren't able to reply to website visitors. Sorry.

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RoseMary Goodson: Part II

Original oil painting by RoseMary Goodson of the view from Homestead House. This painting currently hangs in Homestead House.
. . .
RoseMary Goodson: Sketching her way through life
This essay originally appeared in South Dakota Magazine, September/October 2001, pp. 36-46.

For the beginning of the story, see Part 1 in the blog posted below on June 13.

Part II

During summers, the Goodsons often went to South Dakota to work for RoseMary’s brother John at his resort. Everyone pitched in; Lucy worked on trail rides. RoseMary cleaned the lodge and guest rooms, cooked, and did laundry.

About 1970, with her children growing up and leaving home, Goodson decided to create a life of her own. She arrived in South Dakota alone and almost broke, with only a small suitcase and some pen and ink drawing supplies. She still hadn’t learned to drive, and didn’t own a car.

Staying in a cottage in Piedmont, RoseMary put together a paperback book with information on tourist attractions in South Dakota. She talked Wall Drug owner Ted Hustead into printing the book, A Guide to South Dakota and Black Hills Attractions. Hustead kept copies to sell at Wall Drug and told her to sell the rest at 50 cents a copy and keep the money. She sold 7,000 copies.

“I wanted to go up the ladder,” RoseMary said, so just as she had in St. Louis, she looked for a need to fill. On her next visit to Wall Drug, she convinced Hustead to establish a tourist information center, which she would supervise. Hustead mentioned that he’d purchased six old farm houses for dormitories for the 60 college students he employed. RoseMary agreed to be housemother in return for lodging with the girls.

“I don’t remember what my salary was,” she wrote, “but I was very happy with this new position. You know me. I don’t put a lot of importance on salaries.” She made sure everyone was home by 10 p.m. on weekdays, and that no one left town without her as chaperone or permission from Ted’s son, Bill. At her dorm, students could “hold their parties, play cards, and just have a good time,” she said. “If I accompanied them, they could have pool parties and cookouts in the Badlands.”

One day when she was substituting for a regular employee in the book department, she noticed people buying prints of pen and ink drawings of Black Hills scenes; she thought, “I can draw better than that.” Traveling through the Black Hills with friends–– she still had no car–– she sketched historic buildings and visited museums to sketch wood cook stoves, wagons, and washing machines. When she’d finished several dozen sketches, she printed 300 copies of each on good paper. She hired a woman to drive her to distributors, and began selling hundreds of prints at tourist stops in South Dakota.

RoseMary often set up her easel on a Deadwood street. Dressed in paint-spattered clothes, her dog at her side, she taught herself to paint. Concentrating on her work, she was unaware of the picture she presented. She gleefully tells about reaching for her water one day and discovering that a passerby, thinking she was a homeless bag lady, had left a dollar and fifty cents, an apple, and a banana.

When I first saw that small blonde woman sitting on the street corner with her dog and her paints, my own life was unsettled, and I was so hesitant I walked by her two or three times, peering at a painting I didn’t think was very good. But she was enjoying herself, and she looked like a woman who wasn’t worried about the future. I stopped to talk. Where did she live? I asked. Right now she was staying with a daughter and her husband, in the “mother-in-law tent” pitched behind their house. I was awestruck at her charm, her obvious joy in living, her unconcern with the future. RoseMary was happier sitting on a street corner dabbing at her canvas than I’d ever been; she has been my idol ever since.

Peg, the oldest of RoseMary’s seven children, describes her mother as “someone who consistently makes adventures out of ordinary life.” One moonlit night during her childhood, Rose Mary dragged all the children out of bed to watch night crawlers emerging from the ground. When the basement flooded during hurricane season, RoseMary garbed the kids in rain boots and slickers and sent them downstairs to play in the puddles. “Mom was always going off the beaten path,” Peg adds, “both in daily life, and especially in her travels.”

One summer day RoseMary insisted on stopping at a creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation to cool off. The whole family shed clothing and plunged into the creek–– just as several carloads of Lakota families arrived with the same idea. “Our first instinct,” Peg said, “was to quickly leave the area, but Rosie just began visiting with some of the women, resulting in a wonderful picnic atmosphere with children and adults from two worlds splashing and laughing together.”

On another trip, RoseMary followed her curiosity to the fishing town of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, where the family camped on the beach for days. When ice ran low, Peg says, “Rosie would make us drive her to the ice-making plant for the shrimp boats and would boldly walk in to fill up our coolers. We were quite nervous about this practice, but she insisted that no one would bother a little old lady getting some ice.”

About 1973 RoseMary decided to spend the winter months alone in the Wall Drug dorm. The Husteads rented the house for $40 a month, but said she couldn’t afford the gas bill if she kept the house above freezing. She said she’d find a way. She bought a wood-burning stove, which Peg and her husband Bob Lamburth helped her install, and she collected scrap wood and coal. The Husteads wanted her to work in the store, but she wanted to learn more about oil painting. Whenever RoseMary was short of money, however, the Husteads found a job for her, even if it was repainting the giant jackalope and the stuffed horses in the back yard.

One day after a snowfall, she painted her own yellow house from across the street, and gave the painting to the Husteads, who hung it in Wall Drug. When local teachers saw it, they asked for art lessons, and RoseMary began teaching at $3 per session. Most of the teachers were tense because they’d never done art, so she gave each a tequila sunrise. “That did the trick,” she laughs. “They relaxed and had fun,” as she encouraged them to draw in their own styles.

One winter, friends from Deadwood invited her to join them on a trip to Arizona. Right away, she discovered the old mining camp of Congress, an unincorporated desert hamlet 50 miles south of Prescott. She stayed at the only motel in town, where her room with a kitchenette cost $3 a night. “It had a few roaches,” she recalls, but she’d met a lot of roaches in Missouri. “I fell in love with the desert and the warm climate.”

The next morning, she hiked to the historic ruins of the old gold mine and spent the day sketching. On the following day, she sold her drawings on the street in nearby Wickenburg, Ariz. At age 56, she’d found a new way to make a living.

Back in South Dakota, RoseMary continued to create and sell pen and ink drawings as cards and for framing. She learned to play the mandolin with her family band. She spent months sketching Mount Rushmore and thinking how to tell and show the story of Gutzon Borglum and his carving. She built a small light table and learned layout to produce The Rushmore Story.

Telling the Rushmore story engrossed her. “Even the smallest bumping pneumatic tool was difficult for me to lift,” she said. Sketching the bosun chair, she “thought of the man in the harness shop who made dozens of such chairs by hand with iron and heavy leather–– with perfection. I thought of the man who sat in that chair on a seat that was no more than two iron bars and a strip of leather–– hanging over the mountain side for hours in bitter cold winds or the intense summer heat and smiling when he received his pay of sixty-five cents an hour. The rubber gripper on the handle of the pneumatic drill that I sketched was worn down to the metal; the hand tools were worn and split handles wrapped with tape. Everything told of the stress it took in shaping a granite mountain into a beautiful work of art.”

A reviewer for The Traveler magazine later wrote, “In all my travels, I have never found a book on a national monument as delightful to read and own as RoseMary’s The Rushmore Story.”

RoseMary began spending winters in Arizona, returning each summer to South Dakota to paint, sketch and market her prints and greeting cards. She rode busses, caught rides with friends, or hired people to drive her around for years–– and then got an inheritance. “RoseMary is always helping others and never asks for anything in return,” said daughter-in-law Desi. “Within about two weeks she had given it all away, except for enough to buy herself a car she still has today.” A mechanically-minded friend found and fixed up a 1954 red Ram Dodge, a four-door sedan. The car was so neglected that birds had built nests in the seats. RoseMary cleaned up the car, added new seat covers, and began teaching herself to drive by laying out lines of rocks in the desert.

The next Sunday she drove the car to church, parking well away from other cars. After mass, the priest asked everyone to remain for a few minutes, picked up the vial of holy water, and led the congregation directly to RoseMary’s car; he blessed the car and prayed. “Apparently it worked,” says RoseMary, “because I never had an accident–– and when I drove the car back to South Dakota one wheel had only two lug bolts on it.”

No matter where she was, RoseMary continued teaching herself to paint. Since she’d never had lessons in drawing or painting, she consulted library books. For her first oil painting, she chose a deserted adobe mercantile building in Arizona, roofless and deteriorating. She painted most of the building before heading home. She heard a hard rain in the night, and when she returned next day, most of one wall had collapsed.

“I changed my painting, which made it more interesting,” she said. Then she packed up her paints and easel and returned to the motel–– but couldn’t find the painting in her car. She drove back to the adobe building, but it wasn’t there. Only when she gave up in frustration and headed back to her room did she notice the painting–– on top of the car where she’d put it while packing. She later gave the painting away, and has no photos of it.

By then, RoseMary’s family was mostly grown; she was living alone in a brown and white trailer in a Piedmont development called Thunder Hills, next to her daughter Peggy, working as a supervisor of eight college students at the Tilford rest area.

Peg recalls a 1973 Halloween party at an old farmhouse her brother rented. Family members appeared as pirates, nuns, witches, a Pillsbury dough boy, and various four-armed and four-legged creatures. RoseMary came as an elderly beauty pageant winner, in what Peg calls “Tammy Faye Baker make-up,” under a big straw hat piled high with fruit and flowers. RoseMary painted pink tights with bright blue varicose veins, then stuffed them with tissue paper to simulate knobby legs. Over that she wore a bathing suit draped with a banner reading, “Miss Thunder Hills.” RoseMary left the party earlier than her children, wondering how she’d explain herself if she had car trouble on the way home. Peg is sure she would have thought of something.

Each winter, RoseMary drove to Arizona. To research the history of her family she learned to read and write German. She visited Germany several times, and lured German relatives to the west to camp and hike with her. Always she painted and sketched, trading her art for stories, storing up images to take back to her easel for the winter.

In 1980, when RoseMary arrived in Congress, the motel room was no longer available; a sheepherder had moved in for the winter. Land developers had discovered Congress, so she put $1,000 down for one of the first lots, on a corner next to the open desert. She was considering living in a tent until the motel told her the sheepherder hadn’t arrived. She stayed in the motel until she found a small travel trailer for her lot.

The next winter her son and daughter-in-law, Tony and Desiree Goodson, came to help RoseMary start building. “She had no money,” Desi said, “so we cut, peeled and hauled all the logs from the Prescott National Forest about 50 miles away.” They hand-dug a basement for plumbing and lined it with rock they gathered in the desert. One day when they were collecting rocks, rancher Lewis Granthan told them they were on private property. RoseMary offered to make a painting of his ranch in exchange for the rocks. He agreed, adding, “Every time you pick up a rock, I get a little more grass for my cattle.”

RoseMary bought an old cement mixer, and they collected and sifted sand from washes for the concrete. As the rock walls rose, she studied the pile of dirt from the basement. She learned it was the perfect mixture of clay, sand, and pebbles for adobe bricks. “When I wasn’t painting,” she said, “I made adobe bricks. The Spanish have a slogan, ‘When you’re resting, make adobe bricks.’” She also found an adobe house about to be demolished and hauled truckloads of salvaged bricks from it. “Some of my family were eager to help after I told them that gold might have been stashed between the double-thick walls,” she laughs, “but we found only an old smoking pipe.” For several winters, RoseMary worked with friends and family on the house and an adjoining shed; when it was completed, about 1985, she settled in Congress.

As usual, she found new challenges, new ways to experience the world and make a living, like painting murals on businesses, decorating a tour bus, creating business signs, sketching people’s homes. She drew a map of the historic mining district around Congress, sold hand-drawn ads around the map’s edges, and distributed it free to tourists. She wrote and illustrated the first history of the region, The Story of Congress, Arizona’s Premier Gold Camp.

RoseMary now says she’s “somewhat retired,” but it’s hard to tell. She’s always made time for enjoying life wile she worked, hiking the Grand Canyon with daughter Lucy when she was 72 years old, traveling and camping with daughter Alice and her two children, and visiting art exhibits.

RoseMary never goes anywhere without her art supplies–– or her sense of humor. Always she has made a living from her art, and enjoyed herself as much as possible while creating it. And always, she has made a distinction between the work she did for a living and her fine art paintings.

“I believe that I have made more than 350 paintings in my lifetime,” she said. She’s also made thousands of pen and ink sketches, giving most of them away. Not to mention an untold number of hand-drawn greeting cards, place cards and Easter eggs. But her records of the massive volume of work are sketchy; RoseMary has always been more interested in making art than in cataloguing what she has done. In August 1998, her daughter Emily and son-in-law Dennis Buckhannon arranged an exhibit of 85 of RoseMary’s paintings, a few pen and ink sketches, and some of her books at St. Peters Cultural Arts Center in St. Peters, Mo.

These days, she spends part of each winter visiting her children. But she is always anxious to get back home and to her easel. It’s still true, as her friend Al Gunther wrote in 1972, that “if you visit when she’s painting, you’re sure to find a pot of dried out, blistered coffee on the stove, or a load of dirty dishes stacked in the oven. On those days she forgets to eat,” except for crackers, cheese, and beer before she goes to bed. Her children mention that after she moved to South Dakota and resumed her life as an artist, her spaghetti sauce always had a slight flavor of turpentine, that her dinner plates were usually speckled with cobalt blue around the edges.

“I am an artist,” RoseMary says firmly, “and even though I have had some hard times as an artist, I have always been completely satisfied and happy with the fact that I was born an artist.”

# # #

For more about RoseMary . . .
See my blog posted June 15th (above) for Part III of this story: an update after ten years.

For more information:
South Dakota Magazine website

Go to RoseMary Goodson's website to learn more about RoseMary's life and see a gallery of her paintings.

Update 2012: RoseMary (who is going on 95) has a hard time with correspondence now and Emily's project of cataloging RoseMary's original art is falling by the wayside. They used to post a contact address on RoseMary's website but no longer do so because they aren't able to reply to website visitors. Sorry.

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RoseMary Goodson: Part I

Linda and RoseMary Goodson in 2008 at Homestead House.
. . .
RoseMary Goodson: Sketching her way through life
This story originally appeared in South Dakota Magazine, September/October 2001, pp. 36-46.

Part I

“I sincerely believe that artists are born, and there is nothing they can do about it,” says artist RoseMary Goodson. “They are destined to spend the rest of their lives being different than most people.”

Destined or not, Goodson has been both uncommon and an artist all her life. She began a professional art career in high school, then gave it up for marriage and children. When she started over again in her mid-fifties, she became notable in an entirely different way. At 83, she’s still creating art.

RoseMary Goodson may not be a household name. But thousands of South Dakotans have savored her work–– sketches and paintings of the Black Hills, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore and other South Dakota attractions–– a professional career which began decades earlier with a high school cartoon.

RoseMary was born to Mary and Frederick Joseph Honerkamp in 1917 in a suburb of St. Louis, Mo. When she was four, her mother carried her to the kitchen one Christmas morning, set her on the floor near the wood cook stove, and put in her lap a black stocking filled with toys and candy. “I remember little about what was in the stocking, an orange in the toe, but I remember the black and white of the linoleum I was sitting on,” she says, a design of “diamonds and squares and lines that I could sketch today.”

RoseMary learned to draw at age eight from a carpenter named Ben whom her father had hired to repair the slate roof of their home. One summer noon, she sat beside him as he ate his lunch on the lawn. Ben picked up a slate and took a piece of white chalk from his pocket. He’d always wanted to paint pictures, he said. He sketched the profile of a horse’s head and gave the slate to her.

For months she copied his drawing: on the blackboard at school, on odd scraps of paper; she even made mud sculptures of the horse, re-creating it hundreds of times before she attempted to draw anything else.

By the time she entered Normandy High School, RoseMary was drawing cartoons for Christmas and birthday cards and for the school newspaper, earning money from her art. One Christmas she purchased a small hand stencil. She drew and hand colored dozens of Christmas cards to sell to friends.

Automobiles were just becoming common, along with jokes about women drivers. RoseMary, always alert to her times and able to find humor in any situation, wouldn’t learn to drive for another 40 years, but she created a cartoon about a woman driver named “Nellie.” The young woman solved car troubles while poking sly fun at male views of women. To give her car a sleek, modern look, Nellie made a grille out of slatted window blinds. She jacked up her car and fastened an ice cream maker to a lug bolt to mix ice-cream. Nellie’s auntie used the grille of a visitor’s car as a washboard. Nellie’s “humor, independence, and inventiveness,” RoseMary later wrote, “mirrored the approach I took in my own life.”

After graduation, RoseMary sold the comic strip to the Auto Club News, a newspaper for members of the American Automobile Association. In 1937, The St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat sent a reporter and a photographer to write a feature about her; she illustrated the story with cartoons. Each month, from 1938 to 1967, she was paid $25 for Nellie’s appearance. In May, 1966, Auto Club News commemorated her 30 years’ entertainment of its readers.

RoseMary’s practical Aunt Rose wanted to send her to secretarial school. Rose Mary “dreaded the thought and convinced her that [she] wanted to be an artist.” Looking for a way to make money, she took a streetcar to the Famous and Barr department store and told the skeptical stationery department manager, Moe Swartz, she’d like to create personalized, hand-tinted greeting cards for people while they waited. By the time she’d arranged her paint, ink, and pens–– she didn’t have an easel–– customers were standing in line. RoseMary perched on a stool and drew on a counter, charging 25 cents a card with a five-cent commission to the store. Soon she had so many customers she had to take orders and finish the cards at home.

Before long a salesman asked her to work for the Stanley Greeting Card Company in Dayton, Ohio. RoseMary left home at 20, on her own in the middle of the Depression with a salary of $35 a week. In Dayton, she roomed with a school teacher for $8 a week, paying 25 cents for breakfast, and 50 cents for other meals. She lacked experience, but creative ideas filled her head. She worked with other artists, devising innovative animated cards with foldout parts–– ducks that wagged their tail feathers and people whose arms opened wide and declared, “I love you this much.”

Soon RoseMary was offered a job as editor. She accepted with some reservations–– the editor she replaced had resigned by jumping out an eighth floor window in New York. “I was probably chosen because I was the only one in the department who could type,” she said modestly.

About 1941, after World War II began, RoseMary began visiting the United Service Organization (USO) club in Dayton, where she was known as that “darn good-lookin’ blonde with the cheerful smile and sparkling blue eyes.” But she didn’t go to dance; she spent evenings drawing and coloring greeting cards for the men. One night, a young corporal asked her to make a card for his sister, Rose, in Brooklyn. As they talked, she learned that Tom was of Italian descent, and had changed his name from Bonfiglio to its English translation: Goodson. Before long, Tom’s letters were arriving daily, and within a few months he returned to Dayton as a major.

“He didn’t verbally ask me to marry him,” recalls RoseMary. “He just tossed the box with the engagement ring in it into my lap.” In 1943 she boarded a train to Brooklyn and married Tom. During the next 13 years, the couple had six daughters and a son: Margaret, nicknamed Peggy; Mary, Grace, Alice, Emily, Tony and Lucy. RoseMary continued to draw “between babies.” Tom, an animation artist who had worked for Walt Disney before his army stint, supported the family.

After 17 years in New York City, the Goodsons decided in 1960 they wanted to raise their children in a better environment. “Tom was getting restless,” RoseMary says, “mumbling about ‘getting out of this rat race.’” Her brother, John Honerkamp, ran The Covered Wagon resort in Piedmont, so the couple moved to South Dakota. But Tom couldn’t find work in the state, so they moved on to St. Louis, where RoseMary’s sister and mother still lived.

One Christmas day, RoseMary took her children to the new “Gateway to the West” arch on the banks of the Mississippi river. Watching a school bus unloading children on a field trip, she wondered if they really understood the arch, and why it had been built. She researched and wrote a children’s book about the structure, illustrating each page with pen and ink or watercolor sketches. As market research, she asked her daughter Lucy’s third-grade teacher to read the draft aloud and show it to her class. Impressed by the kids’ reaction, the teacher urged RoseMary to publish the book.

Next day RoseMary took the bus downtown to the main office of the Jefferson National Memorial Committee, which managed the Gateway monument. She marched past several people waiting for appointments with director Gus Budde, and placed her book mockup on his desk. As soon as RoseMary had completed the illustrations and cover design, he published the book, which sold at the arch for $1.50 a copy. RoseMary got a 20 percent royalty on all sales of The Gateway Arch; by 1972, 50,000 copies had been sold.

During summers, the Goodsons often went to South Dakota to work for RoseMary’s brother John at his resort. Everyone pitched in; Lucy worked on trail rides. RoseMary cleaned the lodge and guest rooms, cooked, and did laundry.

To be continued . . .
See my blog posted June 14th (above) for Part II of this story.

# # #

For more information:
South Dakota Magazine website

Go to RoseMary Goodson's website to learn more about RoseMary's life and see a gallery of her paintings.

Update 2012: RoseMary (who is going on 95) has a hard time with correspondence now and Emily's project of cataloging RoseMary's original art is falling by the wayside. They used to post a contact address on RoseMary's website but no longer do so because they aren't able to reply to website visitors. Sorry.

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