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

About the Author Susan Wittig Albert

See my review of this book below.
. . .
Recently I reviewed the book A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert. Though I did not receive any compensation beyond a free copy of the book, I do have a passing relationship with the author.

I first heard of Susan Wittig Albert when I read a mystery or two in her China Bayles herbal series, books so good I sometimes reread them. Each mystery has a signature herb connected to a major theme. They are good mysteries with settings that draw the reader into the countryside, written with considerable humor and filled with intriguing, unusual characters. Each one is packed with fascinating information about growing and using herbs-- even though the author is careful to say that a reader should not rely solely on the books for herbal information.

I have just discovered that the books' website --www.abouthyme.com-- provides tons more information on teas, on ways to celebrate with teas and herbs, including recipes-- a wealth of material.

Later I discovered the Robin Paige Victorian/Edwardian mysteries Susan co-wrote with her husband Bill Albert, and devoured every one. They are filled with information about the era, but they don't overwhelm the reader with historical details to the detriment of the mystery. Sadly for readers, the books took so much research that the co-writers suspended the series. Still, the books already written form a mother lode of good reading; www.mysterypartners.com

I particularly enjoyed her memoir about marriage and place, Together, Alone; she has also edited several collections of writing.

At some point, I wrote Susan a fan letter about her mysteries; she responded with the news that she had read and found inspiration in my books.

Since then we've exchanged comments every now and again; she's reviewed my books and books I've edited on the wonderful Story Circle Network website she founded (www.storycircle.org). She is a prolific and excellent writer, generous with other writers. We've had brief conversations via email about writing which demonstrate to me that we share many opinions about the jobs we have created for ourselves.

I'm looking forward to meeting her at last when I am a speaker at the annual Story Circle Network conference in Austin, TX, next April.

# # #

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Book Review: A Wilder Roseby Susan Wittig Albert

. . .

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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Linda’s Pumpkin Harvest Benefits Hermosa Arts and History Association

Trying to lift the pumpkins.

See more photos in the left-hand column.
. . .
We have the pumpkins in the back of the Diamond T and a big sign that says:
FREE WILL DONATION. PROCEEDS GO TO HAHA.

Along come 3 little redheaded boys.

"Do you want a pumpkin?" says Linda. "For Halloween?"

"We don’t do Halloween," says one.

"Do you do pumpkin pie?"

Shy nods.

"Well then, you’d better buy a pumpkin."

"What does free will donation mean?"

"It means you pay whatever you want to."

"Really??? Like maybe a penny?"

"Yep, a penny would do."

They each hand me a penny and walk up and try to lift a couple of big ones. Too heavy. So they run off and come back with a hand truck, load up 3 of the biggest, and the last we see of them, they are wobbling down the street trying to hold all the pumpkins on.

A neighbor says the family has 10 kids. Hope mom is happy to see those pumpkins!

* * *

HAHA made $91.03 on the pumpkins.

# # #


For more information:

Read about Linda’s membership in HAHA on this website: Linda's Memberships, Awards and Honors.

Read more about the Hermosa Arts and History Association at their website: www.HermosaHistory.org.


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October Blizzard

Linda reading with her headlamp
With the electricity off, Linda made do with candles and a battery-powered headlamp. Note the ice-covered windows from the blizzard. Thanks for the hand-warmers, Maura!
. . .
All night Thursday, October 3, rain fell, with thunder and lightning crashing around overhead. The lights flickered. Mari Sandoz wrote about the blizzard of 1949 in her book, Winter Thunder, so, forewarned, we made preparations: hauled jugs of drinking water from the retreat house, filled jugs here for flushing. Got out our long underwear, leg warmers, gloves, hats, boots, more comforters for the beds-- even dog coats.

Friday the wind was ripping at 75 miles an hour and more freezing rain fell; our total for the storm was about 3 inches. Every step outside was hazardous, with every surface slick from freezing rain. Our windows completely iced over so the light inside was dim and blue. Our vehicles, parked outside, were encased in ice. The deck, our walkways, everything was covered.

We knew that cattle out in the storm would be walking southeast, trying to escape the cold, walking to keep warm. But we had no idea what a horror for ranchers the weather was creating.

Our power went off Friday morning for a few minutes at a time and then went off finally at 2 p.m., meaning that our furnace would not work, nor our lights. More seriously our pump in the well would not work and therefore we had no water. Our refrigerator and freezer were off. I put a thermometer in both so we could keep track of temperatures. We could light our propane cookstove with matches and ate dinner by candlelight.

Jerry had come back up to the house at 9:30, unable to work in his shop because of the intermittent electricity. All day we worked together figuring out what actions to take.

When I lived in Cheyenne, I’d installed a small auxiliary propane heater in Windbreak House to keep the pipes from freezing while it was unoccupied, so we turned that up and heat rose naturally through the stairwell to help warm the upstairs. This meant, though, that the basement, with the freezer, would be warmer than we’d have preferred.

In late afternoon we got out our battery-powered headlamps and began reading with those, shuffling through the dark house in our slippers, scaring the dickens out of the dogs. I wore gloves and hand-warmers a friend had made. We seemed to have only two or three inches of snow, but the wind was still blowing ferociously so it was hard to tell how much. We hoped the state was advising no travel and closing roads so emergency personnel weren't out trying to rescue idiots.

Neither of us slept well because of the howling wind, but Jerry suffered most because his oxygen machine was also off. The screens, ice-covered, rattled all night as if someone was galloping around on the roof.

The dogs wanted out at 4 a.m. Saturday, but the door was frozen nearly shut, temperature 31 degrees. I had to kick and shovel to get it open. The house temperature was 58 degrees. No sign of letup in the storm and we couldn't tell if it was still snowing or just blowing. I sat up and wrote in my journal using my headlamp, and both the dogs dived under my covers.

Usually the bedroom and dining room have little golden lights from all the electronic gadgets-- computers, clocks, cell phone chargers-- but the rooms were muffled in black. I used the solar flashlight I keep by the bed to get around. Usually, even at 4 a.m., I hear truck traffic on the highway; this morning it was quiet except for the wind: clacking the window screens, thrumming around the metal roof, making the deck vibrate.

From the top pantry shelf, I took the old coffee pot I’ve kept for years and we made good boiled coffee to start our day. Jerry lit two candles and sat in the rocking chair by the bed, reading by headlamp.

Jerry tried to start his gasoline generator; no luck. It had sat idle for 5 years.

We spent Saturday melting snow to flush the toilets. We packed food into coolers full of snow to preserve it. We tried to eat leftovers. We put a few items in a big snowbank on the deck for quick access: a few leftovers, gin and beer, and the dogs' food. We played Rummykub, Boggle, Quiddler. We read books and threw balls for the dogs inside. We peered outside, watching the trees at the retreat house bend, wondering how long the storm would last. I got a ham bone and scraps out of the freezer and made cassoulet, which simmered all day.

We began to hear news by cell phone; there were near record accumulations of snowfall in the Black Hills; the blizzard warning would end that morning; roads were closed. Jerry walked to the highway mailbox but no paper was delivered. We learned later that none was printed because the electricity was off in parts of Rapid City; in fact, the Rapid City Journal did not print for three days.

When we got up, I wore: long underwear, compression socks, wool socks, tall boots, a cotton turtleneck, a wool sweater, hand-warmers, gloves and a hat inside.

About 8 a.m., Jerry started shoveling, walked the dogs a little. We had six foot drifts in our yard and around Homestead House. We started using paper plates to save doing dishes. Jerry brought up a bigger pot so we could melt more snow at a time. I got out big metal bowls I usually use for collecting vegetables from the garden.

The temperature outside rose to 45 degrees and we raised some shades to get some heat from the sun. We saw 13 grouse flying around our windbreak trees and a couple of dozen antelope on top of the high ridge south of our house.

Jerry used his tractor to dig a trail from the house to the lower ranch buildings, then broke trail to the highway. Again, no paper.

On Sunday the temperature around 4 a.m. was 38 degrees, so it hadn't frozen, which helped keep the house warm. The sun came out. As Jerry drove to the highway to help break the trail, he discovered that an electric line was broken along our private road. We continued to try to notify the electric cooperative since the line was now a hazard to any people or cattle in the area.

On Monday, October 7, we finally got to speak to a cooperative worker and a crew spliced the line temporarily; it's hanging below the barbed wire fence, still dangerous and vulnerable to wind. We walked the dogs, looked around: a total of maybe a foot of snow but huge drifts everywhere, trees and bushes entirely covered. The wind’s angle was from the northwest so the drifts were in slightly different spots than we’re used to. Snow began to melt; by Thursday, the dam below our house was more full than it’s been for three years.

We took showers and drove to Hermosa for the mail and to eat hamburgers at the local gas station. A lot of other people were doing the same and we began to hear stories about how severe the storm had been in this area: thousands of cattle missing, possibly dead; fences broken by snowdrifts, power out all over the Black Hills. Deadwood and places to the north got as much as four feet of snow.

We were amazed to learn how MUCH snow is required to be melted to make two gallons needed to flush the toilet. We had a snowcave on the north side of the house where we scooped bucket and bowl after bowl to bring inside to thaw. I think all teenagers should have to melt snow to flush for at least a day in their lives.

I realized that my family has been paying utility bills to this company for 60 years or so, but they bring power back to the subdivisions first. Naturally the cooperative must serve the greatest number first, but ironically it means that people who have been here the shortest time have the least understanding of how difficult life can be without electricity.

Friends who live in subdivisions couldn't understand why we talked of melting snow-- but they have communal water supplies and probably generators, so they never ran out of water.

Another discovery: a hardpacked snowball makes excellent ice for a gin and tonic.

We had a disoriented squirrel in our yard for a day but he seems to have disappeared; if he’s not used to the local coyotes he may have been a meal, though we had some nice cottonwoods with holes in them where he could hide. But where did he come from? We've never seen one here. And how did he get here? On the wind? A mystery.

Hawks have been very aggressive the past three days: one swooped within a foot of my study window-- outside, Toby lay under that window in the sun. Another was chasing a grouse and the grouse’s wings knocked my hat off my head.

As the week went on, we began to learn that thousands of cattle have been killed in northern South Dakota. One report says 10,000 cattle lie dead between Sturgis and Union Center, roughly 232 per mile or a dead cow every 20 feet. Many ranchers have lost 50%, 90% or all of their cattle. They are finding entire ravines full of dead cattle. State law requires they be burned or buried but the ground is so wet that normal ranch equipment is quickly bogged down. The governor has refused to call out the National Guard to help. Disposal sites have been established but we have no idea how some ranchers will reach them.

This is the kind of thing for which the word “disaster” exists-- but it has become overused. How can we describe what has happened?

One rancher went hunting for his cattle on horseback and had turn back after three hours because the horses were too worn out from slogging through the snow and mud. Another, using horses and 4-wheelers, found one of the 4-wheelers stuck. He hitched his horse to it and pulled it out.

Friday, October 11, and the storms go on: 60 mph winds today, a couple of inches of rain. Creeks are flooding in the Black Hills already, and much of the snow has not melted. Snowmelt is carrying the corpses of dead cattle into tributaries that will lead to the rivers.

* * *

Last Wednesday we went to town to run errands. One of them was to visit a company that sells generators that come on automatically with a power outage. As we visit with friends and relatives, we've discovered that many of them already have such a critter. Jerry and I had discussed it, of course, especially after last April’s blizzards when we were isolated for 9 days-- though we were never without electric power then. Now may be the time.

# # #

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Jessie Sundstrom: May 18, 1922 -- September 5, 2013

Jessie Sundstrom
1922-2013
. . .
Jessie Y. Sundstrom, good friend, local historian, editor, author, book publisher, reporter, and former publisher of the Custer County Chronicle newspaper, died last week at her home in Custer.

Among many heartfelt and notable statements made by those who spoke at Jessie’s memorial services were these.

Linea Sundstrom, Jessie’s daughter, said she realized that she was raised as an anthropologist from her earliest days, because Jessie was interested in everything and expected her children to be as well. And Jessie’s teaching about difficult problems: "Just figure it out." So what if you've never done it before; you can figure out how to do it.

Linea's daughter, Jessie the third, said "If you can think of anything more intimidating than being named Jessie Sundstrom, I’d like to talk to you after the services."

Art Amiotte, noted South Dakota Lakota artist called Jessie the "matriarch and guardian" of the Black Hills, and an "advocate of the marginal." He bestowed her Lakota name, which means She Who is Acutely and Astutely Aware of the Nuances of the Environment and Human Condition. And then he closed the services by singing her toward the Road Made of Stars-- and many tears began to fall.


Here is the eulogy I gave:


I’m not sure how long I knew Jessie, but I think we met at the home of her mother, Camille Yuill in Deadwood sometime in the 1970s, making it about forty years.

We knew we might be related, since some of my cousins are Yuills, but I don’t believe we ever got around to drawing up a family tree that showed the specifics.

Our mutual love of writing probably brought us together. Jessie delighted in language and could be downright demanding about how it was employed. She had no tolerance at all for sloppy writing or sloppy thinking.

I had a couple of other mentors who were pretty picky about writing, but Jessie was the most persnickety-- and the most encouraging.

When I needed guidance on state or county history, I usually consulted Jessie. If she didn't know the fact I needed, she knew who did and she called to introduce me.

We both had backgrounds in journalism and therefore we both had strong opinions about how journalistic writing should be done.

Our conversations were never short, or slow, and they rarely stuck to one subject. No matter where we started, we usually veered off into history, current news, politics.

She was a meticulous researcher and collector of historical fact; her office was always overflowing with books, papers, projects. No matter what we were discussing, she usually leapt up and pulled down a file, a photograph, a book or a stack of books relevant to the topic.

We didn't agree on everything, but we agreed on some important things. She had no time for narrow-mindedness and used her abilities as a writer to work against it-- anywhere she saw it.

Jessie didn't care much for compromise, but that usually worked out fine for her because she was usually right.

She probably wasn't always right-- but I might not say that if she were sitting in the front row giving me That Look.

When I visited her for the last time, she explained to me clearly that the cancer was back, that she was not going back to the hospital and that she was going to die at home as quickly and efficiently as possible so as not to disrupt her children's lives any more than necessary. But first she was going to finish proofreading her book about her mother, Camille. And she did just what she said she was going to do.

She told the 4th graders who interviewed her at Custer grade school that she wanted to be remembered as a free spirit and a "real true friend."

And that’s how I will remember her.


# # #


Here is the obituary for Jessie Sundstrom


Jessie Y. Sundstrom, former publisher of the Custer County Chronicle, died September 5, 2013 at her home in Custer. She was 91.

She was born in Rapid City and spent her early years there and in Custer. She grew up in Deadwood, graduating from high school there in 1940. She began her long association with the newspaper industry at age nine by folding copies of the Deadwood Pioneer-Times, where her mother, Camille Yuill, was city editor. By the time she was in high school, she was writing articles and local news items for the Black Hills Weekly.

She completed a secretarial course at Black Hills Business College in Rapid City in 1943, and later took classes at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Black Hills State College. From 1940-1947 she held secretarial positions for a judge, a state’s attorney, the U.S. Bureau of Mines, the contractor for the "igloos" at the Black Hills Ordnance Depot, and the Veterans Administration Hospital at Fort Meade.

In 1947, Jessie married Carl H. Sundstrom, publisher of the Custer County Chronicle. Five children were born to their marriage. Jessie worked at the Chronicle as accountant, reporter, photographer, and editor. In 1970, she was also employed as a crew chief for the US Census Bureau. With the death of her husband in December 1972, she took over as editor and publisher and continued to publish the paper until 1981. During that interval, she served as secretary and president of the Black Hills Press Association. Her reporting and editorials on racial unrest in Custer in February 1973 received praise for their thoroughness and objectivity.

Sundstrom served as president of the Custer County Extension Council; secretary of the Black Hills Playhouse board of directors for 25 years; secretary of the American Red Cross fund drive in Custer County for disabled children; secretary of the Badger Clark Memorial Society for 29 years; secretary and president of the Custer Parent-Teacher Association. She was active in Girl Scouting from 1948-1974, serving as troop leader, leader trainer, and president of the Black Hills Girl Scout Council. During the 1960s and 1970s, she served as media consultant for the national Girl Scout Roundup in Idaho, as delegate to the national Girl Scout Triennium in New Orleans, and as national committee member. She served on the board of directors of Crazy Horse Memorial for 35 years. Upon selling the Chronicle Sundstrom worked for several years as assistant administrator to Ruth Ziolkowski. Her accomplishments at Crazy Horse included helping to design and administer the Indian Museum of North America and the Indian Cultural Center.

Sundstrom was a member of the Custer County Historical Society from 1948 until her death. She managed the Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum from 1998 to 2004 and was instrumental in preserving the Historic Landmark courthouse building. She was secretary to the museum board of trustees and the Custer County Historical Society board of directors until January 2006. As the go-to person for Custer County history, she often gave historic programs to the community and to school classes.

In 2003 she was honored at the Elders Program of the district. The fourth-grade class interviewed her and performed an original song about her life. The class wrote, "Jessie Sundstrom describes herself as a free spirit who wants to be remembered as a 'real true friend.'" She was Custer State Park historian for several years and a member of the South Dakota Historical Society board of directors for 12 years, also serving on the advisory boards for the State Archives and State Archaeologist's office.

She gave numerous presentations on history for the Jedediah Smith Corral of Westerners, the Black Hills Corral of Westerners, the Custer County Historical Society, and other organizations. In 1976, Sundstrom led a Bicentennial history project, culminating in publication, under her editorship, of Custer County History to 1974. She wrote several other books on area history including Pioneers and Custer State Park; A History of Custer City (1876-1925); Badger Clark, Cowboy Poet with Universal Appeal; and Carl Sanson, Black Hills Rancher. From 1995 to 2001 she published a monthly magazine, Hills and Plains History. She also edited and published books for other authors, including Tim Giago, Mel Gibbs, and Melvin H. Jackson. She had recently completed a biography of her mother, titled Camille.

Sundstrom received Girl Scouting’s highest award, the Thanks Badge, in 1974. The West River History Conference presented her its top award for preservation and history in 1994. The Badger Clark Memorial Society honored her in 1998 for service in connection with a South Dakota Public Television production of a play about Clark. She was awarded the Governor's Individual Award for History in 1999; the Dreamer's Award from Crazy Horse Memorial in 2001; Custer County Chamber of Commerce community service award in 2002, and the Community Circle for Education Award from the Custer School District in 2003. She was named Gold Discovery Days parade marshal in 2007.

She is survived by her daughters Julien (Bruce) Wiley and Linea Sundstrom (Glen Fredlund) and sons Carl (Phyl) and Roy Sundstrom, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Carl H. Sundstrom, daughter Christine, and sister, Barbara Herigstad.

A memorial service was held Tuesday, September 10th at the 1881 Courthouse Museum in Custer, with reception following. Inurnment was at Black Hills National Cemetery in Sturgis that afternoon.

A memorial has been established in Jessie's name to benefit the 1881 Courthouse Museum.

# # #


For more information:

Arrangements have been placed in the care of McColley's Chapel of the Hills in Custer. Written condolences may be made at www.mccolleyschapels.com.

You can read more about Jessie's life in her own words at EWCSsouthdakota.weebly.com (Elders' Wisdom, Children's Song: South Dakota) and even hear a song composed and sung by the children from one of her stories. Click on the link to Custer and then select the cd cover from March, 2006 which includes the program about Jessie.


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Circling Back Home: a new book by Darcy Lipp-Acord

. . .
Here's information on Darcy Lipp-Acord's first book, which she worked on during a couple of retreats at Windbreak House. Disclaimer-- I wrote the foreword for this book . . . and was pleased and proud to do so.

Look for her at the South Dakota Book Festival in Deadwood, SD which will take place September 20-22.

Congratulations, Darcy!

* * *

Circling Back Home: a Plainswoman's Journey
By Darcy Lipp-Acord
Foreword By Linda M. Hasselstrom

Circling Back Home is the story of one woman, at a time when values of home, family, and care of the land seem increasingly absent, looking to her past to create a life of significance for her family. Her search takes her back to the prairie of her grandmothers, who survived personal hardships and lived off what the land provided. Lipp-Acord mourns the loss of one child and celebrates the birth of others, all while balancing her own desire to put down roots with her husband’s life as an itinerant ranch hand. Written over ten years, these essays compose a picture of endurance and grace as the author addresses her history and finds her way home.


The granddaughter of immigrants, Darcy Lipp-Acord grew up in Timber Lake, South Dakota, on a farm where three generations of her family have lived. She now resides on a ranch near the Montana-Wyoming border with her husband, Shawn, and their six children. Her memoir, Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey, comes out in September 2013. Darcy graduated from Carroll College in Helena, Montana, and taught high school in Montana and Wyoming. She works as a youth services librarian for the Campbell County Public Library system in Gillette, Wyoming, and continues to write. Her essays have appeared in several anthologies, including Woven on the Wind, Crazy Woman Creek, and My Heart’s First Steps. She won Wyoming Arts Council’s Neltje Blanchan Doubleday Award for women writers.


An Interview with Darcy Lipp-Acord

Q. When did you begin writing?

A. I began writing as a teenager, working for our local newspaper, the Timber Lake Topic, as a feature writer. I measured the column inches of anything I wrote, kept track in my own ledger, and received my compensation twice a month. I eventually “graduated” from being a freelance feature writer to being the paper’s student employee. I still wrote stories, but I also took photos and learned to set type. It’s both ironic and rewarding to me that, recently, that same newspaper ran a feature article about me, my writing, and my work since leaving Timber Lake.


Q. When and where did Circling Back Home begin?

A. I spent an intensive four-day weekend with Linda Hasselstrom and other writers in Hermosa, South Dakota, during the summer of 1998, and some of the essays in Circling Back Home began incubating during that time. Linda encouraged me to work with the essays I’d written to find my writer’s voice. It was during that struggle that I realized that the storyteller’s voice in my head sounded a lot like the people around whom I’d grown up. As I listened, wrote, and honed that voice, the stories of those people began flowing from my black ink pen. I went back to Linda’s during the summer of 2011, as I was preparing the complete manuscript for publication, and hers is the voice of the book’s introduction-- another circle.


Q. How did you bring those essays together into a book?

A. Another writer friend, Page Lambert, introduced me to the idea of a story spiral-- the way good fiction, and nonfiction, spirals around and touches certain themes over and over. As I read the seemingly disjointed essays I’d been composing for writers’ groups and contests, I realized that my spirals kept touching on home, on family, on my agricultural roots. As I looked at those spirals, gradually a book took shape within their coils. Although I had started writing for myself, to understand my own life experiences, eventually I was writing out of great respect for my ancestors, for the prairies, and for the heritage that came from growing up in South Dakota.


Q. Being a first-time author, what have you learned from writing Circling Back Home?

A. In the process of writing, submitting, being rejected, and rewriting this work, I have learned much about my ancestors, my chosen lifestyle, and myself. I wrote the actual essays in Circling Back Home over a period of a few years, working on the book when I could-- during my kids' naptimes, when I had breaks from my teaching job, on occasional writing retreats. Although my busy life seemed to impede my writing career, in truth the rich experiences of motherhood, teaching, and ranching gave me something to write about when I returned to my desk.


Q. Do you continue to find time to write?

A. I am still writing, though I am not involved in any book-length projects at the moment! I write two blogs: “The Back Forty” continues to explore the connections between humanity and the natural world; it can be found at the-back-forty.blogspot.com. My other blog, “Teen Lit Talk,” is written as part of my current career as a youth-services librarian; it’s at TeenLitMom.blogspot.com. Whatever writing I’m doing these days, I've finally found that my writer’s voice is less an expression of my unique individuality and more a blend of the enduring influences of my family, my heritage, and my South Dakota culture. This foundation has taught me a deep reverence for the land and for traditional values.


Interview questions are from the SD State Historical Society Press blog post:
“Finding a Voice: The Newest SDSHS Press Author, Darcy Lipp-Acord—Circling Back Home—Shares Her Writing Experience.”
Visit the SDSHS Press blog at sdshspress.wordpress.com.



For more information:

South Dakota State Historical Society Press
900 Governors Drive, Pierre, SD 57501
(605) 773-6009
email: info@sdshspress.com
website: www.sdshspress.com

Circling Back Home: a Plainswoman's Journey by Darcy Lipp-Acord
$16.95 --- plus $5.00 shipping & handling --- plus sales tax
20% Discount for Libraries & Schools --- 40% Discount for Retailers
For orders of 3+ or for international shipping, please contact the SDSHS Press at orders@sdshspress.com


Information about Darcy's appearance at the South Dakota Book Festival in September may be found at the Book Festival website www.sdBookFestival.com.

# # #

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Hollyhocks

Hollyhock Dolls made by Linda, August 2013.
. . .
I've always thought of hollyhocks as a settlers' or pioneers' flower-- without any particular evidence except having seen hollyhocks, along with hardy roses, growing beside shallow holes that may indicate the cellar of an early-day home. I surmise they were popular because they grow easily but I've also read that the stems can be used as firewood.

To my utter delight, I've just learned that the hollyhock was one of the first plants brought to the new world. I intuited those pioneer women planting!

In deference to the women who planted hollyhocks on this prairie, I've tucked seeds into likely spots around the retreat house, Homestead House, and into the stony ground on all four sides of my Windbreak House since moving back to the ranch. Most years, they have done well on the north, east and south, but very few grew on the western side of Windbreak House, blasted by the afternoon sun. But this year the western seeds received extraordinary rain, so the older hollyhocks some on the west side have nearly reached the deck railing.

When I lived in Cheyenne, I spent fifteen years making our corner parkway a display spot for native species, growing as many varieties as I could of flowering plants adapted to the arid climate. I wanted to demonstrate to other residents that their yards could be beautiful without pouring expensive city water into the ground.

So I grew purple coneflower, gaillardia, bee balm, several cacti, columbine, evening primrose and Shasta daisies. I planted Jerusalem cross, chamomile, oxalis, currant, lamb’s ear, lupine, flax, rose mallow, delphinium, snapdragons, penstemon, sweet peas, Siberian iris, wild flags, hyacinths and crocus. I grew butter and eggs, salpiglossis, myrtle, Centaurea, buffalo gourd, plains coreopsis, common sunrose, low poppy mallow, rose mallow, larkspur, pyrethrum, statice and campanula. And more.

Finally, nostalgically, I transplanted my grandmother's pink peony to a spot beside the front gate. Behind the windbreak fence, a tall plank structure, I planted hollyhock seed gathered from my grandmother's and aunt Josephine's plants. Many of the other seeds I deposited in the ground there did not grow, but in the back alley, the hollyhocks reached rose to eight or nine feet, peering over fence, their sturdy stems providing shelter for the birds and stalking cover for the neighborhood cats.

When I've passed the house in recent years, I note the parkway is overgrown and untended. But the hollyhocks grow sturdily in the alley.

* * *

Hollyhocks, native to central Europe and China, are part of in the hard-working Mallow (Malvaceae) family, which numbers more than two hundred flowering plants including such unlikely cousins as cotton, cacao, marsh mallow (yes, it is the original source for the confection), okra, painted ladies, hibiscus and rose of Sharon. What these diverse specimens have in common is that their flowers all have a central column of joined stamens. The hollyhock genus (Alcea) includes about sixty specimens.

Looking up any aspect of this history could send one wandering among in nomenclature highways and paths of origins. You might disappear for weeks. And I haven't even mentioned the hollyhock weevil and the medicinal uses.

Remains of the plant have been found in an archaeological dig in the grave of a Neanderthal man buried more than 50,000 years ago.

The common name "hollyhock" is very old and also has no clear history. One source says the word comes from "alkaia," the Greek word for mallow. Others say it originated with "holy" and "hoc," an Anglo-Saxon word for mallow.

Some say the "holy" was added because it was brought to Britain by the Crusaders in a salve for sore horses' hocks; in that regard, it was also known as Hockleaf. The Spaniards called it Joseph's Staff, and, to continue these religious references, it’s also known as Saint Cuthbert's Cowl, probably as a reference to the hooded shape of the flowers.

St. Cuthbert was an Anglo-Saxon monk and hermit who sounds like a fine fellow but I found no suggestion that he knew about or used hollyhocks.

* * *

Hollyhocks are easily grown from seeds and do well in poor soil and dry conditions. This time of year, and especially this year, you might stroll casually past your neighbor's tall hollyhock staffs and slip a seed pod or two into your pocket. I generally plant new seed in fall, water it generously for a week or two and then forget it until next spring when the plants pop up and surprise me.

Put the seed where you want the plants; they’re hard to transplant because of a long, tough taproot. I usually scrape a shallow trench, no more than an inch deep, sprinkle the seeds liberally, cover, stomp the earth down and then water. The plants will be tall, so I place them close to buildings for background. With our wind, they often lean and lean and lean until they nearly reach the ground, so I like to put them near fences for support. The big, showy blooms, some frilly and double, range in color from white through red and yellow, peach and almost black. The blooms open in succession starting at the bottom of the plant and moving upward, so you can collect seed at the bottom while blooms at the top are still opening: a good way to be stung or at least buzzed by the local bees.

The plants are short-lived. Some authorities say the plant is biennial; others consider it perennial, perhaps because it spreads its seeds so widely that new plants return year after year in the same area. Experts say they like hot, dry weather, which makes them ideal for this climate.

* * *

Medicinal uses may have made the plant popular with pioneers. One modern source suggests drinking an infusion made of flowers and leaves to aid in urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal and respiratory ailments. The same source recommends the leaves as a poultice for chapped or dry skin.

The thick mucilage, the gluey protein produced by nearly all plants, is said to be soothing to the throat and mucous membranes, thus good for coughs, colds. Cacti and flax seed are better-known sources of mucilage. And I recall the word being used for a particularly nasty glue when I was a child; much more stuck to my fingers than to anything I was trying to affix.

* * *

Testifying to its Asian origins, the hollyhock is part of the official seal of the Shogun of Japan and the name of a Japanese soccer team; Kyoto hosts a hollyhock festival yearly.

* * *

One day, as I drove down the street in Cheyenne toward the driveway, I saw an elderly woman and two little girls standing among the tall hollyhocks in the alley, where they would be hidden from the house by the privacy fence. Hmm, I thought.

When I strolled around the corner, there was the owner of the house next door with two little blonde girls. "Oh," she said, flushing red. "I hope you don’t mind. I’m showing my granddaughters how to make hollyhock dolls!"

"I absolutely do not mind," I said, "and thank you for reminding me."

* * *

Have you ever made a hollyhock doll?

Here’s a source of endless entertainment that requires almost nothing in supplies, does not employ technology and is guaranteed to keep participants away from the computer or TV screen.

Simply pluck a hollyhock blossom and turn it upside down. See? It’s a green-haired lady wearing a colorful dress, full skirt sweeping across the floor. When my mother wanted to make a little fancier doll, she tied ribbon or thread around just below the green sheath, making the doll’s waist.

I always thought these basic hollyhock dolls looked as though they had no heads. To remedy that, take a green seed pod or bud and fasten it with a toothpick above the skirt blossom.

Or pin in place above the first a second, smaller hollyhock or other flower blossom to create the look of a lady wearing a broad hat. You can stack several more blossoms below to make the skirt layered and more full. Or use a spent bloom to make a head with a tall headdress or long flowing hair.

The dolls don’t last long, but floating them in a broad bowl of water allows them to drift gracefully through your day.

* * *

Suddenly it occurs to me to do an internet search.

I was woefully wrong; these days, computers could figure into this entertainment. Not only are there photographs of hollyhock dolls, but step-by-step tutorials-- even a video!-- on how to make them. (Search "images for hollyhock dolls" for photos; see the Better Homes & Gardens website for instructions; or take a look at www.DesignMom.com . There’s even a site that sells fake ones but I’m not going to help anyone find it.)

Horrified, I picture little girls being lined up in front of a computer screen to learn the correct way to make a hollyhock doll.

However, several of the sites offer ideas new to me. For example, PremeditatedLeftovers.com suggests pulling off the sepal of the first blossom to expose "eyes" and breaking off the stem to create a mouth.

Still I hope that somewhere grandmothers are demonstrating for their grandchildren. I hope children are left alone in the garden to use their imaginations to create the dolls. I'm sure there was a time when most little girls knew how to make dolls from hollyhocks. I hope the numbers are growing as young mothers learn from their computer time.

* * *

The key to success with hollyhock dolls-- as it is with so many creative enterprises-- is imagination.

Here comes the writing connection I always try to slip into these blogs.

When I began this essay, I had no idea whether or not I would find a link to writing. In fact, this was to be a break from reading manuscripts, a simple reflection on the innocent fun of long hot afternoons I spent with hollyhock dolls after my grandmother and mother taught me how to make them.

I waltzed those dolls all over my grandmother’s screened-in porch on hot summer afternoons. I don’t recall imagining their escorts, but I suppose I did.

Imaginatively, the dolls have turned into writing coaches. They remind me of my maxim that spending time thinking about your writing is probably as valuable as the time you spend making black marks on paper or on a computer screen.

Don't even think. Just sit, look around you, see what happens.

And handwork of any kind is good because it detaches you from the writing implement of the day. While doing something creative besides writing, you can think about your writing project. You'll find you work out all kinds of problems that had defeated you while you sat at the computer, fuming.

Relax, Breathe deeply. Imagine those little pixies with green faces whirling around the garden at dusk.

* * *

One source says that hazel buds, wild thyme, marigolds and hollyhocks were part of a recipe made in 1660 AD that enabled anyone who ate it to see fairies.

Or perhaps what they saw were hollyhock dolls, dancing in the wind.


# # #

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Adoption Birthday: Remembering Judge Davis

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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Museum of the American Bison, Rapid City, South Dakota

The museum is in downtown Rapid City.
Park and walk to see street art and many locally-owned businesses.
. . .
I've finally visited the Museum of the American Bison at 607 St. Joseph Street in Rapid City. I urge you to do the same, perhaps while on a walking tour of the rejuvenated downtown area.

Even if you know a lot about bison, you can learn from this museum! Dedicated to the story of the survival of the American bison, it’s filled with information, all presented in a manner accessible to adults and children alike.

Stare Bruno, a full-grown, beautifully mounted bison in the eye. Watch an interactive video describing how the tribes used every part of the buffalo. See historic photos of early hunts, or those who hitched bison to wagons, of hunters and sharpshooters.

Kids can unearth bison bones in the huge bison dig box. Or they can visit the “tracks and scat” table for down-to-earth information about wildlife. The shop stocks locally made souvenirs, tastefully decorative and useful items, as well as vintage jewelry including buffalo nickel necklaces. A rotating art gallery features stunning work from local artists.

The museum shows the story of the bison from its prehistoric beginnings through its near extinction to the eventual resurgence of the animals in the 20th century, certainly one of the most captivating stories in the history of the American West-- and often neglected for human history. Operators promise to constantly update exhibits, include rotating exhibits and guest lecturers, so I plan to go back often.

My favorite part of the museum is the display devoted to the people responsible for saving the American bison when the hide hunters and even the government was determined to eliminate them. As usual, the men got the credit, but all of them had wives who were deeply interested in saving the bison. Frederic Dupris, a French Canadian who moved to South Dakota and married Mary Good Elk Woman, a Minneconjou, saved five bison calves which founded his herd. Later, Scotty Phillip, also married to a Lakota woman, continued Dupris’s work of keeping the bison herd pure and strong; when he died, he had more than a thousand head.

After years of encouraging shoppers to throng malls and vast parking lots on the outskirts, Rapid City has finally figured out the benefits of a lively downtown, not only for tourists but for citizens. This delightful museum is only one of dozens of shops close together downtown, so that you can walk from one fascination to another. Park and stroll.

The Museum is a nonprofit organization, the dream of its proprietor, relying on donations, grants and admission receipts, so enjoy your visit and then donate generously.

# # #

For more information:

Visit the museum website: www.museumoftheamericanbison.org or call 605-791-3266.

Bison: Monarch of the Plains, for which I wrote text to illustrate photos by David Fitzgerald (published by Graphic Arts), is still available, usually at a reduced cost, through various online outlets. Because the book was primarily photographic, much of my text was cut, but there’s still good information-- and terrific photos.
See my website page about the book by clicking here.


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Kitty Cat's Family: The Rest of the Story

Kitty Cat with some of her kittens, May 2013.
. . .
For more of Kitty Cat’s life, see the Cat Stories page of this website and see my blog post for June 15, 2013.

But here’s the rest of the story.

We first began seeing the stray we called Kitty Cat in November, of 2012. We didn't especially want a cat, but when she was cold and hungry, we took care of her. In return, she cut the population of rabbits considerably. We think she hunted so efficiently that the great horned owls had to go elsewhere for sustenance.

On April 18, she presented us with five kittens. We immediately began providing food and a litter box and all five kittens quickly adapted. When they were several weeks old, Kitty Cat hauled all but one of them to the woodpile beside Jerry’s blacksmith shop, where we found them: cold, scared and yelping. We hauled them back to the heated shop and kept them all confined for a few more days.

Then she moved them again, to the blacksmith shop where she and the kittens could come and go under the big sliding door. So we left them, thinking she was trying to teach them to be independent. And she continued to hunt: almost every day she brought in a rabbit, several baby rabbits, several ground squirrels, or birds. The kittens grew and used the litter box and ate expensive food while we began trolling among our friends for folks who needed cats.

We took out ads in the newspaper. We put up posters in local pet stores, grocery stores, vet clinics. We told our friends, endlessly, that the cats needed homes.

Finally we had to have Kitty Cat spayed or the cycle would continue. I wrote the following letter to the newspaper.


The Cost of Your Abandoned Cat

Someone dumped a sweet half-grown cat near our ranch, perhaps thinking she could “live free in the country.” We took her in.

Spaying the cat and giving her essential shots cost $430.52. Neutering her five kittens and providing their shots would cost $1000 we can’t afford. We’ve fed them, at $10-15 per week, since April. The kittens are playful, litter box trained and love to be petted, purring vigorously. Unless we give them away soon, we must kill them; we have all the pets we want. If we stop feeding the kittens, they will decimate our birds or be killed by a coyote. Daily the mother cat brings in a rabbit, or several gophers or birds, trying to teach them to live on their own.

When you adopt an animal, you are honor bound for its life time to feed it, neuter it if you can’t care for its offspring, keep it healthy, or find someone who will. Please do not adopt animals without being responsible. Want a free kitten? Call me at 255-4064.


Within a day or two, we had multiple phone calls. Some offered advice about low cost neutering and spaying, others offered homes. Now she and all five kittens have found permanent homes elsewhere.

I have just written the following letter to the newspaper:


To the Editor

Here’s a followup to my letter about our abandoned cat. She and her four kittens are now in permanent homes. Here’s some of what we learned:

The nonprofit West River Spay and Neuter Coalition, spayneutercoalition.com, holds regular clinics and will help neuter cats for $35 female, $25 male. South Dakota West River Spay and Neuter Coalition, P.O. Box 286, Deadwood, SD 57732; Telephone: 605-593-5550; dnnwatson52@gmail.com. The group always needs volunteers and donations; call 605-593-5550 for pickup if you can donate to their Wish List.

Rapid Spay, (PO Box 200) Peaceful Pines Plaza, 7410 Black Hawk Rd., Suite 5, Black Hawk SD 57718; rapidspay.com 605-721-SPAY (7729) FAX: 605-721-7728; e-mail: fixyourpet@rapidspay.com; offers low-cost neutering.

Ask a veterinarian; some will provide low-cost services. Local humane societies are usually overworked and underfunded. Before abandoning a pet, post notices in pet stores, vet clinics, groceries; newspaper ads. Many individuals make great efforts to adopt or place these pets in good homes.

Experts say neutered cats will stabilize the population in an area, keeping wild or stray cats from moving in. Thanks to everyone who called and offered homes and information.


Of course we will miss Kitty Cat and the lively kittens. We seriously considered keeping her and one or two of her kittens, neutered, to provide a stable population here. But in fact, the great horned owls and other natural predators keep the mice and rabbits in check. As I have previously written, cats have a tendency either to slaughter needlessly or to become complacent and eat only the food provided.

And then there are those litter boxes for cats that are allowed to live in shelter in the winter.

There are many ways to keep pets responsibly and we have made our choice; we wish everyone who has adopted these and other pets very well and hope that we don’t have to go through this process again.

# # #

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