Volume XII, Issue Four | December 2017
Some of the best friends I ever made were in junior high school. When I was at Smiley Junior High in Denver in the early 1950s, I was part of a potluck. We met on Friday nights at different homes, each bringing a dish. Then after dinner, we went to the Tower Theater to see a movie, along with all the other potlucks. It was a ritual that the six of us—Diane, Joan, Marilyn, Gwen, and two Sandras—rarely missed. I moved away after junior high and lost touch with those friends, until a few years ago when I reconnected with Diane, who is trim and beautiful and as sweet as she was 60 years ago.
I also met Diane’s husband, Jack, and at a book signing they attended a couple of years ago, he gave me a copy of some Wyoming pioneer recollections he thought I’d enjoy. Now I have to say that on occasion, people do give me writings they think might inspire a book, and while I’m grateful, I’ve never gotten a book idea from any of them. This was different. I’d thought about writing a book on homesteaders, but hadn’t given it serious consideration until I began reading the story of these Wyoming pioneers. As I read about the hard times, the challenges, the joys and sorrows of homesteading life, I realized I wanted to write a middle-grade novel about homesteaders. So that’s the story behind Hardscrabble, which Sleeping Bear Press will publish in March. It is my third middle-grade book, behind The Quilt Walk and Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Skies. The fourth is scheduled for 2019.
Of course the setting is different—Colorado instead of Wyoming—and I’m not sure I actually used any of those stories, but I did pick up the hardship, the dedication, the sacrifice, and the importance of families working together that ran through Jack’s stories.
Here’s how Sleeping Bear describes the book:
In 1910, after losing their farm in Iowa, the Martin family moves to Mingo,
Colorado, to start anew. The US government offers 320 acres of land free to
homesteaders. All they have to do is live on the land for five years and farm
it. So twelve-year-old Belle Martin, along with her mother and six siblings,
moves west to join her father.
But while the land is free, farming is difficult and it’s a hardscrabble life.
Natural disasters such as storms and locusts threaten their success. And heartbreaking
losses challenge their faith. Do the Martins have what it takes to not
only survive but thrive in their new prairie life? This new middle-grade novel
from New York Times-bestselling author Sandra Dallas explores one family’s
homesteading efforts in 1900s Colorado.
Homesteading was critical in settling the American West. Some 1.6 million claims were filed between 1862 when the Homestead Act was passed and 1976, when it was repealed for all states but Alaska. Claims totaled 420,000 square miles or 10 pct. of government land. The peak years were 1900 to 19l5. An estimated 93 million Americans are homestead descendants. Originally, a claim was for 160 acres, and the homesteader had to live on the land for five years. Later the size was increased and the time required reduced to three years. –SD
MORE ASIAN QUILTS
In the last issue of Piecework, I wrote about the show of Central Asian quilts curated by my friend Christine Martens, at the quilt museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. About the time that issue came out, my daughter Dana and I were back in Istanbul, where we had met Chris and discovered Asian quilts. We went to the shop in the Grand Bazaar that Chris had taken us to. Dana speaks a little Turkish, and the proprietor said, “I remember you.” Then he turned to me and said, “I don’t remember you.” (That actually happened twice in Istanbul.)
We asked if he had any quilts, and he pulled out two. The first was from Uzbekistan, a colorful full-size patchwork quilt top with lots of red in it. The other, a quilted baby cover from Turkey, was made up of 16 squares banded in blue and quilted in blue embroidery-floss-like thread. The patchwork in the squares of that one was cockeyed, and reminded me of Gees Bend quilts. Of course I bought them both.
The two are in poor shape. There isn’t much I can do with the bigger one, but with the smaller one, I applied patches over the badly frayed shapes, using period fabric the merchant gave me. I’m not much of a quilter, but then the quilt is a crude folk art piece, so my patches are right at home.
All She Left Behind
By Jane Kirkpatrick. Revell.
You know how much I love Jane Kirkpatrick’s Books. Here’s part of the blurb I wrote about her latest one, All She Left Behind, in my Denver Post book column:
“All She Left Behind” is about one of Oregon’s first female physicians, a woman who not only faces sexual discrimination but must deal with the trying events in her own life before in middle-age, she gets her medical degree.
Jennie Pickett had always dreamed of becoming a physician. Although married at 17, she nonetheless studies the healing properties of herbs and roots and seeds for use in homeopathy in hopes of building up a small practice. Those hopes are dashed by Jennie’s husband, an abusive alcoholic. Unknown to Jennie, he has divorced her, and when she is away, he empties the house of everything of value, including Jennie’s distillery for extracting oil from herbs and flowers.
Jennie struggles to make a home for her son, who is angry and distant—and who will eventually follow in his father’s footsteps. To repay a loan her husband had contracted with a local businessman and minister, Jennie is employed caring for the man’s ailing wife. After the woman dies, Jennie and the man, Josiah Parrish, are married.
If Jennie’s first marriage brought her distress, the second one brings great happiness—and two daughters. Just as important, Josiah encourages Jennie to pursue her hope of becoming a doctor.
Kirkpatrick is an engaging writer whose books uplift without preaching. She uncovers little-known historical figures and brings them to life as only a skillful novelist can.
By Helen Thorpe. Scribner.
Author Helen Thorpe spent a year in a classroom at Denver’s South High School with a group of immigrant children who were trying hard to learn the language and customs of America. Life is tough for these kids, who are generally poor and have to spend an hour or more just getting to school. The 20 students speak as many languages, and at the beginning of the school year, several know only a handful of English words. With the help of a dedicated English Language Acquisition instructor and his unique way of teaching, they begin to open up. Thorpe not only sits in on classes, but tutors the children, helps them with transportation, gets to know their families and become their friend. She learns not to question them about their pasts, because many have had traumatic experiences. Once when she chides two girls for talking on their Iphones, she is told they are checking on friends in a refugee camp where a riot is taking place.
The Newcomers is a classic work that should be a textbook for integrating refugees into communities.—SD