Cat Rock, the First Dance

This is the first piece for a book. When my mother died, I found a series of courting letters from my grandfather to my grandmother. The letters began after their meeting at a dance. They end with their marriage. I am using each letter to inspire vignettes of what Grandpa wrote about. I use their real names for the book. Cat Rock is a rock formation that resembles a cat overlooking a river. Grandpa worked and lived at the railroad section house at Cat Rock when he wrote the letters.

July 5, 1918

The First Dance

Edith reached for her paring knife from a group of them behind the sink. This one fit her left hand the best.  She began skinning a large lumpy potato but her mind was not on her work.  She was reliving last night’s dance, twirling and reeling cross the hard packed barn floor. Her chore was familiar and the brown peels flew into the wash basin while her heels and toes tapped the kitchen floor boards. Bouncing, jigging, hopping, she danced to the lively rhythm  that pulsed in her mind. Dancing made life spin by with abandonment. When she felt the music and let her body move with it, she knew she was in tune with all that gave freedom to that moment. She tossed the slippery peeled potato in the air, caught it and flipped it into the bowl with a thud. She picked up the next potato and took the knife in her other hand.

She hummed and swayed in time with her peeling. What was the song? The fiddler had played it as if the instrument was dancing with her, guiding her moves. She heard it for the first time at the dance but it seemed like she had always known it, had danced to it often. And the fiddler. The fiddler. She knew he watched her swinging to the music he played, the jigs, waltzes, fox trots, and reels.  Something in the way she caught him looking at her, when she had tried to steal glances at him, made her smile as she worked at preparing dinner. His name was Frank.

He had brought her home after the dance with his brother, Tom, on a big hay wagon drawn by two sturdy black horses. The wagon was packed full with her two chatty sisters and their husbands and a party of people who were staying on for the long ride home to Middle Valley. It was late when she got off the wagon with her family at her father’s farm. Tonight she would make his favorite fried chicken dinner to thank Papa for staying home with her baby.

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24 thoughts on “Cat Rock, the First Dance”

  1. I love this period of history, and I’m already intrigued. If you’re fictionalizing their story, it might help you to separate yourself as Author from yourself as Granddaughter, so I’d keep going with that.

    I’m curious about your choice to recounting Lizzie’s memory of the barn dance, rather than the barn dance itself. As a reader, I am less interested in her peeling potatoes and tapping toes on floorboards than I am in hearing the fiddle music, feeling the barn floorboards bounce underfoot, smelling the hay in the loft, and seeing the hay dust in the air as the dancers circle and cross. I want to hear the hitch in Lizzie’s breath when she realizes Jake is looking at her, and feel her attraction to him and the physical responses that elicits from her. I want to see that ride home in the wagon, and the tone and nature of their good nights and farewells.

    The reference to Lizzie’s baby is a wonderful stroke of surprise and intrigue that adds a layer to the story. Where is the baby’s father? So many questions!

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    1. Thanks for your sincere and specific comments. It’s exactly what I need as I start this project. The letter had only one line asking Lizzie if she had enjoyed the dance and if her father was mad about it. I thought I would develop her character a little at first. There are more dances to come. I will think about writing the scene you suggest. I think you suggest more immediate action than I started out with. Please keep giving me feedback as I progress. Kay

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    2. In my new post, I put a link in to your blog and mentioned your feedback. I’m not so experienced with pingbacks yet. Here is the new post link. It tells more about the letters and book idea. I’d love more feedback. Kay

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  2. It definitely caught my interest and I want to know more. I’d be really intrigued to read the letters between your grandparents. I wonder if you plan to incorporate that somehow into the story.

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    1. I have only the letters written by Grandpa, none from Grandma. I bet she kept his letters, and somehow Mom got copies, lucky for me. Women tend to hold onto things like this more than most men. I’d like to use the letters in the book, too. Can you think of a way? Maybe use an excerpt about the dance when I write the vignette about it? I’ll look to you for more feedback as I progress. Thanks!

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      1. Heyy. I just read this, and another idea! Since you don’t have your grandmother’s letters, you might try writing them? Considering you have only side of the letters, which I’m sure are in order already.

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      2. Whoa. Yeah. I think I have a lot of exploratory writing to do. It’s so hard for me to decide how to put these letters into a story. I know there is a story there, but how to tell it. Thanks for the feedback.

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  3. This is an amazing project. I was very interested as soon as you mentioned the letters. My son asked me to start writing down what I remember about my mother since he never got to know her. I should dig out the old letters. They go back 3 generations.

    I was engaged with your story, very smart saving the part about the baby for the end of the passage. I would definitely like to keep reading as you continue.

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    1. Thank you. I would love to see some of your old letters and to see how you will use them in your writing. I also have boxes of letters from and uncle and a few thousand negatives from a great uncle who was a pro photographer 1913-1926. I can’t just live in my history, I have to keep current, too. So much to do. I look forward to reading what you do with your letters.

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      1. Historical fiction or creative nonfiction. I am embellishing the contents of the letters, relating to the real history revealed in them, and embellishing the characters. So it’s not true to form biography or history, but based on it.

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  4. Hi Kay, enjoyed this, especially the surprise at the end. You have wonderful material to work with, and there are so many ways you can approach this. (Maybe too many:)) My two cents worth? I wouldn’t embellish the letters, unless you decide to write a fictional account inspired by them. Let the characters speak for themselves!
    Looking forward to reading more!

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      1. So many ways! I think if you go the CNF route you need to respect your sources. In other words, write around the letters and use them as a jumping off point. But if you include the text of the letters or an excerpt, the words should be as written. At least, that’s my experience and expectation of CNF. Other readers might feel differently. But I wonder if it’s a bit soon to be thinking about the form the work will take? If I were you, I’d immerse myself in the letters and background reading and research, maybe take some pressure off yourself. The fiction/nonfiction choice might become clearer to you as you begin to see the extent of the material and story that’s available to you. Just a thought! 🙂

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      2. Thanks for the notes. I’ve been reading these letters for a few years and I’m just starting to “mess around” with ways I can share them. I like the idea of using excerpts and embellishing them into vignettes, little scenes, maybe some poems.

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  5. Ah, you’re further along than I thought! CNF is short for Creative Nonfiction. You’re probably familiar with its techniques even if you don’t know the name. Basically, it’s a way of writing nonfiction that uses fiction-writing techniques, especially scene and dialogue. I love it, but it’s not without its ethical quandaries. There’s a good introduction to CNF on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_nonfiction) if you’re curious. Meanwhile, ‘messing about’ with different approaches seems like a good idea. Hopefully, you’ll hit on one that really appeals or makes sense to you. It’s a fascinating project Kay, and I wish you the best of luck with it. I’m sure you’ll do a great job, whatever approach you take.:)

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  6. I love the Title: Cat Rock. How exciting to have found letters from long ago written by your grandfather. Maybe your book could be set in two different time periods, and the chapters set up in the past and present day. In the present day, you could be a the granddaughter writing about finding and researching the letters. Good luck to you and I look forward to more of Cat Rock.

    Best,
    ~ ellen

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    1. Thanks for the ideas. I like the name, too. I’m thinking of using a cat that sits over the valley and turns to stone, something like a Celtic mythology creature. I hope to post 2 or more vignettes a month. Time to stop thinking so much and put the word on paper.

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    1. Thanks for honoring my writing and art! It means a lot to me. I hope to publish at least 2 vignettes a month inspired by the Cat Rock letters. I also garden, and like you, I love cottage gardens. But in the Rocky Mountains I am learning to protect my plants from range cattle and deer. I’ll post more about gardens later. Happy Trails!

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  7. I enjoyed reading this, though I too would like to experience more of the story of their first meeting at the dance rather than just Edith’ s memory of it. It’s a fascinating story and I look forward to reading more. 🙂

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    1. Thanks. I’m not sure they met at a dance, but it’s the first letter and he asked how she liked the dance. I have to start somewhere. There are several dances in the letters. I’ll see if I can revise the first part to start at a dance instead of her memory of it.

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