Here’s an excerpt from one of the Cat Rock letters in which Frank writes to Edith, who he is courting, about his Thanksgiving day.
Dec. 14, 1918
“You asked me how I spent Thanksgiving. Well, I worked on the track all day but we had a nice supper at Edith’s [his cousin] after the day’s work was over. We didn’t have Turkey but we had chicken, 3 of them, and cranberries, cakes and pies. We expect Oscar home for Christmas and will celebrate it at Mrs. Vaughn’s or the section house. They haven’t decided that yet. I hope you all [have] a happy Christmas and merry new year, and many of them.”
This is out of sequence in the series of courtship letters, but it applies to this week’s Thanksgiving holiday in the U. S. when turkey, cranberries, and apple or pumpkin pie are traditional dishes. I’m sharing an excerpt from one of Frank’s letters to Edith. He writes her from the railroad section house at Cat Rock where he lives and works. His cousin, also named Edith, and her family have been living at the section house with Lewis (you’ll meet him in another letter). Frank said they “have been here for some time.” By now the section house has become home to quite a few workers and families, including Frank’s brother Tom and their mother. Oscar, another brother, is in the army in World War 1. I need to research the section house floor plan. Maybe there was more than one building where people lived.
Look for stories with LaWryn on Sky Blue Daze’ blog, right here, emerging soon.
I started writing stories about a tiny fantasy spirit inspired by Lorie Davison’s fantastic image. Today LaWrynn answers the Proust Questionnaire. You can get a link to the questions and interview yourself of anyone you know or create. It’s at the bottom of today’s post. Enjoy!
LaWrynn answers the Proust Questionnaire
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What a perfectly stupid question. There is never true perfection in anything. I feel happy when things are in harmony, in balance. No, wait, is that more like content than happy? There’s a difference.
What is your greatest fear?
I fear getting stepped on by a non-mindful range cow. I’m afraid The Great Horned Owl will swoop me up, too, when I am not being mindful. I’m afraid I won’t ever find the portal back to the other side and I’ll be stuck in this material world forever. Yuck! That’s my greatest fear.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Letting things happen. I can’t control everything, but I might try harder.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
Well, I don’t know very many living people so I can’t answer this, having only lived on this side for a little while. I admire a lot of people, spirits, really, on the other side. There are so many living people in the world to admire, so I’ve heard. What is the world population now anyhow?
What is your greatest extravagance?
How can I be extravagant? I don’t own anything. I did decorate the mouth of the mound I live in, so that might be extravagant. But I have to keep it camouflaged for protection, so even that is not really what I call extravagant. Perhaps the pile of leaves I sleep on is extravagant with the colorful fleece cover. I borrowed some hand dyed wool from the lady of the farm’s knitting basket. Really warm and pretty.
What is your current state of mind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Cleanliness. Let’s face it, when you live in a badger hole how can you really be expected to keep your clothes and hair dirt free all the time? That would just take way too much time. So inconvenient.
On what occasion do you lie?
If I tell you, everyone will know when I am lying. Duh! (giggles till she snorts)
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My size. Being small enough to fit in a cow’s ear is a pain. People don’t take me seriously. And my feet are too big.
Which living person do you most despise?
There’s this deranged man that lives up the road from the farm where I nest. He’s just mean for no good reason.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Non-competitive loving sisterhood. Period.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Oh, man! Really? What’s that about? Right?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
You mean this life or a past life or the next one in line? I love roasting marshmallows. Right? (sniggers or snickers?)
When and where were you happiest?
I was happiest on the other side, always. Living has so much drama, annoying drama. On the other side, it’s all cool. We don’t have emotions there, we just exist, let it be.
Which talent would you most like to have?
It’s not really a talent, but if I could fly it would sure help. And I wish I could know things like how to get back to the portal I used to enter this side.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My size. Whose idea was it to put my spirit into such a small body? It’s just not working. Sheesh!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
In this life, I haven’t achieved it yet. I think it will be when I can find the portal to the other side again and get outta here.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Which time? I’ve been a fish, a dragon, a sunflower, a spider, an amoeba, and many more mortal life forms. I’ve been a human, and I never want that curse again. I’d be anything but that. So much drama. If I come back again, could I just be a cloud?
Where would you most like to live?
On the other side again, but if I have to live in the material world, I liked living in the ocean once. I like living on the farm at the edge of the woods. I don’t like living in the badger hole but it’s pretty safe.
What is your most treasured possession?
My smarts. If I didn’t have intelligence, I’d be dumbfounded living on this side. But for real things, like things, you know, you’ll find out when you read my stories. OK, a hint…I need a key and I need to find out what it unlocks. I need clues. There. Don’t tell anybody. Don’t ruin the stories.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Loss and extreme loneliness. Like you lost a relationship that was feeling good, and then it’s gone. You’ll never get it back the way it was. It’s like smashing a wine glass in a trillion jillion pieces, you can’t ever put it back as good as it was. Or someone you love, or a place you love, it leaves or you leave, or even someone or a pet dies and you are left here, in the finite material world to go on without it all your days and nights. That’s loss. That’s loneliness. That’s misery.
What is your favorite occupation?
What I like to do, to occupy myself, is go to a river bank and just be there. Look at what’s around me, even if I’m not at a river. Notice and pay attention to where I am in the present moment. That occupies me. If you mean occupation like a job, that pays people, I think I’d like to be a waitress at a ski resort.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I’d say my size, so minute. Others remark about my wild hair or my long pointed ears. I wish they didn’t stick out so far. If I could fly with them….And I have a nice smile. It just happens.
What do you most value in your friends?
Fun and loyalty. They have to be loyal, and they have to like to have fun.
Who are your favorite writers?
I like Kay Addington MacDonald. She’s the one writing this interview and my stories. I also favor A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) and Lewis Carroll (The Walrus and the Carpenter) and Kurt Vonnegut.
Who is your hero of fiction?
Tarzan, for today. But he’s be nothing without Jane. Or Lemuel Gulliver (Gulliver’s Travels). He’s dorky.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Bridgette, my badger friend, and Mayhem, my Stellar Jay friend. You’ll find out why when you read my stories. Oh. Do you mean this life or those in my past and future?
What are your favorite names?
The names of emotions and good things to have like Hope, Faith, Happy, Penny, Treasure, Jewel, Summer, Autumn, Dawn, Wag, Mayhem. Like that. And Max. If I had a brother, I’d name him Max. But would that be up to me?
What is it that you most dislike?
Right now I most dislike how long this interview is taking. How many more questions are you going to ask me? And I dislike confrontation. I bet you couldn’t guess that.
What is your greatest regret?
Once, a long time ago, I lived in the material world, one of my lives. I had a swell beau and I let him go. Another girl snatched him away and I didn’t try to get him back. See what I mean about how I sometimes let things happen when I could take more control? I just hate the drama of life on this side.
How would you like to die?
Are you kidding? Really? Oh, man! What’s that about? Right? Who likes to die? I’m seeking a way to get back to the other side without the pain of death again. So, if I have to die again, make it not painful this time. And let me feel that the people I love know I love them. I just want to feel that it’s all good next time I die, whether it is or not. That’s a good way to die.
What is your motto?
Oh! Crap! I don’t have one. You mean like, “to infinity and beyond”? Ask me again after I’ve experienced a few stories about me. Maybe I’ll have one by then. You are going to read my stories aren’t you?
I found a book. It hasn’t yet been written. But it has begun. And I am the writer. After Mom died in 2006, I emptied her house and put it up for sale. She had tons, really tons, of clutter. Sorting took months. She kept everything! I found some treasures in the slow thorough process.
In her basement I uncovered her desk, the one she used for her church secretary work. It was heaped with papers and file folders and books, a knitting project, plants, and too much more to remember. Inside a deep drawer, in an unlabeled folder mixed with church papers, I found photocopies of letters.
They were written in 1918 and 1919 by my grandfather, courting my grandmother. I found the beginning of their relationship right up to the day he married her. I found the story of families living in the Pacific Northwest during World War 1, haying with horses, building the railroad, and joining the army. I found a book to write, based on the courting letters.
The letters document the influenza epidemic, boats stuck in the river by deep ice break ups, barn dances, a locomotive derailed by a mud flood and much more. Most importantly, they reveal human hopes and struggles, concessions, forgiveness, and celebrations.
The storyline moves along the tracks of the traditional plot diagram. It has complexity in its conflicts. The action rises to the turning point and ends with resolution. It’s so ready to write.
My problem is how to develop the details, how to bring the characters and setting to life for modern readers. How do I write the story so readers will care and get a deeper understanding of their own lives from the book? Each letter gives enough information to inspire creative writing. What is really the story behind the story? How can I tell it?
I am a storyteller, a performing storyteller. I know a lot about folklore weaving magic into tales. I teach writing, literature, and history. Now, I have a book to write, one letter at a time. I’m scared. Can I practice the crafts I teach? It’s a challenge I give myself, to write creative non-fiction. How do I even categorize the genre? Could it be a novel of poetry telling the story like Out of the Dust? Will I write chapters? How about short vignettes? How will I link the ideas together? How long will the book be? Will anybody be interested in reading the story, the little stories within the stories?
I have a lot of research to do. How did men work hay fields with horses when tractors were just emerging into the industry? What was the sphere of devastation by the influenza pandemic in the Pacific Northwest? What was transportation like then? The letters stand in place of telephones and texting.
How can I show, don’t tell, the depth of humanity revealed within the letters? I’m going to need a lot of feedback as I progress, a lot of help. I am asking you to follow my postings as I write this story. Please tell me what you think of my writing, what changes I should make, what’s written just as it should be. How is the story affecting you?