Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Love Stories

"Writing a first novel takes so much effort,
with such little promise of result or reward,
that it must necessarily be a labor of love
bordering on madness."
—Steven Saylor

The final edit of my novel arrived today from the publisher. Word by word, comma by comma, I'm going through and signing off. Son of a Gun takes place in Texas around 1874 and I've incorporated many actual events into the story. Here's an excerpt that might make your skin crawl.

Son of a Gun
Marty Halverson

“Damn cataracts,” Turk said to Leo, rubbing silvery spots from his eyes. Against the blue sky they multiplied and began dropping to the earth. “Hoppers!”

The insects fell like giant snowflakes, crawling over the fields in a solid body, eating every green thing growing. Almost immediately the hillside looked like a waterfall, the hoppers were so thick. When they had eaten the fields bare, they piled on fence posts and ate the bark. They ate harnesses, window curtains, hoe handles and even each other. Leo tied strings around his trouser bottoms to keep the pests from crawling up and biting his legs. Lighting on trees, the hoards broke limbs under their weight.

The beating of wings on the roof terrified the boys who screamed as the creatures writhed through their hair and down their shirts. Ruby tried to secure the house, smashing them with a broom after shaking them out of the bedding. Turk spread gunnysacks over the precious vegetable patch, but the grasshoppers ate right through.

The men dug trenches to bury the critters, and lit fires to burn them out, but the flames were covered and smothered by more grasshoppers piling a foot deep. Horses stood helplessly as the pests crawled over their bodies, tickling their ears, eyes and nostrils. Fresh water was polluted by the bugs, and the cows and chickens that gorged on the hoppers would be useless as food, as would fish in the streams because they would smell and taste like grasshoppers.

Word came from Fort Worth that a dark cloud of grasshoppers landed on the tracks and stopped the trains; grease from the crushed insects set locomotive wheels spinning.

The Grasshopper Plague of 1874 affected the colored areas on the map. My own great-great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Allen, wrote about a similar plague in Utah:

May 7, 1848:

We commenced making water ditches for irrigation which were a new business to us. The spring grain sprung up and looked quite good. The next thing we see was thousands of young crickets making their appearance in every direction. We discovered they were eating at the young growing wheat and gardens. We began to destroy them in every way we could, but all in vain. It really seemed as though the more we killed, the more came.

May 20, 1848:

Those crickets had been eating at the wheat for weeks, our efforts to kill them all in vain. Just now seagulls came in flocks by the thousands and began to eat the crickets. They would cover the fields and fill themselves and then they would fly to the water and drink, then they would vomit them up and go again and fill up again. They seemed to repeat this time after time after time, and soon they destroyed the crickets in a great measure. We attributed this miracle to the hand of the Lord in our behalf. If those gulls had not destroyed them, the crickets would have destroyed all the growing crops among this people.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Now it's your turn:
Any miracles in your family?
Turn them into a story!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


We are professional Ghostbusters.

Finding skeletons is our business. They hide in closets, letters, diaries, scrapbooks, and dusty boxes under the bed. Not only do we hunt for ghosts, we learn to love them, and weirdly enough they love us back, leading us to clues that will flesh out their story.

Other people's ghosts have worked on me, and now I'm haunted by my own ancestors. Suddenly I'm dying to get acquainted.

Harbor Malmo

Great-grandma Tilda Louise Borgeson Lavin Lundgren was born in 1867 in Malmo, Sweden. She married Anders Lavin when she was just eighteen and at nineteen had a baby boy named Theodore. She wrote this:

I was raised as a devout Lutheran. When my tiny boy Theodore died at just two years old I began to question God. At this time of sorrow I found a new faith that brought hope of eternal families. On February 4, 1886 the ice was cut in the river and my husband and I were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I knew I would be ridiculed by my family for what I had done, and I was right. All the members of my family turned against me.

Street in Malmo

Only a few days after my baptism I met my mother on the street and she crossed to the other side so as not to speak to me. (In time they became more friendly and eventually my mother,
my sister, and her family also joined the Church.)

By then a new little boy, George, had filled the void in our hearts left by the loss of our baby. We decided to emigrate to Utah in America to join other Mormons who lived there.

The ship was crowded, and the trip was long and difficult with much illness on board. I was very frightened, as I was only 22 years old.

On board an immigrant ship, 1880's.

When we arrived in Salt Lake City my husband was very ill. I became a dressmaker, and worked at a restaurant where I did cleaning. I went early in the morning and made sure I was through before anyone came, as I didn't want anyone to see me doing that kind of work, though it was honest labor.

SLC Main Street about 1900

If I had had any money I would have gone back to Sweden, where I could get better work. Those were trying days, and I almost lost my courage. Learning the language was a very hard task. The Lord helped me learn English and adjust to the customs.

In just three years we already had an adorable baby girl, Agnes, and another precious son, Joseph. When he was a year old he became very ill. It was the Lord's will that he should go, but it was terribly hard to lose him.

Not long after this great sorrow another beautiful blue-eyed baby was born to us. How proud we were of him. I loved to lie on the bed and look at him. He was such a healthy baby and when my friends came, I was over-anxious to show him off.

One day while I was busy in my kitchen, a never to be forgotten accident occurred. I kept a wooden tub outside by the water pump. I left just a very small amount of water in the bottom of it to keep it from drying out and cracking. I had just checked on my baby and then went about my work. Within seconds I heard a terrible scream. My neighbor had come to get water and there she found my baby, Henry, face down in the very shallow water in the tub. He had died instantly, it seemed.

The sorrow was almost more than I could bear. Everyone did all they could for me, but I failed to be comforted. Baby Henry did not have a wet spot on him. His little life was just snuffed out so quickly. Oh, the shock was terrible! He was just a little over a year old. I felt the hope go out of me.

Our oldest son, George was then about seven years old. He came to me in my sorrow and tried to comfort me. I was so bereaved I scarcely knew what I said. I answered him, "Oh, you will probably die too, I guess." Instead of turning from me he looked up at me and said, "No, Mama. I'm not going to die. I will grow up and make you proud, and you will be glad."

It seemed like there was magic when our eyes met. As he said this to me, something in my soul awakened. The faith my little son showed at this time acted as tonic from heaven to me. My faith in God's love was made stronger, and I was again able to walk through this garden of Gethsemane. Little George's prophesy was fulfilled. He did grow up to make me proud, and I was glad.

My prayer from that day on was that I would be worthy to meet my babies Theodore, Joseph and Henry again. I always gave thanks to God that he allowed me to keep my children George and Agnes, who lived to raise seven children each. I have had much joy and gladness in my life."

Lundgren Family, 1930

Here is Tilda's daughter Agnes (the one with glasses) with her husband Axel Lundgren with their seven children. My mom, Junie is the one on her Dad's lap.

As I get older I feel a yearning to know my history. Referring to someone famous, a reporter said, "He's from an old family," as if the rest of us just popped up from nowhere in recent generations. We each descend from "an old family" with heros, rogues, villains and champions, and tales of tragedy and valor that could encourage us. Stories make our ghosts come alive.

The last sentence in the Old Testament talks about ghost busting. It says:

"And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,
and the heart of the children to their fathers . . ."
—Malachi 4:6

Has your heart been turned? Do you believe in ghosts?
Try a little ghostbusting, and you will!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Style Secrets of the Sixties

Do you know what this is?

Everybody had one back in the day.

I'll tell you the secret of its popularity.
Back, at the dawn of style, the Flip made its debut.

There were many versions, but Mary's was the ultimate goal.
It was important to follow the secret directions:

Seventeen Magazine had monthly diagram updates.

After your hair was put up, you had to sleep like this on Friday night,

Sport this look in town on Saturday,


You could get out your fabulous new Christmas present

And spend a toasty hour under your personal hairdryer!

After some back-combing, smoothing and a can of Aqua Net

You could only hope you'd look like this.

My alternative was a haircut called the Sassoon,

and a curly wiglet.

Just pop it on, and you're ready to go!

A few more hair style secrets:
Use orange juice cans for rollers.
Iron your hair on the ironing board for a perfectly straight swing.
Scotch tape your pin curls backwards for a side flip.
(Your can even wear your scotch taped curls to school, for an edgier look.)

But the queen of hairdos was

The Beehive.

I bow to your hairness.

What do you remember (or wish you remembered)
about the swinging sixities?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hairstyles 1953

Marty 1953

In case you want to recreate my look, I'm sharing my mom's hairstyling secrets:
  1. It must be Saturday. (That's the only day anyone washes their hair.)
  2. After baths, have your little girl put on her pajamas, and turn on Lawrence Welk.
  3. While she watches the Lennon Sisters, dip your comb in some drippy setting lotion called goop and comb it through her hair. (I can't remember the actual name of the setting lotion, although I can remember what it smells like.) It will drip down the back of her neck and cause her jammies to stick to her back. (Beauty is pain.)
  4. Notice that her bangs are only a quarter of an inch above her eyebrows. Smash them to her forehead, and trim them with your cuticle scissors. Now, try to even them up while she squirms. (They will be close to the hairline by then, and she will be crying.)
  5. Depending on the look you're going for, choose—

Simply wrap sections of her hair around the center of the spool
and fold the large end down to secure.

Or maybe you like clippies—eight for 25¢.

Although they're harder to sleep in, it might be worth it for the practice.
You'll see why tomorrow.

If you want to save 15¢ and get more, choose bobby pins.

Use the criss-cross pattern with two per curl.
Otherwise they'll fall out.

A hairnet is the only guarantee for a perfect 'do for Sunday School.

In the morning she'll look like this!

See the resemblance?
(Maybe we used the wrong setting lotion.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Success Story

Lauren (left) wins! March 2011

"People rarely succeed unless they have fun doing what they're doing."
—Andrew Carnegie

So, have fun!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tell Me a Story

Marty six-years-old, 1955

"Is that you, back in the olden days?"
asked Lucy.

"Was that in the 90's?"
asked Chelsea

A bunch of my grandkids are losing their teeth, so I pulled out this picture to show them how I looked back in the olden days. "Did Opa really save all my mom's baby teeth?" Eliza asked.

"Tell us about when our mom was little," begged Lucy. From teenagers down to babies, kids love to hear about their mom's mischief, and their dad's escapades. And they're all blown away by our free and easy childhoods. The stories connect them to the children we've told them we once were. They respect us, knowing we were little kids, like them, and came through the challenges they're facing. It's so awesome to find out your mom had leg-aches, too, when she was growing, and your dad was also scared of wind. Suddenly everyone can relate!

I heard some Professional storytellers discussing the value of stories. One woman said:

"Separation of church and state has come to mean we can't teach values at school. Since values are all part of one religion or another, they're not allowed. Consequently, many children are growing up in a void—they don't know how to live, and they don't know how to die. They don't know how to treat aging neighbors, or little kids being bullied on the playground. They don't know how to stand for something, or how to deal with their own fears. They have no maps."

Stories, especially family stories, help fill this empty spot. How did you feel when your dog died? The kids in your life need to hear about that. What did you do after school? Why did you get in trouble and how did you get out of it?

We spoke a different language than the kids of today—teach them in your language. "Creepers! That flick was boss!" or "Wait-up. I've got a snuggie." Show them how you danced, let them listen to your music, and treat them to some vintage dishes like spam sandwiches, chipped beef on toast, or Ovaltine. It will be like time travel.

I have a new blog friend (she's my new real friend, too) and she has a blog called Back in the Olden Days. It describes her childhood in the 50's and 60's and it will take you back to a simpler time, when priorities weren't discussed as much as lived. The details are ordinary, yet extraordinary nowadays.

If you lived during the good old days, you'll love strolling down her memory lane. You used to live there! If you're younger, looking for good old ways to raise kids and strengthen families, you'll find dependable, old-fashioned ideas peeking through her paragraphs.

Click and read. You'll be inspired to tell your own stories. When I get carried away I almost imagine that I'm six again. My audience sits across the table, wiggling their teeth, and I notice one of mine feels loose, too. The magic of stories . . . oh wait; it really does feel loose! I wonder if the tooth fairy leaves enough for a root canal these days!

Now it's your turn:
Start with the phrase Back in the Olden Days . . . and:

Tell a detailed description of a regular Saturday morning when you were a kid.
Tell about the first funeral you ever went to and what you honestly thought.
Tell about something you were caught doing, and then punished for.
Tell about visiting your grandma and grandpa. What did you do there?

(of course, you could write any of these stories down, too.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Sixties

Marty and Tommy

Sixty years ago today I got a brother for his birthday. I was only a kid myself, so I can't remember what it was like before he was born, but I know it was more fun after. Our bedrooms were both in the basement so we stayed up late and talked into the night, even when we were little.

Across the hall from my bedroom there was an unfinished storage area called the Fruit Room. Shelves were stocked with bottled peaches, pears and grape juice. In the corner was an old white wardrobe my mom called Peter (yes Pete, you're named after a cupboard) that held hammers, gardening tools and cans of paint. Boxes of old clothes, a wooden clothes dryer, and potted geraniums sat under the window . . . a window that could be pried open with a car key. One night a loud shot woke us both up. Robbers!

Tom flew into my room and we listened from under my covers. When the second bang blasted, we dashed upstairs for Dad, then followed him back down to watch. Another shot sounded as he cautiously peeked inside. Blood squirted him in the face! He automatically licked his lips . . . wait, it wasn't blood . . . it was homemade root beer. Apparently Dad had over-estimated the fermenting time and the bottles were popping their corks.

That was as close as we came to champagne at our house, but if we'd had some, the corks would have popped that day sixty years ago when my brother was born. Part of the Bagley legacy depended on him—Tom was the only grandkid who would carry our family name into the future.

Tom 1961

But he was prepared.

Tom earned his inheritance by herding cattle in Wyoming, fishing in Idaho, golfing in Hawaii and learning at the U of U. He received his mother's gentle nature, his father's sense of humor, and his sisters' admiration.

Marty, Polly, Jolyn, Tom, 1968

We all looked up to him.
(You can see why.)

Tom and Julie

He married a princess, and, taking the role of heir seriously . . .

. . . they produced a half-dozen kids.
But it took sixty years for Tom to become what he was always meant to be:

Tom and Julie and Jackson

Grandpa Bagley.

"The great secret that all old people share is that you really don't change
over sixty or seventy years.
Your body changes, but you don't change at all.
And that, of course, causes great confusion."
—Doris Lessing

Don't be confused, T. You'll always be my little brother.
Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Writing Coach: Alliteration

Chloë Contemplates, 2011.

Her eyes grew wider than ping-pong balls. “What are you staring at?” I asked her. “There’s something in the road,” she breathed. We hurried over to the curb. “What is it?” I inquired. My eyes were starting to get tired from squinting. “I, I think it looks like some sort of dove,” Aaron replied quietly. “The sign of Aphrodite,” I said to myself, without thinking.
—Chloë May

This is an excerpt from Chloë's novel. She's nine. Last week she asked, "Oma, will you be my writing coach?" What an honor!

She'd penned a poem for a school contest, and wanted me to look it over. It was beyond brilliant. The last stanza read:

I don't care if you live in Russia, or Italy or Ecuador;
I don't care if you're strong or wise or weak.
We're all unique. Only that matters, at the core.

(She was especially proud of the inner rhyme.) I made a few suggestions. I told her what a simile was, so she came up with an opening verse:

The world is like a camera.
Sometimes it gets out of focus.

Cameras see the beauty in things . . .

I told her about alliteration, and pointed out that she'd used it when she wrote "wise or weak, we're all unique." She caught on immediately and amended the next lines:

Cameras capture the coolness of things,
Magical moments—all that hocus pocus.

With just a description of the concept, she came up with the words on her own. I explained that personification makes inanimate objects do things people do. She thought for a second and wrote:

Cameras remember terrific times, Things that won't happen again,

(Notice the th's and the t's)

Sometimes leaving scars in our memory. Sometimes they act as a friend.

She read everything out loud, eliminated words and added syllables to get the rhythm right. I was interested to see how intuitive her wordsmithing was.

After about half an hour, her nine-year-old self reappeared. Cartwheels and back-bends replaced commas and sound-blends, and writing was forgotten.

A couple of nights later I was back. Chloë's seven-year-old sister Jessi shyly said, "Oma, I'm going to write a novel, but I don't know what to write about. Would you be my writing coach, too?"

"Sure!" I said. "You could write about something you already know, or something you want to learn."

"I want to learn about Alaska," she said, "and I want my book to be realistic."

"OK," I said. "Ask yourself some questions. Who's in Alaska? Why? What's the problem? What will it take to solve it?"

Jess's imagination kicked in, and she took off. "It could be about a girl who's parents got divorced and the mom moved to Alaska and the girl has to go live with her. And she wants to become a mermaid. Maybe the dad and mom got divorced because the mother was a mermaid and the dad didn't know, and when he found out, he didn't want to be married to a mermaid after all. So the girl realizes she's half mermaid, and she wants to have a pet and travel all around the world, but she doesn't know how."

When she stopped to catch her breath I said, "What if her pet was a seahorse and she rode him around the ocean to go places?"

Ashley, 2011

Even Ashley giggled at her clueless grandmother.

"Oma," said Jessi incredulously. "Do you know how small a seahorse is?" Her voice squeaked higher with each word. "It's only about an inch high!" Her big baby-blues rolled up to her brows. "Riding one is not realistic."

Jessi, 2011

She's hiring Chloë as her new writing coach.

Now it's your turn:

When you re-read your next blog post, look for ways to
add alliteration.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Dark Blues

Morocco Woman in Blue by Steve Evans

So, I was telling you about the fall of '81.
My blue period.

A week after the window exploded, I was nursing the baby when the phone rang. Walking backwards to answer (so I wouldn't expose my bare boob to Ron, the carpenter who lived on my deck) I clipped the end table. My knee went out from under me, and I fell, throwing Marta in the air. She landed on the hard kitchen tile, and I landed in a twisted heap. Ron dashed in to rescue both of us. The baby was fine, but I wasn't. After a few hours in the emergency room, I came home with crutches and a leg brace for the torn ligaments in my knee.

Fast forward another two weeks. Neighbors helped with my preschoolers; Marta spent her life on my bed, surrounded by diapers because I couldn't carry her and walk on my crutches at the same time.

That Saturday morning Dee had a leg-ache and took a couple of aspirin. Within minutes he was turning blue, unable to breathe. The paramedics arrived, gave him a shot of epinephrine, and rushed him to the hospital. I was told to follow in my own car. In the ambulance Dee went into respiratory arrest, and heard them yell "We're losing him! We're losing him!" He looked out the window, saw the sign of our grocery store, and thought, "This is the last time I'll go past Dan's."

When I finally hobbled into the hospital and asked how he was, the frazzled doctor said, "He damn near died!" Dee was bundled in warm blankets, shivering from the trauma and the adrenaline, white and terrified. Seeing him in this state was not reassuring. I put on my happy face, and we talked about how lucky we were, how we'd laugh about this someday, how great the doctors were, but his fragile condition twisted my heart and I was sure life would never be happy again.

I became a single mom of seven under eleven, on crutches, trekking to visit my critically ill husband in the ICU every day for two weeks. One night I told the kids they could go see Dad in the hospital the next morning. Micah (who was eight) said, "I thought he was dead." Josh said "We thought you just didn't want to tell us."

My heroes, Spring 1982

What kind of mother was I? I had completely missed the suffering in my children's eyes. While I was wrapped up in my own misery, they had created their own reality. Guilt twisted the tourniquet. Dee recovered after several setbacks, but I was afraid to let go of worry. It was really the only thing I could do for him.

On Christmas morning the kids began clambering for festivities about dawn. We'd already received our gift—the flu. Dee was in the bathroom throwing up so I put on my happy face and acted the role of Mrs. Claus with an upset stomach and pounding head. The happy face mask was too tight, beginning to fray at the edges. I couldn't stand wearing it anymore.

Back to normal.

Six months passed, the workmen were gone, the kids were installed in their cool new rooms, my crutches were stashed in the garage, and Dee was back in the pink. However, I was wrapped in blues. Life was getting darker and darker, although nobody else seemed to notice.

I was all sunshine outside my house, but my own little world was dismal. I had dizzy spells, double vision and random aches and pains—I was certain I had a fatal disease. Headaches lasted for days; I'd wake up positive my leg was paralyzed; sometimes I felt like I was walking above the ground. I blew up at the slightest thing, and had tantrums right along with my kids. I'd call Dee to come home in the middle of the day because in my frantic state of mind, I imagined all sorts of terrible things were happening to me or my kids—I was full of fear, doubt and worry.

The hardest part was that I couldn't let anyone in on my humiliating secret. Family, neighbors, and friends all complimented me on how how together I was, how I accomplished so much. I was coming apart, but I had to keep up my image.

Marty on a Merry-Go-Round

You can only spin out of control for so long.
Eventually you fall down and I did.
~to be continued . . .

Do you know somebody with this secret?
Please don't trivialize it when they finally share.