Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Voice from the Past

Recently I ran across a letter to my mother from a friend of hers who lived in Deer Creek, Indiana. My mother grew up in Onward, Indiana, not far from Deer Creek. This farm woman sent a crocheted doily she had made along with her letter. It is a darling piece of crochet I inherited and have displayed in my home for several years.

My mother's family home near Onward
The letter came from the very heart of this friend and thanked my mother for a letter of comfort she had recently received from her. As I read through her letter I could actually feel the sorrow she expressed at the recent death of her mother. She spoke of the tombstone finally being in place at the Hopewell Deer Creek Cemetery and how she visited there each Sunday.

I’m telling you about this poignant letter because I can’t bring myself to publish it even though I went so far as to type it into my computer. Somehow it seems rude of me to share a letter full of such heartfelt meaning that wasn’t written for me to read. 

My mother’s friend spoke of how difficult a time she was having coming to terms with her mother’s death and how blue she had been. She spoke of how crocheting in the evenings helped her feel more calm and relaxed. She talked about her husband and how ill he had been, but was still trying to work alongside his son to keep the farm going.

She wrote that the men were picking corn long hours every day. She said she and her daughter would love to get over to see my mother, but since the men were working so hard, they were trying to help them as much as they possibly could. 

I felt the strain the woman was under and also the sincerity of her words. My mother’s letter had been a God-send for her in her sorrow, and she expressed her gratitude simply, but quite eloquently. 

I decided I wanted to share the letter with my husband as he was working on a project in the garage. As I began to read the letter aloud to him, my tears would not stop and that greatly surprised me. I said, “Why am I crying? I don’t even know this person.” My husband said, “You’re crying because hers is a voice from the past.” 

I searched on, and I actually found a person who I’m 99% sure wrote this letter. I discovered her and her husband’s last name and their 1986 grave site at the Hopewell Deer Creek Cemetery. 

I hope I’ve given you some sense of the lovely message this letter holds and why it speaks so clearly to me even though it was written so very long ago.   

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Rich Life at Home

Growing up in Kokomo

I attended a Lenten Study at church recently. We were discussing the meanings we apply to the concept of “home.” Interestingly I had just run across a poem that reminded me of the very first home my husband and I ever owned. It was on ¾ of an acre in rural Indiana outside Fort Wayne. The home sat in the middle of a forest of trees and the backyard sported a fire pit and a basketball court. We were young with two toddlers and a baby on the way when we moved there. Reconnecting with that home reminded me of the richness of a life that spans over 70 years.

I’m surprised by the places where I’ve lived and traveled! Life began for me in Kokomo, Indiana, a place where I still feel connected. I called several cities home there before leaving for Virginia and a home close to Washington D.C. Then a giant move across the country to Phoenix, Arizona, where I’ve lived for the better part of 41 years with a brief sojourn living in Olympia, Washington. 

After traveling to nearly all of the 50 states, except for Alaska and Maine, and three foreign countries, I’ve come to know home not as a place, but as the people I love. It’s difficult to settle anywhere because those I love live “all over the place.” At times, I’ve longed to be “home for Christmas,” meaning not in the house where I live, but with the people I love. Haven’t you?

Obviously, I’ve chosen home to be with my husband Frank and our two Chihuahuas Peanut and Cleo here in Phoenix, Arizona. Everyone I love isn’t here, but I call it home anyway. What makes it home, I suppose, includes a community friends, familiar desert places, the plants I’ve planted, the rooms I’ve furnished and decorated with family pictures on the walls, lingering memories of patio picnics and gatherings by the pool and both the hot and the warm summer days unfolding all year round.

My Phoenix home encompasses love, comfort and safety along with rest and retreat. However, I know I still carry the best of home around with me in my heart.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Valentine’s Day Massacre

In the novel Charade, late one night Star Lance visits the graveyard behind the church on the hill up the street from her Arrowstar antique shop in Mineral City, Arizona. She hid out in the trees near the tombstones waiting for a regular night-time visitor she’d observed from her front porch on several occasions. While her curiosity compelled her to want to find out who this nocturnal visitor might be, her fear of spending time in a cemetery in the dark had her talking to herself about something that happened way back in 1929.

“Didn’t I read something in history about a massacre that happened on Valentine’s Day?” And she shivered at the thought. Not that she expected a massacre, rather someone possibly jumping out from behind a tree brandishing a knife. “Oh well, at least if someone stabs me, I can be buried right here.”

The massacre Star referenced took place during the era of prohibition on Chicago’s north side. On a night historically celebrating romance and love, some of Al Capone’s gang members, dressed in police uniforms, attacked a rival gang, mowing them down with machine guns as the men lined up against a brick wall inside a garage. Seven men died that night, but Capone’s archenemy George “Bugs” Moran wasn’t among them. Moran showed up late for the meeting.

Unfortunately, Al Capone couldn’t be linked to the murders. Ultimately Capone spent time in jail for contempt of court and tax evasion without ever being indicted for the more serious crimes authorities were certain he committed. Capone died an invalid recluse at his Florida home in 1939 after having served only 12 years in jail. It seems hardly enough punishment for a man newspapers dubbed Public Enemy No. 1.

It’s strange how we sometimes try to alleviate our fears in stressful situations, as Star did, by thinking of something scarier than the situation we’re in. Valentine’s Day is upon us, so why not chow down on chocolates from a heart-shaped box and watch Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in the movie Love Actually? Star Lance would be the only woman outlandish enough to spend Valentine’s Night “sneaking around in a graveyard with cold and damp seeping in through [her] shoes.” Wouldn’t she?

When you’ve read Charade, I hope you’re interested in knowing
more about the women buried in the Storm family’s plot in the cemetery on the hill where Star’s curiosity took her on Valentines’ Night. The Storm Women novel reveals the twists and turns in the lives of all six women buried there without their husbands by their sides.

Read On! Write On!
"Take a chance, amaze yourself." 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Welcome to 2017! Happy New Year!

Remembering Nellie May Trent Bush
1888 – 1963

With her husband Joseph Bush, Nellie May Trent Bush helped establish the town of Parker on the Arizona side of the Colorado River. They ran the Parker Ferry beginning in 1915 and lived on the “Nellie T” ferryboat with their infant son Wesley.

For 17 years Nellie operated as a licensed riverboat pilot. She also took flying lessons and with pilot’s license in hand purchased a Waco airplane, which she found useful in expediting legal papers from her law offices in Parker to Yuma or Phoenix.

Graduating from Arizona State University (then Tempe Normal School) with a teaching certificate, Nellie taught in the three-room Parker school for four years. In 1923 she passed the bar exam after years of studying law and graduating from the University of Arizona law school.

“I am a firm believer in women going into politics—the more the better,” Nellie said in the 1920’s. “They simply have to eliminate some of their old-fashioned ideas regarding the differences in the sexes.”

Nellie May Trent Bush’s public service:

Arizona House of Representatives

Arizona State Senate

Justice of the Peace

U.S. Commissioner

Parker, Arizona Attorney

Parker, Arizona Magistrate

Parker School Board

Colorado River Water Commission

Arizona Stream and Boundary Commission

United States Presidential Convention Delegate 1932

Although an educated and highly respected member of the Parker community, Nellie rolled up her sleeves when two of seven pontoon barges for a roadway bridge over the Colorado River at Parker needed a coat of waterproof coal tar. During a controversy over a diversionary dam at Parker, Nellie captained the “Julie B” riverboat to ferry National Guard Troops ordered by Governor Moeur to stop the dam’s construction. For this service, the Governor proclaimed her “Admiral of the Arizona Navy!”

Nellie Bush also championed women’s organizations in Arizona and served as president of the Arizona Federated Women’s Clubs. Much of the information included in this article comes from Nellie’s profile included in the Arizona Business and Professional Women’s Federation publication, Women Who Made a Difference.

In 1985, Nellie’s son, Wesley commented on his mother’s life saying in part that she spent many years “in her community teaching Sunday school class every Sunday in the only church in Parker . . . playing the piano for church gatherings . . . the endless hours working on her old Underwood typewriter beside some local citizen who needed legal advice, typing a legal paper for them, free! She gave far more to the community and the state than she accepted.”

Affectionately known as Nellie T., she certainly is a woman well worth remembering.

Sources: Who Made a Difference has been published by the Arizona Business and Professional Women's Foundation to record and preserve the history of Arizona's working women.” Arizona Business and Professional Women’s Federation publication, Women Who Made a Difference

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Making Promises and Learning from History

I prefer to fill this space with profiles of women from history you might like to meet for the very first time. However, it's the holidays, and I've just written a profile for November 29th at so I'm writing today about Thanksgiving. I faithfully write for Phoenix Publishing each month without fail, but I tend to push the deadline for my own blog until it's too late! I'll try harder!
This year Thanksgiving dinner at our house came from a Sheraton Resort and included turkey and ham plus many side dishes like sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad and other veggie dishes. The food tasted wonderful, but definitely not as good as homemade. However, the pecan pie measured up quite well!

We invited another couple over to share our meal that was billed as feeding two to four people. We did have leftovers and enough to send some home with our guests. As I said, the food was good, but I still miss the familiar taste of a homemade dinner. 

What I didn't miss was getting up at 4:00 a.m. to put the turkey in the oven and standing up in the kitchen cooking all morning while trying to hear the Macy's Parade from the television in the living room. I did miss having my kids in the kitchen cooking with me and making jokes. They all have families of their own now and for that matter, kitchens of their own. Sigh.

The most wonderful thing about this year's celebration included sitting around the dinner table talking with our friends. Thanksgiving really isn't all about the food, is it? It's all about sharing and getting to know the people in our lives a little better. The food is just an excuse for getting together.

Phoenix couldn't have offered up a more pleasant afternoon. The four of us spent time after dinner out on the patio listening to the water ripple in the fountain and the hummingbirds setting up a hum overhead with their tiny but powerful wings. We had pie on the "fire escape" as my folks used to refer to the patio at our house back in Indiana. It couldn't have been a more relaxed day, and I wasn't exhausted from cooking when our guests went home to get ready to watch evening football. 

Maybe I'm just a Pollyanna, but I'm not too worried about the state of the world. I'm just thankful I've got some perspective from remembering the past. The world will always have something going on that distresses us. Is it wrong to put the negatives out of mind for a day and take stock of our blessings? I think it's a brilliant idea, and I'm going to let history teach me something. I'm going to cook next year, but maybe we'll opt for a potluck!

Happy Holidays!

Coming soon: 
More profiles of women from the outskirts of history!

Read On!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Celebrate March – National Women’s History Month

The name Dorothy C. Stratton (1899 – 2006) caught my eye as I looked at the list of women being honored on the Women’s History website in celebration of Women’s History Month. According to Wikipedia, the surname Stratton happens to be shared by many notables, including Indiana author Gene Stratton Porter (1863-1924).

In April I plan to visit the Gene Stratton Porter Museum in Rome City, Indiana with my eldest daughter Kimberly and granddaughter Hailey. Kimberly became fascinated with Porter after reading one of ­her books, A Girl of the Limberlost.

Growing up in Indiana I had heard of the Limberlost, and I knew it had something to do with deep woods, tangled vines, beautiful moths and butterflies. However, I didn’t realize it actually existed as a swampy area in northeastern Indiana where Porter set her stories. Sadly, the swamp no longer exists. Oil drilling and farms encroaching on these wild acres of land resulted in the swamp being drained, much to Porter’s dismay.
Gene Stratton Porter
As a young married woman, Porter lived in Limberlost Cabin in Geneva nearby the swamp until her precious Limberlost was ruined. She then moved to Sylvan Lake near Rome City, Indiana where her large home is now a museum on a stunning tract of land rich with trees and wildlife. The Limberlost Cabin is an Indiana State Historic Site. Porter’s move to Rome City enabled her to continue her work as a naturalist, photographer and writer. She published 12 novels along with nature, poetry and children’s books as well as numerous magazine articles.

Dorothy C. Stratton
In contrast to Porter’s fascination with nature, Captain Dorothy C. Stratton served the United States in the Coast Guard as director of SPARS (Semper Paratus Always Ready), the very first United States Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. In fact she was instrumental in the founding of this women’s military unit during WWII and came up with the name. Today there are no restrictions on how far a talented woman can advance in rank in the Coast Guard.
As a Girl Scout from Brownies to Senior Scouting in High School, I should have known Dorothy C. Stratton was then serving as the National Executive Director of the Girl Scouts of America during her long and varied career. You can find her complete biography here.

Following is a link to a film about the SPARS with both dated and current clips:

Toward the end of the article about Dorothy Stratton on the Women’s History website mentioned above, I found this quote, “See how Dorothy C. Stratton and SPARs changed women’s lives in this short film with compelling vintage and current video, Dorothy Stratton and the Spars, The Legend Continues   

(If you can wade through the film to almost the end, you’ll hear a contemporary woman Coast Guard Commander setting the record straight following the film clip immediately preceding her appearance.) I’m sure you’ll catch the reference and think about how times have changed for women due to the sacrifices of those who have paved the way.

Always writing with the feminine spirit in mind,


C.K. Thomas, author
“Take a chance, amaze yourself!”