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Monday, June 18, 2012

THE "STORY BEHIND THE STORY" -- ONE MAGIC NIGHT

Have any of you ever incorporated your family history into your writing? Do you like

to read books that are based, however loosely, on factual happenings?

My mom was the oldest of eleven children. She knew everyone in our family and how they were related. Because she and my dad grew up together in a tiny little town in southeast Oklahoma (their high school had a graduating class of twelve), she also knew quite a lot about his side of the family as well.

But when I was younger, I was not interested in the stories she told me. It was only later, when I was grown and had children of my own, that I began to wonder and ask questions, and by that time, her memory had already begun to decline.

If you have ever read the book, The Education of Little Tree, (by Forrest Carter) or seen the HBO movie, this story might sound familiar. When Andrew Jackson decided that the Indians were to be assimilated into the white man’s world, he put lots of plans into action that would take years to snowball and evolve into what they eventually became—a truly shameful period in the US governmental policies and procedures. One of Jackson’s plans, besides Removal, that was carried through into subsequent presidencies, was the idea of assimilating Native American children in white homes to integrate them more completely. The Native American children were taken from their villages and given to willing white families (along with a tidy little government stipend for their troubles) to raise.



My great-great-great grandfather was one of these children. We don’t know his real name. It was changed when he was delivered to his new “family,” a Presbyterian minister and his wife. Their last name was Walls. So his name was changed to Walls, and he was given the first name, David. Forbidden to speak his language, he was forced to forget all the ways of his People, and dress in white man’s clothing, go to white school. But he was never going to be white, and his place in the world was divided so drastically that he could not fit in anywhere. Eventually, the Rev. Walls sent David to medical school in Missouri. When he returned to the small town where he’d been raised, he was a doctor who rode to his patients on horseback. Later, he married and had children, but it was not a happy union and his son, my great-great grandfather, became an alcoholic whose own children, in turn, left home as soon as they possibly could. My great grandmother, his daughter, married at 13 (see pic at left--she was about 25 when this was taken). Her older sister left home one day and never returned. No one ever knew what became of her.

I’ve often thought of these children that were abducted by our cavalrymen, and taken away to their white “families”, forbidden everything familiar and forced to adopt completely new and different ways, even down to their speech and childhood games—and their own names. Can you imagine it? To never be allowed to see your mother and father again. Siblings separated and “given” to different families, their heritage and connection with one another lost forever. How many tears must they have shed? And how lonely and separate they must have felt, how isolated, even into adulthood…so that most of them, I imagine, never were able to fit in anywhere in the world.

My short story, ONE MAGIC NIGHT, is based loosely on what happened to my long-

ago ancestor. This story first appeared in the Victory Tales Press 2011 SUMMER COLLECTION. Just this month, it was released through Western Trail Blazer publishing as a single-sell short story in the “dime novel” gallery for only .99. All of my short stories, anthologies and novels are available here:


Dr. Shay Logan has just returned to Talihina, Indian Territory, from medical school in Missouri. Shay hopes to settle down and make a life for himself, but how? He doesn’t belong to either world, Anglo or Indian He's made the acquaintance of Katrina Whitworth at the July 4th town social, and the attraction is mutual from the very beginning. Shay begins to have hopes and dreams that may be out of the question…but Katrina seems to have stars in her eyes for him as well. Will she risk everything to be with him?

Katrina makes a social blunder, and Shay follows her into the woods to apologize to her, but when they return, Katrina's drunken father humiliates her. To make matters worse, her former beau shows a side of himself she had not seen before. Can Katrina and Shay have a life together that they so badly want? Here’s an excerpt for you.

FROM ONE MAGIC NIGHT:
As his hand started its descent, Katrina turned away. But Shay’s arm shot out, grasping Whitworth’s hand and holding it immobile.

“You will not.”

Three words, quietly spoken, but with a heat that could have melted iron, a force that could have toppled mountains.

Katrina’s father’s face contorted, his teeth bared, finally, as he tried to jerk away. He didn’t utter a word. He stared up into Shay Logan’s eyes that promised retribution, as the seconds ticked by. Finally, he lunged once more, trying to pull free, but Shay still held him locked in a grip of steel. Only when he released that grip was Whitworth freed.

“You presume too much, Doctor Logan, unless you are assuming the care and responsibility of my daughter.”

“Papa! Oh, please!” Katrina felt herself dissolving into a puddle of less than nothing beneath stares of the townspeople of Talihina. What had started as an exciting, beautiful evening had become an embarrassing nightmare. It was torture to think that she was the cause of it all. How she wished she had stayed home with Jeremy as she’d first planned, before Mrs. Howard had volunteered to keep him company.

Now, Papa was saying these things that she knew he would regret later. It was always this way when he drank too much. These accusations had gone beyond the pale of anything he’d ever said before. But Shay Logan wouldn’t realize that. He wouldn’t know that Papa would be sorry tomorrow.

Evidently, there was one thing Shay did recognize, though. She saw the very slight flare of his nostrils as he drew in the scent of alcohol on her father’s breath, and in that instant, there was a flash of understanding in his eyes.

“You’ve had too much to drink, Mr. Whitworth,” he said in an even tone. “I will overlook your behavior toward me because of that, but not toward your daughter. She has done nothing, yet you would strike her, and cause her shame.”

“She’s my daughter,” Whitworth replied sullenly.

“But not your property, Whitworth. Never that. You owe her an apology.”

“No, Shay, really—” Katrina began, then as her father whirled to look at her, she broke off, realizing her mistake. ‘Shay,’ she had called him. As if she had known him forever. As if she was entitled to use his given name freely. As if she were his betrothed.

“‘Shay’ is it, daughter? Not, ‘Dr. Logan’? Shay.” He spit the words out bitterly. He drew himself up, looking Shay in the face. “I’ll not be apologizing to her—or to you. And I’ll expect nothing less than a wedding before this week’s end. Do you understand me, Doctor?”

Shay had lost any patience he might have harbored. “You understand me, Whitworth. You will not dictate to me, or to your daughter on such matters of the heart. As I say, the alcohol has got you saying things you’re going to regret, and—”

“Threatening me, are you? Threatening me?”

“Truman.” Jack Thompson stepped out of the crowd and smoothly came to stand beside Katrina. “Let’s put this…unfortunate incident…behind us, shall we?” He confidently tucked Katrina’s hand around his arm. “I can see that the church auxiliary ladies have almost got everything set up for this wonderful Independence Day meal—” he frowned at Mrs. Beal, nodding at the picnic tables behind her. She jumped, motioning the other ladies to resume the preparation.

He gave a sweeping glance around the group of onlookers. “I, for one, am ready to eat! How about you all?”

Katrina was swept along at his side as he walked toward the tables, speaking to acquaintances and friends, laughing and…and seething with tense anger the entire time. She could feel it in his body, with every step he took and the tightness of his grip as he covered her hand with his. Katrina glanced back over her shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shay, but the crowd blocked her view.

“Smile, my dear,” Jack gritted into her ear. “I’m hoping we can still salvage your virtue, no matter what happened, really, between you and the good doctor. If I see him near you again, I’ll kill him.”


I'm just wondering how many writers out there have used a specific incident such as this in their family history to build a story around? I gave my gr gr gr grandfather a happy ending in my story. I just couldn't bear for him to NOT have one! Let me hear from you...I am curious as to how family events affect our writing.

11 comments:

Mrs Condit said...

OMG! What a story! I don't have words to express my sadness at the treatment of our Native American families. Thank you for sharing the story behind the story and the short story as well.

Mrs Condit said...

OMG! What a story! I don't have words to express my sadness at the treatment of our Native American families. Thank you for sharing the story behind the story and the short story as well.

Tina Donahue said...

Amazing blog, Cheryl - what a history your family has. Thank goodness we're still moving toward allowing people to be who they are, whatever that may be.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I always love your stories about your family. Isn't it a shame that most of us hear these family histories as kids and don't care about them the way we do when we're grown? There are so many things I wish I had asked my parents back then.
One Magic Night is going to be a story that will stick in the reader's heart. I love your heroes. No matter what they suffer, they always rise up and save the day.
I loved your blog today, Cheryl.

Fiona McGier said...

While attending a local Pow-Wow years ago, I was on the floor doing the Rainbow dance, to celebrate all mothers, since it was Mother's Day. The Rainbow dance is when non-natives are allowed to circle the drummers in the middle as they drum and sing.
The woman next to me was crying because she said her husband was full-blooded Miami, and when he was a kid, his mother was put into jail for teaching her kids their native language. The woman was so happy that their culture was accepted enough for people to want to learn more about it, and to celebrate it, rather than ban it.

I haven't used any incidents from my family's past, but I have transmuted some incidents from the lives of people I know. I think that lends some reality to the stories because I know these things can happen because they happened to friends of mine.

jean hart stewart said...

Anyone should be proud to have Indian blood in their ancestry. Great excerpt...Jean

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Mrs. Condit,
Thank you so much for coming by. Many people don't know this, but this practice of assimilation continued as late as the 1950's!
Cheryl

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Tina,
Thank you! I was so glad to be able to give my gr gr gr grandfather his HEA. He surely did deserve it.
Cheryl

Cheryl Pierson said...

Sarah,
Thank you so much for coming by and commenting. You are a dear friend, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support. I hope everyone enjoys this story--I really had trouble letting go of the characters at the end.
Cheryl

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Fiona,
I agree--when we hear of things like this, I think putting them in stories heightens awareness for others who might not know of such practices. Isn't that sad to think that you couldn't even teach your children their language? Just awful.
Cheryl

Cheryl Pierson said...

Thank you Jean! I am very proud of my Indian heritage. I just wish I could trace it back and get some documentation, but everyone back then tried to hide it.
Cheryl