Tag Archives: Oklahoma

Don’t Let the Stories Die


Story opportunities pop up everywhere. All you have to do is cross the bridge.

Unique Challenges

Historic novel writing presents many unique challenges. Foremost, the writer didn’t personally live during that time era, or he/she lived in New York but loved writing about the Old West.

Slick documentaries and photos often don’t go far enough to immerse the writer or the reader in the “feel” of that particular slot of time. It helps to find journals or other written material to base the needed atmosphere of the novel upon, but the REAL STORIES come from the mouths of those who lived them.

Blackberry Road, my latest novel, is a snapshot of a hot summer in 1934 Oklahoma. A girl called Biddy narrates a whopping tale of murder and spookiness that begins in May when school is out and ends when the blackberries are turning brown on the vine – about mid- to late-summer. Biddy’s family jumps right out at you like a real family, and why is that?

Because they are, and someone (me) didn’t let their stories die.

 

Turning ‘Real’ into Fiction

Collecting family stories, recipes, lore, and copying old handwritten Bible notes over the years created the realistic backdrop for Blackberry Road. Fictional Biddy has twelve brothers and sisters. My mother had eleven. Both Biddys, the fictional and the real, were from sharecropping families living in Oklahoma in the 1930s.

Dirt poor, but rock solid, those families had to eat, live, and survive everything from snake bites to drought (or flood) to miserable housing conditions.

In my particular case, I was fortunate to mingle and mix with a real sharecropping family because they were my own relatives. You can be sure the stories at our reunions or get-togethers flew around like greased spitballs; and there I was, in the thick of it, laughing and asking questions, my pen flying over the notebook I kept with me at all times.

Most members of the real Blackberry Road family have now passed on, but their lives and experiences will live on forever simply because I didn’t let the stories die. My job as a writer was to make fiction seem like reality and reality seem like fiction.

You can do the same thing.

 

No Family Stories to Collect? No Problem!

Don’t despair if you don’t have actual family stories to gather. Story opportunities full of “nuggets” pop up everywhere. All you have to do is cross the bridge, so to speak, and be ready to take notes.

A chance to record stories “from the horse’s mouth” is as close as that elderly lady you see every day on the bus. Befriend her and see life as it was through her eyes. Maybe it’s a friend’s uncle who served in the military and lived through stories that seem too fictional to be true but are true just the same.

A person volunteering for a church street choir used to be homeless many years ago. What was that like, and how did he or she escape homelessness? The Vietnamese family down the street who barely made it to the USA in 1971 – how did they do it, and what happened when they got here?

Your friend tells you she has a grandfather who was a butler in the deep South in the early 1950s. Wow! Can you go see him and make sure his stories don’t die? You won’t know until you try, right?

Living stories are waiting for you to discover, record, and save. Now . . . go write that novel!

~ Three old stories that didn’t die ~

“I remember Mom making my dresses from flour sacks and my bloomers from flannel undershirts. She used innertube rubber for the waist and legs. She made me at least three dresses for the year. When I grew out of them and had to wear them anyway, it was sure pitiful.” ~ the real Biddy

“It was my job to lead my blind grandma to the outhouse, and I would read the Sears and Roebuck catalog to her while I waited. That’s how, when I was ten years old, I got the second doll of my childhood. We read about her in the catalog, and she cost 95-cents. Grandma bought it for me for taking such good care of her. I thought my doll was the most beautiful thing in the world. She had rubber bloomers, and I kept her hung up on a wall. In those days, we didn’t have screens on most of the windows, and some grasshoppers got hold of those rubber bloomers and ate them up. I had to kill those varmints for doing that.” ~ the real Biddy

One night, a pretty young woman *we’ll call her Doodles* from our family went to a local dance with her older brothers. A catty and foolish young woman became jealous of Doodles’ beauty. Throughout the evening, the woman heckled her, making verbal innuendos and snide remarks. Doodles ignored her bully, dancing and promenading around the dance floor. Later, as Doodles started home under the full moon with her brothers, the woman hid and threw rocks at her as she passed. It was too much. Doodles marched into the bushes and took the girl to the ground with enough vigor to make all her seven brothers and one of her sisters very proud. During the scuffle, the band scuttled outside in the glittery moonlight and played a lively rendition of Don’t Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes. Needless to say, 16-year-old Doodles had no more trouble from this hateful woman, and this became an energetic and favorite story at all the family reunions for years to come ~ Jodi Lea Stewart (“Doodles” was her aunt)

 

Blackberry Road is available on Amazon.

 

 

Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas and grew up in Apache County on a cattle ranch near Concho, Arizona. She left the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love and exactly what she didn't want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised two children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional western articles and served as managing editor of a Fortune company newsletter. She currently resides in Texas and New Mexico with her husband, two Standard poodles, two rescue cats and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants. SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT is Jodi's debut novel and Book One of the Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves trilogy. CANYON OF DOOM came next, and VALLEY OF SHADOWS hits the shelves summer of 2016, completing this exciting and fun adventure-mystery set in the Navajo Nation. Next on the horizon? A historical mystery novel set in the 1930s told through the eyes of a sharecropper's daughter.

Christmas in a Sock


*(All grammatical errors intentional)*

1936. December 24. 7:30 p.m.

If I wanted Doodles to sleep warm as buttered biscuits, I’d have to do some more quilt tucking.

I pressed it in good and tight all along her side and under her chin. There. Now she wouldn’t shiver in her sleep or roll off to the floor. It wouldn’t hurt her any if she did cause our mattress was only four inches of feathers and cloth and it was laid right on the floor just on top of an old blanket that had a few moth holes.

Doodles was eight years younger than me and my responsibility. Truth is, I was so glad to get another girl in this family, I didn’t mind doing anything for that skinny little baby. I had two older sisters, but they was already married by the time I got any sense.

I’d been stuck with seven brothers and me the only girl for miles around for so long, shoot, Doodles was like getting a tiny angel to take care of. Ole heaven sure waited a long time to give her to me, though, cause I’m ‘most growed upl now. Twelve years old next month, and that’s the truth.

I put my ear on top of the wood floor and tried like crazy to understand what the soft talking was saying in the room down below me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make out the words. Something was scooted here and yonder. Something big.

Yep. That’s the right sounds for shore. Same as every year. It meant Mama and Dad were getting things ready for us kids to have Christmas in the morning. My ole raccoon grin broke out so big on my face, you couldn’t erase it with a mop!

I yelled straight into my squashy pillow until my eyes watered. I did that sometimes when I was excited and didn’t know what else to do. I got that over with and flipped on my back. I cracked every one of my fingers one at time. I learned how to do that from PeeWee—one of my brothers. Those boys were good for nothing at all, except learning me how to do things like fistfight and how to get in trouble. Only thing I was glad about was how Tadpole taught me how to spit acrost the room and make it land in a can. That was useful.

Shush now, I told myself. None of that mattered tonight. Not with the magic dust swirling all around me so hard my stomach felt like a jar full of cow cream about to turn into curdled butter.

Nothing no how could ever be as fun as Christmas at the Woodsons’ house, even if it wasn’t much more than a shack. It had us in it, didn’t it? That was enough, even if we were as poor as dirt and too dumb to stop laughing about it.

Us kids had to go to bed extra early on the night before Christmas so special things could happen. I didn’t know how Mom and Dad did anything special for us with us having just about no money in the world. I sure loved it when they did, though. Loved it more than running home barefooted the last day of school.

I stared into the dark with my hands folded over each other and whistled for a little while until those sweet banana pies Mom was making after breakfast tomorrow just rastled my mind down to the ground. She never made such a thing as that except on Christmas day. Those pies tasted so dang good, you felt rich as Solomon when you ate them. She made enough for us kids to have two whole slices if we cut them kinda skinny.

After the pies, Mama’d stir together the best thing anyone ever made—her Christmas cake! She’d take that pretty thing out of the stove with the marain icing sitting up on it like stiff snow. Shiny patches of melted red, green, and white candies sparkled from the top. Whoo-ee man! Us kids about lost our eyeballs right out of their sockets just looking at it. Wouldn’t have been surprising at all to see our eyes just rolling acrost that wood floor after Mom whisked her cake over to the griddle to cool down.

Thinking about it now almost made me throw up since I wanted a piece of it so bad. How could I ever fall asleep? Dang near stupid to try.

Next thing I knew about is when one of those no-good brothers threw a pair of overalls on my head. I flung it off madder than a bee with three stingers and couldn’t believe it was light outside. Morning? I leaped off of that mattress and grabbed Doodles up tight and barreled down those creaky steps two at a time. I ran quick into the big room, which was anything but big but that’s what we called it anyway.

Had it happened? The magic?

The glow in my mama’s eyes was as loud as a hollered out bunch of words. I couldn’t hardly take my eyes off of hers, they were so bright. I put Doodles down and skipped around the room twice just to get my nerves settled down.

Can we? Can we look now? Huh?

Mom counted our heads to see if we were all there. After the last head, her usual serious face broke out in a smile bigger than the whole of Oklahoma. She stepped away from the iron-post bed where her and Dad, and sometimes a few young’uns, slept. I tell you, us kids scampered under that bed like rabbits running from a pack of slobbery hound dogs! When we came back out, we were holding on to one of Dad’s long, gray and white wintertime socks. They looked like they had the mumps, they were so full. Doodles laughed right out loud at us holding our fat socks with both hands like someone was gonna steal them.

We clawed them open and dumped everything out in our own special spots. Hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and pecans poured out first. Then came an apple and an orange. My mouth went dry to bite into that shiny red apple, so I did and ate it all up. That was all the winter fruit we’d ever get, so us kids always gobbled it up quicker than you could say shut up.

The bottom of our socks sagged with every kind of hard candy. Oh, the colors and shapes just made us crazy happy. Some of the candies was square with dimples all in them. Other kinds were round with flat ends and little drawings like Christmas trees and holly on them. Best of all were the big hunks of folded over ribbon candy. That was our mama’s favorite, too.

I finished eating my orange and was looking for a dishrag to wipe my hands on when my brother Snipe threw an orange peeling at the side of my face. My hands turned into fists, but then something kind of strange took me over and dusted the mad feeling right off me. I just felt like smiling at him instead. I tossed him a piece of my own candy. He looked plenty surprised, I’ll tell you that for sure.

After a breakfast of mama’s special red-hot pork sausage, eggs, biscuits, milk gravy, and sorghum, we started in eating our candy. Only time all year we’d get any.

Two of those no-account boys had to help me with all the stacks of breakfast dishes. Most the time, I had to do it all by myself and I hated it. While we worked, we had a contest to see who could put the most ribbon candy in their mouths.

I don’t know who won cause we sucked and slurped on it with our mouths gapped open and our eyes bugging out just like a dog when you pulled his ears way back. After a while, we busted out laughing and about choked to death on candy juice.

Dad said, “Hey,” at us in a low, gruff voice. We knew that meant stop right now or get your rear ends whooped, so we hid and did it one more time.

After making her banana pies, Mama got out a hammer and put a big peppermint stick and a handful of ribbon candies inside a dishtowel. We all gathered around her to watch. Every time she swung that hammer in the air and brought it down to crush the candy, we made Big Eyes at each other. I can’t swear if it’s true or not, but I think God Himself must have

I can’t swear if it’s true or not, but I think God Himself must have gave my mom that recipe for the Christmas cake.

I mean, why not?

Don’t you think He’d want a Christmas cake like that for His son’s birthday?

— Biddy*

*From the life and times of Biddy—a sharecropper’s daughter in the the 1930s. Look for it in 2018. Photography: Elizabeth Cerza

Want the recipe for Grandma’s Christmas Cake? Look in Chuckwagons & Campfires.

What holiday stories and recipes have been passed down in your family?

I love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Arrow

Feel free to wander around my website. It's guaranteed non-toxic.

If you like Sassy, Danger and Mystery, you'll love my any-age novels. Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT and Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: CANYON OF DOOM are available at your nearest Barnes & Noble Bookseller, on this website, Amazon, B&N.com and more. For your convenience, it’s also available on Kindlethe Nook and most other eBook readers.

Book Three of the Silki trilogy, VALLEY OF SHADOWS, launches Spring 2017. Here's a quick synopsis:

Bummed that yet another summer has passed all too quickly, Silki and her best friend Birdie head out for one last hurrah at the Navajo Nation Fair. When the fun is overshadowed by the theft of a famous horse, Silki is plunged into a baffling adventure teeming with international undercurrents and intrigue. What’s more, boy-crazy Birdie is fluttering her eyelashes at Silki’s good-looking, visiting cousin at every turn, and Rez legend Old Man Concho is coughing up secrets dating back to 1942. What possible connection could he have to the Japanese tourists, and will Silki discover an ancient truth about the Valley of Shadows in time to save Lava, the leader of the Ghost Herd, as well as salvage her own broken heart?

Meet my CANYON OF DOOM AND VALLEY OF SHADOWS illustrator, the Drawing Hands.

Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas and grew up in Apache County on a cattle ranch near Concho, Arizona. She left the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love and exactly what she didn't want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised two children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional western articles and served as managing editor of a Fortune company newsletter. She currently resides in Texas and New Mexico with her husband, two Standard poodles, two rescue cats and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants. SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT is Jodi's debut novel and Book One of the Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves trilogy. CANYON OF DOOM came next, and VALLEY OF SHADOWS hits the shelves summer of 2016, completing this exciting and fun adventure-mystery set in the Navajo Nation. Next on the horizon? A historical mystery novel set in the 1930s told through the eyes of a sharecropper's daughter.

Sassy Sassafras, the Root Beer Tree


My grandfather, Thomas Elmer Woods, learned a lot from the Five Civilized Tribes: medicine, ceremonial dancing, and how to survive.

After his mother died soon after giving birth to him and his twin sister, his sister was sent to live with relatives in the Pacific Northwest. Elmer headed to Indian Territory, Oklahoma, in a covered wagon with his mother’s brother and his wife. He was two weeks old, and the year was 1884.

Native American Ways

Indian Territory consisted of the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks (Muscogees), and Seminoles, along with twenty-two other tribes.

Elmer got along well with his Native American neighbors. They trusted him enough to let him dance with them whenever he wanted. They taught him their secrets of survival, like how to use roots, leaves, bark and plants to make medicines.

He used that knowledge for his family, and for others, his whole life. The longevity his eleven children enjoyed speaks for the wisdom of those natural preventives.

Case in point – my mother. She’s 88 years young and still bakes the best pies you ever tasted, does her own grocery shopping, drives thousands of miles by herself and can still cut a rug when she really wants to.

She’s Elmer’s eighth child, and one of the tonics she grew up on was sassafras tea.

Thinning (purifying) the blood

Elmer insisted that his family members drink sassafras tea liberally every spring to thin their blood after the long, harsh Oklahoma and Missouri winters.

Sassafras trees, with their irregular lobed leaves and aromatic bark, grew wild and plentiful in the woods. Elmer gathered roots every spring. After thoroughly cleaning a root, or hunks ofSassafrass Roots root, he placed it in a pot of water to boil. Soon, the water turned a beautiful clear pink. When the family was fortunate enough to buy sugar, they added it to the spicy tea, along with fresh cow cream.

It didn’t take much persuasion for eleven little country kids to want to start thinning their blood and ridding themselves of their sluggish winter bodies!

As a very young child, I remember seeing a pan on my grandma’s stove with a big tree root poking out of the top. That was fascinating! The tea tasted wonderful, and I wanted lots and lots.

Later on, when I was a teenager and more snooty sophisticated, I doubted my granddad’s theory about sassafras tea thinning the blood.

How ridiculous, I thought.

Pure folklore.

Dumb.

Then I grew enough brain cells to check it out for myself.

I found out that sassafras tea is recognized as a natural anticoagulant.

Anticoagulant = blood thinner. Fancy that.

Ever notice how much smarter grownups got after our teen years?

In early America, sassafras and tobacco were the main exports from the colonies to England. Sassafras was revered for its medicinal qualities, as well as for the beauty of its wood.

Alas, sassafras tree byproducts, including sassafras tea, are controversial these days, which is why it isn’t the main ingredient in root beer anymore.

The dried and ground sassafras leaves are still used to make filé powder for certain types of gumbo.

And lots of people just go right on using the mysterious tree’s bark, leaves, and roots.

A good argument in favor of doing that might be my granddad. He lived into his eighties with no medicines other than the natural ones he learned from The Five Civilized Tribes. He hand-delivered all of his eleven children, survived total economic depression with nothing but his two hands to make a living and played a mean banjo and fiddle with no lessons.

Maybe there really is something to “thinning the blood” with sassafras tea every spring. You think?

Have you ever tasted sassafras tea? Did you know it was the main flavoring in root beer at one time, or that some people thought of the sassafras tree as the root beer tree? Did your family use any old-timey “medicines” that didn’t come from a pharmacy?

I love to hear from you.

Just for fun . . .

Borrowing unauthorized media is driving me to the edge.

Borrowing unauthorized media is driving me to the edge.

 

 

 

Arrow

Feel free to wander around my website. It's guaranteed non-toxic.

If you like Sassy, Danger and Mystery, you'll love my any-age novels. Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT and Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves: CANYON OF DOOM are available at your nearest Barnes & Noble Bookseller, on this website, Amazon, B&N.com and more. For your convenience, it’s also available on Kindlethe Nook and most other eBook readers.

Book Three of the Silki trilogy, VALLEY OF SHADOWS, launches fall 2016. Here's a quick synopsis:

Bummed that yet another summer has passed all too quickly, Silki and her best friend Birdie head out for one last hurrah at the Navajo Nation Fair. When the fun is overshadowed by the theft of a famous horse, Silki is plunged into a baffling adventure teeming with international undercurrents and intrigue. What’s more, boy-crazy Birdie is fluttering her eyelashes at Silki’s good-looking, visiting cousin at every turn, and Rez legend Old Man Concho is coughing up secrets dating back to 1942. What possible connection could he have to the Japanese tourists, and will Silki discover an ancient truth about the Valley of Shadows in time to save Lava, the leader of the Ghost Herd, as well as salvage her own broken heart?

Meet my CANYON OF DOOM AND VALLEY OF SHADOWS illustrator, the Drawing Hands.

Jodi Lea Stewart was born in Texas and grew up in Apache County on a cattle ranch near Concho, Arizona. She left the University of Arizona in Tucson to move to San Francisco, where she learned about peace, love and exactly what she didn't want to do with her life. Since then, Jodi graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Business Management, raised two children, worked as an electro-mechanical drafter, penned humor columns for a college periodical, wrote regional western articles and served as managing editor of a Fortune company newsletter. She currently resides in Texas and New Mexico with her husband, two Standard poodles, two rescue cats and numerous gigantic, bossy houseplants. SUMMER OF THE ANCIENT is Jodi's debut novel and Book One of the Silki, the Girl of Many Scarves trilogy. CANYON OF DOOM came next, and VALLEY OF SHADOWS hits the shelves summer of 2016, completing this exciting and fun adventure-mystery set in the Navajo Nation. Next on the horizon? A historical mystery novel set in the 1930s told through the eyes of a sharecropper's daughter.