Friday, January 27, 2012

Lone Elm and Old Buzzards

I span three centuries. Odd, but true. My father, born in the 19th century, was 51 years old when I was born. He was 70 when I married and my husband’s father was 74. I’ve welcomed grandchildren into the 21st century and loved the life I lived in my own 20th century, and am continuing to live now. Having a foot in three centuries gives one a peculiar insight into different eras. My parents had opinions on about any subject. It’s a great tool for a writer to be able to understand how paralyzed people once were by class, status, and culture.

Once, in a women’s studies class, the teacher was puzzled by a newly married couple mentioned in the course work who did not have intercourse for several months. The instructor wondered why. I knew! An aunt of mine wouldn’t let my uncle touch her for three months for fear a premature baby might result. A seven months baby would imply that she had been unchaste before the wedding. It was all about protecting one’s reputation. Thank heaven, my mother severely disapproved of such nonsense. But my three-century background provided a dynamic framework for the women’s studies class. I felt like a living encyclopedia.

No one from my parents’ generation is alive, but when they were, it was even more difficult to explain my children and grandchildren to old folks, than to make their codes of behavior seem reasonable to the youngsters. Why it was simply not done for ladies to wear white shoes before Memorial Day or after Labor Day?

Last week I read Donis Casey’s wonderful first mystery, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, and was immediately reminded of my childhood hometown, Lone Elm, Kansas. Donis did a pitch perfect job of evoking the prohibition era in Oklahoma. Her seamless, lively plot somehow conveyed historical details with never a hint of sleep-inducing research.

Donis included some old recipes at the end. I checked them for accuracy and found them all to be flawless except the buttermilk biscuit recipe which needed  ¼ tsp. of baking soda. (Yes it does, Donis. Do NOT sass me) And it’s been a long, long time since I’ve thought about a hot water pie crust.

Since the Lottie Albright series is both contemporary and historical, one of my hardest tasks is integrating plots and intersecting motivation.

When I was half-way through Old Buzzard, my friend, and native Kansan, Max Yoho, sent pictures of his and wife, Carol’s, recent trip through Lone Elm. There were 90 people living there when I was a girl. My sister kept a list and crossed souls off when they went to their reward. I’m inserting a sad image of what remains of this once thriving community which eventually died out after horseless carriages came into their own and someone finally did something about the county roads.

I was born after the Great Depression, so escaped the profound fear of poverty that dogs so many of that era. My generation has other ghosts. Anyone remember how to build a bomb shelter?


Irene Bennett Brown said...

Loved this post! Thanks a million for the entertainment. What a sorry picture of the remains of Lone Elm. Please bring the town back in your books.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Irene, bless your heart! (remember that?)Loved your idea of bringing Lone Elm back. It was in Anderson County, but as you well know, novelists can free whisk settings back and forth. The people would be the same.

Hannah Dennison said...

This is brilliant Charlotte! I love that series. Being British we have a lot of old traditions and customs as you know - but I think the premature baby fear takes the cake (or biscuit).

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hannah, my own family would furnish material for a lifetime of novels. Ironically, they were convential hard-working folks who saw themselves as not all that remarkable. Pillars of the community and all that.

And my aunt wasn't the only woman who did this!

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Rick Blechta said...

Excellent post, my dear! Enjoyable and thought-provoking.

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Charlotte Hinger said...

Rick, who would have thought that Lone Elm would still interest people. It was a living Spoon River Anthology.