December 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

December 14, 2018

Cora Kingston lived alone in Cat Harbor. When the storms turned violent in November, she’d add more wood to the parlor stove and bake a batch of corn muffins. That way she felt less lonely, listening to the wind moan through weathered chinks in her small frame house that her friend John built. Cora–

No, Cora Kingston never lived in Cat Harbor. But it sounds good and what sounds good to a writer with imagination becomes the plaster used when crafting a historical story. Names, dates, events, and places leave gaps. Historical fiction tries to fill them with believable details — colorful but plausible ones.

Cora and Cat Harbor are two mysteries that my mind often puzzle. The Keweenaw Peninsula dots the map with names left over from 150 years of copper mining. Yet Cat Harbor is an unusual name not linked to a mine or historic figure.

They say…

….when all the trees were logged the curve of land resembed the paw of a feline.
…long ago wildcats roamed this inlet.
…when the Ralph Budd wrecked on the rocks of this small harbor in 1929, cats from the boat swam to shore.
…when the Ralph Budd wrecked, carrying butter and cream, it attracted all the felines in the area for miles.

Whatever they say about the name of Cat Harbor, they say less about Cora Kingston. As a writer who researches the lost stories of women, I can tell you this is a common problem. Often the stories of women are not passed down, and names are easily lost through marriage.

Passing through Cat Harbor during a wild October storm with my friend and local maritime historian, Barb, we paused to watch the massive waves hit a reef of exposed basalt. The force of the water on rocks sent spray 40 feet into the air like geysers. The waves crashed to shore with such force, they sprayed across the road.

It’s easy to imagine the energy of such storms instilling awe in those who first settled this remote region along the shores of Lake Superior. We certainly felt it, standing there, shivering in the cold wind, mesmerized by the force. And that’s when I thought about Cora Kingston.

My friend is a cemetery lurker like me. Barb hunts down the final resting spots of former light-keepers and surfman — the men who rescued stranded and wrecked ships. She writes their biographies and gives presentations to honor their service. Maybe she could help me figure out who Cora Kingston was, I thought.

Several years ago, on my first visit to the Keweenaw, my daughter took me to the cemetery near Eagle River where white-washed stones stood among ephemeral flowers and chattering squirrels. It was at the beginning of my “wandering time,” and yet I was filled with the passion I have for cemetery stories and wrote about it in the May 18, 2016, prompt. Cora Kingston was the woman I mentioned who left a memorial for her dearest friend.

I thought the friend was John Vendow. Turns out I misread the marker (as have others who’ve recorded names from the cemetery). I showed the memorial grave to Barb. She recognized the surname Kingston as one of the “old families” of the area. She later corrected me on John’s name — it’s Yendow. Further research shows he was the son of a French-Canadian carpenter and the surname was originally Gendeau.

In 1870, 1880 and 1894 the Gendau/Yendow family lived in Keweenaw County, which is a broad area full of copper mines, harbors, and towns. The 1880 Federal Census revealed that at the age of 13 John Yendow found employment at a stamp mill. Likely that was the one in Gay. Remember the raven graffiti photo I used last week with the challenge? That’s from the remaining smokestack where John Yendow once labored as a teen in the 1880s.

He died in 1892 at the age of 25. According to a family member that Barb tracked down, John and two siblings succumbed in 1892 to typhoid. Their parents passed on in 1916 and 1918. All are said to be buried in the same cemetery near Eagle River and yet none have grave markers. The Kingstons are all buried in the cemetery near Eagle Harbor, about six miles away. Cora Kingston erected a marker the Yendow family could not afford, and it leaves her name etched in stone:

Cora Kingston
Loving remembrance
her dearest friend
John Yendow
Born May 31, 1867
Died October 5, 1892

The beautiful white marker joining her name with his stands among an ornate wrought-iron fence with an old tin pot that once held planted flowers. It begs so many questions, but the primary one is who was Cora Kingston?

The Yendow descendant says the family has no idea. He thinks they were to be married. Barb found records for three Cora Kingstons. The most likely Cora was born in 1871, four years John’s junior. Her parents were from England — Charley and Hanna Kingston, who came to the copper mining region. Here’s a small biography of Cora’s father:

“CHARLES KINGSTON, contractor of the Central Mine, has been connected with this company for more than twenty years. He was born in Hampshire, England, May 22, 1824; was brought up a farmer, and emigrated to America in 1851. He came direct to Lake Superior; landed at Eagle Harbor, and engaged in wood chopping. He was next a miner three years. About 1862, he located at the Central Mine, and engaged in contract work for this company, getting out wood and timber and doing their teaming. He also has had charge of the road work for the township of Sherman, as Road Commissioner, some seventeen years. In 1874, he made a visit to his native country, spending about four months abroad. Mr. Kingston is one of the old pioneers of this region, and is widely and favorably known.”

~Keweenaw County History, 1883

John Yendow’s mother, Elizabeth (Nankervis) Yendow was the daughter of a Cornish miner who worked the Cliff Mine. She married Fabien Yendow in October of 1860. John was one of 11 children. By the time the couple celebrated 50 years of marriage, they had six remaining daughters, all married. Thus no trace of the Yendow/Gendeau/Yeandeau name remains. The women slip into other families.

And Cora? It seems she married another John — John Blackwell Holman who was three years younger than her and another English immigrant son of a miner. They moved to Seattle, Washington where her second John worked as a mail carrier, and she took in lodgers.

The story fades. The questions linger.

Did Cora and John Yendow grow up together? Were they sweethearts? If they were going to marry, why weren’t they married by the time they were 25 and 21? How did Cora come up with the money for so elaborate of a gravestone for John? And why leave her name etched with his?

When the records can’t tell the story, that’s when we gather around the campfire and make them up.

December 13, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Cora Kingston. You can answer any of the questions history obscures or completely make up a Cora Kingston story. Go where the prompt (and the name) leads you.

Respond by December 18, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

Cora’s Scrapbook (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni stood up, stretching stiff muscles after hours of sitting on the hardwood floor of Ramona’s bedroom. It was one thing to scour historical records for work, another to snoop through a box stashed under her husband’s grandmother’s bed. But Danni couldn’t pull herself away from the scrapbooks she found. One belonged to Ramona, another to Ramona’s mother, and a third to Cora Kinston Holman. Each documented events, recipes, photos and newspaper clippings. Was Cora Ramona’s maternal grandmother? The name was unfamiliar to Danni. Yet Cora’s scrapbook brimmed with poetry and sketches similar to Ramona’s stories and fairy drawings.

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  1. robertawrites235681907

    Ahhh! Charli, such a difficult prompt this week. Maybe she isn’t American, maybe she is an 1820 settler to South AFrica.

    • Annecdotist

      Go for it, Robbie!

    • Charli Mills

      Yes! Maybe she is! I agree with Anne — go where the prompt leads.

    • tnkerr

      Yeah – I’d love to read that take.

  2. Annecdotist

    A tricky prompt, Charli, although you’ve got me thinking about a ridge on the moors called Catiside, supposedly due to wildcats, although I’m doubtful. Let’s see what Cora will tell me!

      • tnkerr

        Well done. I loved it.

      • Annecdotist

        Thank you.

      • Jules

        That’s a take I did not expect. And those are the best kinds…
        Well done.

      • robbiecheadle

        Very good, Anne.

    • Charli Mills

      Love where you took this tough prompt, Anne! Cora evidently had something to say!

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Tsk, tsk. All things in moderation, Cora.

    • robbiecheadle

      A great take.

  3. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Safe Harbor

    A pair of shooting stars streaked across the night sky. Tears welled as Cora thought of John.
    At his death she heard the sympathetic whispering. “Now they’ll never marry.”
    Before his death the whispers were “When will they marry?” Maybe John was waiting until he had more to offer; maybe Cora’s parents were against the union. But John and Cora clearly enjoyed each other’s company. The whispers were speculative and unkind.
    Cora and John had loved one another. Now only she knew why they would never have married.
    “Rest in peace, dear friend,” Cora whispered to the starlit night.

    • Annecdotist

      Aw, so lovely! Clever to link in the harbour.

    • Ann Edall-Robson

      So many secrets and only one with the answers. Will there be more to tell us all what we too want to know?

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        No. Suffice it to say he knew he would never have been a good husband for her but they cherished their friendship and the freedoms and protection it afforded them both.

    • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

      Beautifully written D. but I want to know what it is that she knows. Why couldn’t they marry. I am thinking that they were brother and sister ……… If you don’t tell my mind has to make its own story.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        I don’t mind that your mind has to do that. Not siblings. Just dear friends as indicated by the marker.

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Ha! I no longer believe in truth. It’s a shapeshifter. The words are just a shadow.

      • Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        We each have our own truth. Might be the same but could be different yet both is right. Strange thing truth.

    • robbiecheadle

      Well done, D.

    • robbiecheadle

      Well done.

  4. Ann Edall-Robson

    Identity Found
    By Ann Edall-Robson

    She loathed the old law obliterating a woman’s maiden name when she married. Erasing her true identity, leaving only her first name intact, sometimes. She had been searching for years to fill in the blanks of where she was from, who she was from. The obituary took up half the column. An invitation to a family reunion/memorial, and in the middle of the list was her full name, her town. Someone else had been searching too and found her, and her kin. They were all descendants of Cora Kingston. A perfect stranger had unlocked her life’s history pages.

    • Michael

      Nicely done Ann, enjoyed your take on her name.

    • robbiecheadle

      I really enjoyed your take, Michael

      • Michael

        Thanks Robbie

    • robbiecheadle

      Heart rending, Ritu.

  5. pensitivity101

    Here’s my effort Charli:
    Title TABOO
    The marker miraculously appeared overnight on the unmarked grave of a poor man.
    No-one in the family, now or then, knew who Cora Kingston was, or what her relationship was with John Yendow, a man with many friends, but no money.
    He had made his way through life working the land as and where he could.
    The Kingston Farm was one of the most profitable in the country, but there was no mention of a Cora. Unless it was a subterfuge to hide a relationship between races, beliefs and religion which would have resulted in death for both parties.

  6. H.R.R. Gorman

    Hello again – loved reading what everyone’s already made!

    Mine is a little different this time. I did something that some people might not like, but it fit the clues given, in my opinion.

    **True Love**

    He was a friend of mine. I bought his headstone and put him in the earth.

    His parents were poor, but I was sure he wouldn’t have had even a wooden marker tied with twine.

    He’d been kind to me at the stamp mill, seen me as an equal, a confidant. We were to be married, a convenience to him and freedom to me, if God hadn’t chosen to take him home. His parents were ever grateful that I was willing to hide their ‘mistake.’

    But how could John’s life be a mistake when I loved him so deeply?

    • susansleggs

      Indeed it fit the clues given. I give it a thumbs up.

  7. denmaniacs4

    Sandcastle Souls

    Every day, Cara Kingston walked down from her cabin, passed mine, waved if I was in view, which was often that first year.

    I was still struggling with heartbreak back then.

    She’d walk out on the tiny peninsula that slunk into the Salish Sea, stand on its slippery shore, and wait for her lover, Walter.

    “It’s so sad,” my neighbour Molly had intoned when first I moved to Sandcastle Point. “They’d been together such a short time when he was lost.”


    “A storm surfaced. Another lost fisher.”

    “When?” I asked.

    “Oh! Eons!”


    “Yes. The pain never leaves.”

  8. Norah

    An interesting post but a tough prompt, Charli. If this Norah can write a story of Cora, she’ll scrape it in with a cat’s whisker.
    I like the questions you pose about Ramona and Cora in your flash story. I wonder …

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      You can do it Norah. OMG, you’re doing it right now, aren’t you?

      • Norah

        Unfortunately, I missed the boat this time. Life had other plans for me. I didn’t catch up with Cora. 🙂

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        It’s ok. There’s so much going on! I just hope you weren’t too niggled by the prompt. Maybe one week we can all write about the one that got away.

  9. Jules

    Charli, I like how you tied Danni’s exploration of those under the bed boxes to Cora Kingston. I did a three part series each 99 words. Slightly similar, but yet completely different – I hope.

    I’m getting over a cold… I hope to catch up on things that I’ve missed. Please enjoy the series which also has some info from at my post site:

    Core Values

    Part 1
    Cora Holman King was named for her great grandmother. Entering into the King family which was splendid in its richness of history sometimes made young Cora pine for more knowledge of her Kingston relatives.

    There was a story that in the a cemetery near Eagle River her great grandmother had erected a grave marker for a friend named John Yendow. There was no one to ask the how or why this was done.

    In an old jewelry chest that belonged to the elder Cora, the great granddaughter found a false bottom with a letter. Maybe that held a clue?

    Part 2
    Yellow and brittle with a fine slant of fading India ink script, Cora Kingston was writing to John Yendow. It was not a love letter.

    Dearest John,

    Your family was so kind to help ours when illness struck. We who had been neighbors and had survived so many cold winters. Without your families aide that bitter winter when my whole household was laid with high fevers, you and yours came morning, noon and night to check upon us.

    I have set aside private funds of my own earnings. I hope to use it someday to remember you.

    Love, Cora

    Part 3
    Cora King wasn’t really any closer to finding answers as to how Cora Kingston knew of John Yendow’s death and how much was spent on the marker that was erected in his memory. What had her great grandmother done to earn that money. Why was the memorial just dedicated to John?

    One could only guess that perhaps as children during that feverish winter, they had made promises that time wouldn’t let them keep. What Cora King could do was visit the white stone monument. Take its photograph and make sure it was kept clean. What more could she do?


    • susansleggs

      I enjoyed the story being told by the great-granddaughter. Good take(s).

      • papershots

        me too.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      A good take (or three) Jules. Yet only more mysteries!

  10. pedometergeek

    Best Friends

    Suddenly, Cora Kingston moved away. Brokenhearted, she married the first man she met. The truth was that she would always love John, her best friend.

    They became fast friends from the time they met. John and Cora played together from building tree forts to playing checkers to talking.

    During their teens they were encouraged to go to school dances with other students. Despite this, they remained best friends, pledging their love to each other.

    When John asked for Cora’s hand in marriage, her father said, “No. It was a secret I hoped never to reveal, but you’re my son.

    Nancy Brady, 2018

    • Jules

      I remember watching a movie a long time ago about two young friends. The parents didn’t want them to be together because the children didn’t know that they were siblings! The little girl was so distraught that she was the one who went to the stream they played together in …and never came out. The mother then became a recluse.

      I like your spin 🙂

      • pedometergeek

        Thanks, Jules. I think in small communities there were probably more of these ‘relationships’ than not.

  11. papershots

    Lovely post Charli. I can relate to those feelings about cemeteries and the lives of people we don’t know anything about. It’s amazing how one tombstone with so little information can sparkle stories in our imagination. Once I was walking around my cousins’ house in Connecticut and I came across an old graveyard by the side of the road. It was abandoned. Only a few stones were left from the end of the 18th century / beginning of the 19th. Names and stories didn’t say much, if anything at all, and yet I felt a whole world was “hiding” behind those stones. Thanks for posting this – and quite a challenger. Post coming shortly 🙂

  12. susansleggs

    Great prompt Charli. I walked the cemetery in my small town a few years ago. It was like walking the streets when I was a small girl selling 4-H items from house to house. I knew all the names. Missing were my own parents who had been buried miles away where they had buried a toddler many years before. Their absence could have easily started historical rumors like Cora’s.
    Enjoy the holidays…

    The Family Secret

    From the time Cora Kingston attended the one room school house she had eyes for no other than John Yendow, a boy four years older. At home Cora’s mother would rail the girl that he was unacceptable. As Cora grew older her mother tried to pair her with unknowns from out of town but Cora refused. After typhoid took both her mother and John, Cora finally accepted another and moved far away. Years later she returned to erect a tombstone for her true love. If only he had been Jewish like her mother. The best kept secret in town.

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      The secrets are piling up thicker than a Kewenaw snow squall.

  13. Kate

    I remember the time Charli, when you double-dog dared us to join you and create a story based on one of the resting places we find in our local cemetery. What followed was my first attempt at historical fiction. John Yendow’s headstone in Eagle River easily captured my imagination. I can’t help but feel that Cora had a streak of rebellion in her. Her relationship with John did not meet her family’s approval and this headstone represented her final act of defiance and declaration of love. Here is my take on the prompt.


    Cora grabbed the net, hoisted her skirt hem and stepped into the rushing waters of Jacob’s Creek.

    “I got it,” she said, securing the floundering trout John was reeling in. “This will fry up nicely.”

    “It sure will.”

    Like nesting turtle doves, they fussed over their meal and then sat on some rocks to talk about life before cleaning up their mess.

    “Wanna see some mayflowers?” asked John after hiding the dishes in their usual spot.

    “Show me!” laughed Cora grabbing John’s hand.

    The underbrush crackled. Startled, Cora turned. Pointed at them was the barrel of her father’s rifle.

  14. Ethan Edmunds

    First time submission – Cora Kingston Challenge
    The Offering, by Ethan Edmunds

    She was supposed to meet him on the wandering rocks that night. Of the innumerable promises she’d made to John that summer, it was the only one she ever broke.

    Cora knew he’d kept their secret, because in all the years since he’d disappeared, no one had ever come asking after him.

    She knelt down as far as her hobbled knees would allow and placed the small bundle in the grass, trying desperately not to think about what was inside. Cora rested her weathered hand on the stone, closed her eyes, and waited patiently for the vibration to start.

    • pedometergeek

      You’ve created another mystery to solve…well done. ~nan

    • D. Avery @shiftnshake

      Welcome to the Ranch. That Cora… a long life of secrets and mysteries.

  15. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Cora Beliefs

    “Hey, Pal, what d’ya say?”
    “‘Bout what, Kid? Cain’t waste words ‘roun here.”
    “‘Bout Cora Kingston then. Know anything on that matter?”
    “They say she’s from up north, Eagle River way. Cat Harbor.”
    “That I know.”
    “Say she went west with a near John, but not her dear John.”
    “‘S’what I heard.”
    “Thing is, Cora weren’t her real name; it was assumed.”
    “I never assumed that.”
    “No, Kid, she assumed it.
    “Who?! Hooe?”
    “Yep. Fannie Hooe come back incognito, claimin’ ta be Cora Kingston.”
    “In neat clogs? Oh. Keens?”
    “True story, Kid. Plausibly.”
    “Hoo-wee Pal.”

  16. Kerry E.B. Black

    Such an intriguing mystery!

    Here’s my thought. I can imagine Cora staring mortality in the face and deciding to leave a mark. I bet she hoped you’d find that marker, Charli, hoped you’d be fascinated, prayed you’d wonder after a sister who deserved to be remembered.

    Written by Kerry E.B. Black

    The hole gaped deeper than its six muddy feet. It threatened to swallow Cora whole, as it would John when the gravekeepers filled it in. She might not lie within that pine coffin, but she could have.

    What trick of fate kept her from the overturned carriage? Who declared her friend should take the fateful journey and not her?

    “You’ll not be forgotten,” she whispered while the pastor droned on. Within her pockets, an inheritance jingled, enough for a memorial.

    “I’ll not be forgotten, either,” she promised, and crafted the words for the white marble memorial in her mind.


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