Growing up, life, and events happened because they just did. As I got older, I had a different take on that thought, and every so often something would filter through my day creating a déjà vu moment. I maybe shrugged this off, but it got archived somewhere in the grey matter for future reference.
I was twelve years old the first time I read the trilogy by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. — a.k.a. Rich Hobson. Book one, Grass Beyond the Mountains took place some thirty years before I opened the cover. It didn’t take me long to grasp that I knew some parts of the country the setting was established in. Some would say it was in our so-called backyard. And how cool was it that he passed through our area to get to his destination. Naming towns along the way that were part of my life.
At that age, what I wasn’t acquainted with were the people in the book. Who better to talk to than someone I presumed knew everything, and maybe everyone…my dad. I did most of the talking and dad would nod, and occasionally answer a question or two that I threw out there, like:
“Do you know any of these guys (characters) in this book?”
“How, where, when?”
“I’ve come across ‘em.”
That’s all I got. Not a surprise since dad was known for being a man of few words.
In retrospect of how I was raised, dad wouldn’t have seen the need to expound on someone else. It was, after all their life, not his. If I wanted to know more, I was on my own. Yet, being twelve meant the only viable thing I could do was to read the second and third books.
Some years later, I met people with names that were somehow familiar to me. It was weird to be talking to someone and wondering where do I know you from? Conversations ensued without any definitive answers. Again, I turned to dad. I wanted to know if our family somehow knew anyone that I had been introduced to at a recent rodeo I had attended. He provided his normal condensed version of an answer. “Could be from Williams Lake, or that Anahim Lake country.” Not much to go on, and once again information was archived.
Fast forward fifty years…A glimmer of light came on when I re-read Grass Beyond the Mountains. A connection to names and places that had been put in the memory vault started to come to life. Until I was reading the book again, I hadn’t known the significance of my conversations with dad. I started putting the pieces together. The last names of people in the book coincided with the towns I had been to some forty-odd years ago for rodeos.
You see, dad had been a saddle bronc rider in his younger days, and he too would have travelled to some of the places I had. From his rodeo trail, he knew the family names I had originally asked about. The names may not have been the actual people in the story, but it was the sir names and towns creating the link.
While reading the book, I came to realize it wasn’t the main characters who were as big as life in the story. Although without them, the memoir would most likely tell a completely different tale. It was the supporting cast of people and animals that brought depth and meaning for me. The discovery of the link opened the door to possibilities. Had future generations of the book’s characters crossed my path when I was younger? Definitely more digging into my archives is needed to confirm my link theory.
I am thankful to have the old copies of Rich Hobson’s three books in my library. Each holds words of how life was for those men and women of that era. The people who were ballsy enough to venture into the uncharted country. Breaking the trail to make a life for themselves and for those who came later. Their endurance resonates with me.
On a side note, if you have any interest at all in the topic of a frontier being opened up by grit, determination, humour, and horsepower, I recommend Rich Hobson’s memoir trilogy – Grass Beyond the Mountains, Nothing too Good for a Cowboy, and The Rancher Takes a Wife.
What fragments of (un-researched) personal knowledge has landed in your lap that you have used in your writing?
I rely on my heritage to keep me grounded. Reminding me of where I come from. Gifting me with snippets of past life and lives. Providing fuel to include in the writing I do about the lifestyle I see slipping from my grasp, from the world.
The taking pictures thing started forever ago, and when I found I could marry them to the material I have written, and am writing, well, to put it mildly, I think I have a bit of a runaway going on.
I am a lover of life and all things that make us smile. I write and take pictures for the pleasure of being able to share at Morning Muse, HorseWest, and my Blog at AnnEdallRobson.com where you can also contact me.
Grass Beyond the Mountains
A very good read, but of course, that is only my opinion.
How fascinating to meet people who you may have read about in books, or read about their family members in books. I guess that’s what happens with memoir. You are reading about real lives. While I’ve read about family in books written by family (and not published) I’ve also read about family members in memoirs by those with whom I have no connection. Another’s perspective can always add interest.
Connections and reminders show up in the oddest places. It is usually unexpected and that adds to the excitement of the find.
We never seem to know what will be important in our lives as we do it, but as you say, we archive the information and use it later. I ordered all three books. After I read them I will pass them to my grandson who has a keen interest in the frontier. Thank you for introducing us to your heritage.
One of my husband’s friends asked to read some of my writing and came back with the question, “Is Brian, me?” I had to think about it. He was correct. I hadn’t done it intentionally, but I sure did it. It was eye-opening and a compliment to the friend.
Your photos are amazing. I’m happy I can say I have seen you at work behind the camera.
It is interesting how we take traits from the people around us and make them into our characters. Admitting it to that person can turn out two ways, laughable or blow up in your face. They will either like what you have written or will not be happy with the liberties we writers tend to take to make the character our own. You are quite right, it often isn’t intentional.
I would like to hear what you think of Hobson’s books. Unfortunately, the newer print versions do not have the maps in them. The books in my library were published in 1951, 1955, and 1964.
(I love books that have maps as the frontispiece.) I’m savoring your post. Thinking. Crossing and using the paths of the stories and characters we encounter is a powerful thing, a braid in the weave of our own characters, that is, of our selves; the en-twine of place and people. Deja vu indeed.
Good one, Ann.
Acceptance of the characters in our past and the stories they tell are truly powerful. Without that, we wander aimlessly looking for something to ground us and guide us in all we do.
I too enjoy a book with a map. It gives me an intimate visualization that I am traversing the landscape with the characters.
that is so very interesting, the intersection of life and book
When that crossroad pops up it can become an interesting trip.
I have a half sibling that lived in the territory (on the land) that was written about by James Fenimore Cooper in 1826. The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 is a historical novel. There was a house/hunting lodge (since burned down) that as family legend goes… was the hunting lodge written about in the book…The last lines being…
“Tell them to be patient and ask death for speed; for they are all there but one – I, Chingachgook – Last of the Mohicans. Chingachgook : The frontier moves with the sun and pushes the Red Man of these wilderness forests in front of it until one day there will be nowhere left.”
Here Cooper is describing what he sees as Chinachgook walks away from the hunting/lodge house. I spent some summers there as a child. And walked some of the grounds and trails that supposedly lead to the burial site of an Indian Princess… though I don’t think we ever found it.
Most all other family history is lost in various countries in Europe. Too many wars, family looking to become free in America.
I do have a newspaper article somewhere of one grandfather who walked up and down neighborhood streets pushing a wooden cart – he sharpened knifes and fixed umbrellas to feed his family.
You have lots of interesting snippets of (your) history to go on. All worth archiving to be used later when the need arises to include them in whatever project you may be working on.
I do have one of those ‘family’ history books – Probably ought to write some of this stuff down… and stick it in there.
I just remembered another – MIL (she should rest) actually knew one of the sailors that is enshrined at/in the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor… I might be the only family member to know that. She didn’t tell me until she was in her late 80’s.
How interesting that you got to read these books at different stages in your life. We need that stillness to follow reflection to process places and names we might know, but also our roles. I agree about the imprtance of secondary characters. Super cool photo of your dad on a bronc!
I think we tend to gloss over the secondary characters in books we read and write. We know they are important to make the protagonist look good (or bad), yet I don’t think we let ourselves get into their heads as we do with the main characters.
I still have the saddle and chaps that Dad is wearing in this photo.
Strange family history, huh?
I haven’t used it (officially – it’s in a work in progress that may never be finished), but I found out my great grandfather died in a knife fight. But, as my relatives say, “At least he kilt that other feller, too.”
It is sometimes hard to ignore the closet full of skeletons our history may provide us with. We are lucky to be able to take liberties with our projects and change out names, dates, and adversaries to leave all who read it wondering if we are actually describing an event they may or may not know about. It can be a hard call to make. I hope you finish your WIP.
How fascinating, Anne. I love reading your stories about your family history and western legacy. I love books with maps. My mother has a book written by my Great Grandfather, her mother’s (my granny’s) father. He was a Baptist Minister who took his family (Granny was a girl of 7, the middle of three with 2 brothers) to live in Australia for seven years. His book is called Seven Years Under The Southern Cross. I inherited the silver tea service he was presented upon his retirement from his ministry in 1917. I haven’t read the book, as yet, but I know from my Granny that he lost his faith when his youngest son drowned in a weir. My Granny was a great inspiration to me in many ways, but I wish I had known so much more about her life in Australia. What I do know is she ran away at 17 to be a nurse, disobeying her mother. Granny told me it took 20 years before her mother spoke to her again!!!!!
Your Granny was a rebel! I say that with the utmost respect for her having the gumption to following her dreams. One hundred years ago, that (dream following) was not as acceptable as it is today. Although it makes me smile to think not much has really changed. There are still parents who don’t speak to their children because they do strike out to follow their dreams. Her nursing school records (if any are archived) could hold one of the keys to getting to know her better.
Reading your Great Grandfather’s book may give you more insight on your Granny’s time in Australia. As well, it might offer reference to other paths that would provide you with more information about her time there. Things like the names of people, places, and experiences the family as a whole may have encountered.
Our family histories are fascinating. The only thing we need to brace ourselves for is opening doors that tell a version of a story, as we know it, that may have a different twist to it.
Thank you for sharing the snippets of your history, Sherri. Good luck with your quest to get to know more about your Granny.
Hello again, Anne, and huge apologies for my very late reply. I’m on the back hoof with blogging lately…
You are absolutely right, my Granny was a rebel! She said so herself. I never thought about her nursing school records and after reading your post and thoughts here, I am actually quite excited about reading my Great Grandfather’s book now! There must be so much in there about that side of my family I have no clue about. A wise warning you give though, and as a memoir writer myself, I definitely get that need to brace when we start delving into family history.
I could talk to you about all this forever, Anne, I find it so fascinating.
My dear Dad died in 2017, three weeks shy of his 84th birthday, despite being a life long alcoholic and in prison for most of his adult life. I learnt more about his early life after he died than he could ever remember or talked about. My cousin contacted me out of the blue after Dad died and sent photos of him with his older sister (my cousin’s mother and my Auntie Peggy) and their other brother (Uncle Peter) as children during WWII, in London, their 21st birthdays, photos of my Nana and Granddad in all their finery at fancy dinner dances and at the beach as a family on holiday. All thanks to Auntie Peggy being the family historian and notating every photo with names, places and dates. They are a priceless treasure trove for me as you can imagine. I had no idea Auntie Peggy had those photos all those years!
I very much look forward to your next post and I hope to write more about my Granny in time – and, of course, my dad. So many stories!
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