I get the impression my dad was a ring-tailed rascal when he was a boy and kept his parents hopping. Born and raised on a small farm in northeast Washington, even as a three or four-year-old he’d hit the trail, hiking by himself up the hill to their nearest neighbors, the Kearneys. There he found three like-minded brothers to cavort with. Joe, nearest in age, became his particular partner-in-crime, as it were. Between the boys’ escapades and crazy barnyard animal antics, stories emerged that became legendary in the archives of the two families.
I grew up on these stories.
Over the years I would hear more, all taking place around the Barstow area. Some made me laugh. (Why would a perfectly normal milk cow poke her head into a doghouse – with the dog still inside?) Some made my heart ache. (My grandmother trekked on foot up the hillside day after day to nurse a neighbor’s child who had come down with diphtheria. She boiled her own clothes in an outside tub whenever she returned so she wouldn’t bring the disease home.)
The stories were full of laughter, tears, even danger. But they all revolved around one thing – family.
I asked my mother about her childhood. She loved to tell stories of her father, Al Wang. Head ranger for the Forest Service District in Orient, ten miles north of Barstow, he was a handsome man with a dry sense of humor. She adored him.
Throw in adventures my siblings and I experienced when we spent weeks with our grandparents during summer vacation and voila, a treasure-trove of stories lay at our feet.
As adults we began to say, “Someone needs to write these down.”
So I tried. But it always came out like a disjointed list of events. It didn’t even appeal to me.
A couple of years ago the thought struck – what if I wrote a book where the main character encountered the stories first-hand?
Thus began Love, Mary Elisabeth. I pictured an eleven-year-old girl coming to live on the farm. Out of the blue, Mary Elisabeth and her family sprang into my mind as if they’d been quietly waiting in the background until I came to my senses and put them on paper.
Though the McCormack and Carter families are pure fiction, most of their adventures are the true life accounts I grew up on. And I must admit, many times when visiting my parents, who still reside on the same spot the adventures began, I half-expected to see Mary Elisabeth on horseback or pulling weeds in the garden. All the characters became real to me – even the ornery ones.
So pull up a chair and grab a copy of Love, Mary Elisabeth.
Enter the world of a brave eleven-year-old girl on a country farm in 1924. I hope she makes you laugh, maybe brings a tear to your eye, and, most of all, touches your heart with the meaning of family.