Family Myth-Makers

A cherished story in my family is that Great Grandma came to California by covered wagon during the 1849 Gold Rush.  Only she didn’t.  Hard as I try to hold on to the version of my great grandparents making  a tortuous six-month wagon “road trip” from Michigan to California to start  a new life together, the evidence just isn’t there.

Nonetheless, I refuse to be swayed by facts. So what if dusty historical biographies and frayed yellow obituaries record that it was actually 1874 when Emily Anna Bacon Hoppin accompanied her new husband, Charles, back to his 800 acre ranch in Yolo, California. She might even have taken the new transcontinental railroad, recently opened in 1869 for all we know.  But inside of me is a small child who won’t release her fingers around a favorite shiny pebble. In my heart, Great Grandmother did come to California by covered wagon during the Gold Rush.

“It’s the storyteller’s right to embellish the story,” my Grandma Dot-Dot once confessed as she spun yet another legendary tale about her mother’s life in the late 1800’s. I interviewed Grandma before she died and transcribed her stories into a book which I gave to the extended family. It was a meritage of memory and facts. From her child’s-eye perspective of early California ranch life, Grandma fashioned her mother into a larger-than-life figure who was not to be reckoned with. “Emily Hoppin was known as a woman who stood by her principles,” Grandma told us. “Why she and her women friends threatened to close down the local saloons so many times, they were known as the Three Musketeers. Grandma delighted in planting family stories into our fertile imaginations. She was our myth-maker.

I learned from Grandma Dot-Dot that stories are more important than facts.  Stories nurture the heart; facts languish in the head.  This is why I describe the novel I’m working on as part historical fiction, part memoir, and part future-fantasy. Despite my struggle to be historically accurate, I’m finding that the family’s mythology is much more enduring.

In my next blog, I’ll describe my discovery of an historical detail while traveling through the Nevada desert – a fact that somehow never made it into the family’s records or mythology.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2015, except as otherwise noted.

“Our Foremothers” 1915

Emily's 4th July Speech 1

Hey, enough about our Forefathers this Independence Day!  Back in 1915, my Great Grandmother Emily Hoppin gave this speech about “Our ForeMothers” to a Fourth of July celebration in Yolo County, California.

I’ve transcribed her words from my copy of her handwritten notes.   To read her full speech go to  Emily’s Speech.                      Here are some excerpts:

“OUR FOREMOTHERS”

For over a hundred years, on this anniversary of our nation’s birth, men have written and poets have sung of our forefathers.  Today, for the first time in the history of – well – I will not say our nation, but will say of Yolo County, you are to hear not only of your forefathers but your foremothers, and I wish I had the eloquent tongue to tell of them.

Neither do I today expect to give a small meed of praise to these foremothers of ours – but I would try to win for them some of the gratitude we give our forefathers.

 Often women are the leaders and organizers of great enterprises.  Our own country owes its discovery to the masterful mind of a woman. (note: I assume Queen Isabella of Spain, who financed Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World.  She also took an unusual interest in the Native Americans he brought back to Spain as slaves, by ordering the Indians returned to their homeland and freed.  However, she and her husband, Ferdinand, also started the Spanish Inquisition!  Now back to 1915).  

In the history of this beautiful state of ours where the pioneers of ’49 were enduring their hardships – the women were by their side and endured with them the hardships and lessons of the plains. 

Women have however been content with no praise at all, or the praise such as the old pioneer settler out west gave to his wife when an old grizzly bear came into his cabin one day.

          Perhaps you recall the man’s scream to his frau. 

         There’s a bear in the kitchen as big as a cow. 

          And how she advised him to murder him then. 

          And how his reply was, Yes! Betty, I will if you’ll first venture in. 

          So Betty leaped up and a poker she seized. 

          While her man shut the door and outside he squeezed 

          And then you remember, she laid on the blows. 

          While her man, through the keyhole kept shouting with din,

          Well done, my brave Betty.  Now hit him again.

           So with rapping and poking, poor Betty alone

          at last laid old Bruin as dead as a stone. 

          Then when the brave man saw the bear was no more,

         he ventured to poke himself in at the door.

          And off to the neighbors he hastened to tell,

          all the wonderful things –that morning befell. 

          And he published the wonderful story afar,

          How “Me and my Betty we just slaughtered that bar.”

Now my dear friends there is nothing personal in this story – nothing that is applicable to you – for you have never said to us in regard to taking hold of work.  Yes!  Darling we will, if you’ll first venture in.   We all know how energetic you men of Yolo County are, and how anxious you are that our county shall be well governed.

How glad you are to give due praise to women today, we who are proud to stand beside you and tell of the grand women of the past. Tis like stirring living embers when one calls to mind “all the achings and the quakings of the times that tried men’s souls.”

(Her speech continues with descriptions of women’s roles in the major events of America’s history.  The complete speech is on my website:  Emily’s Speech).

We who live in these days of railroads and telegraphs and books cannot realize the lonely days and nights of these women.

Speak of (women’s) brave words, their true hearts, their noble deeds.  Tell of their purity, their faith, their heroism, and let this fourth of July celebrate their deeds, as well as he deeds of our forefathers – and if between the living and the dead, is stretched, as some believe, a spirit wire, let it signal to them the words we speak today, and may their spirits – our guardian angels watch o’er our  country and may the God of our fore fathers and mothers, who through the gloom and night has guided our people. 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Great-Grandmother Emily’s Vision of Universal Peace -1915

I was awestruck when I read this 1915 article about my Great Grandmother Emily Hoppin (the inspiration for Eliza in “The Desk”) after she was elected President of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Mrs. Hoppin 1915

“Mrs. Hoppin is an optimist . . . even in the face of the greatest war of all ages (WWI), she still hopes that work for peace, which she feels must be largely woman’s work, will not – cannot – be in vain. She anticipates that the condition we pray for, the prevalence of an effective sentiment for universal peace, may come about suddenly and unexpectedly, likening it to the movement for the abolition of slavery, which seemed a far, Eutopian vision in the minds of its supporters. Practically all they dared hope for was the restriction and limiting of the traffic – and then, of a sudden, Emancipation! – more glorious than their fondest dreams! And so she prays it may be with the peace sentiment.”                                               (The Overland Monthly, 1915 – “The New Executive in Feminine Clubdom”)

Though I also consider myself an optimist, I get easily discouraged by what feels like a tsunami of greed and self-interest. I lose hope. Think of today’s big issues: gun control, the Afghanistan war, reproductive choices, the right to marry, genetically-modified foods, etc. (obviously reflects my liberal perspective). Sure, I sign internet petitions, donate to causes, make an occasional call to elected representatives, but I recognize a little voice that says, “I’ll do what I can, but it’s probably hopeless – too much money and corporate interest backing it.”

And then I read my Great-Grandmother’s words and come face to face with the paucity of my vision. Remember Ken Keyes’ book, The Hundredth Monkey? He wrote: “When only a limited number of people know of a new way, it may remain the conscious property of these people. But there is a point at which if only one more person tunes-in to a new awareness, a field is strengthened so that this awareness reaches almost everyone!”

I return to Great Grandma’s vision that “universal peace may come about suddenly and unexpectedly, likening it to the movement for the abolition of slavery, which seemed a far, Eutopian vision in the minds of its supporters. . . then, of a sudden, Emancipation! – more glorious than their fondest dreams!”

I realize now my work is to join with others to hold a strong, clear image of the world I want. A world where guns are registered like cars, and users are tested for skills and safety. Where any committed couple can marry. Where the earth has a sustainable population because women can control conception. Where we learn to live with less energy … and so on. I encourage you to think about the images you hold – and how they can add to the tipping point.

 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Seismic Shift in Access to Information

p_g10afjmr5gq0462_bThere’s been a seismic shift in access to information since I first did serious research on my Great Grandmother, Emily Hoppin, almost 25 years ago.  Back then (before Internet, mind you) I had to travel to Woodland to do on-site research in the Yolo County Archives – a small building in an industrial section of town.  When I found a newspaper article I wanted to copy of my gold-rush era ancestor, the kindly woman held a column-wide copier over the paper, and reproduced the article in that filmy fax-type paper (print is faded and useless today)

I’ve also relied on my Great-Grandmother’s scrapbook (patented in 1873 by Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain) that contains her pasted newspaper clippings of family deaths, her speeches, and the hot political contest for President of Federation of Women’s Clubs of California (which she won -1915).  Someday, I’ll make it part of Woodland’s historical archives.

I’ve found Ancestry.com helpful for locating records of births, deaths and census reports.  Interesting to see who else was living on the farm.

But recently Stephanie Korney, a friend and a founder of the Camptonville Historical Society, emailed me an article about my Great Grandmother from the 1915 Overland Journal. (Stephanie said after seeing my blog, she just couldn’t help digging around herself!)  I thought I’d seen most things printed on my ancestors, but here was an article filled with delicious details about this woman.  Wow!  Made Facebook look pale!

In the last 25 years, the Internet has  democratized access to information.  Google Books, a service from Google Inc. scans the full text of books and old magazines, converts text using optical character recognition, and stores it in its digital database. There’s been a lot of controversy over copyright issues and fair use.  That aside, I’m delighted to be able to search for Emily Hoppin, Yolo, California and find 30 sources of information on her.  I’ll put some on my website, and some of it will be incorporated into The Desk as a backdrop for Eliza, the fictionalized woman inspired by my Great-Grandmother’s life work for California, Women’s Suffrage, Temperance, Water, Farming and hopes for Universal Peace.

Evolution of The Desk

Stone Portal 2Do we have the ability to influence our ancestors?  Or our future descendants?  On a restless night several years ago, I found these thoughts changing the course of my novel.

I started out inspired to write about my Great Grandmother Emily who settled during the 1849 Gold Rush in the Sacramento Valley.   But I didn’t want to write yet another biography of a head-strong, determined western woman.  The book shelf’s already full of those!  So I stepped back to look at the larger landscape.

3. Misty Autumn Back Road.Camptonville 11.07Of course…we’re all spirit, and if time transcends the here and now, we all have access to each other’s lives.  What if I could slip back into my great-grandmother’s life and tell her what she’d need to know that might ward off future ecological devastation?  Or hear my great-granddaughter imploring me to build now what she’d need to survive when she returns to our abandoned homestead in the far future?

PetroglyphAnd what if we’re all connected by the vision of an ancient woman of wisdom who saw it all?  Shima’a found a portal that transcended time.  From the heartwood of an oak tree (that as an acorn grew from her heart when she died), a small oak writing desk became her means of inspiring women to gather their power and create new ways of living together. The old, aggressive masculine constructs have run their course. If earth and humanity are to survive, the feminine has to ascend.

 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Welcome to My Blog

California Landscapes of Women, Words and Wonder.

sun crop 2

It’s five in the morning and this is my first entry.  It’s also the dark of night, my best time for writing.  Like slipping between the covers of dreamtime and daylight – a very thin space where the two relax into each other and birth words that neither could have done alone.

What will you find on these pages?  You’re probably as curious as I am.  If you know me personally, you may have come here as a friend to touch base, see what’s up.  Or you may be someone who’s heard about my novel-in-progress, The Desk, or have read sections from it and return to feel its texture.  I was approached recently by two casual acquaintances who asked when the book would be ready.  They wanted to read more.  Derelyn and Michelle, this blog’s for you!

I anticipate this blog will be my way of telling a fuller story.  Originally, my novel was just that – a historical fantasy of what it might have been like to have lived my Great-Grandmother Emily Hoppin’s life.  Though I never met her, she’s my family heroine – arriving in California soon after the 1849 Gold Rush, settling in the small farming town of Yolo near Sacramento.  Emily was widely known as a woman of principal whose articulate words, both written and spoken, influenced the future of women and the land in turn-of-the-century California.  I have her scrapbook filled with speeches and newspaper articles about her.   I feel her in my blood.

In future blogs, I’ll describe how her personal life morphed into a fictional story, then morphed again into a fantasy that spans three generations of women, all interconnected by a secret held within the family desk.  Present, past and future, if you will.

This blog is my three-dimensional tic-tac-toe game where I can play with time, history (real and imagined) and see the world as it could be.

If you’re interested in History, there will be  sections on early California.  Geneology?  I’ll post what I have about the real lives my book is based on. California Landscape:  I’ll have photos and descriptions of nature’s wonders and their changes over time.  Concern for the Future:  I’ll not only describe my own impressions, but will link to other projections of where the earth is headed based on our past and current practices.  Collective Power of the Feminine: Here’s a place where I take heart that the growing bonds of feminine (not just women’s) energy will bring a powerful caring and protection for our earth.   And last, Creative Writing.  I’ll include sections of The Desk and write about how I pull all this together

I’m looking forward to your feedback – tell me what works for you, suggest nooks and crannies to explore, share your own thinking and keep me moving forward!