A Story Inspired by My Grandmother, Born in 1884

BEULAH’S BUGGY RIDE, An Original Story by Patricia

Two goals structured this story:  1) A character must tell a joke, and 2) A character must cry.  I heard about this story structure on National Public Radio (NPR), who sponsor an ongoing writing competition, and I found that it helped me get started and finish quickly.  I entered this story in the contest, but received no further comment after the filing was acknowledged.  I like the idea of the story, because it creates a feeling of closeness to my late grandmother.  Also, I became interested in using a voice from olden times.  I studied an old photo of my grandfather wearing a panama hat and ascot driving a mule-drawn buggy, and I took him out of the scene and put my grandmother and her sister in the buggy as the characters, one joking, one crying.

BEULAH’S BUGGY RIDE

The big sky of Texas drew their gazes upward, Beulah the younger sister and Rebecca a few years older.  Riding alone in the open buggy was not an ordinary, day-to-day thing.  Anxiety grew every time the wheels bumbled into and out of dried rivulets of mud.  “This mule and buggy can cross along here, even after a norther?” Beulah half stated, half asked Rebecca, beside her driving.  Beulah swung her right hand, shoulder level, toward the dried mud of the higher ground, the cattle-crossing of south-central Texas.  Rebecca muttered something vague, “We’ll jus’ see . . . we’re in a dry spell.  Sister, I’m not telling you anything– every fall so far has been different.  How many now, five?”

“Yes, but I remember . . . last April was wet.  Look yonder at that cloud!  It’s black.”

“Let’s get to the house and load that library table and cover it good.  I’ve seen Will tie down that waterproof tarp.  We can do it.  The rain may come before we get to your place.”

“Hee-aw, mule!”  Rebecca slapped the reins at the young animal.  He lurched, anxious about the whip in his peripheral vision.  The sisters hoped feebly for good luck with the mule, who once bit Clarence during plowing.  But at least their husbands, Clarence and Will, had enough faith in the mule to let the girls put him in the trap and use the buggy.  The dark sky threatened.  The girls had a good hour and a half of work ahead of them after getting the sturdy oak table through Rebecca’s front door.  The lovely piece with so many practical uses had been promised to Beulah for a long time.  Today was the day to hand it over.  The buggy had become available.  The sisters continued to chat about their home counties, Parker and Hill, the cattle-crossing, and their growing mission church.  Bumbling along over the rutted terrain, Beulah began to giggle a little.  “You know we’re Welsh girls.”

“Yes.”

“And marmalade is made in Wales, right?”

“Yes.”

“Ever heard of egg marmalade?”

“Can’t say I have.”

“Well, I’m gonna’ tell you a joke about egg marmalade.  There was a hen with three little chicks, good little chicks.  They called their mother ‘Marma.’  One day they couldn’t find their mother.  Then the brightest of the three little chicks figured it out–  she had gone to lay an egg.  The little chick, tiny beak turning to the left, and then to the right, posed a question to siblings, ‘Have you heard about the egg Marma laid?’” Now both girls were giggling, and Rebecca clucked and slapped the reins hard to the mule’s haunches.

He bolted!  Beulah fell back against the library table, which wedged her against the buggy seat.  She got a hard knock on the head.   Rebecca, who saw legs and feet flying, screamed and turned, scaring the young mule, who scattered the wagon, sending it sideways.  The mule strained against his twisted trappings but, for the moment, stayed put.  He bayed, and the buggy wheels spun.  The black magic in the big cloud began to crack and boom across the sky.  “Ooh-hoo,” Rebecca bawled, and the rain began to fall.  “We’ll be here till our husbands come this way for prayer meeting!  They’ll see us!”

“Or we can try to set this wagon.”

“In this rain?”

“I think it’ll set right well,” Beulah sang out, “And I know that mule; he’ll be all right.”             “He bites!”

C’mon, I’m taking the reins, you push!  Freed up from her wedged state, Beulah wiped the rain from her face with her sleeve and started around to the baying mule.  “Look, that black sky is breaking up,” Beulah, rubbing her sore right arm, waved it skyward.

While the mule pulled, Rebecca pushed for all she was worth.  They did set that wagon  upright indeed, and climbed in.  As they wobbled home, Beulah said, “Sister, is that ornery table any the worse for the fall?”

“No, but I’m comin’ out of this buggy ride with a little egg marmalade on my face!

“Now don’t you worry, Sister . . . we’ve got us a glory theme going!”

THE END

 

OUTDOORS

A writer has to get outside, move around, and breathe in fresh air, preferably every day. Sitting on one’s own deck, not so good– wildlife are noisy in Tennessee and disturb concentration. Best to leave the computer or journal inside. Walk-jogging in fresh air regears a writer well. Who wants to carry a computer on a jog? Don’t forget sunglasses for going easy on the eyes.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA VISITED MEMPHIS ON MAY 16, 2011

President Barack Obama came to Memphis yesterday to present the keynote address to Booker T. Washington High School graduates.  The students were overjoyed to receive the president, having competed with many schools attempting to gain the president’s attention.  I and many other members of the community, together with elected officials from both parties local and national, television news reporters, and BTW alumni were also overjoyed.  The varied aspects of a presidential visit went famously well:  police security, student speeches leading up to the keynote, students primarily the center of focus, honor to the principal, a secondarily important meeting with flood victims, Rendevous barbeque for dinner, and more.  As far as I could tell from watching the news, Mr. Obama shook every graduate’s hand who walked across the Cook Convention Center stage to receive a diploma.  This was a meaningful and emotionally moving event, with power to change young lives.

The Memoirist

1) A memoirist is remembering useful truth seen through a child’s wisdom.

2) A memoirist enters into a contract with readers (blood kin and strangers) to tell events the way they really happened. Of course, the telling is according to the memoirist’s perspective. The beauty of the genre lies in the concept of selection. I, the memoirist, get to choose from all the scenes of my life what goes into my book, and I get to juxtapose the scenes according to my preference. This process is like making a storyboard for a documentary film, a real-world, plain picture. Those are two great words to me: “plain picture.” I also have positive feeling about the word “neutral.” We hear so much about the concept of passion, but to be neutral is to understand much and be governed by restraint. Restraint was a trait of my maternal ancestors, and some of them are in my memoir. What a privilege I have had to revisit as a writer people born in the time frame 1884 to 1923.