Colorado Authors’ League Awards

The Colorado Authors’ League (CAL) has been around and doing good things for and with Colorado authors since 1931. Each year CAL awards authors special recognition in a number of categories. This year’s awards are listed on the chart below. Please join us for readings by award finalists, including BECAUSE WE WANTED TO! on Monday, April 25th, at 7:00 at Tattered Cover Littleton on S. Santa Fe Drive. You’ll note readings other times at TC and also the Book Bar, which can only be wonderful. We promise you introductions to a plethora of compelling books at TC Littleton and the Book Bar!


In Her Own Words

Here’s another piece of Clara’s writing. It came to me late in the process of writing the book, but it confirmed the direction the book was taking. I thought you might enjoy reading Clara’s own words:

“Cause we wanted to; that’s why!” That was the exasperated answer my partner gave to the last man who stopped by the ranch and asked, “Why would two girls come clear out here, buy an old dilapidated ranch, and raise horses?” I’m sure many people wondered why, but most were too polite to ask.

In the first place, we’re not exactly girls. We’re both getting pretty close to 30 years on earth, but it wouldn’t be ladylike to say exactly how close, now would it?

In the second place, we didn’t just “come clear out here.” We both quit good teaching jobs and went $35,000 in debt to come out here.

And in the third place, it is not “an old, dilapidated ranch. It is “old,” but not dilapidated.” It is a beautiful ranch in the Wet Mountains of the Rockies in southern Colorado, and there’s lots of life in the old place yet. It has beautiful grass and lots of timber and plenty of water and a house that is livable. What more could one want?

If the place is undesirable, then you tell me why in the two months we’ve been here we’ve had over fifty visitors, fifty per cent of whom say, “I sure envy you,” or something similar.

Other questions that always come up are “Are you two sisters?” “How did you get together?” “What are you raising Appaloosa horses?”

“No, we’re not sisters.”

“We met while teaching riding for the Girl Scouts on the Glying G Ranch in Colorado.”

“We’re raising Appaloosas because I got interested in them and someone bet me $5 that I couldn’t raise Appaloosa colts out of the two mares I had. I took the bet, bought three more mares, carefully selected the proper stallion, and raised 5 Appaloosa colts the first year.”

Those are the answers usually hurriedly given to a passer-by. No Margaret and I are not sisters. I was born and raised on a farm in south central Kansas. Margaret was born in Everett, Washington, and grew up in Oakland, California. We were both nearly through our respective colleges when we met and were both planning to teach. At the conclusion of one of those summers for the Scouts, I invited Margaret to come home with me for a visit. She took me up on it.

While there, we needed another horse to ride so we went half and half on a nice mare and thus began our partnership in horse-raising. It was the following summer we bred our mares to the Appaloosa. Margaret began spending her summers in Kansas, and eventually got a teaching job in Kansas where I was already teaching. While working for those few summers for the Scouts we had decided that someday we’d have a ranch in Colorado. We found that “someday” doesn’t roll around by itself and if you just keep saying “someday we’ll do it,” you never will. Thus, we started looking for our ranch and in the spring of 1965 we found it.

True friends have asked in awed tones, “How did you find such a place for sale?” Our answer is simply, Strout Realty. Our Strout man, J. Howard Morris, on Canon City saw our needs and found us the place.”

Clara had every intention of writing more, but her energies seem to have been hijacked by working an Appaloosa ranch, teaching, bagging trees, building and running a ski area, and running a horse-riding program. I’m glad I only had to write about it. I never could’ve kept up with those two!

A Three-Ringed Singing Acres

A Three-Ringed Singing Acres

You may remember the Cartmill family [Ch. 8)] whom Clara and Margaret met through mutual friends from Kansas. Not only did Danny become like a son to Clara and Margaret, but also parents Marj and Dan and the whole Cartmill family remained close to them over the years.

At one point in my writing BECAUSE WE WANTED TO! I received a note from Marj and Dan with a letter Clara had written them several years earlier. One of many artifacts and stories I couldn’t quite fit into the book, it remained in a file, haunting me.  I knew I couldn’t possibly rephrase it and capture the spirit with which Clara wrote it. But the blog now allows me the chance to include the whole thing in original wording. So, in Ring Number One, here are Clara and Margaret in action!

Dear Dan & Marj,

Tis time for another chapter in the saga of circuses at Singing Acres. (None of the names have been changed to protect the innocent—let’s face it; none are innocent!)

It all began as a typical day in Margaret’s life—she was at school—kids throwing erasers; teachers asleep in the lounge; the copy machine running off reams of the latest in applying-the-rules philosophy. Then she receives a message from Sherry. [Sherry Campbell, see pgs. 158 & 200 in the book]

“My Tom turkey had a stroke [Note: strokes are common among Toms] and he’ll have to be killed and dressed right away or we’ll lose all that meat. I put him in the yard; he CAN’T run away from you (the proverbial famous last words . . .) Can you possibly . . ..”

After school Margaret progresses to Sherry’s Rockvale chateau to nab said Tom, remembering, “He can’t run away.” Well, said Tom is no longer in ICU.

He gets up and runs. Margaret hotly pursues and at last prevails. Turkey tires. She gets him in the back of the car and tells him, “Stay!” Fast trip home ensues.

Meanwhile, Clara is back at the ranch, home from a typical day at school—you guessed it, kids throwing erasers, etc., anticipating a quiet peaceful Thursday evening with “Bill Cosby” and “Cheers.” Little does she know what lurks for her in the minds of Sherry, Margaret, and Tom.

Margaret, bursting into the house: “We have a very large problem out in the car.”

“What do you mean ‘WE,’ whiteman?” [recalling Tonto’s sage insight regarding assumptions]

“Well, Sherry left a message . . .”

Have you ever tried to picture a LARGE turkey who has had a stroke lying in the back of a Toyota? All kinds of things went through my mind, but not to worry. After all, how hard could it be to kill a disabled Tom? He’s probably lying out there flat on his back begging for euthanization, right? WRONG. 

“Well,” Clara says, “let’s go do it.”

No, first we have to heat some water in the dunking barrel to dip him in after his demise. 

No problem—put barrel on rack in ditch—put four buckets of tepid (faucet) water in barrel—light dragon’s tongue—aim at barrel bottom—bring water to just under boiling.

Now to kill Tom with the thought in the back of your mind that a dead turkey once broke the hand of an acquaintance of yours . . . but this one’s had a stroke . . .

I peeked in the back window at the Tom. Now, I’ve seen big turkeys, but this sucker must have been half elephant. He was HUGE. There he squatted, harmless looking. I nonetheless cautiously opened the back of the car with Margaret poised to pounce. Tom just sat there making barely audible turkey noises from somewhere in his depths. When Margaret pounced he started to plop around but she got him in a bear hug and carried him up toward the ax. I assumed the position of cheerleader for the trip. She got down more or less on her knees leaning forward with Tom in her arms and said, “Get hold of his head and stretch his neck out and chop off his head.” 

Sure. Easy. Ax in left hand, turkey head in right hand. Ax off the head without hitting Margaret in the head or cutting off your own right hand. Easy.

Whack, flop; not even a dent. Whack—Tom went wild and began beating Margaret up. Got her in the face several times, upper body bruises, but finally she got him on his back. She stood on one wing and I stood on the other. I held his head thus giving her a chance at two hands on the ax. Finally, after several whacks, she got through. As soon as her pain subsided, we went to dip him in the water. He was so heavy, to quote a friend of ours “I kid you not” and “don’t you know,” it took both of us each on a leg, to dip him in the water. (Sometimes I hate Sherry.) 

The next day Margaret took him down to Double C Meats to get him smoked. No one has an oven big enough to cook him. We’ll have enough smoked turkey for the next several Thanksgivings! The meat market man said, “That’s one big turkey!” He must have weighed 40 pounds dressed.

This all happened week before last. Margaret is almost all healed up. She really shouldn’t mess with turkeys.



Of Friends & Mischief

West Custer County Library, 10:30 Saturday morning, January 23rd. Clara and I were about to launch our first book event together, our first time to talk publicly about the project we’d been working on for several years—the book that had brought my seemingly endless questions to Clara. The one that moved her to name me the Queen of Questions and caused her to exclaim, “Oh, no!” when I’d call to ask her just a few more things.

I was nervous. Not because of all the people crowding into the room. They looked friendly enough, and some I knew well. I didn’t have stage fright. I’d done book talks many times. No, the source of my disquiet was far more intimidating than a mere audience or the fact that I was to speak publicly. The source of my unease was, in fact, the smiling, hugging, handshaking woman who stood beside me. It was Clara herself.

A few days earlier I’d called her to see if we could get together to plan our presentation. She said, “I already have a plan.”

Her words, surprising as they were, seemed innocent enough, but her tone was not. It made me squirm.  Clara was up to mischief.

We did meet beforehand; we did talk about the event; and we decided on a loose plan, but agreed mostly to play it by ear. Through other friends, Clara heard there would be many questions, but thankfully this time not from me.

So there we were, at the library, with a full house, ready to roll. After library director Amy Moulton introduced us, I was to make brief introductory remarks and read a passage from the book’s introduction. Then ask for early questions.

All of this was going to plan. I was reading. The audience was listening. But from here, then from there in the group, a giggle erupted, a chortle began bubbling, next a guffaw exploded. But the passage I was reading wasn’t funny. At least I’d never thought of it as funny.

I turned to look at Clara. She sat quietly, brimming with practiced nonchalance. She looked far too innocent. Now wary, I turned back to read. I hadn’t opened my mouth again before the whole audience tittered. I knew I was outmatched. Finishing the page as quickly as I could, I asked for questions.

There were many, and Clara fielded them admirably. At one point early on she turned to me and said, “You don’t know EVERYTHING about me!”

I could only fire back, “That’s obvious. I’ve already learned a whole lot you didn’t tell me!”

By the time we finished, I discovered even more, including the cause of those giggles and laughter—Clara making faces and literally behind my back! But that and getting to hear all the other information the questions brought suited me just fine.


Amy Moulton introducing Clara & Carol

For some time, I’d wanted to write a blog because I couldn’t possibly get all the stories I already had into one book. That morning brought more. So, Clara, fair warning, here come whole new lines of inquiry. Yep, more questions. Thank you.

The mischief begins







Clara delivering a response




All's well that ends well!

On Patience & Sushi

Few who know Earline accuse her of having an overabundance of patience. Earline herself still remembers her kind, forbearing mama saying, “Sister, you have got to learn patience!” Earline loved her mama, she really did. And she wanted to please her. But some things just weren’t possible. What happened on a south Florida Tami-Ami Trail fishing trip back in 1959 shows how far she still was from developing that particular virtue.

Fishing figured largely in those southern Florida months, and not only for Earline and Betty’s weekday trips. Weekends, Earline, Bob, Betty, Al, Bruce, Carol, and Susan sometimes headed down to Key West, but most often out on the untamed Tamiami Trail. Some said that name came from a contraction—“Tampa to Miami Trail,” referring to the paved road across the wild Everglades. But Earline and her sister didn’t care much about the name; it was the fishing, picnicking, and occasional camping there they loved.  (p. 98)

On the particular day in question, we were all fishing, and we were all catching a lot of fish. Each of us felt glued to our favorite spots, as was Earline—a little way down the bank from the rest of us. She’d been catching so many fish, she’d used up all of her bait.

Desperate to continue the thrill of the catch, Earline yelled, “Hey, somebody bring me some bait. I can’t leave this spot for a minute!”

Nobody moved. Not a soul even acknowledged her plea, each intent on pulling his or her own prizes from those bountiful waters.

Earline called out again. No response. Good grief! What was wrong with everybody? She needed bait, and she needed it now.

Looking around her for possibilities, she spied a smaller fish she’d caught—a bream. It had been lying there on the bank for a bit, so it was a little sun-dried. Swooping it up with her hand, she raised it to her mouth, bit off its tail, and presto, she had bait, and she used it.

Years later, I asked her how it tasted. “It wasn’t bad,” she said. “Kind of sweet and flavorful.”

A fairly positive response from someone who shudders at the very thought of sushi. And a practical one from one whose patience has its limits.

Of Mountains & Beans

A detail. An impression. A scene, or a scent. Any one can evoke a memory. Cycling this fresh summer morning on one of Boulder’s quiet bike paths, breathing soft air, gazing at the still snow-capped mountains off in the distance, an image of those decades-ago summer trips with my mother, brother, sister and aunt came rushing back. The memory evoked was of that first, distant view of the mountains as we traveled west across the Colorado plains.

Those mountains had seemed a mirage hovering at the edge of the expansive plains, remote given the haze borne of physical distance and our months of longing for them. “I see them!” one of us would shout, a shout that was invariably followed by “I saw them first.” Then came the predictable bickering that springs from siblings co-existing in close quarters for many hours.

Sometimes, with the mountains in sight, we’d stop at a roadside picnic table for lunch. We loved those picnics, which was a good thing since restaurants were few and far between on many stretches of those mid-1950s highways. Earline always had picnic fixings along. She’d assign one of us to bring out the cooler full of cold drinks and cold cuts, another to bring the box of bread, crackers, and canned foods as she spread a cloth over the table.

Most often one of the cans held that picnic staple, baked beans, a dish my little sister abhorred. On one occasion, then four-year-old Susan decided she’d speak up about having to eat such dreadful fare. Balling her chubby little fists and placing them firmly on her hips while looking Earline right in the eye, in her high-pitched voice she delivered the message to her tormentor. “Mama, if I was Mama and you was me, and you didn’t like beans, I would make you eat beans anyway!”

Earline was not to forget that message, nor was Susan to eat beans for some time. Smiling as I pedaled alongside Boulder Creek, I mused about how a mountain scene can somehow remind one of beans.             ~~~

Susan — Annoyed

Susan taking a stand

Susan taking a stand, but in a better humor than with the bean incident.

(Photos by Earline,circa 1953-4)

Roll, Roll, Roll that Cigarette

Stories about family sometimes come up in unlikely places, as Earline and I learned a couple of years ago. We were at Ms. Pencie Wester’s viewing in Marianna. Ms. Pencie, who passed at the age of 102, knew almost everybody in Jackson County, Earline and her eldest brother, Red, included.

We were talking with Ms. Pencie’s daughter, Billie, expressing our condolences, when Billie asked my mother, “Red was your brother, wasn’t he?” When Earline nodded yes, Billie chuckled and went on to tell this tale.

Shortly after a family tragedy in the late 1930s, Ms. Pencie decided, as a protective measure, to learn how to shoot a gun. She’d practice every day, out by the house, aiming across the empty fields.

Red, who took on various kinds of jobs, was plowing a field for Ms. Pencie. One day, after plowing for quite a while, he stopped to roll a cigarette. Carefully placing tobacco in the paper, rolling it up and securing the end, Red was just putting the cigarette in his mouth, when a bullet came whizzing by his ear, barely missing his head. The startled Red jumped, dropping his cigarette, and turned around to see Ms. Pencie standing out by the house, rifle by her side. She’d been practicing, unaware that Red was working that day.

Imagine big Red, standing in the field, mouth open staring at Ms. Pencie with her gun, and Ms. Pencie, probably equally surprised, staring right back. After considering the situation for a minute or two, Red strolled over to her. In a voice tinged with surprise, he said, “That’s the first time anybody’s shot at me for rolling a smoke.”


And then on a trip to New Orleans with first wife, Margaret, right, and his sister-in-law . . .

another smoking challenge

Trade Show Tricks

Our first book signing together and it happened on May 7th, the day before Mother’s Day, at Chipola River Books & Tea in Marianna, Florida. Bookshop owner Michael Downum provided a gracious setting for the special event. Candy gemstones friend Jayne Satter found in Mexico were part of the fun. I read, Earline enacted, and friends joined in from this scene from Chapter 17, “On the Road to Sell.”

The New York City trade show was held at the imposing Coliseum on Columbus Avenue, the structure a staggering 323,000 square feet in all, with four floors for exhibition. On the cavernous main level, vendors packed the enormous space with their displays of jewelry, tee shirts, caps, cups, key chains, and other imaginative forms of souvenirs. Merchandise seemed to spill out of every nook, every cranny.

Sounds crowded every space, too. Everywhere was the buzz of excited vendors, buyers, casual lookers, the hum of humanity meandering through aisles, pausing at displays, conferring, acquaintances calling out to one another. Clatter and chatter filled the air.

Petite Earline, dressed smartly in an azure blue pantsuit, a color she knew echoed in her eyes, sat at her booth. She also knew she needed to draw attention to the gemstones Al had sent her to show and, most importantly, to sell.

She’d heaped the stones on the display table so they lolled in happy profusion across the white cloth beneath them. Silky tiger’s eye with wavy bands of color, the blues and greens of chrysocolla—often mistaken for turquoise, tawny palm wood with its dark speckles. Potential customers strolled by, their eyes caught by the mass of little rocks. A few stopped, then moved on.

As a few more potential buyers approached, Earline reached into the mound and pulled out a blue-gray stone. She examined it for a moment then nonchalantly popped it into her mouth. She chewed, and her eyes closed as she savored the delicious rock. She opened her eyes, chose another, this one with a rosy glow, and slowly, deliberately dropped it into her mouth. Again she savored the unique flavor.

By this time a crowd had gathered, blocking the aisle. Several people wanted to eat a gemstone. Some started to reach for them.

“No, no! You’ll break your teeth,” Earline laughed, amazed and delighted that there still were so many folks willing to be gullible, just as there were decades ago when she was with the carnival.

Finally, she allowed one person to take one she’d pointed out. She didn’t tell him some were gemstone candies she’d slipped in, and only she knew which were which. She cautioned him, “Now don’t let it break your teeth.”

Gingerly he raised the stone, placed it in his mouth, and with deliberation bit down. A twinkle crept into his eyes as he chewed.

In the end, she took an enormous order for gemstones. A Kellogg representative wanted several tons of them for Corn Flakes’ trinkets. It was an order to match the size of this exhibition hall.

Later, when she reported to Al about it, he jumped up from his chair and exploded. “There’s no way I can get that many gemstones! And then they’ll just want more, and I can’t get them. Those New York guys will sue hell out of me!”

“Well, Al,” she said. “You sent me there to sell gemstones, and I sold them.” It seemed to her the rest of the deal was his problem.

(L to R) Exchange student Elisa from Switzerland, Pat Tenzer (see p. 226), Earline, Pat's daughter, Janet and granddaughter Shelby at Chipola River Books & Tea--munching on gemstones.


Satsuma Mischief

Earline’s childhood was filled with the everyday workings of a large family that included her parents, nine children, and her daddy’s brother, Uncle Lon. But when the kids weren’t working, doing chores, in school, or playing jackknife or poker, they’d find other ways to amuse themselves, and at times it was at someone else’s expense. A favorite target was poor Broward Davis. One night they all decided to go over into Will Wester’s satsuma patch.They told Broward they needed a place to put the satsumas, tying his overalls at his ankles, stuffing his overalls full of the fruit. They’d posted someone who was to come down just at the right moment and yell, “Come out or I’m gonna shoot!”

But a different person came along down the railroad, which went right by the satsuma patch. It was Grady Hamm, who at his own inspiration yelled, “I’m gonna shoot. You’d better get outta there!” An unexpected voice, an unpredicted twist!

A mad scramble ensued, kids getting over and through the barbed wire fence as fast as they possibly could. But Broward, overalls stuff with fruit, could barely walk, and he sure couldn’t run. Somehow he managed to get to the fence, but when he tried to get over it, he got caught on the barbed wire. Sawing back and forth, unable to bend his legs to get himself unstuck, he was at the mercy of whoever was yelling at them. Broward was yelling, too.“Help me! Help me! Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.”

All the other kids had run away by the time Grady found Broward, who breathed an obvious sigh of relief when he discovered it was just Grady Hamm trying to scare them all. And at least someone did finally get him off the wire and rid his overalls of all those satsumas.

During that scramble, Earline had fallen on the railroad tracks and cut her knee. She would have that scar the rest of her life to remind her of the satsuma episode. And as if that weren’t enough, she’d have her daughter writing about it for everyone to see.


Sweet Harmony

As I wrote earlier, this blog seems a perfect place to share some of the memories and events that didn’t make it into the book. One of Earline’s memories that I love is about her Granddaddy Stevens. For me, this scene evokes the peacefulness of a summer evening, the comfort of likeminded neighbors, and the sweet simplicity of a time gone by.

Of all the places the family lived, Earline liked the Brunson place best. Here she and her family stayed in a small house a few hundred feet down the hill from the main home, but still on Brunson property. For the last few years of his life, until 1937 when he passed, Granddaddy Stevens, lived with them. At night Judge Brunson and Granddaddy would sit on their respective porches a partial hillside apart. Judge Brunson would start out singing— always church songs, his voice rumbling out from deep within. Then Granddaddy Stevens would softly join in, the two sonorous voices rising and blending in a distant sweet harmony. The comforting sound floated out into a darkness sporadically interrupted by the twinkling of myriad fireflies. Rock of ages, cleft for me .. . . Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

Can’t you just hear it?