Thursday, November 19, 2009

One Way to Dispell Stress

A woman on the Montana frontier toward the end of the 19th century. Photo taken by Evelyn Jephson Cameron, who was born in Britain but married and came to Montana and worked hard.

Whenever I start to feel overly stressed, I think about what it was like to be a woman on the American frontier. In comparison to what so many of the women on the frontier went through, I become ashamed for being such a wimp and try to get on with life in a more optimstic mood.

In Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry paints a fascinating picture of a frontier woman, when he tells the story of Clara, the long-lost love of Augustus McCrae. She did not marry Gus, as he was called, realizing wisely that he was not the settling-down type of man. She instead married a horse trader and had lived with him for 15 years in a sod house in Nebraska, before they had bought new land and she used money left her by her parents to build a two-story frame home.

She had three sons by her husband, and she kept the remaining money to send her boys away to school in their youth, so they "would not have to spend their whole youth in such a raw, lonely place.... although one by one the three boys died long before they were old enough to be sent anywhere. The last two lived long enough for Clara to teach them to read,. She had read them Walter Scott's Ivanhoe when Jeff and Johnny were six and seven, respectively. Then the next winter both boys had died of pneumonia within a month of one another. It was a terrible winter, the ground frozen so deep there was no way to dig a grave. They had had to put the boys in the little kindling shed, wrapped tightly in wagon sheets, until winter let up enough that they could be buried. Many days Bob would come home from delivering horses to the Army--his main customer--to find Clara sitting in the icy shed by the two small bodies, tears frozen on her cheeks so hard that he would have to heat water and bathe the ice from her face."...

Despite Clara's resolve not to open up her heart again, she had two more children, both girls. But then her husband had been kicked in the head by a horse and was in a coma. She alone kept her husband clean while also managing the farm and tending to her daughters. McMurtry paints her as a heroic figure, taking care of a husband on teh brink of death, teaching her girls, keeping house, cooking, and training and trading horses--a busy woman, who was never afraid to open her door to strangers, who did not fear Indians, and must have worked hard 16 to 18 hours a day. She was strong but not hard-bitten, sad but not bitter. Her only self-indulgence was to bake and eat cake.


Tessa said...

I don't know about dispelling stress...this photo makes my back hurt! Did you read the NYer article a few months ago about the back-story to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her "Little House" books? Fascinating about how hardship is turned into legend.

Barbara R. said...

Linda--I do love the photograph you begin the blog with, it is so rare to find photographs from this era showing a woman at work.

Would you mind sharing you source for the photo? I would like to ask their permission for its possible use as the cover of my novel.

Thanks so much. Great blogsite.

barbarakayrich at gmail dot com