Writing love stories as I do, how could I not write about these books on a day like Valentine's Day. Now I must admit that personally I don't pay much attention to such days or haven't since I was in grade school, and we would get those collections of punch out Valentines, take home a list of classmates, and write our own name onto each card; so everybody got a bunch of Valentines to take home. Then came the years of boyfriends and would he give me one or how about if there was a Valentine's Day dance, would I be invited by the boy I most liked that month?
Overall Valentine's Day isn't a favorite to me (cut flowers don't last long, I don't wear jewelry hardly ever, candy is bad for me, and the words on cards should either be what we say daily or they are meaningless). Basically, despite the fact that I write romances (there's gotta be a better word for them), I'm not overly sentimental as a woman.
On a day supposedly devoted to love, I empathize too much with those who want but don't have a beloved at this time. This kind of day is just a kick in the heart for so many.
Except love, and a day devoted to reminding us about that, is about more than the sexy sort with which we tend to equate it. It's about love of animals, of land, of country, of home, of calling, of god, family, life, learning, etc. There are many types and expressions of love.
When I thought about which of my books would I most like to write about as a tribute to love, it would have to be chosen from my 11 contemporaries already published. Frankly the one I am actually 'hottest' on happens to be the historical where I just got its rough draft finished. It's always that way-- last love is at least best remembered love.
Among my contemporary eBooks, there is one that especially comes to my mind in terms of illustrating many types of love. From Here to There is not only a love story of a man and woman but of the land and the energy it brings to a life. It's a love story of ranching, family, hard work, nature, history, animals, and of those who write down their story for their families to someday benefit from finding. It's an ode to a region I love and a life I have both lived and cherished. The stories of the West have been part of my life from the time I was a child. It's wonderful to be almost 70 years old and find they are still stories that thrill me.
This isn't a story about boxes of candy and bouquets of roses. It's one of grit, sweat, blood and over it all-- love. To give a taste of this book, the following is a segment where the hero, a successful businessman from the East, is trying to understand what these Montana ranch people mean by the western way. As an outsider, he questions what their values really are. This kind of discussion is one I've heard many places in real life. In the book, it comes after a family dinner.
"Well, now we know you like our pies. What do you think of our West?"
Phillip managed to swallow his coffee before he choked. "What could I think?" he asked, hoping he could avoid a straight answer to her direct question.
"You could hate it, love it or not have made up your mind yet," Nancy suggested, sitting beside Emile and lightly massaging her husband's neck.
"I see you're not going to let me off the hook," Phillip said with a faint smile.
"Is it such a complex question?" Nancy asked innocently.
"I don't think we should put Phillip on the spot this way," Helene said, interrupting protectively. "What he thinks or doesn't think of the West is his business."
Phillip knew because of Helene's protective intervention, he could avoid the issue, but he chose not to. "I have a question for you all. What is this West you talk about?"
Wes sat up straighter. "You don't know what the West is?" he asked with at least pretend amazement.
"Sometimes you people talk as though this is a foreign country or something, that people out here have a different set of values than anyplace else. Is that how you see yourselves and this country?
"Maybe a little," Nancy admitted. With a small smile, she suggested they sit in the living room where it was more comfortable for the rest of this conversation.
Helene looked at Nancy speculatively, wondering what Nancy's purpose had been in bringing up the issue. Her friend had always been provocative in her comments. It was one of the things Helene liked about her, but she was never snide.
"Can I help you clean up?" Helene asked, carrying dessert plates into the kitchen and hoping Nancy would agree so she could ask her what had possessed her to put Phillip on the spot that way.
"Nope. I'll do that later. I want to enjoy the conversation." Nancy smiled benignly at Helene, her face ingenuous--except in the gleam of her blue eyes.
"I should apologize to you, Phil," Nancy said as soon as everyone was seated again. "It must have sounded like an accusation the way I put my question. I didn't mean it that way." She smiled a gamine grin that Phillip thought would have made it nearly impossible for anyone to take offense at what she'd said.
"We are defensive though," Emile said, leaning forward, his voice intense. "Outsiders come here, buy up the land, move into the valleys and hills and they don't understand our ways, share our values. They don’t understand the problems we face with say wolf or grizzly predations. They want us gone is the honest truth and leave this place for vacation homes and the wolves and grizzlies.”
“I have read about the conflicts,” Phillip agreed, “and see how it seems confrontive.”
“It causes a lot of trouble when newcomers or worse outsiders expect to change everything to meet what their goals or what they left behind. If they didn’t like how this was, why’d they bother to come?"
“Everybody came sometime,” Phillip argued.
“Outsiders cause us a lot of grief.”
"Outsiders. That's a good word for the way you people treat anybody who wasn't born on your land."
"Oh my, I'm sorry I ever brought any of this up," Nancy said.
Phillip made his own tone conciliatory. "I'll concede the evils of the big cities with high taxes, crime, pollution, and overcrowding, but how about if we keep this discussion to the thing I really don't understand. What is the philosophy that you folks see as being Western, that separates a Westerner from what you would call an outsider?" He had no desire to get into an argument with Emile. On the other hand, fighting with Wes might have a certain appeal. His eyes narrowed as he looked toward Wes, who had settled next to Helene on the gingham covered sofa. What were that guy's intentions?
Emile subsided back, as Nancy, who had moved to sit on the arm of his chair, began soothingly kneading his shoulder muscle.
There was a silence "A lot of the ways around here have changed, even since I was a kid," Amos said finally. "There was a time when a man was judged by what he did not just what he owned. There wasn't so much concern with how much money you had, but more how you did your work, what your word was worth. You know, even now with some of the old timers, a handshake is as good or better than a paper contract would be somewhere else. In fact, with a lot of men, you never get a signed contract. A man's word, that's everything. Know what I mean?"
"Maybe. I deal with people a lot on the look in their eye," Phillip said thoughtfully. "It doesn't always work out though when you don't have the expectations written down. People remember their promises differently."
Amos grinned. "Well, that's true out here too, but if a man's worked the winter at your side, you've watched his kids grow up, seen how he keeps his stock, how he maintains his fences, you get a feeling for him and the kind of fella he is. A man who can do does. A man who can't brags.”
Phillip smiled. “That’s pretty much true anywhere.”
"Well we do come out here from other places, heck, if we count our families, all of us came from someplace else, but there's different kind of men, not so much matters about where they come from, but more what they're like inside. There's those that come, buy up land, fill it with cattle, overgraze their places 'til there isn't a blade of grass left, then go belly up. They're sucking it dry and pretty soon somebody else's got what's left. The city folks look at it and don’t know it was another city folk who done it.
“Some see these ranches as just investments. They don’t work it at all and take land out of production. They don’t care about the schools, the socials, none of it. Another kind of fella, he sees the land and the people here as a responsibility, a way to feed his family and other folks. He takes care of it, like it's in trust or something. Looks after his neighbors. He's the kind of man we say it'll do to ride the river with."
Amos chuckled. "It ain't the hat so much. It's what's under that hat. We got a saying out here--the bigger the hat, the littler the outfit. I think though you're not so much asking what makes the West what it is, but more what is we're tryin' so hard to hold onto that we feel threatened by newcomers?" He waited for an answer.
Phillip nodded. "It is something of what I see."
Emile answered. "Some of it's a feeling of self-sufficiency in the community, a caring for each other. A man takes care of himself but also helps out those around him. There’s knowing you can leave your door unlocked and if your neighbor comes by the only thing he'll be going into your house for is to leave you a pie or loaf of bread his wife baked."
"It sounds Edenic," Phillip said, remembering the neighborhood he'd grown up in. If you left your door unlocked there, you'd find the place destroyed and emptied out when you got home; and if you were lucky, the burglar was gone and was not waiting to beat you to a pulp.
"I suppose it is and a lot of it's already gone,” Emile agreed. “When I was a kid, everybody used to get together at the county grange on Saturday nights for pot lucks and at each other's barns for dances. Us kids would watch them as they’d dance all night and the worst thing that would happen might be a couple of hotheads fighting over some pretty little thing down behind the barn.”
Amos chuckled. “Yep, when the boys'd get through trying to knock each other's heads in, they'd shake hands. If a man's barn or house burned, the whole valley'd show up to put up a new one. You saw a fellow driving his rig down the road, and you not only knew who he was but who his people were. Nowadays, I don't hardly know half the people three miles from me, let alone all the way into town."
"You can't blame that totally on city people who moved in though," Phillip said. "Change happens. Nobody can hold onto anything forever." He ought to know the truth of that. He'd never lived in any home longer than a year, and father figures had changed with the seasons—sometimes twice in a season.
"We can damn well try," Emile retorted argumentatively.
Amos shook his head. "No, he's right. We can't hold onto what was, and we probably do glamorize the old West too much, make more out of it than it was, like it really was John Wayne running things back then."
He stopped for a moment and then, as though thinking aloud, mused, "It's a funny thing about the Western way of thinking. On the one hand, it's a man helping another man by choice, but on the other hand, it's a man being independent, doing for himself. I think that's what we don't want to lose the most... independence."
"You don't think people from the city can be independent?" Phillip asked, knowing what the answer would be.
"City folks want somebody else to do everything for them," Wes said. "Get the government into every part of life. Raise taxes, ask for services. They want to butt into everybody else's business and tell them how to run it. You get a man from the city out here and the first thing you know he wants sidewalks, street lights and expects you to help pay for them."
Waiting until the laughter died down, Amos quipped, "Well now, I don't want you to think this business of Western independence goes too far with us. You go taking away our electricity, and we'll be squealing like stuck pigs."