Going away to school in 1894 wasn't Grace's first choice for her life. She loved the desert, the outdoors and ranch life. There was also something else to love on her parents' ranch, the Circle O. Being a young woman with an inheritance, her parents wanted her to have an education and broader set of experiences. Finally she yielded and went.
As a child Grace had enjoyed art, pressing flowers, petroglyphs, every opportunity her stepmother could afford her to try new things. When she had arrived at college, it was obvious her choice of a major would be relatively new as an option for women in 1894, although already happening in Europe-- architecture.
My inspiration, for Grace's potential career came straight from a woman who designed buildings a few years after Grace would have graduated-- Mary Colter. If you are not familiar with her life and work, it's worth a look, and I might someday do another blog just on her (when I don't have a book coming out). You have seen some of Colter's buildings if you have been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: Hopi House 1905; Hermit's Rest 1914; Lookout Studio 1914; Phantom Ranch 1922; Desert View Watchtower 1932; and Bright Angel Lodge 1935.
Bright Angel Lodge is still one of those places that everytime I am there I think, I'd love to stay in one of those cozy and interesting looking cabins on the rim, but they are booked literally years in advance. Colter's designs use the land, the culture and an understanding of design and structure to create buildings that are still inspiring and in use today.
As Comes the Dawn opens, Grace has attained her education. She is unsure what she wants next, but she has returned to Tucson and her beloved Arizona. She is an accomplished, wealthy and very intelligent young woman but with a longing for something that goes beyond any of that.
Writing about a woman like Grace who uses her education and money in the ways I personally admire made her not only enjoyable as a heroine but as a woman and as a part of her time and period in history.
Grace O'Brian, wearing a silk blouse, skirt to match, with as stylish a hat as Chicago could provide, descended the train steps, a small valise in her hand. She could not help but compare it to the first time she’d come to Tucson on the train, a small child, wearing a little straw hat, scared out of her wits. She was returning an educated woman, who had traveled, and experienced so many things but maybe she still felt a little scared.
The Tucson heat hit her as if a physical blow reminding her how much she’d missed what to some might have seemed extreme. Tucson was passionate, full of life with a heat of summer that was likely to send the unprepared right back on the train. It wasn’t just the bustling city, which she saw had grown in the five years she’d been gone, but the raw desert just beyond its reaches. She loved it from the hazy purple mountains to the north, the Santa Ritas to the south and the Tucson Mountains to the west. She had relished her first sight of the saguaros that she’d missed while in the East.
Well, she had seen the things her parents wanted for her. They had insisted she needed to go away to school, to go to college, an opportunity few people and even less women ever had. She had done it all and more. Perhaps they had been right about what she had needed. The options hadn’t all been hers.
“Miss, I set your trunks by the bench there,” the conductor said smiling at her with the look of respect that she had frequently experienced once she had acquired some polish.
“Thank you. I think someone will be here soon.”
She scanned the few people on the platform looking for her tall father and blonde mother as the rest of the passengers began dispersing. She could arrange to get south to their ranch, but she had been sure they would be here.
As she turned toward the town, still not seeing the ones she had sought, she saw him. He was leaning against the back of the depot, his hat low over his eyes, smoking a cigarette. He had never smoked. When had he picked up that habit? Had he brought it back with him when he returned from war?
He walked slowly toward her, his spurs jangling. Still that handsome face with the dark skin, high cheekbones, black hair curling around his neck. There was a toughness in him that she had never seen, lines that told of suffering. His Yaqui heritage was in his features, the proud way he carried himself, a tall, lean body, muscular and strong. If she had hoped he'd be less attractive to her, she'd have been disappointed. She hadn't hoped though-- not after dreaming of him night after night.