Saturday, March 3, 2012

Twenty-nine Days to the Finish Line

I fell asleep early last night and while I slept my brain was busy working through what I liked and what I thought didn’t work with the first draft of the cover design. Then I woke up at 3 a.m. and sent the artist a long email with suggestions. Hopefully I’ll see another design today.  In the meantime, I want to share some thoughts about the Oregon Trail.

Kit, the heroine in THE RUBY BROOCH goes back in time and travels the Oregon Trail in 1852. She was a pioneer re-enactor so the trip wasn’t all the strange for her. It was for me though. In March, 1998 I packed my car and drove from Lexington to Independence, Missouri, which was one of the major jumping off points for the six-month trip to Oregon. It was also my jumping off point. I followed the back roads and in many places the actual ruts left by thousands of wagons heading west.

I stood in the ruts in Nebraska, crossed Wyoming’s vast prairie and the plains of Idaho, and ventured through the woods in search of Laurel Hill on the eastern slope of Mount Hood, dubbed the most treacherous descent on the two-thousand mile trail. Along the way, I interviewed folks whose ancestors made the journey and re-enactors who wished they had. I believe Kit’s journey reflects both the danger and exhilaration of a time in our country’s history when women had small voices, but indomitable spirits.

Can you imagine your husband coming home for dinner and announcing the family was moving to Oregon? Not only moving, but you couldn’t take your most prized possessions. There were no moving vans to carry your furniture and belongings. You had to pick and choose only what would fit in a farm wagon along with enough supplies for the journey. In many cases, the bedsteads women insisted on taking were abandoned on the side of the road once they reached Ft. Laramie. The oxen couldn’t handle the heavy load through the mountains.

Leaving behind cherished belongings was heartrending but nothing compared to leaving behind family knowing they would never be seen again.

Life wasn’t much different in the late 1940s when my parents married. My mom was uprooted from her family in South Carolina and moved to Virginia then later to Kentucky. She only saw her parents and siblings once a year. But at least she was able to see them again.

Can you imagine gathering only necessary belongings, strapping them to a wagon, and then walking over two-thousand miles. What courageous people. They had a dream and were willing to undergo extreme hardships to bring it to fruition. Talk about perseverance.

From 1843 to 1869 over 500,000 people made the trip. Women cooked meals over an open fire and birthed their babies in the wilderness. Ten percent of the travelers died along the way, their graves unmarked. No one would ever revisit the gravesite? In fact, the bodies were usually buried in the trail and the wagons rolled over the graves to pack them down so animals wouldn’t dig them up.

Mile after dusty mile they walked, they sang, they laughed, and young folks even fell in love. THE RUBY BROOCH is full of wonder and camaraderie, but most of all it’s a love story about two people following their hearts and finding much more than they ever thought or imagined.

Like 500,000 other people, Kit and Cullen never stopped dreaming their dreams.

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