As a ghostwriter, I have written many memoirs for non-writers. Memoir is my favorite genre to ghostwrite, perhaps because of my educational background in history. I love exploring how our individual lives affect, or are affected by, the events and trends of “big history.” It’s a cliché that “every life has a story” but it is a cliché because it is true. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these stories are never told.
How many of us wish they had an ancestor’s story, told in their own words? Sometimes all we know is a tantalizing tidbit: a tiny piece of an ancestor’s story that raises as many questions as it answers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, we think, to know the hopes, dreams, wishes and fears of Great-Great-Grandma as she bounced over the plains in a covered wagon? Wouldn’t it be cool to know what Great-Great Uncle Joe was thinking while he robbed that bank? And why did Great-great-great Grandpa leave Scotland in such a hurry? Well, if they didn’t write their thoughts down, you’ll never know now.
I was told that my great-grandmother on my father’s side was Native American, from the Blackfoot tribe (now in Montana) – but then I was also told that she was a “half-breed” (a derogatory term of the time) and the Native American half was Nez Perce from Idaho – but then I was also told she wasn’t Native American at all, but born and raised in a small town in Kansas, the daughter of the local doctor. The story depended on who you were talking to. It’s hard to know the truth now, since she’s been dead for over fifty years, and so is everyone who really knew her.
History does agree that her name was Evelyn McKay (McKay being her married name) and she died at the age of 90-something in 1954. Before that, there seems to be some disagreement. The story I like best is the one told me long ago by her daughter, my great-aunt, also now long deceased. I don’t know if it’s true or if my great-aunt embellished it or made it up. It goes like this:
Evelyn McKay was born and raised on a reservation in Idaho (her daughter wouldn’t name the tribe), and lived there until she was a teenager, around the1880s. That’s when a circuit preacher rode onto her reservation. A circuit preacher meant that he rode (on horseback or in a buggy) between the little towns in eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana, and preached his brand of Christianity for a few days, and then rode on. Towns would see him once or twice a year when he would regale them with hair-raising sermons on the hell-fire and damnation he saw waiting for them. Those in the family who remembered the Preacher agreed that he was not a lovable man, being particularly given to frightening small children with vivid descriptions of hell.
But there must have been something about him, for he was able to convince the young Evelyn to marry him. He took her away with him and plunked her down somewhere in Eastern Washington, and left her there to birth and raise their seven children while he rode his rounds, totally uncaring of the vicious racial bias against Indians and “half-breeds” which was normal for the western towns of the time. She must have had a lonely, difficult life.
Or maybe not. Maybe she coped well with a Bible-thumping wanderer, and wasn’t the victim of anti-Indian prejudice. But I wish I knew for sure. I bet she had fascinating stories, at the very least. I wish I’d been around then to ask her questions and write her stories down. But no one did, and now those stories are as dead as she is.
|Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit Primary-Sources.com.|