A normal childhood has always seemed a mystery to me. My family life wasn’t miserable because I had a strong, smart mother who never gave up. But my growing up was unorthodox, very unorthodox. We lived hand-to-mouth and the only constant in our lives was my grandparents who lived on a farm in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Gilbert (Gib) and Lillie Hodges traveled from Arkansas very early in the 20th century and brought with them two small daughters; the oldest was Aunt Lena and the youngest was my mother, Delia. Nine other children were born to them and all grew to adulthood except for one girl who was never named. Her tombstone simply reads: Baby Girl Hodges. Perhaps life on the prairie was too hard to find names for children who only lived a day or two. There were many infants buried sans first names in the Forgan, Oklahoma cemetery.
But back to my childhood. Mother taught school and she never got a check in the summertime, so we spent those lean months with my grandparents. Living on that flat, grassy land taught me to love the plains and the resolute people who had settled a land where many built their houses from sod.
Perhaps that’s why it seemed so natural for me to spin three novellas set in 1889 Oklahoma Territory. (Not in the panhandle; of course, more in the center of the state.) One of these stories, Thanksgiving with a Mysterious Stranger, is included in the anthology called TWO FOXY HENS AND ONE BIG ROOSTER. The theme was holidays, and I picked Thanksgiving. Here’s the gist of it:
Hannah Smith determines to prove out her land stake in 1889 Guthrie, O.T., after her mail-order husband is murdered. This arduous task is complicated by a villain who tries to kill Hannah. A rancorous rooster and a mysterious stranger complicate her life, but this resilient woman still manages to solve her husband’s murder and save her homestead.
Ah yes, I always have to bump someone off in my stories. This one was especially fun to write. I’d just heard a talk by Nancy Picard who said it was good to start a story talking about food. The favorite thing that I put into my mouth is coffee, so that’s how I started. Here are the first couple of paragraphs so you can judge for yourself:
All Hannah Smith ever wanted was a house with yellow curtains, a small garden and a good cup of coffee. Right now she’d settle for the coffee, but she had only enough grounds for one final pot and she was saving that treat for Thanksgiving Day.
It was her own fault. She’d deliberately annoyed her brand-new husband George, who disliked coffee anyway. Sometimes a woman’s mouth opened and words popped out unbidden. And because of that one slip, George swore he’d never again buy her another ounce of coffee.
If you love Thanksgiving and enjoy historical mysteries, then Thanksgiving with a Mysterious Stranger is the story for you. You’ll also get two other novellas in the anthology THE FOXY HENS AND ONE BIG ROOSTER.