Friday, April 21, 2017

Come, We're Visiting Cadillac, Oklahoma with Louise Farmer Smith

Voice of Experience
Sloane Isaac Willard
1948
Sally arrived in our town the summer I turned seventeen, and that three-month stretch of heat burned up what was left of my childhood. She had that kind of wrecked voice that made her sound like a pack-a-day smoker, a woman with a story to tell in what my granddad Sloane Benjamin Willard, who'd been to France in WWI, called a whiskey voice. She looked to me like she might be as old as twenty-five, the perfect older woman to train me for what I hoped would be a lifetime of pleasing women...
~~~

That night, as the news of Peanuts Murphy's grisly death swirled through the town, Wynona's mind fled to the town green in Concord, Massachusetts. Louise May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne had lived in Concord. Wynona herself had been an English teacher. She belonged there where everything was leafy and literary, moist and mossy. She had visited the authors' graves and identified in herself a feeling of kinship.
Though she never got back East, through the years she fed her visions of a town green for Cadillac, and after seeing the movie, The Music Man, she added a bandstand to the picture. Her bank was going to provide the financing, and more important, it was her good taste that would guide the whole project. She had already found the little marble-top tables and the twisted wrought iron "ice cream" chairs in a catalog.
But now things could not have turned out worse, and she couldn't sleep. That tranquil green would have allowed her to be a better, more beautiful person, a woman who read more books and recalled what she'd learned in college and contemplated all this sitting under shade trees. That vision had been making her desperate for this project to succeed, but now, what happened to Peanuts was keeping her awake at night...
~~~


I am finding in my years of retirement that I knew very little about the people in my small home town... Now those stories are second-handed tales that may or may not be true, some of them, hoping they definitely are not true...

So it was that I quickly began to experience the fictional town of Cadillac, Oklahoma, during the year of 1948 when a young Sloane Willard decided to try courting an older woman who had just come to town! She had started working for Reverend Morgan's church and he was a delivery book that summer for McCall's Grocery... and so, of course, Sloane started going to the Methodist Church...


But now, it was 2012, and we're stopping in at a funeral. We meet Phoebe who was eleven that winter and she sat next to her Great Uncle, Sloane Willard...

It was an easy funeral. Nobody had to come too far or cry too hard, though I did feel Uncle Sloane sighing and swallowing during the service. It was his half-brother who had died.
And that's when it began... You know, the usual and disturbing discussion by remaining relatives about who was going to get what from the deceased's estate. Never have understood this; never will! As it happens sometimes, a secret life also is discovered which upsets the plans for that estate... In this case, Wendell had left his estate to a certain female friend who was supporting two young kids, and who needed what he could provide for them... Of course, Marvella Ketcham, his most vocal relative, did not yet know this--she'd been the one who'd started asking about the will...

Then the following year, Wynona Blosser decided that the town needed some leadership, taking on the Chamber of Commerce. Her idea--to create a central town green--was certainly good; especially since the property had run-down buildings that really needed to be dealt with... Except the land was owned, and the owner wasn't interested in selling...at least not for the price the town would offer...

But nobody expected to find the owner' body at the bottom of a ravine...

It seems Cadillac has all the drama that could be found in one town...and then some... Readers will find an underlying touch of humor throughout that will lighten some of the other more serious stories that will be shared...What I've mentioned are just a few of those to be told about the people who have lived or come to Cadillac...

You know, it seems everywhere we go, we'll find those who add "color" to the town... Some have gained respect through many years of service to the community like Sloane Willard who was still called on to give his advice on many matters. And then there was the Sheriff, who tried to deal with all the issues that occurred... But there are also the town residents who want to gain respectability through contributions and power within that same community. And, sometimes, someone will take action to gain whatever it is they want, no matter who is hurt...

So now, in Cadillac, Oklahoma, a murder must be solved... Did that death end the conflict? Let's just say that the town was slowly losing its appeal... Because more was coming...

And one new town reporter on the Courier was trying to make a place, and, hopefully, a career...

Readers begin to see the changes that were happening and before it started to get better, it got worse... But then Hillary O'Brien started to involve the town people, by creating a contributing editorial column... Newspaper sales started going up... People were more interested and involved... These little articles split up the narrative and became a special addition to the book itself. One of them even explained that the sands of Oklahoma once caused Woodie Guthrie, who thought he was about to meet his Maker trying to find his way through the sand wrote... "So Long, It's Been Good to Know you..."


In one way, you might call this an anthology; however, by having each story about some facet, person, or event in Cadillac, it feels much like a novel since the community environment is so much a part of the stories... I was thoroughly enjoying each and every story...until the last one...

I was stunned...and immediately, I had a question for the author. What was the message that you wanted your readers to receive? Perhaps I knew why, but I was not satisfied... I'm asking, Louise Farmer Smith, Why did you finish your book as you did? 

And yet I realized...this was America, in 2013 or any year thereafter... I don't want it that way, but...as a common saying we've been using recently, "It Is, What It Is...

But does it have to be? Here is our reality. It's heartwarming, It's devastating. It's where each of us can see parts of our lives and remember... What we choose to do with the future can only be decided by each reader... Thank you Louise Farmer Smith for a remarkable revealing look at  Everytown, USA...


GABixlerReviews


LOUISE FARMER SMITH, descendant of pioneer dugout-dwellers and chip-gatherers, grew up in Oklahoma. A former high school and college English teacher, she trained as a family therapist in the children's division of New Hampshire State hospital, and later served on a U.S. congressman's staff. She was a PEN/New England Discovery and her short stories have appeared in literary journals including VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW, NORTH DAKOTA REVIEW, THE SOUTHEAST REVIEW; and online in NARRATIVE and PERSIMMON TREE, both online. Her latest publication, "Summons to Tulsa," appeared in the August 1 issue of the broadsheet, THIS LAND, from This Land Press.

BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW nominated "Return to Lincoln" for a Pushcart Prize. That story and five others make up ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF MARRIAGE, A Novel in Stories, her first collection. An extensive and helpful review is available at http://starr-review.blogspot.com. Scroll down to June 3, 2012.

Her memoir pieces have been anthologized in I'VE ALWAYS MEANT TO TELL YOU (Pocket Book) and TO FATHERS, (Story Line Press), and her fiction has appeared in DOTS ON A MAP and COMING HOME, both from Main Street Rag Press. An essay, "On Betraying Family," will appear in the October 2012 GLIMMER TRAIN newsletter.

Smith’s next book, WEDDING STORIES, is a delicious mix of ceremonies and acrimonies, set between the 1920’s and 2013, each story devoted to one participant: the bride, the mother-of-the-groom, the florist, the limo driver, etc. 

She may be contacted through her website, louisefarmersmith.com. Smith lives with her husband on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, always a good source of material.