Piecing Patchwork Memories for Wormy Bean Winter

When Jana and I accepted our screenplay award for Model T Biscuits at Santa Clarita, and she’d given her articulate acceptance speech, I stammered a few nervous sentences. I managed to end by saying that it was my Finnish mom and her sisu, (the Finnish word for guts and determination) that inspired me to write Model T.

    Later, as I pondered my mother’s courage, I began to remember what I heard about her childhood as her family homesteaded on the South Dakota prairie. I didn’t have much to go on at first. I recalled that she’d told me that her younger sisters, Irene and Leona had slept in the same bed with her which kept them warmer in the bitter winter weather and caused them to roast like sticky marshmallows in the summer. We had a black and white snapshot of Mom, her brother Gus, and Irene and Leona playing with bits of broken crockery using snake holes in the side of a Butte for a cupboard! (Scary.) 
      Mom, Dad and I had a small farm in Prosser, Washington. Mom loved to work outside with cows, calves, chicken, and such. All of our cows and calves had names. I had a steer named Cocoa that I rode all over the farm. I only fell off one time, when he jumped over a little ditch.

    Mom told me several times that when she was a child she’d been stuck in their homestead shack doing inside chores while her sister, Irene, who would’ve loved changing places with her, got to work outside. There was enough outdoor work to go around since they had to haul water from way out by the barn, carry wood in and ashes out, and chop out a multitude of wounding cacti.  I know they all had to pitch hay from dawn to dusk at haying time.

Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo 

My grandmother ( Finnish Mumu) also inspired me. My Omaha cousin, Willo Boe, had written several inspirational articles about our mumu’s sisu. If I remember correctly these were published in some senior citizen magazines. As a child our mumu was once surrounded by a wolf pack and survived. And as an adult she’d encountered a different type of predator - the two legged kind - whom she met head-on with a pitchfork. 
Hearing about these incidents and talking to my cousin, inspired me to begin writing a middle-grade, multi-cultural novel, Wormy Bean Winter. It would be loosely based on our family’s homesteading adventures on the prairie. Since it was to be a children’s novel, I made my mom the 12-years-old protagonist, always keeping in mind that all of her family members had a lot of faith and sisu.

  But where to start? I formulated a long list of questions, ranging from “How far did the family have to carry water?” to “Did you have a Christmas tree?” I even asked, “Were you hugged and kissed a lot by your parents?” I sent my questions to my cousin who lovingly and eagerly began to help and contacted other family members. In fact, she was inspired to write three wonderful non-fiction books of her own with amazing photos about our family. (These have been invaluable help in my writing.) In the first, she wrote in the acknowledgments, “Without my cousin, Lorna Beall’s curiosity regarding our grandparents’ lives, none of us would have considered the project.”

Our family heritage is a beautiful patchwork quilt pieced with both soft and more durable rag pieces.

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