Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Writing, Teaching, Language, Landscape, Life

Meadowlark – The Veil Thins

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Grace and baby, circa 1911

Grace and baby, circa 1911

And so continued the journey.

I wrote earlier how my novel Meadowlark began with a question that has lingered in our family for decades, a question that I wrote a book to answer. In the midst of writing Meadowlark, the story of my own life interrupted and, “The books about the prairie and notebooks remained shoved onto shelves and closed for the next number of years. Until one day, Grace whispered from the past to begin to write her story again. I had no idea that writing her story would save me.”

I dusted off the notebooks on the shelves and lifted the story threads once again.  What I didn’t realize at the time was how integral Grace would be in my navigation of the splintered constellation of my life . My new world completely foreign, I opened the notebooks and loosened the stiff pages pressed tightly together. The soft crackle of the pages releasing each other loosened something deep within me. Grace’s story became the bedrock island of my quicksand world. The more I delved into her life and experiences, the more the veil between our worlds thinned, until I learned to trust the unknown.

Ranch, Winter 2013

Ranch, Winter 2012

Wynn wearing the wedding dress of her great-great grandmother Grace.

Wynn wearing the wedding dress of her great-great grandmother Grace.

The thinning of this supposed separation continues. My family and I spent this Christmas with my parents on the ranch in South Dakota where Grace lived. One week before we arrived, a mysterious package arrived from our cousin, and Grace’s grandson, Kurt. Mom opened the package to find Grace’s wedding dress and riding jacket, in perfect condition. I describe Grace’s wedding dress in the novel as moss green. Our 13-year-old daughter, Wynn, tried on the dress and jacket. When she walked out, the air stilled.

We spent the next week in the house where Grace lived, on the land she walked and rode. Noé and I walked to the corrals and he stopped and looked around. “I feel Grace here,” he said.

I felt her everywhere—standing on the steps of the root cellar, looking out the window above the kitchen sink, and walking with long strides out to the corrals. I felt her most keenly in the moments I was deep in thought about something else and her presence appeared. Her bedroom is now our dining room. As we sat to eat Christmas dinner, I glanced at her shallow closet, now holding stacks of ceramic dishes and linens, I thought I saw the feint outline of dresses hanging from the pegs.

After we’d returned to Santa Fe, Mom called me, “Honey, there was a journal of Grandma Grace’s with the dress and jacket.”  A journal neither one of us had known existed. The first page of the journal reads, “Rapid City, January 2, 1907  My dear daughter, May your life be like footprints in the sand, Leave a mark, but not a stain. Your Mother.”

Grace's journal, pg 1

Grace’s journal, pg 1

Here are two pieces, written years ago, lifted directly from the Meadowlark manuscript:

“Tucked in the trunk, under her clothes and along with her books, was the journal bound in chocolate-brown leather that her mother had given her shortly before her death. Inside on the first page, in her exquisitely neat handwriting, her mother had written, “To Grace, A place to wrest to paper the many exciting and happy times you’re sure to have. I wish you a lifetime of love and joy. Your loving mother. July 30, 1910.”

“Grace looked at the floor. It was fitting. Wherever Mae went, she left her mark. No doubt about it. People know she’s been there. Me? I feel more like dust on the wind. I want to leave a mark that I have walked this earth, breathed this air, loved and cried here. I want to leave footprints.”

Author Julia Alvarez describes discovering historical facts she writes about in detail In the Time of the Butterflies, a novel based on the real lives of three sisters, Las Mariposas, who lived and died under dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Alvarez discovers these facts, which she writes about in minute detail, after the book had been published.

Paul Overacker

Paul Overacker

Meadowlark is work of fiction, founded on that lingering question I asked Mom as we folded laundry and Mom smiled, “I don’t know, but I’ve always wondered.”

Grace, Tom, and Paul, are main characters of the novel and based on my great-grandmother, great-grandfather, and the ranch foreman, became as much a part of my life as the living, breathing people surrounding me. They’ve never left the ranch. There are countless stories of their presence in the house and around the ranch headquarters. “I heard Paul walking in the bedroom above me again last night,” my dad called to tell me. “He had his boots on this time.” Isabel Allende writes of her relief after moving to a new house, to hear the spirit of her daughter, Paula, arranging the furniture above.

Grace and friends

Grace and friends

People joined Grace as I wrote. One day I lifted my head to see Mae Thingvold, doctor and girl homesteader from the East Coast, driving her buggy up over the horizon and chiming, “Grace! Grace, dear, fret not! I’m on my way!” Ike was not far behind and he never failed to make me laugh.  Then, Daisy Standing Horse slipped in silent as a shadow, and soon she and Grace were intent on their beading and sewing in front of the fire. As I came to know these women, their strength, resiliency, humor, and friendship guided me through the new terrain of my life.

When life felt too painful in my own turn of the century, I slid gratefully into Grace’s world. I raced bareback across the prairie, the wind on my face, the surge of the horses’s muscles beneath me, and  hooves pounding against the earth. I laughed with Mae and savored the way beads twinkled in the candlelight with Daisy. When the time came, I returned to my own world strengthened.

And, always the land. As I walked the prairie through the seasons, the rhythms of the plants, animals, wind, and weather seeped into me. The sun broke through the lead gray sky of winter and set the crystal beads of hoarfrost on the tree limbs sparkling in a million prisms. I marveled at this land’s ability to shift between darkness and light in a moment’s notice.

In writing Grace’s story, I gained faith in my own.

(Thank you to cousin Kurtis Gentry, for your generous spirit—for the treasures of Grace’s dress, jacket, journal, and photos of Grace & child and Paul. For thinning the veil.)

Open prairie, winter 2012.

Open prairie, winter 2012.

* * *

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Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores the beauty and tensions of language, culture, and place.

35 thoughts on “Meadowlark – The Veil Thins

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  6. Oh my God, Dawn, how amazing to see these pictures of Grace and Paul, but even more amazing is Wynn in Grace’s dress! Thank you so much for sharing all of this with everyone. With awe and affection, Liz

    • Dear Liz, It’s been quite a journey for you and I with Grace and Paul, hasn’t it?! And the journey continues. So deeply grateful to have shared this from the beginning. With much love, Dawn

  7. I am certain those who came before us leave pieces of themselves behind for us who have heart, to find. Who’s to say she wasn’t sitting by you this past Christmas, or alongside you as your penned your novel. I can’t help but feel she is with you now, waiting to see what happens next. As for that dress and how perfectly it fit your girl, now that gave be shivers. Excited to read the book.

    • Brenda, “I am certain those who came before us leave pieces of themselves behind for us who have heart, to find. Who’s to say she wasn’t sitting by you this past Christmas, or alongside you as your penned your novel. I can’t help but feel she is with you now, waiting to see what happens next.” Reading this gave me shivers. I sit and write by candlelight now. And that the dress came to us, just as it fit Wynn perfectly…Grace and I both waiting to see what happens next. 🙂 So glad I now get to know your own girl, too. xo

  8. Isn’t it interesting how that dress fit so perfectly! The women of that era were so tiny — but made of steel! I look forward to
    more of the story. It helps us each reflect on the gifts that were handed down to us so long ago.
    Hugs,
    Charlotte

    • Charlotte, That the dress would come to us, just as it fit Wynn perfectly, the journey continues to amaze me as it unfolds. And, I had no idea that Grandma Grace was so tiny when she married. Yes, tiny—but made of steel, is right! Amazing how these gifts handed down to us so long ago enrich and strengthen. So grateful to share the journey. Hugs to you, Dawn

  9. Really cool post — it gave me (nice) chills to read it. Lovely, lovely, lovely!!!

  10. Dear Dawn, your life was destined to be full of grace. I love the time period you’ve written about and the strong women who lived it. I can hardly wait to read each and every precious word of your book. And, those of us who will be blessed to read it will be guided by your Grace. 🙂

    Love,
    Kenna

  11. I was thrilled to get your prose & pix on Grandma Grace..wasn’t she a lovely lady? & tiny, judging Wynn in her wedding dress!!! Is your book ‘ meadow lark available?’ ( & where?) thanks for this post…a fond hello to all in your household!!! Love Micki

    • Dear Micki, Yes, Grandma Grace must’ve been tiny when she married. It was quite a feeling to hook the eye-hooks of the dress, as Wynn wore. Meadowlark is not available yet. I’ll let you know, as soon as it is! 🙂 Love to you, Grandma Micki!

  12. Oh, Dawn! The photo and journal just took my breath away! What an amazing journey you are on … Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us.

    • Missy, The photo and journal took my breath away, too…So glad you enjoyed and that you can visualize Grandma Grace on the ranch in both. Thank you for sharing the journey. xo

  13. I loved this telling of Grace and its correlation to your current story! What an inspiration your ranch in South Dakota is to you and your family, with all the details of ancestry embedded within that piece of land. The photo of your daughter in Grace’s wedding dress is priceless! For sure I’ll be among the first ones clamoring for your book…

  14. Syncronicity at work! I enjoyed your blog and reading about your journey. The picture of your daughter in the dress was amazing. And without a corset!!!

    • Nancy, So glad you enjoyed the piece and reading about the journey. It has been simply amazing, utterly unpredictable, and continues to unfold. Thanks so very much for sharing your thoughts. So grateful to share the journey. And without a corset, is right!

  15. Dawn, Thank you for your kind words. I would like to tell you of a personal experience I had regarding the nite Paul died. Please call me. Cousin Kurt

    Sent from my iPad

  16. Keep it up, chica – I love it! – just finished my family book as a present for my siblings. Don’t take precious time to answer this – Love the story – Jenny F

    • Jenny, I’ll keep it fast with precious time, chica, and absolutely have to say thanks! and can’t wait to hear more about your own family book. Please take pics! Much love, Dawn

  17. You’ve always had the strength of Grace…and how magical, on the eve of finishing the manuscript, to have this gift arrive in your hands. I know your words are true when you write, “When the time came, I returned to my own world strengthened.” You are one of the strongest women I know…keep on giving shape to your stories.

    • mamawolfe – Thank you for this. I am way humbled by this, and don’t know how to express my own gratitude for your presence in all of my life stories. Thank you. xoxo

  18. I feel like I am stepping back in time as I read your words Dawn. You are an amazing storyteller! Grandma Grace would be so proud of you and your Mom. Hugs to you~~~

  19. Wonderful, Dawn. I can’t wait to read the completed book.

  20. Wow. I cannot wait to read your completed piece of art, Dawn. Parts of this gave me goosebumps.

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