"Writers are the custodians of memory, and memories have a way of dying with their owners."
- William Zinsser
So, I get this email the other day from Debbie Sturman, librarian at the Niobrara County Library (hooray for librarians!). Basically she says that some gal from Wyoming Public Radio had contacted her, looking for information on the Mother Featherlegs monument for a Wyoming Minute segment. So, naturally, Debbie thought of me.
I say naturally, because my father, Jim Griffith, Jr., was one of the instigators of a project in 1964 to erect a monument to Charlotte Shepard, a.k.a. Mother Featherlegs, a madame who ran a road house along the Cheyenne-Deadwood stage line in the 1870’s. It is the only known monument erected to a prostitute in the United States.
Would I mind talking with the WPR gal? Deb asked.
I emailed back and said I’d be glad to. Then I called my sister, Laura, and said that I didn’t know how much help I’d be. I was only six years old at the time the Mother Featherlegs monument was put up.
“Check Dad’s book.”
DAD’S LITTLE BOOK
After my father retired from state office (he served terms as State Treasurer and Auditor) and moved full time to Phoenix, he typed up a bunch of memoir bits and put them into a book titled “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Wyoming Capital.”
Then Dad self-published the book and gave copies to friends and families. After his death in 2001, I had a lot of people say to me how much that little book meant to them.
Dad’s little book is no opus. It’s a collection of stories from his life. The longest one is only about two and a half pages long. He typed them up over several years, using his signature peck-with-one-forefinger typing style.
The topics range widely and include:
- Details of Dad’s boyhood shenanigans, such as when he crawled under the tent wall to see a fan dancer at Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1941;
- Anecdotes of Dad’s days in Wyoming politics, like the time he arranged for a bagpipe player to lead him to the stage at the Republican state convention, bearing a sign that read “Griffith is Scotch with the taxpayers’ money”;
- Family lore, like when my sister Laura, at a young age, stole a horse, brought it home and told my father, “He was just lost out on the prairie.”
There are also lots of excerpts from The Lusk Herald, the newspaper my father and his father, James B. Griffith, Sr., ran for many years.
Whenever I read from Dad’s little book, I hear his voice. He was a storyteller, always, and as I read the words he wrote down, I picture him leaning forward, tilting his head and smiling his crooked smile. He is once again with me.
BACK TO THE WPR GAL
I riffled through Dad’s book and made note of any mention of Mother Featherlegs. He talked about how he and his buddy, Bob Darrow, had decided to mark Charlotte Shepard’s grave, and how the whole of Niobrara County got in on the project. Lots of details, lots of Dad's quirky humor.
I conversed via email and phone with the WPR gal. She had already found a lot about Mother Featherlegs and the monument from several websites, historical records and an article in Deadwood Magazine, but she wanted to clarify a few things. I read to her from Dad’s little book.
She seemed satisfied and thanked me. I don’t think the piece on Mother Featherlegs has aired yet, but I’m keeping an eye on the WyomingMinute webpage.
A PLUG FOR MEMOIR WRITING
So, all I’m saying is to you this fine late summer day is this: write your stories down.
It doesn’t have to be in book form, even. It doesn’t have to be in chronological order. Just write it down already. Do it for your kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews.
Do it for some random person from Wyoming Public Radio.
And by the way—thanks, Dad.
I’m glad you wrote it down.
AND WHILE WE’RE AT IT
Here’s a sampling of memoir-friendly publishing outlets:
Away Journal (travel focused) http://awayjournal.org/
Creative Nonfiction https://www.creativenonfiction.org/
Embodied Effigies http://effigiesmag.com/about/
Fourth Genre http://msupress.org/journals/fg/?Page=home
Hippocampus Magazine http://www.hippocampusmagazine.com/
Neutrons/Protons (humor focus) http://neutronsprotons.com/
River Teeth Journal http://www.riverteethjournal.com/