Death Waits, Patiently

He took one last drag on his cigarette before putting it out in the small glass ashtray that he held in his hand. It was chilly outside, and he wanted to get back in to catch this week’s episode of Survivor

He had been smoking for… what? Since he was in the army. That was when he was 22. So, for 65 years? Yeah. 65 years. There were a few years when he put the cigarettes away and switched over to cigars. He didn’t mind the cigars, but despite the constant pressure from his wife and children to quit smoking, they quickly decided they preferred the Pall Malls to the stench of the cheap cigars. So he easily made the transition back.

His doctor hassled him periodically. His brother, who smoked a pipe, had died of lung cancer. But every time his lung scans came back clean, even the doctor had to back off. 

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Untold Stories of Black Homesteaders in South Dakota

Home on Blair Homestead

A large part of Clara’s Journal focused on women whose lives defy the popular narrative, whose stories of bravery, resilience, talent, and success are so often left out of our national discourse. 

And it turns out that a story I missed, a story also ignored, was that of the thousands of African Americans who homesteaded in the Great Plains in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

One of my favorite parts about writing Clara’s Journal was the research: the books, the websites, the journals, the newspapers,, the phone calls, the emails, the family papers. And one of my favorite parts of the research, of reanimating lives from the past, was discovering how many of our assumptions about the lives of so many people are simplified to an inaccurate caricature.

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A Dad’s Message to His Daughter

She married young. She was only 19. But she was in love. And it was the 60s. Women married young. Her husband was handsome, charismatic, and talented. And in the 60s, women had children right away. Four children in six years – three girls and then finally, the boy. By all accounts, society smiled on her.

They were good years. Boy, were they good years. She enjoyed looking back on them.

They bought a six-bedroom house in the best midwestern suburb, surrounded by a neighborhood of manicured lawns, multi-car garages, and bikes abandoned in driveways. The ladies often gathered at her house, sipping wine amid bursts of uproarious laughter, while all their kids freely roamed the neighborhood seeking adventure.

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