One of the greatest joys afforded me as a result of writing my books and having others share them with me is the way that they bless me with an occasional, tender reminder of how connected we really are to one another. One of these wonderful moments was gifted to me last March 22nd…a very ironic time of the year, as you’ll soon see.
Now, if you’ve read The Windswept Flame, you may or may not remember the way Flora was forever and always nagging Cedar about taking a coat with her when she went out, even if the weather seemed fine. Remember? And if you remember that, you may or may not remember the little tidbit in my Author’s Note about the way my mom always made me take a coat everywhere I went from September 1st through May…always reminding me of the terrible tragedy that occurred in Colorado in the the 1930s, when a busload of school children were caught in an unexpected, spring blizzard…many of them losing their lives.
If you haven’t read the last tidbit in that Author’s Note, take a second to read it before moving on in this blog, if you have the time. If you have read it, then you’ll instantly understand how incredibly touched, how deeply moved and humbled I was by this e-mail I received last March:
To: marcialmcclure Sent: Thu, Mar 22, 2012 2:37 pm
Subject: The Windswept Flame
Not too long ago I came across your book A Crimson Frost. I thoroughly enjoyed it! I then found myself downloading several more of your books onto my Kindle…The stories you write are so sweet, and they allow me a little time to escape as life can get a little hectic sometimes. I started reading The Windswept Flame yesterday, and I was surprised to come across the parts in the story about children wearing their coats and jackets because you never know when a storm or blizzard could come. I immediately thought back to the stories my grandmother told me from her childhood. My grandmother was Blanche Stonebraker Widger. She was ten years old when she nearly froze to death during the Towner-Holly Bus tragedy on March 27th, 1931. Her sister Louise, who would have been fourteen years old a few days later, died during this tragedy. She had only worn her sweater to school that day. Her mother insisted she wear something warmer, but Louise had just gotten that sweater as a gift for her birthday, so it was special to her. My grandmother passed away a few years ago, but I still share this story with my children. My grandmother was the strongest woman I have ever known. She suffered hardship but always persevered. Her example to me has helped shape who I am today. I appreciate you weaving real life experiences into your stories. It makes them even more heartfelt and sweet. Thank you!!
After having read this wonderful, thoughtful and incredibly affecting e-mail, I was totally bawling! How incredible! I couldn’t believe that The Windswept Flame had managed to find its way into the hands of someone that I was so connected to through the story of the Holly bus tragedy! I truly can’t explain the emotions I was feeling at that moment…I can’t explain how it made me feel so reconnected to my grandparents, parents, etc. It was an incredible gift and as soon as I recovered a bit, I sent an e-mail to Cindy in response.
Cindy and I corresponded back and forth several times over the next few days. And in one of her e-mails, Cindy included this faded, weathered, sweet, sweet photo of her grandmother’s sister, Louise, who had succumbed to the cold that day in March so long ago. I’ve included it here (with Cindy’s permission, of course).
As you can well image, Louise’s photo haunted me. After a lifetime of hearing the story of the children and their bus driver tragically caught in the unexpected blizzard, I was able to gaze upon the sweet, smiling face of one of the young victims. Cindy and her story, and her gift of Louise’s photo, pierced me to my very soul! I admit to losing a couple of night’s sleep over just mourning Louise and the other children. I couldn’t quit thinking about how terrible their tragedy was…how frightened and cold all the kids must’ve been…how desperate the poor bus diver was when he finally decided he had to leave them to go in search of help.
Cindy had referred to a couple of books she knew of that had been written about the bus tragedy. I did a little research and found them both…but the book Children of the Storm, written by authors who were focusing on the fact that the media blitz over the incident had exploited the survivors, seemed (by all review accounts) to be the most accurate. This book also included quite a few photos of the incident…of the bus, the blizzard, the survivors, etc.
Two excerpts really stuck with me…in my mind, of course…but mostly in my heart. One was concerning Louise. I’ll share it here, though I warn you, it’s really sad! 🙁
Carl Miller (the bus driver) gazed around at the haggard children who were doing their best to pretend their situation was not as drastic as it was. He would not give up. It was time to start exercising again, he ordered. “Stand up! Move!” His daughter Mary, dragged herself to a standing position. Louise Stonebraker sat listlessly in her birthday sweater against the snowbank at the back of the bus.
Miller contemplated his next action. Now that morning had arrived with no rescue and Louise Stonebraker had faded to the point of danger, he knew what must be done. He MUST go for help. He murmered to Clara his fear that if he were not to seek help, he could be prosecuted. He asked Bryan to return his coat, then announced in a voice that conveyed more hope than he felt, that he would leave now, and when he returned with rescuers whey would all eat a heart pancake breakfast. “Keep exercising,” he told them. He looked especially hard at the older children, emphasizing to them the importance of keeping up the exercising and the spirits of the younger children. Clara knew the dreadful hopelessness out there because she had tried to fight through the vicious wind in search of a fence line the previous day. She felt that Miller would never return. Eunice Frost heard him add that the youngsters should pray: “Pray that I find help or that someone finds you here.”…Miller took one final look around at the mass of children, jumping up and down in what now seemed like slow motion, then plunged into the blizzard. The door slammed behind him and the whiteness enclosed him. He was gone.
Eunice Frost glanced past the children, who, no longer giggling, were moving oh so slowly in the frozen aisle. Louise Stonebraker…she in the light sweater–was still seated on the bench where she had been all night. Eunice gasped sharply, quickly. “Louise!” she shouted. Louise’s eyes had stopped blinking, frozen into a straight stare. Someone shoved her–hard–but Louise only stared. Alice Huffaker leaned toward Blanche and told her that her older sister was dead.
This was the last thing Blanche would remember of this day–a day when, one by one, the children of the Pleasant Hill school bus would begin freezing to death.
Four other children would die before it was all over. As for the bus driver, Carl Miller…the book is written: Near the crest, about half a mile from the road, a dark object caught Lucius’s eye. He got out of his car and walked closer. It was the body of a man on its back, frozen solid. It’s head was bare and it’s suitcoat unbottoned. Lucius gazed at the pitiably outstretched arms and swollen face. Carl Miller had continued to grasp the barbed-wire fence even after his hands had lost sensation. His gloves still covered his fingers, but the palms of his hands were left exposed where the sharp wire had torn through. His flesh was raw and blood had dried in the gashes. Lucius turned to alert the others that the final victim of the Pleasant Hill death bus had been located.
I’ve included this photo of the bus so that you can see how truly “at the mercy of the elements” the children and driver were. Of course, this was taken long after the blizzard was over and the snow had melted. How awful 🙁
Now I am not blogging about this to cause everyone to drop into the depths of despair. I just wanted to share Cindy’s great aunt’s story with you because it was such a profound experience for me. It brought what had already been a part of my entire life, to the forefront of my thinking and sensitivities. It gave me an even greater appreciation for my mother’s routine ‘reminding’ of reminding me to always have a jacket…of her mother having always reminded her…of my dad’s mother of having always reminded him…and of my always having reminded my children. I can still see my two little boys, getting out of the car at the drop off curb of their elementary school, sauntering off in their little matching black hoodies with their last names printed across the back, and thinking, “Well, if the temperature drops unexpectedly today, they have their hoodies with them.”
I think it’s interesting that Cindy’s e-mail was written to me on March 22nd, 2012…5 days before the 81st anniversary of the bus tragedy that affected her life and mine…us being 3rd generations of the shared, “Don’t you leave the house without at last a sweater. When my mom was a girl there was an unexpected spring blizzard and if those children would’ve had coats…” It makes me wonder if deep in mine and Cindy’s memories, something subconscious keeps track of the specific date of that terrible tragedy so long ago. Or maybe it was just coincidence…but I don’t believe in coincidence. 🙂
You might be wondering why I decided to share such a sad, sad story with you. Well, as I said in the beginning…my books have brought to the forefront of my mind, and amazement where the “Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon” and “It’s a Small World” theories are concerned. It makes me feel somehow of worth, hopeful, connected…and it reassures me that not everyone sweeps history under the rug and forgets about it. 🙂 Thanks for that, too, Cindy!
Now, I do feel the need to lighten things a bit. I can’t just leave you with memories of just this terrible tragedy in your day. So even though this is a bit of a solemn blog, I’ve chosen to end it on a happy, fun note! I hope that’s okay!
First, let’s see who won the Hobby Lobby gift card, shall we? Ready…here I go…Melody Barlow! Melody left her comment on Goodreads…and I LOVED it, too! But, yep…just pulled Melody’s name out of my hat! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, Melody and I’ll get your Hobby Lobby gift card in the mail to you asap!
As for this week’s contest…hmm…let’s see…Oh! I know! Okay, one of my favorite Children’s Book authors is, Pamela Duncan Edwards! Tara J. introduced me to her quite by accident years and years ago with a book written alliteratively titled, Clara Caterpillar. However, it was Dinorella and The Worrywarts that REALLY grabbed me! You KNOW how much I love alliteration! LOVE it! And The Worrywarts is FABULOUS!!!! But Pamela writes other children’s books as well, and I found The Old House a while back! LOVE it! So me…so sweet! (Not saying that I’m sweet…I mean the book is sweet!) It makes me feel good and happy and The Worrywarts is so fun to read! So whether or not your a kid, an adult, have children or don’t have children, you will love these books!
So, this week’s contest is for a paperback copy (Currently they’re not available in hardback 🙁 ) of each: The Worrywarts and The Old House. Just leave a comment in one of the usual places and you’re entered! Yay! Something fun to read!