by Sharon Stevens
“Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies,
let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”
C. S. Lewis
If I had been there…
Can you imagine how it would feel? What would I remember on the ride back home? How many memories would I carry within for the next day, and then the next, and for all the days after that? What songs would I sing after I returned? What stories would I tell and memories might I write?
On August 28, 2013 I thought all day long of what I would have remembered if I had been there in 1963 with the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. or on March 6, 2012 with Andrea Keller, a graduate of WTAMU.
At our Buffalo Bookstore we sell college textbooks for WTAMU and on this day I sold a book for History 1302 with the photo on the cover of Civil Rights Advocates singing in protest in front of the Washington Monument for the March on Washington.
Remember that in 1963 those returning home would have faced the same discrimination they had left behind. How much worse was it in their communities for those filled with the glory and inspiration they carried home? I can only imagine how angry their employers must have been for those attending in Washington to take time off to participate in something those in the rest of the country felt was an act of rebellion against the status quo. Those brave and courageous souls knew the backlash was going to be horrific but they were willing to take the leap of faith to feel moments of celebration. Of course they knew that things wouldn’t change over night, or over years, but they knew there WOULD be change and excitement to share with their children as well as their grandparents.
Andrea Keller was named as “20 Educators to Watch in the Nation” by the National School Board Association and was given this award in Washington DC. On the morning she received this honor she stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and skyped with her class back home at Stipes Elementary in Irving Texas. She skyped with us first to make sure everything worked perfectly before she connected with her class. The substitute teacher said the excitement with her children with Autism was so special and the ultimate field trip for those who might never get the chance.
When Andrea returned home she didn’t face any discrimination or ugliness. She didn’t fear for her life as those attending the March on Washington. Andrea would go right back to teaching and living her life without a fear of reprisal for celebrating her God-Given Freedom. Her memories might not be as serious as those in 1963, but this doesn’t make them any less precious or meaningful because I know that Andrea doesn’t take this memory for granted.
How do I know this? I believe this deep down in my heart and soul because Andrea Keller is my daughter and I witnessed her skype from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
I wish I could write the words for great speeches…stirring, moving, inspirational words to launch a movement. I can’t. EVER. But this doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the words of others. I love to share and the greatest joy I celebrate in my life is to gather the stories and pass them on. For example, in the Amarillo Globe News on this day is a story about Lisa Lawrence and her memory of facing horrific ugliness when she and her friends, after finishing her first year of college wanted to go to the movies at the Paramount Theater in Amarillo Texas. They were denied because they were “colored” so they circled in front of the theater until they were arrested for disturbing the peace.
As writers we need to center ALL our gifts together and realize that however we connect or whatever we treasure is just as important and relevant whether in 1963, 2012 or August 28, 2013! They represent those “brave knights and heroic courage” for every generation! Can you imagine what Abraham Lincoln saw from His vantage point?
OH, I wished I could have been there!



by Sharon Stevens

Mary Elizabeth Gordon-Cummings died forty years ago this month. She had fallen down the basement steps of her crumbling home and laid there several days in a heap on the floor, no one hearing her cries before a neighbor came to check on her. Old age and pneumonia then tore her down and she succumbed, her features clawed and withered with severe arthritis. She spent her last days in a clinical environment in a local hospital where everyone saw her as ancient.

We called her Aunt Molly and knew her as neighbor in my years growing up. How many times I wished I had visited with her. What could she have taught me with her stories and her memories. What could she have shared with her artist’s eye and her love of all that surrounded her. We will never know. She carried everything to her grave. She was old, her joints knarled and ugly, pain marring every feature. Nothing is left. She is dead and buried. All is gone.

But wait. I have her picture from a photograph that once hung on the walls of the Randall County Courthouse. There is no notation of when it was taken or where or why. It doesn’t tell the story of when she was born, or her passions, or her pain, but her beauty and the sweet face of youth is captured within.

Phebe Warner had urged her to come to the plains of Texas to apply as an art teacher at Goodnight College. Molly and Charles Goodnight welcomed her with open arms and gave her a glimpse of the empire they had established as the J.A. Ranch. Coming from Dallas and encountering dirt streets of Amarillo and the limited comforts of home must have been an eye opener. But the first meal at their home she remembered how the lemonade looked in the glass pitcher, the tour of the gardens, the bee hives, and of course the ranch itself.

She met Charles Lennox Gordon-Cummings at the Goodnights, and they married and moved to land west of Canyon on the Tierra Blanco Creek. Later they built a magnificent home and raised three daughters out here on the Texas plains. Mr. Gordon-Cummings died in the 1940’s and Molly lived out her life alone except for her brother that lived with her until his death in a train accident. You can read the story of her life in “The Randall County Story” by Grace Warwick.  We became her neighbors in 1952 when my dad bought land and moved us out to the country in the hottest year in recorded history.

I was reminded of Aunt Molly at this year’s annual “Night At The Museum” at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum. I volunteered at the kit house in my role player costume. Armed with my picture of Molly in her youth, a glass picture filled with colored stones, and with my storytelling patchwork hat perched on my head I shared the story of Mary Elizabeth Gordon-Cummings and hoped I made her come alive.

I chose the bright gems in the pitcher because my mother had shared with me that Aunt Molly used to take broken pieces of glass and paint the images that flooded through from the sunlight. What rainbows she must have seen. What colors and prisms must have shown through. What beauty she must have witnessed among the shades of dirt and shadow.

And this brings me to this week’s blog on writing. On the season finale of “Castle” his daughter is agonizing over her valedictory speech after researching speeches by the famous such as Steve Jobs, and presidents, and historical figures and famous celebrities. Castle advises her (and I will never forget his words), “write whats true to you”.

In my writings I could pen about how Mary Elizabeth died a horrible death, abandoned, without neighbors to care whether she lived or died. I could write a horror story about how arthritis had turned her body into a mass of ugliness with her hands so gnarled she couldn’t even pick up a spoon to feed herself, much less a brush to paint. But I CHOOSE to write of her beauty, and imagine the sunrises and the sunsets she must have seen from the top floor of her great home. My heart CHOOSES to remember the smell of the lilacs that lined the walk, and the massive, shimmering cottonwoods that shaded her memories.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to read all kinds of stories from “Chicken Soup for the Soul” all the way to zombies, murder and mayhem. I have troubles with “Flowers in the Attic” but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate good writing. I don’t mind being led to an author I haven’t read before such as Harlan Coban and I absolutely fell in love with Stephen King’s, “Dorothy Claiborne”.  I will always treasure stories like “E.T.” and “The Goonies” (celebrating 25 years), “Toy Story” and any story that encompasses good versus evil. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” is just one of my favorites with the connection to being filmed in Palo Duro Canyon on the Christian Ranch. And don’t get me started on the musical drama TEXAS. More importantly, I remember those who struggled and faced adversity, but found strength within because they were surrounded by friends. I treasure community and neighbors and family, those that touch our lives on the level of all that is good and honest. My passion is to share of heritage, legacy, the pioneer spirit, beauty, patriotism, and freedom. OH sweet freedom. I feel that there is always room for that

I will always treasure the spirit of Aunt Molly and the artistry she shared. And even though I read anything and everything in sight, I just want to write what is true to me, myself and I.  To me each word and every memory is a gem.

By the way this week celebrates the Queens Diamond Jubilee and since Charles Lennox-Gordon-Cummings was titled nobility from Scotland I am sure he would have received an invitation to the festivities. This week also marks the anniversary of D-Day during World War II and may we stop to remember not only June 6 but also each and every day past, present and future that we honor not only those in service, but those on the home front and the veterans and their families that share this common bond that ties us all to conflict and peace.

Last but not least…WTAMU is hosting the SUMMER STORYTELLING CONFERENCE on campus June 8-10, 2012 at the Sybil Harrington Fine Arts Complex. Friday and Saturday there will be concerts in the FAC Recital Hall at 7pm with a Sacred Story Concert Sunday from 9-10:30 a.m. at the Joseph Hill Chapel. Dr. Trudy Hanson has all the registration information and Eldrina Douma has been instrumental in sharing her stories. The guest speakers are from around the country and our own Jodi Thomas will be front and center speaking on creative storytelling.

And don’t forget the Frontiers in Writing Conference June 28 with the best guest speakers ever, Natalie Bright is the conference chair. And then also we celebrate the Writing Academy at WTAMU with Jodi Thomas and Tim Lewis. WHEW what a lineup!

Sharon Stevens