Cheryln100000149781632_8303How will we remember our ancestors? In these days of hectic living, when there is very little oral tradition–much less written documentation–of our family history, what can we do to preserve the memories of these people who came before us? For their life experiences were so different than ours, yet the same–births and deaths come to every generation, along with the happiness and sadness those events bring with them. But learning about our family and the events that brought us to the place we are, as individuals, NOW–is a precious gift that is slipping away from us.

Every so often, (and it’s been a while now!) I teach a class called “Writing Your Life Story.” Most of the people who are there for classes are senior citizens, who, for the most part, have been urged by family members to come.

As they introduce themselves, it goes something like this:  “I’m Jane Doe, and I’m here because my children keep telling me I need to write this all down—but I don’t know where to begin.”

My first assurance to them all is that they don’t need to write like Laura Ingalls Wilder—their families will be thrilled with anything they put down on paper.  It’s amazing to me how many people don’t feel they have anything of interest to tell their descendants!

This is a picture of me and my aunt, Emogene (my mom’s sister) on one of her visits. She was one of the funniest, sweetest, and MOST REBELLIOUS people I ever knew. I loved her with all my heart, and I do think maybe I got a bit of that rebellious attitude of hers! I was 6 here. There was never a dull moment with her–and I have some wonderful memories to cherish.

Cheryl and Aunt Emogene 1964I want to tell you about my parents, because they were the epitome of opposites when it came to this. My mother told stories from the time I can remember about her family, about her friends, the small town she grew up in. These were details of an ordinary life that gave me insight into the way times were during the Dustbowl days in Oklahoma. It told me about her life in particular and life in general, and it also brought people I never knew to reality for me through her memories.

Mom had a dear friend, just her age, named Mary. They were both the eldest of their respective families, each with many younger siblings that they were responsible for. Mom mentioned how she and Mary both longed for an d cherished the few times when they could be alone to talk “girl talk” without each having two or three little ones they had to look after.

One of their favorite places to go was the cemetery. They’d both been born in Albany, so they knew the stories of everyone buried there in the small cemetery: The Taylor family, whose six children went berry picking, only to take shelter under an oak tree when a storm blew up suddenly. Lightning struck the tree and killed all by tow of them. The oldest boy crawled to a nearby farmhouse for help, but died later. Out of the six, only one survived. There were no markers on their graves, but Mom showed me where each was buried.

A drawing I found when going through my mom’s things after she died. She did this in 1939–she would have been 17. Of course, it’s faded and blotchy, but I can’t help but marvel at the talent she had for someone with no artistic training, with only a pencil and piece of paper. My daughter inherited this from her…I can’t draw to save my life!

El Wanda's art about 1939 woman with rose sash

Another grave she showed me was that of a young child who, at eighteen months, crawled under the porch and drank tree poison his father had believed was well-hidden. Mom told me how his lips were stained purple She and Mary had gone to the funeral and it was imprinted in her mind forever.

Christmases were sparse in that time. It was a good Christmas if they each received and apple, and orange, and some hard candy in their stockings, and maybe a doll, in addition, in the better-then-most years. I wrote a story called SILVER MAGIC for an Adams Media Christmas anthology about something she told me. They’d brought home a Christmas tree that particular year, and one of her younger brothers had suggested maybe they could have some tinsel…My grandfather went into the shed and hand-cut tinsel and a star from the foil covering of an old battery. What a thrill that was for them! Yet, who would ever dream that was something that could be done, now, in our world of buy-it-already made?

GENEALOGY STALLINGS AUNT JOYCE487347_384127544966584_100001080247175_1016691_1728302232_nFrom Mom I learned about our family ancestors—where they’d come from and who they were. As a child, I thought of them as a story she told, but as I grew older, they became real people to me.

I learned about her, too—how, as a teen, she’d pool her hard-earned money with her younger sister, Joyce, to buy the newest Hit Parade Magazine with all the lyrics to the latest songs. They had sung together from the time they knew how, adding more harmonies as more sisters came along.


My aunt, Joyce. She was something else! She was in the Navy during WWII where she met and married her husband, Bill. Remember the expression “cuss like a sailor”? She could, and did–regularly. My mom always gave her the “big sister look” and said, “Joy-y-y-c-ce” in that shaming voice. She always just laughed. And she could cook like nobody’s business. Her heart was huge.


MOM AND DADScans 009My dad never talked about his adolescence much. Even though he and Mom grew up together in the same small community, he never had much to add to the conversations. What I know of his family, I learned mostly from my aunt, his younger sister–and my mom, who had known him from the time they started elementary school together. Their was a love story for all times–they grew up together, married, had their family, and were married over 60 years–and they died within 3 weeks of one another.

Why write it all down now? Because most people never believe they’ll run out of time. “Someday” never comes. My mom had such fascinating stories, filled with tenderness, charged with emotion—stories that made it seem as if I was there along with her as she spoke. She was a painter, an artist, and she could paint pictures with her words, as well.


El Wanda and Fred Moss, my parents, newlyweds in 1944–ready to take on the world!

Mom told stories of my great grandparents, who I never met–who eloped and ran away from Tennessee in the dead of night. (He was a high-tempered school master…and she was one of his students.) Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

This is my great grandmother, Josie Belle Walls McLain Martin,  the daughter of the Indian boy who was stolen by the cavalry (see story below). In this picture she was only about 25 years old, and already getting gray hair. She had 4 children, very young, and her husband had been killed in a freak accident. She married a man with children and they had more between them, for a grand total of seventeen kids before it was all said and done! Mom loved her “grandma”–I did get to know her when I was very young, but she passed when I was in elementary school.

GenealogyJosieBelleWallsMcLainMartin1882-1972made1907542164_386610498051622_691310310_nAnother story of my great-great-grandfather, a young Indian boy, who was stolen by the cavalry from his village and given to a white Presbyterian minister to raise, and “assimilate” into his family (my story One Magic Night is based on this–he finally got his happy ending). His name was changed, and I don’t believe he ever saw his real family again, once he was adopted.

And my dad’s grandmother, who stopped beneath the shade of a tree long enough to have her third child as she and her husband made their way to a new life in Indian Territory? He must have been a typical man–they stayed two nights and moved on, her with a new baby and two “stairstep” children just a little older.

I treasure these stories now, but oh, how I wish I’d had my mom a little longer, and that I’d been a little older, to be able to ask her questions that now overrun my thoughts. Mom always had good intentions, but like so many, never found the time before it was too late, and Altzheimer’s took away that ability.

I will write it all down…all that I can remember of it. But I can’t help thinking how I wish she had written her story, with all the vivid details and description she used in telling about it. There is so much I won’t know. So much will be lost, simply because this was her life.

My mom (the oldest) with some of her siblings. Dustbowl Oklahoma–taken probably 1935 or so–she’s on the far left in the back. Hard, hard times.

Genealogy Stallings kids484279_386540661391939_100001080247175_1022301_589553159_nThe memories are hers: the hard times, as well as the good—the days in an everyday life…and, the nights, when entertainment was nothing more than the beautiful harmonies of the four little girls, floating in the summer stillness for miles as they sang on the front porch…in a much simpler, slower time.



Cheryl’s Amazon Author Page:

Here’s an excerpt from my story ONE MAGIC NIGHT, based on the life of my great great- great- grandfather, David Walls (his name after he was adopted).  I’ll be giving away a digital copy to one lucky commenter! Leave your contact info in your comment so I can reach you if you win!


As Whitworth’s hand started its descent, Katrina turned away.  But Shay’s arm shot out, grasping Whitworth’s hand and holding it immobile.

You will not.”

Three words, quietly spoken, but with a heat that could have melted iron, a force that could have toppled mountains.

Katrina’s father’s face contorted, his teeth bared, finally, as he tried to jerk away. He didn’t utter a word.  He stared up into Shay Logan’s eyes that promised retribution, as the seconds ticked by.  Finally, he lunged once more, trying to pull free, but Shay still held him locked in a grip of steel.  Only when he released that grip was Whitworth freed.

“You presume too much, Doctor Logan, unless you are assuming the care and responsibility of my daughter.”

“Papa! Oh, please!” Katrina felt herself dissolving into a puddle of less than nothing beneath stares of the townspeople of Talihina.  What had started as an exciting, beautiful evening had become an embarrassing nightmare.  It was torture to think that she was the cause of it all.  How she wished she had stayed home with Jeremy as she’d first planned, before Mrs. Howard had volunteered to keep him company.

Now, Papa was saying these things that she knew he would regret later.  It was always this way when he drank too much.  These accusations had gone beyond the pale of anything he’d ever said before.  But Shay Logan wouldn’t realize that.  He wouldn’t know that Papa would be sorry tomorrow.

Evidently, there was one thing Shay did recognize, though.  She saw the very slight flare of his nostrils as he drew in the scent of alcohol on her father’s breath, and in that instant, there was a flash of understanding in his eyes.

“You’ve had too much to drink, Mr. Whitworth,” he said in an even tone.  “I will overlook your behavior toward me because of that, but not toward your daughter.  She has done nothing, yet you would strike her, and cause her shame.”

“She’s my daughter,” Whitworth replied sullenly.

“But not your property, Whitworth.  Never that.  You owe her an apology.”

“No, Shay, really—” Katrina began, then as her father whirled to look at her, she broke off, realizing her mistake.  ‘Shay,’ she had called him.  As if she had known him forever.  As if she was entitled to use his given name freely.  As if she were his betrothed.

“‘Shay’ is it, daughter?  Not, ‘Dr. Logan’Shay.”  He spit the words out bitterly.  He drew himself up, looking Shay in the face.  “I’ll not be apologizing to her—or to you.  And I’ll expect nothing less than a wedding before this week’s end.  Do you understand me, Doctor?”

Shay had lost any patience he might have harbored.  “You understand me, Whitworth.  You will not dictate to me, or to your daughter on such matters of the heart.  As I say, the alcohol has got you saying things you’re going to regret, and—”

“Threatening me, are you?  Threatening me?”

“Truman.”  Jack Thompson stepped out of the crowd and smoothly came to stand beside Katrina.  “Let’s put this…unfortunate incident…behind us, shall we?”  He confidently tucked Katrina’s hand around his arm.  “I can see that the church auxiliary ladies have almost got everything set up for this wonderful Independence Day meal—” he frowned at Mrs. Beal, nodding at the picnic tables behind her.  She jumped, motioning the other ladies to resume the preparation.

He gave a sweeping glance around the group of onlookers.  “I, for one, am ready to eat! How about you all?”

Katrina was swept along at his side as he walked toward the tables, speaking to acquaintances and friends, laughing and…and seething with tense anger the entire time.  She could feel it in his body, with every step he took and the tightness of his grip as he covered her hand with his. Katrina glanced back over her shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shay, but the crowd blocked her view.

“Smile, my dear,” Jack gritted into her ear.  “I’m hoping we can still salvage your virtue, no matter what happened, really, between you and the good doctor.  If I see him near you again, I’ll kill him.”

If you just can’t wait to see if you’ve won, here’s the Amazon link to buy!

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A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work:
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  1. Thank you so much for sharing your family history. I have started to write family stories down for my family but would hate for anyone else to read what I have written. I just wish I had asked my parents and grandparents more questions.

    • Connie, I really wouldn’t worry about others reading what you wrote–don’t think it’s not “good enough” or whatever. And I don’t see anything at all wrong with adding in our own memories or opinions of these people. How else will future generations know them if we don’t write our thoughts? I’m glad to hear you’ve started!

  2. I love family stories and going through photos and reminiscing about my own. And memories are meant to share, thank you for sharing.

    Many Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • Cindy, I agree–one of the greatest gifts is to tell a person something that someone else thought or said about them (if it’s good!) that they may not know. I’m the youngest in my family, so I have a lot of those kinds of reminiscences from my older sisters. “Do you remember that time…” No, I don’t. I was only 3. LOL So they’ll say, “Well, Mom said this or that when you…” Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known. Those are really special conversations.

  3. Oh wow, what great stories! We love to wander cemeteries and imagine the lives of those there. I wish I knew of some great ones from our family, but alas, I don’t think there are any. 🙂

    • Susan, I really believe a lot of people think that about their ancestors, but truth be known there is drama in every life. One thing I didn’t tell was that my dad was actually one of 5 children. But one of his brothers died in infancy of “summer complaint”–actually dehydration because of illness. Another brother was killed in a freak accident when he was only 3 or 4, standing up in the car my granddad was driving. They hit a rut in the road and the car flipped. The glass from the window cut his jugular vein and he bled to death. My dad’s only sister had appendicitis and nearly died from it–she was only 5, and was in the hospital for many, many weeks, touch & go. My dad wandered off to the pond when he was about 3 and actually drowned. When my grandfather got there, his little cap was floating on the surface ( this was in the winter) and my grandfather (by some miracle) found him under the water. He raced across the plowed fields, jumping across the furrows with Dad under his arm. That actually saved his life–kind of an accidental CPR. So all this happened in one family. These are the stories that will be lost if we don’t write them down. Maybe not as dramatic as having someone famous or infamous in our “relative ranks”–but things that need to be remembered.


  4. You have a great family history. Thanks for sharing with us. A couple of years I did a memory book for my mother for Christmas. I put in lots of picture of Christmas past and told stories of what the stories represented and other stories from the past. It will be something that will be handed down to the next generations. My oldest niece has it now and she will share it with her cousins and their children one day.

    • Kathleen, that is wonderful that you did that! If we don’t do it, things will be lost in just one generation–that’s all it takes. I think that’s why my mom was so careful to be sure to tell me her memories and talk about her life so much.

  5. I always love reading family histories. Most people think their families are boring, but it’s amazing what gems can be found when you start digging.

    You have some fascinating tales in your family, Cheryl, I’m glad you’re using some of those diamonds in your stories!

    • Kirsten, I know one of your jobs is recording oral histories and I think that has got to be one of the very best “jobs” ever! What fun, and how wonderful to get to be a part of that!

  6. I love the black and white photos with the pop of color… my grandmother had one… my uncle tossed a bunch of my granparents’ pics away after they passed… never asked my mom or I if we wanted them… wish I had that pic!

    • Colleen, that’s like what happened with my husband’s family. His mother had a bureau filled with pictures. Many of them were of him but we never got them, and no one knows what happened to them.

  7. Cheryl, you have such wonderful stories. My parents also grew up during the depression. My dad was the story teller. He died of Altzheimer’s in 2002. Mom had him make tapes of his stories and she tried to write them down. I have a few of those tucked away, like his talking blues songs. Thank you for sharing your family tales.

    • Connie, my mom was the oldest and she really felt such a strong sense of “family” and keeping the memories of these people alive–I think because she KNEW them, and I didn’t. I never met any of my great grandparents except “Grandma” that is pictured here. But she knew them all and had spoken with them, seen their tears, known what their lives were like, and their losses and failures and loves and trials–and so of course, they were people and not statistics to her–or someone just shuffled off to the family Bible that no one knew. She knew them, and loved them, and grew up knowing them in a different way than even some of her siblings did.

      God bless your mom for doing what she did with your dad. Somewhere, I have some tapes (cassette) that are conversations between my dad and my granddad (his father) that I want to get converted over to CD–my kids never knew my grandparents. This is one way, at least for them to hear his voice, and of course, my dad’s, too.


  8. Don’t you just love going through old photos. I can remember doing this with my sister many years ago and trying to remember when they were taken.

    • Hi Quilt Lady,

      Thankfully, my mom was one of those people who understood the importance of writing on the backs of photos for future generations. We used to laugh about her writing that this was so and so, who was such and such’s half brother…etc. NOW, I’m sooo thankful.

  9. I was very impressed by your mother’s artwork. She was so talented. I love reading family histories. We all seem to connect in one way or another. I liked the picture of your mother with her siblings. In the 1930’s, people were either dirt poor or extremely rich. The middle class barely existed until right after WWII. When my parents talked about how poor they were way back then, they laughed and shared stories of themselves and neighbors as if it was no big deal (but we all know it was a very big deal.) Mom and Pop used to search for wild mushrooms to eat (thank goodness they knew which ones weren’t poisonous), only to find out later that there is very little nutritional value in mushrooms. I wouldn’t think that to be very funny, but they did. But, you know, they were kinda weird.
    I love all your family pictures, Cheryl. Wonderful blog.

    • Sarah, Mom did some amazing artwork, especially to not have ever been trained until her later years (when I was in high school) and she took china painting and tole painting classes. But she just had a natural ability to do those things–which passed me by completely. LOL

      Yes, I know just what you mean about them acting like it was “no big deal”–my mom always said, “Oh, we were soooo poor. But everybody was, back then.”

      Glad you enjoyed the pictures, Sarah. I enjoyed writing this blog to share with you all.


  10. Fascinating, simply fascinating. I love family histories. As you know, some of my ancestors were also Native Indians (from Canada), on both my mother’s and my father’s side. Sadly, though, the only couple of people who knew a lot about my mother’s side were ashamed of us having “savages blood” and although my brother and I were highly interested in finding out details, they never gave us permission to look at the records they had. So, it has sort of “disappeared” when they died – which is a shame, really. (You can imagine their reaction when they learned that I had married a Laotian and that a few years later, my brother married the sister of my husband). The story goes that our great-grandmother was the daughter of an Indian Chief – but, whether that is true or not, we’ll never know. You’re lucky to have met you greatgrandmother even if only briefly. Glad to be your friend, Cheryl.

    • Liette,

      It’s so odd, isn’t it, that everywhere here on North America, that shame of having “savages blood” prevailed. I know so many of my relatives would not go sign up on the Dawes Roll because of that–and also because of worrying about the government being able to track them, if they did. Now, I don’t know if we would ever get through the red tape to be added or how we’d be able to prove it. Oh, golly, I bet your husband created quite a stir in your family, being Laotian! And then for your brother to marry his sister? Goodness–I can only imagine!

      I don’t remember much about my great grandmother, just one thing stands out. When she hugged you, she’d pat on you so hard it hurt–love pats, but we all talked about it. LOL Now, I treasure those memories.

      Hugs, Liette! And congratulations on your new little granddaughter!

  11. I love the wonderful family stories you shared, Cheryl, as well as the pictures! Your mother’s drawing is amazing! Thank you for these glimpses of your fascinating family history.

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    • Thanks, Britney! I appreciate your kind words–I’m glad to share with everyone–I’ve always been amazed that my mom had so many talents–artistic, cooking, sewing, and what a manager on a shoestring budget! She came from a tiny, tiny little town, with only 12 people in their graduating class!

  12. You know, one day we will be a photograph or a memory. Thank goodness we can share written words for others to treasure.

    • YES, Melanie! So true. I think it’s hard for most of us to look at it like that but that’s just the upshot of it all. We’re here so briefly, and all we leave behind are our memories with others.

  13. Cheryl, what a touching post. Get busy writing down what you remember, woman. Your descendants will thank you later.

    Like yours, my grandmother and mother and father told the best stories. I didn’t get a chance to help them record or write down any of them, and I’ll always regret that. One of my favorites was about the time my father and his one-year-younger sister — about 7 and 8, I think — got into the “medicinal spirits” on top of the icebox (not the refrigerator — the icebox) and then had to go hoe potatoes pretending they weren’t drunk as little skunks. According to my grandmother, the potatoes got a wallopin’ and so did my grandfather — who, along with is tribe of brothers (12 or something) had made the spirits themselves using the still hidden in the woods. My grandfather wasn’t the talkative type, but every once in a while — usually when Grandma told the potatoes story — he’d talk about running from the revenuers.

    How I wish I had all those stories! 🙂


    • Kathleen, I have written some things down. I started a little book for each one of my kids when they were little, and wrote down things they said and did that were funny that I thought I’d NEVER forget, but of course, you do. I read through Jessica’s not long ago and didn’t remember half of it happening, yet it was important enough to write down.

      I also wrote down things I wanted them to know about Mom and Dad. And about me and their dad. About where I grew up and went to school and what it was like and the things that were happening in the news (60’s) and so on. Well, I quit way too soon, but I can go back and do more on both of them, and I’m going to. And I do have some things written down that my mom told me.

      The revenuers–what great stories those would make! I wish you had them, too!

      Hugs, and thanks for stopping in today!

  14. Family stories are so great. It is true we are never interested until the ones who can answer the questions are gone.

    • You’re right, Sherry. When kids are younger they don’t give a fig about what happened “back in the day”–and when they’re old enough to care the older generation has already left us. That’s why it’s important to write things down and pass them on–someday, the next generation will be ready to read it–whether we’re still here or not.

  15. What wonderful information and memories you have. You were lucky to get as much information as you did. We tried, but my grandparents’ generation was always reluctant to give us any information or answers. Every once in a while, they would let slip little tidbits that were so interesting, usually when they were with their contemporaries. Back then, family history was interesting, but not the way it is today. I was in school and didn’t realize how important these memories would be. I wish I had kept a diary of them. Too much time has passed to remember many of them. Unfortunately that generation is also gone. My Dad is the last of his generation and there are none on my husband’s side of the family. It is a bit depressing to know that we are now the oldest generation in the family.
    Your family’s stories have given you a wonderful pool of characters and plot lines. We will all benefit from that. I look forward to reading more of you stories.

      • That’s one thing I have noted about the “older generations” that have gone on before us, Patricia–they were very reluctant in a lot of cases to give out any information. Even my mom had a lot of things I’m sure she never talked about or told anyone about that she knew (from being the oldest in the family). I do remember growing up how she’d say to me, “Now, this is ‘family talk’–and we don’t talk about this to anyone outside our family.”

        My husband’s mom was very secretive about her growing up years and her family. Once in a while she might say something about ‘we did this or that’ growing up, but never any details.

        I think, to me, what is so fascinating is to remember when I first began to understand that these were real people, and not just stories that were made up or things that happened to people we didn’t know. They say that kids can’t grasp the concept of understanding things that happened in history as real until they’re 12 years old. That seems old, but when you think about it, they may accept the fact that it happened, and it was in the past, but to really have the understanding that these were real people that had the same emotions, etc. that THEY experience–yes, I can believe 12 years old would be accurate.

        Patricia, thanks so much for stopping in today. I always enjoy your comments!


  16. Thanks for sharing your history with us. I have lost the opportunity to get mine. I know a little but not enough to go looking. My mother died when she was 54 and I didn’t get mush from her. My uncle had got some of the info but he is gone now and I don’t know what was done with his documentation. A cousin on the other side has history but I can’t get her to send it to me. I would like to read the book and I love yoiur books.

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