Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TAMAHA TALES

I was writing another blog about what to do with our ideas once we get them when it dawned on me that I should talk about Tamaha, Oklahoma for my Cactus Rose blog today.

Though there’s very little to say about the actual town of Tamaha as it exists today, I used it in my story, Fire Eyes, due for release on May 29. (SEE FOLLOWING EXCERPT)

There’s an odd thing that happened that made me include Tamaha in my book. I’d been working on it, and had come to the part where the villain and his gang needed to reference a landmark. But which one? I try to stay as historically accurate in my writing as possible, and this story takes place in the eastern part of the state, toward the Arkansas/Oklahoma border. I must admit, I’m not as familiar with that part of the state as I am with the central part, since that’s where I was born and raised. A lot of these smaller towns don’t even dot the map, and I had never heard of Tamaha.

Until one day in May, 2005. I’d just spoken with a lifelong friend, DaNel Jennings, who now lives in a town in that eastern area of the state. In the course of the conversation, she mentioned that she and her husband were doing some genealogical research and she had learned she had some relatives buried in a small cemetery in Tamaha. Now, the intriguing part of this was that her relatives bore the same last name as my maiden name, “Moss.”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we really WERE related?” she asked. We’d always secretly hoped we were, and pretended that we were, when we were kids.

“Yes,” I responded with a laugh, “but where in the HECK is Tamaha?” (As if I would know.) She began trying to tell me where it was, and I said, “Never mind. It’s a good thing Jeff knows where he’s going. Let me know what you find.”

I hung up, wistfully wishing that I could go with her—but that was a three-hour drive and they were leaving the next day. No way I could take off and drive down there on the spur of the moment, with family obligations.

A couple of hours later, my sister Karen called. “Cheryl, I need you to come down this weekend,” she said. I was really intrigued, because she is my “much older” sister—10 years older—and never much “needed” me for anything before.

“What’s going on?”

“I promised Mr. Borin I would take him to visit the graves of his parents and siblings for Memorial Day, and two of his brothers are buried in a cemetery in Tamaha—”

I never heard the rest of her sentence. I was sure I had misunderstood. “Where?”

“Tamaha. And the others—”

I interrupted her. “Wait, I have to tell you something.” I couldn’t believe it. I’d never heard of this place before, and now, within the space of 2 hours, two people who were very close to me had told me they were going to be going to the cemetery there!

Chills raced through my body. This was no mere “coincidence.” I promised her I would be there—no matter what—Friday afternoon. We would be going on Saturday morning.

I would never have found the place on my own. I doubt that Mapquest even has it on their site. But Mr. Borin, an older gentleman my sister had befriended in years past, knew exactly where to go. Once we got there, I stepped out and found the headstones for the “Moss” family. It was amazing to think that my best friend, DaNel, whom I had not seen in over a year, had been standing where I was just a few days earlier—a place neither of us had been before. There was an incredible sense of connection.

As the three of us, Karen, Mr. Borin, and I stood in the quiet peacefulness of the old cemetery, a man made his way toward us. “Can I help you?” he asked. We explained why we were there. “Let me show you the historical side of Tamaha while you’re here,” he said cheerfully.

The cemetery is on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River. “Right down there is where the J.R. Williams was sunk. She was a Confederate ship, but the Union seized her and changed the name to the J.R. Williams. But Stand Watie and his men seized her back.”(June 15, 1864) He chuckled at the thought.

“Come on, I’ll show you the largest black oak tree in Oklahoma—and the oldest.” Sure enough, it stood towering over one of the first buildings of the settlement of Tamaha, dating back to the 1800’s.

Next, we visited the town jail, the oldest jail in Oklahoma, built in 1886. We were able to walk right into it and take pictures. “We’re trying to get money up to preserve it,” he said. It stood in the middle of an overgrown field. “Watch out for snakes, hon,” he told me.

When we left, I knew I had my landmarks that I needed for my book. I had seen it, and my imagination took over. It was the “jog” I needed to get on with the writing, but I will never believe for one minute that it was coincidence.

Have any of you ever experienced anything like this? Some kind of remarkable occurrence that has affected your writing in some way? Share it, if you have—I know I can’t be the only one!

Below is an excerpt from FIRE EYES. I hope you enjoy it!

EXCERPT FROM FIRE EYES:

THE SET UP: A stranger has shown up at Jessica’s door in the evening. She is reluctant to let him inside, even though good manners would dictate that she find him a meal and a place to bed down. There is something about him she doesn’t like—and with good reason, as we find out.


“Evenin’, ma’am.”

The stranger looked down the business end of Jessica’s Henry repeater. It was cocked and ready for action.

She drew a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. She stood just inside the cabin door, the muzzle of the rifle gleaming in the lamplight that spilled around her from the interior.

He raised his hands and gave her a sheepish grin. “Don’t mean to startle you. Just hopin’ for a meal. Settlers are few and far between in these here parts.”

“Where’s your horse?” She didn’t lower the gun.

“Well, funny thing. I kinda hate to admit it.” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “I, uh, lost him. Playin’ poker.”

“Where?”

“Over to Tamaha.”

“You’re quite a ways from Tamaha,” she said. “Even farther from where I expect you call home.”

He gave a slow, white grin. “More recently, I hail from the Republic of Texas.”

Jessica raised her chin a notch. It was almost as if this man invited dissension. She disliked the cool, unperturbed way he said it. The Republic of Texas. “Texas is a state, Mister. Has been for over twenty years.”

“Well, now,” he said, placing his booted foot on the bottom porch step. “I guess that all depends on who you’re talkin’ to.”

Her eyes narrowed, and she stepped back to shut the door. “I think you better—”

“Ma’am, I’m awful hungry. I’d be glad for any crumb you could spare.”

“What did you say your name was?” Her voice shook, and she cleared her throat to cover her nervousness. Most people had better manners than to show up right at dark.

“I didn’t. But, it’s Freeman. Andy Freeman.”

“Are you related to Dave Freeman?”

“He’s my brother.” He gave her a sincere look. “Look, ma’am, I’d sure feel a heap better talkin’ to you if I wasn’t lookin’ at you through that repeater. I been lookin’ for Dave.” There was an excited hopefulness in his tone. “You seen him? Ma, she sent me up here after him. She’s just a-hankerin’ for news of him. He ain’t real good about letter-writin’.”

Jessica sighed and lowered the rifle. “Come on in, Mr. Freeman. I’ll see what I can find for you to eat, and give you what news I have of your brother.”

“Thank you, Ma’am. I sure do appreciate your hospitality.”

11 comments:

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Cheryl, I love your excerpt and your Tamaha inspiration. Yes, I had a book develop from a real-life tidbit of lore from a friend, who had an ancestor gored by a bull. I used that to get my heroine widowed LOL. (the guy was a jerk, he deserved it :)

Best wishes,
~Tanya
www.tanyahanson.com

Emma Lai said...

Nice post Cheryl. What a great way to jog your creativity! A lot of our family members are buried in an old cemetery with tons of history in the middle of nowhere. The middle of nowhere seems to be a prerequisite.

Lauri said...

Great post, Cheryl, and great excerpt!

I love when 'real' life and wrting merge. It's that sign that says this was meant to be!

Cheers!
Lauri

Cheryl said...

Hi Tanya,

Thanks! I'm glad you liked the excerpt--I had posted the other one that mentioned the ship when I did the Stand Watie blog. Gored by a gull, huh? What a way to go, but different and exceptional in a story line! Very cool.
Cheryl

Cheryl said...

Hi Emma,

I always say I want to do our family genealogy--but WHEN? That was something my mom talked about for years and year, and she started on it, but never made it very far. I am fascinated by old cemeteries. And the Tamaha thing just gave me chills. Not in a scary way, but I just knew it was "meant to be" for a reason.
Cheryl

Cheryl said...

Hi Lauri,

Yes, that's just how I felt about it. How could I NOT use that place after the way everything happened? Had to be!
Cheryl

Helen said...

Cheryl, just reading about your experience gave me chills!

Sixteen days until Fire Eyes!

Cheryl said...

I KNOW, HELEN!!! I'm excited!!! Hey, guess what I got yesterday from UPS? MY BOOKS I ORDERED!!! WHOO HOO!!! I was certainly not expecting those yet. THEY ARE GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS, GORGEOUS!!!!

Did I say gorgeous?LOL
Cheryl

Paty Jager said...

Fun information! I love it when you learn some history and can incorporate it into a story.

Cheryl said...

Hi Paty,
Me too. I'm a history FREAK. And it fit so perfectly into my story, there was no way I could ignore it.
Cheryl

Celia Yeary said...

Cheryl--your Tamaha story is fantastic. I love it! My sisters and I--mostly them--have stomped through so many cemeteries in North Texas in Parker County and Palo Pinto County. Wow, the things you find. If I think of a story as good as yours, I'll tell you. Celia