Stories from My Mother

Life during my mother’s time was unrefined and harsh. Our homes were lighted with kerosene lamps, our water drawn from a well. We burned wood and didn’t have a phone.

When dusk fell, we four girls gathered around Mother on the bed to listen to the stories of her childhood--about  her grandmother, a medicine woman who cured the ill and dying—and about homesteading in No Man’s Land. Her wonderful and terrifying tales of outlaws, prairie fires, and mad dogs provided inspiration for the historical novel I would later write. These were the legacies from my Mother.


A full moon shined through the bedroom window where Momma, clad in a feed sack gown lay, surrounded by me and my three sisters. I was eight, the middle child; Winnie was six, while Betty was 13 and Freda eleven. I inched close to Momma and tugged her sleeve. “Tell us the mad dog story,” I wheedled, crawling under her arm to snuggle close.

She laughed. “Oh, you don’t want to hear that one again. You’ve heard it a dozen times.” But she finally relented. She gathered her thoughts before continuing. “I was the littlest, maybe three at the time. We were on our way to Beaver County. Poppy had stopped for the night and pulled the wagon beneath some trees, then the men went down to the creek to water the horses. My older sisters, Stella and Evelyn, were getting supper, and I sat down in the middle of the road to play with Jack, our dog.”

She pulled me closer. “Aunt Edith was tending Momma in the wagon.” She paused. “Poppy had heard of a medicine man down in Oklahoma, you see, and he thought if he took Momma down there where the air was pure and the water clean, he’d get that medicine man to heal Momma.”

I knew what was coming but blurted out anyway. “So what happened next?”

“Land sakes, Bonnie. I’m getting there. So then, one of the men yelled from the creek. ‘Get them kids in th’ wagon. There’s a mad dog a’comin.’ Evelyn froze. I can still remember her clutching that old iron skillet, stiff as a board. Stella climbed to safety in the wagon, but there I was, sitting in the middle of the road, Jack beside me, and that mad dog coming straight at me, slathering froth all over the place.”

“Betcha thought you were a goner, didn’t you?” I asked.

“I sure did,” Momma said. “But just as that mad dog lunged, Jack jumped between us. He saved me. But that old rabid dog bit Jack.” Her voice turned sad. “After that, he acted real sick and crawled beneath the wagon. The next morning he was gone and my momma said, ‘Somehow, Jack knew he had to leave because he didn’t want to hurt any of us.’ My dog saved me. I’m here today because he sacrificed his life to save mine. Now that’s true love. I don’t believe for a moment that Jack didn’t go to heaven, and I’m going to see him again someday.

Come back next time for another story that inspired Nelly of No Man's Land.