Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Prairie Journey by Frances Bonney Jenner

Fran Jenner's first novel Prairie Journey took her more than six years to write. And probably four years of traveling the California Trail from St Louis to Sacramento. More years went into dreaming this book, thinking about it, hoping she could write it. She never took that for granted but she did have a poetess grandmother, Ida Mae Hudnall, for inspiration, and a name that rings western (Bonney, as in Billy the Kid). Somehow those incidentals inspire writers to write, and keep writing. Ida never gave up; neither did Billy. Fran couldn't either as she slept on the hard cold California Trail while asking herself under a sky chock full of stars . . . is this the way Savannah felt? Is this the way it feels when you are finally a thousand miles from home, your boyfriend is back there and you are just here, and the goldfields beckon and the good earth glares, not with fortunes but graves of those who were not so lucky.

But Fran was lucky. She finished her novel. Here is one little part of this page turning saga of the way West. . .

Split Rock

July 7, 1850

Mr. McAuley paced. Mrs. McAuley prayed. Mother stayed with them, all night, and she prayed too. Mr. McAuley went out again on horseback, at dawn, searching everywhere, begging and calling, but couldn't find a trace of them.

"We can't wait," Captain said. He pulled off his hat with one hand, rubbed his head with the other. "We'll die if we don't cross the Sierras before the snows fall. We waited for Katherine. Our time's used up."

Mrs. McAuley said, "Well, I'm not going, not without my boys." Mr. McAuley shuffled his feet, stared at the ground. "We got no choice. We'll catch you when they turn up."

"I'm sure sorry," Captain said, then started our wagons off towards Split Rock. Far ahead, I could see it, rising tall, it in the distance, its split, cut deep. I looked back as Mrs. McAuley leaned into the wagon, arms around her face, wailing, her body shaking all over. Mr. McAuley staring angry over the prairie. But there wasn't anything out there . . .

Mother read my mind. "Savannah, separating from the wagon train is like a death sentence."

"But, Mother . . . the McAuleys."

It was a while before she said, "Our staying won't bring Billy and Elijah back. It's a hard road . . . and we have no other." She wiped the sweat from her face and her lips tightened. She said, "Sometimes we're full of regrets about what we do, but we do it anyway, cause we can't see any other way."

These words weren't much comfort, so I said nothing. But I wanted to yell it, scream it, throw an almighty tantrum, cause I knew it was wrong to leave the McAuleys and I knew Mother knew it, too.

We might never see them again.