Saturday, June 20, 2009

An Evening With My Characters

(Originally posted at Writer in the Pines on July 28, 2008)

I found out that some of my characters were camping out on the Rim. Because it was so rainy, I invited them to ride down into the hamlet where I live and take advantage of the empty mobile home I own as a much drier sleeping arrangement. They agreed, and the first problem I had was finding a place to put up the horses for the night. After I made a few telephone calls, a neighbor let the men stake out their animals in her orchard. I ferried saddles and gear and men back to the trailer, and introduced them further into the 21st Century.

ME: Here we are. Let me unlock the door and show you around.

CLAY OWEN: The door's made of glass?

ME: It's called an Arcadia door, and it slides open.

(RULON OWEN affectionately ruffles his younger brother's hair): Keep your mouth shut, little brother, or you'll collect a heap of flies. I 'spect that won't be the only wonder you're gonna see.

ME: A lot of things will seem strange. You've leaped past quite a few years.

CARL OWEN: That's so, ma'am. After we passed under the rainbow, we noticed a passel of oddments, like that vehicle you use. We saw some like yours, and others with an open bed in the back.

ME: Mine is called an automobile. Or a car. It's for getting people around, like a buggy or a coach. Those others you saw are trucks. They're best for carrying gear or goods. (I pause and look at my characters standing around the living room, dripping on the rug.) It's odd to hear you call me "ma'am."

RULON: We took a vote, ma'am. We know you're by way of being our "mother," but it don't seem fittin' to call you "Ma." We have a fine ma already. Well, you know that. You made her up.

ME: Yes, years ago. (I gesture around.) This is called a living room. Sort of a parlor. That's the kitchen, but the stove is very different than any you've seen. I'll show you how to work it later. (I shepherd them through the house.) This is the bathroom. It's more than an indoor privy. It's also a washroom. (I turn the faucet on, then off.) You wash your hands here. This tap turns on the cold water, and this one is for hot.

CARL: Hot water?

ME: Yes, there are taps like these in the kitchen, too. I have sort of a boiler outside that heats up the water. Then it's piped in to the taps. (I turn around and indicate the bathtub.) No buckets here, folks. Hot water on tap for your baths.

(CARL bumps Clay's arm): You're overdue.

CLAY (bumping back): Rulon's the oldest. He always says he gets the tub first.

ME: Um, you don't all need to use the same water. See this little hole? And this lever? (I work the lever.) The water goes down into a big pipe that takes it away down yonder. When each of you is finished, you can drain your water and the next man can start fresh. Or you can bathe in the waterfall.

CARL: Out on the creek?

ME: It's an indoor waterfall. (I demonstrate the shower, and the men make appropriate sounds of disbelief.) We call it a shower.

RULON: All these things are miracles to us, ma'am. What's this white chair for?

ME: That's the privy part. (I lift the lid.) We call it a toilet. You answer Nature's call here, then flush it away with this lever. If you're not going to sit, lift the seat and (I feel my cheeks beginning to burn) aim low. Here's the toilet paper.

(CLAY stoops over to examine it): It's a whole roll of soft paper, Rule. (He tugs, and TP unrolls onto the floor.) Oh, sorry, ma'am!

ME (laughing): Just wind it back up, Clay. It comes apart when you need to use it for cleaning up after yourself.

CLAY: Comes apart?

ME: Look at it. It's perforated into squares. Perforated means not quite cut apart. You hold here and pull here, and there you have a square or two. (I hold up two sections of TP.)

(CLAY's face is still red as he winds the TP back on the holder): Thanks for the instruction, ma'am.

ME (looking after RULON and CARL, who have wandered on into the bedroom): It's small, but it's cozy.

RULON: Ma'am, I reckon we all can sleep in that there bed.

ME: I thought you could spread your bedrolls out in the Arizona room, but if you prefer . . .

CARL: We're used to the ground, ma'am, but a bed! We ain't seen such a nice puffy one before.

ME: The house is yours until you need to go back. Do what you want. Except, I really am uncomfortable being called "ma'am." I understand your feelings about not calling me "Ma." You can keep that for Julia. How about calling me "Mom"?

RULON (tries it out): Mom. Mom. What's it mean . . . Mom?

ME: It's short for Mommy! I guess that's not a Southern form of address.

CARL: We use Mama and Ma, or Meemah, ma'am--Mom.

CLAY: I like it.

ME: It's better than calling me "Marsha."

RULON (nods): Yes ma'am, that's not fittin', ma'am, I mean, Mom.

ME: Let's go see the Arizona Room.

CLAY: Why's it called that?

ME: I believe it's because of all the glass to let the sunshine in. Folks think Arizona is hot everywhere, but that's not true. Up here in the forest, the sunlight is welcome.

CARL (looking around): Where's the fireplace, Mom? We can't build a campfire on this purty rug.

ME: You won't need a fire. You'll be warm here.

CARL: We need to cook our supper.

ME: I'll show you how to operate the stove. (We go back into the kitchen and I turn a knob.) This fire comes from piped-in gas. You can make the fire hotter by turning the knob a bit more. Just make sure you turn it off when you've finished cooking!

RULON: Much obliged, ma--Mom. This is surely a wonder!

ME: It is. Modern conveniences have come a long way since your era. (I look around.) I think that's all you need to know for now. There are clean towels in the cupboard in the bathroom. Get cleaned up and I'll wait for you in the parlor.


*This is a work of fiction. I don't really talk to time-traveling characters from my novels. I do like them a lot, though, and am glad they passed under the rainbow to visit me in my own place and time. To order my novels, The Man from Shenandoah, Ride to Raton, and Trail of Storms, visit my website at

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