Christmas music. Ancient carols, Vince Guaraldi’s Snoopy suite, and most of all White Christmas pushed the sentimental boom box buttons of my brain in the 2020 Christmas season. Otherwise, cancelled Thanksgiving already past, Christmas was the most solitary event of the Covid Pandemic year.
With every Christmas Card I Write. Instead of my usual lavish collage or family group photo for this year’s Christmas card, I selected a screenshot of the on-line book launch of Strawberry Roan, my new memoir. It was one the few photos I had from 2020. There had been no family photo shoot. This picture was the best I could do. It included myself, Ellen and Lyman, two of my three adult children, and several writing friends, all boxed in virtual space. I had 50 Christmas cards made by Shutterfly, which offered a bevy of options including adding my name and additional text. I typed a few lines with my scant news on the back. I wrote a personal word or two, a line at best, and sent them out.
The experience was nothing like the lyric from White Christmas, the Irving Berlin song penned in the 1930s.
Judy participated in a virtual book tour where readers from around the world were able to read and enjoy her book, Strawberry Roan.
Judith Vaughan (Judy), born in New Orleans in 1944, is the author of Strawberry Roan, Growing up in the Shadow of Hermit Peak. A True New Mexico Coming of Age Story. It is her first published work.
Judy was the youngest of three daughters, born in the desperate closing months of the second World War. Her grandmother, sure she was born to be her Daddy’s boy, asserted that Wallace would be a fine first name regardless of the baby’s gender. Her mother, Elizabeth Lee Beil, a graduate of the University of Missouri and kindergarten teacher, did not agree. Her father, Wallace C. Beil, a graduate of Northwestern University Medical School, specialized in ophthalmology. His growing interest in horses led the family to New Mexico in 1950 and sparked Judy’s obsession with horses and medicine. Her youth in New Mexico is detailed in Strawberry Roan as is her education and young adult life.
Judy began to hone the craft of writing in retirement after forty years of practicing neurology and rehabilitation medicine. She lives in Elk Grove California.
She attended Sacramento City College to start her writing venture and found inspiration from Jan Haag, who insisted that her life story was the only important subject. She has written with Elk Grove Writers and Artists with Gini Grossenbacher’s unerringly supportive guidance for several years. She has attended presentations by Writing by Writers led by Pamela Houston, a gifted teacher and acclaimed writer of stories and memoir. Through Alice Winston Kearny, she connected with Gerald and Lorry Houseman, editors of Irie Books in Santa Fe, N.M. and publisher of Strawberry Roan. She plans a second book of memoir and stories.
As I write Strawberry Roan my memoir about growing up in the Gallinas Canyon near Las Vegas, New Mexico, I recall a conversation I had with countless visitors.
When newcomers encountered the name of my home river canyon, they were apt to pronounce it “Gal-EE-nas” or even “Galin-ASS.” They would scowl. “Isn’t that “chicken” in Spanish?”
Gallon ass? I gave a little lecture on the dignity and historical importance of the Gallinas River, whose water made possible the meadows for which Las Vegas was named.
“It’s pronounced ‘guy-EE-nas,’ I’d say, “and one translation is indeed ‘chicken’.”
“Why would anyone name a pretty creek Chicken Canyon?”
I’d explain. The name referred to wild turkeys, still common in the canyon. “Gallina” was a more general term for fowl in the language of the Spanish colonial settlers of the nineteenth century. “Gallina de la tierra” meant the wild fowl, literally fowl of the earth, the ground. They may have picked the name for the same reason that Colorado had so many Deer Creeks and Clear Creeks; it was important to convey where a pioneer could find food or clean water.
They’d ask about Hermit’s Peak, the mountain that dominates the scenery for miles around Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Hermit Peak’s had several names. Its current name honored a man of faith, who lived in a cave near its summit during the nineteenth century.
Pursuit of the Worthless or Pursuit of a Dream?
I added up the expenses for the Morgan National Championship Horseshow in 1999 --- thousands of dollars in entry-fees, stall rental, motel accommodations for me and my children, Lyman, a college freshman, and Betsy, a vet student.
I signed the check for the show secretary and folded everything, the horses’ registration papers, our membership numbers, and the entry form into the manila envelope. I slapped three stamps on the outside and weighed the envelope on a food scale. I mailed the entry.
About 2008, as I gradually withdrew from a forty-year career as a doctor practicing neurology and rehabilitation. I started my journey of writing in a course at Sacramento City College called Writing as a Healing Art, taught by Jan Haag, former editor of Sacramento Magazine. At the time, I didn’t see much need to heal. Jan was the first to see an early version of Strawberry Roan, and insisted my memoir sketches were the most important material I would write.
Any memoir begins when something happens that you will never forget. The emotion tied to the event gives it staying power. My youth had been so different from others, colored with the beauty of New Mexico and misfit moments. Ecstatic joy and crushing embarrassment. The writing let me see for myself how I had navigated a path from a youth with horses and sacred mountains to adulthood and even descendants.
I wanted to share it. If I could get someone else to understand, maybe I would understand as well.
Ah, so that’s how writing heals.