Today I would like to introduce you to Barbara Anne Waite. It took Barbara twenty three years, an inspirational diary, an unfinished manuscript and a great deal of research to complete a memoir of her grandmother Elsie. The story is so good that it’s now being read all over the world. Here Barbara shares with us how she did it:
“Elsie –Arizona Teacher 1913-1916”
‘I first picked up Elsie’s well-worn black leather diary in 1987, not realizing it would reveal a young Elsie that I had never imagined. The diary told of her first love, of heartache and sorrow, and of fascinating adventure from 1913-1916. Never had I pictured my grandmother as being free-hearted, young and in love. Among her many published short stories and articles I also discovered an unfinished, handwritten manuscript that did not appear to be the work of someone who was almost 97 years old. It was author and educator Elsie Reed Hayes Roberts’ final project, unfortunately never completed. Never before had she written anything that stirred me like this unfinished story of love and adventure in the early state of Arizona. Obviously, these three years in her early twenties had been an unforgettable time for her.
Her diary could not give me all the answers to the questions it created, but hidden in library archives were surprising discoveries. Piece by piece, through letters, newspaper articles, and her diary, her story deepened. Elsie frequently described her Arizona years as “glorious.” She experienced isolation, lack of modern conveniences, and sacrifices, yet still she remembered and described those days as delightful. As I read her diaries and her letters written home to California I saw why she had great joy in the memory of those years. I discovered why some of those memories brought tears. This is not a sorrowful story – it is, like Elsie, delightful – a mirror into her exuberance and zest for life. But there is also the answer to the tears. Elsie had a heart that refused to focus on the hard circumstances; instead, she focused on the joy found in the adventure of a challenge.
Writing “Elsie- Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1916” was an on-off project for twenty-three years. Interrupted by four children (home schooled), moves – California to South Carolina to an island in the Caribbean and back to California – being a wife, public speaking, women’s seminars, and many other time-consuming activities which have been part of my chosen life’s work.
Elsie had enchanted me with stories during my childhood. Even after I married and had children of my own, we would all sit at her feet while she shared stories. True stories. Some stories were of her childhood, including stories of her father being injured as a child in Virginia during the Civil War. I recorded some of these stories on cassette tapes. I know during one Arizona story she was telling she stopped and giggled and said, “I was a bit of a snob.” I later understood what she was referring to. Arizona changed her. She was college educated and loved literature and culture. In Arizona she taught barefoot, burro riding children, and she referred to some of them as being “common and needing baths.” As she learned to love this wild countryside and the children, her attitude changed dramatically. She discovered an admiration for the character of these back-woods farmers, ranchers and their children. Elsie fell in love with Arizona. And a couple of young men fell in love with Elsie. My research uncovered a tender, yet tragic, love story. The letters she had saved were tied with a faded blue ribbon that appeared to have been untied numerous times through the years. Reading the letters I discovered a grandmother I had never known, and I was fascinated. In 1988 I located and interviewed 8 of her former students that were then elderly treasures. Elsie had taught them for 9 months in a one-room school in Arizona 75 years before. Yet they had vivid memories that were a match to the ones Elsie had written about in her letters and diary.
My biggest surprise was when I approached a National Monument bookstore in Arizona about selling Elsie. The gentleman questioned if the book was fiction. I answered that it was taken directly from her letters and diary and that I had added historical information and explanations. His response was, “Your book is interpretive History!” Taken by surprise I said,” Yes, it is.” Montezuma’s Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments have sold over copies. I never dreamed “Interpretive History” had so much potential. What an adventure writing this book has been. My favorite of the 263 Amazon reviews came from a woman of 103 that read Elsie on a kindle and “Skyped” her daughter her review. Elsie would be very pleased and amazed.
Connecting with people who have read the book has been a delightful experience. I never dreamed it would have a target audience beyond Arizona. I have had letters from
all over the world. There is a young man teaching in rural Africa that is reading it right now. I have heard from readers in England, New Zealand, France, Equador, Canada, Korea, Finland and Crete.’
Elsie is available on Kindle in the UK or
as a paperback on Amazon.com
Norman would have loved this book and written a review too, at 103 years! I thank Barbara Anne for joining us here and if you enjoy the book do let us know.
(I apologize that you cannot Look Inside here but click on the cover and it will take you to Amazon where you can.)