Monday, August 18, 2008

Guest Blog--Short Stories by Juanita Brooks

I was fortunate enough to find two volumes that had short stories by Juanita Brooks here at the university library. Both are long out of print, I am sure.

In the collection Great Western Short Stories edited by J. Golden Taylor, Juanita’s short story follows one by Willa Cather. “The Outsider” is an autobiographical story about the writer as a young girl.

An unnamed man comes to their small town to talk to some local Native Americans about taking advantage of an educational opportunity. The Outsider stays in the Leavitt home and brings a breath of the world beyond their tiny community of pioneer Mormons to the curious young girl. She has always been taught that out there was a place of darkness to be feared. The Outsider quotes from books and politely participates in their desert life.

He attends a Saturday night dance with Juanita and her mother and against all of the conventions sits beside the two of them on the girls' side of the meeting house. When the final dance comes, the Outsider leads Juanita to the dance floor. She is young and has never danced before. He tells her to relax and not to look at her feet, and he leads her effortlessly around the floor in a waltz. When she wakes the next morning, he is gone, but she has tasted the sweetness of unknown literature and a mysterious world that she is determined she will one day experience for herself.

The other book is a collection of short stories written by Juanita Brooks. Frontier Tales: True Stories of Real People was published by Utah State University Press in 1972. The stories are written with the kindness of someone who knows these people and loves them. The characters’ courage and strength is portrayed along with their quick wit and humor.

One story is about Ann Chatterly Macfarlane. One morning, a squaw runs into her home carrying a two-year-old boy. The woman begs Ann, “Hide him, hide him.” Ann instinctively pops the little boy under her hoop skirt. The little boy "stepped his feet on hers" and hangs onto her legs. The squaw runs out the back door, and three braves burst through the front. The angry braves hunt everywhere for the child while Ann continues her work, moving about the small house. The braves leave the house, but they seem to sense the boy is there, and they continue to watch Ann’s house.

When her husband comes home for lunch, she tells him the situation about the little boy who is still under her skirt. He takes some bacon to the Indians camped across from their home in an effort to appease them. The group finally leaves town that afternoon, but it isn’t until the next day that the toddler’s mother returns. Brooks says, “The little fellow made no outcry or protest, but ate the food that was offered, and rested quietly in the arms of his new mother. But his joy to see his own when at last she did come was beautiful to see.”

All of the stories are well written and interesting, making this book a little gem. I would be delighted to add it to my own book collection, but unfortunately it has entered the realm of rare books. I feel very lucky to have found it in a university library and had the chance to enjoy it.

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