I grew up far from the ocean, but less than a mile away from the Cumberland River. Muddy, brown, its banks thick with downed trees and ragged weeds, the Cumberland had a lot of barge traffic since it was a tributary of the Ohio River. That meant catfish from the river tasted like diesel fuel. But the river had a calm, deep presence.
I’m going to post some stories about fishing on the river and what it was like in those long, humid summer days with not much to do. I thought a photo might be a good place to start. Sometimes an image brings back clear memories of a time and place. Sometimes a scent can resurrect a forgotten memory. Even a sound–a mockingbird trilling a mashup of other bird’s songs, a dog barking in the far distance, just on the edge of hearing.
When I was four and five years old, my favorite clothing was my cowgirl outfit. A canvas-colored skirt with brown fake leather fringe and a matching fringed vest, I wore it as much of the time as Mother would let me. I had a cowboy hat and a double holster with cap pistols which I had inherited from my brother, and I think I recall a sheriff’s badge.
I had a stick horse which I galloped up and down the hallway all day. The noise of those boots clomping in a horse-like cadence must have been maddening but no one ever stopped me or told me to quiet down.
I’m not sure where this cowgirl obsession came from. I wore the outfit so much that the fake leather fringe was stubble. Normally I was quiet, a reader, used to playing by myself. Something about that cowgirl suit let me be as close to rambunctious and wild as I was able to get. When I turned six years old and went to school I got over my cowgirl dreams.
Then I saw a necklace at a gift shop a year ago, just before my job was eliminated. It was a silver chain with a pendant which was a tiny frame for a picture, like a necklace with a saint or a Madonna on it. This one had a drawing of a girl in Western clothes from the ‘30s or ‘40s, with an inscription, “Our Lady of the Inner Cowgirl.”
I’ve had that necklace on my mind for a year now. I feel a need for my inner cowgirl. I want to get back that feeling of being brave, bold and invincible.
In her exhibit at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Dale Evans is quoted as saying:
“‘Cowgirl’ is an attitude really. A pioneer spirit, a special American brand of courage. The cowgirl faces life head-on, lives by her own lights, and makes no excuses. Cowgirls take stands; they speak up. They defend things they hold dear.”
Right now I feel tired and sore. But it’s not too late. Maybe I can still put on my cowgirl outfit, saddle up and ride to my own rescue.
I make my living as a marketer, but in my heart I’m a writer. I quit doing any creative writing for nearly 20 years, after I finished my MBA. The only composition I did was PowerPoint presentations and memos.
Then my longtime companion died suddenly. I kept working, kept breathing, went through the daily drudgery. But I started looking back to old pleasures and talents from the days before I knew him. I took a writing class at the Hudson Valley Writers Center. I took several classes. I experimented with fiction and children’s books. Finally I realized all my short stories were memoir in disguise, so I found my writing home.
I’d like to thank David Surface for helping me come back to writing and Susan Hodara for helping me find my voice. Special shout-out to my dear friends and family, who are always encouraging, and my classmates at HVWC, who invariably are generous, helpful and accurate!