Tuesday, April 30, 2013

From the editor: Curious?

Our last post here at Audrey's Ambition was a story Grandma Audrey had written and titled "A Springtime Adventure." That one was posted the morning of Friday, April 26, 2013. The very next day's mail brought me a large envelope from my cousin Sandra, another of Audrey's granddaughters, containing a number of additional items Audrey had written. (Thanks, Sandra, for your contribution to this project.) One item in that packet was this letter, with a check stub attached:

(Click on the letter to enlarge it.)

Sandra had mailed the envelope the day before "A Springtime Adventure" was posted here, so the back-to-back timing of that post and my receipt of the above letter in her packet was purely coincidental. We've emailed since then, and both of us now suspect that the "One Spring Day" piece referenced in the letter might be "A Springtime Adventure" under a new title. The letter mentions 534 words in "One Spring Day." I counted 520 words in "A Springtime Adventure," but if Audrey changed the title, she might also have tweaked the story to add another 14 words. On the other hand, if it's an entirely different story, we'd all like to read it, right?

The Missouri Farmer has since changed it's name to Today's Farmer. I'm sure they have better things to do than search their archives for stories submitted 54 years ago, but maybe there's someone there who likes solving puzzles as much as I do. It never hurts to ask, so today I did. Today's Farmer has a Facebook page, and I sent them this message:
"It's my understanding that Today's Farmer magazine was once called The Missouri Farmer. I've just received a copy of a letter sent to my late grandmother in 1959 by The Missouri Farmer in which a check was enclosed as acceptance of a story she had submitted for publication. Naturally, our family would love to know more about that story. Do you know if an archive exists anywhere of issues published that long ago? Thank you for any information you can provide."
We'll see what happens. Do you think we could get that lucky? While we wait to find out, if any of you readers know anything about "One Spring Day," how about sharing with the rest of us?

UPDATE - Friday, May 3, 2013:
No later than 40 minutes after I sent the above message to Today's Farmer, a helpful staffer there responded, volunteering to do some research and get back with me. I quickly supplied Grandma's name, the title of her story, and the date of the acceptance letter. This morning I received a followup message from the magazine:
"Hello again Linda. We've looked through all of 1959 and 1960, but do not see an article that fits your description. It is possible that the piece was purchased but not published."
Any disappointment I might feel that the story wasn't found is more than adequately offset by the kindness of strangers who took the time and trouble to look for it. Thanks, Today's Farmer!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Springtime Adventure

By Audrey L. Barclay

I drove leisurely along the highway, thoroughly enjoying the warm spring sunshine that had succeeded in burning through the early morning fog. Down in the valley stray remnants of mist lingered still, but seemed to be dissolving before my eyes.

Dame Nature was staging her annual Spring Festival, and never had she been more generous with those things that go to make up a spring day in the Ozarks.

Light popcorn clouds floated high in the sky, while a brook rippled merrily beside the road with a little gurgling song of joy.

I paused awhile at the top of the hill to drink in the beauty of the scene below me. I was filled with an overwhelming desire to explore the old apple orchard that made such a picturesque background for the tumbledown farmhouse at the end of the lane.

I wondered if I dared invade the premises for a closer look. Being a somewhat timid soul, I had no wish to be accused of trespassing. Eventually, after carefully considering the possibilities, curiosity conquered caution and soon I had crawled between the two sagging barbed wires that enclosed it.

Immediately I was in another world. The trees were old and gnarled; it was evident they had never known a pruning knife. They were ideal for climbing purposes, and I found myself wishing I were ten again.

I wandered about beneath the trees, pausing occasionally to sniff at a fragrant cluster of the waxy, pink and white blossoms. The air was filled with the delicate fragrance.

Every tree housed its own quota of birds and played host to countless busily humming bees.

As I approached a thicket of wild blackberries near a corner of the orchard, a half-grown rabbit scampered from a clump of sedge-grass at my feet and was soon hidden deep within the thicket.

A few steps farther my attention was attracted by the curious actions of a turtle-dove. It would fly a short distance, then flutter as if it had a broken wing. I was sure the poor thing had been wounded, until I suddenly remembered it was a ruse often employed by a mother dove to lure enemies away from the nest where her young were hidden. I went poking about here and there hoping I might get a peek at the baby birds, but no such luck. They were too securely hidden.

I came at last to a tree that was larger than the others. I knew at once that it had been a happy and enchanting playground for children no doubt long since grown. In the coarse, rank grass that covered the ground I could trace the outline in stones of a playhouse. Here and there were a few moss covered bits of chipped and broken china, and I wondered if the children who had placed them there were as happy now as they were in their long-ago make believe home.

From a limb on the opposite side of the old tree, swaying gently in the breeze, hung two frayed and decaying ends of a rope swing--mute monument to a lost childhood.


Editor's Note: It's springtime now (April 2013), making it the perfect day to post this story. Do you want more of it? Yeah, me too, but this is all we have. Once again we're left wondering if pages are missing or if this is where Grandma Audrey ended it. It's a mystery.

Nevertheless, I love Audrey's use of imagery in this piece, the way she takes her readers along with her on her walk through the apple orchard and, through words alone, makes us imagine we're there with her, seeing exactly what she saw. I hope you enjoyed the time with her as much as I did.

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Hobby

by Audrey Barclay

My hobby, if I may so characterize my favorite indulgence, is writing letters. Not business or "duty" letters, but strictly personal letters; letters I write for the sheer enjoyment I find in expressing myself on paper. I trust the recipients derive as much from reading them.

I frankly admit I'm very temperamental, and only write when in that certain mood. I am likely to find myself writing at dawn, midday, or any other hour of the day or night. As a matter of fact, I seem better able to exercise my imagination during the wee sma' hours than any other. It is there I can rid my mind of any and all thoughts that have accumulated throughout the day, whether I am writing to my bosom friend or a pen-pal whom I've only met through the medium of our letters.

Some of my most enjoyable experiences in correspondence have been with people whom I have never seen, and probably never shall. I confess, I often wonder if, in the event circumstances should ever bring me face to face with my unknown correspondents, the reality would prove much different from the word-pictures we have been building of our personalities. At any rate, I find it much easier to indulge my yen for fancy phrases with them. When I try such pleasures on my family and friends, they accuse me of "putting on airs."

Many valued friendships are made, and kept alive and growing throughout the years through letters. I value those I've made; I hope they value me.


Editor's Note: Click on the images below to enlarge them and read this essay as it was written in Audrey's own hand.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Year 1933

by Audrey Barclay

Most young people stare in disbelief as though they'd like to say, "You're crazy; 1933 couldn't have been that bad," when their elders start reminiscing of those days.

It was another year of depression, despair, breadlines, bank failures, and suicides of epidemic proportions because of financial losses. Work was scarce, wages low for those who had employment. We were among the lucky ones; my husband was a car-carpenter for the railroad, but was often idle several days at the end of the month. No money, no work, so smaller pay.

During that memorable year our family grew to thirteen when our last child arrived in May and two months later my mother and sister came to live with us. It was hard enough to feed and clothe so many, much less make the $11.95 monthly payment on our home. The boys wore overalls that were patched upon patches, and I searched remnant counters for cottons for shirts and dresses. I made quilts from the left-over bits of materials; there were beds in every room but the kitchen.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated that year for his first term as president. Within minutes after the ceremony his first official act was to close every bank in the country, indefinitely, in what proved to be a successful move to stabilize the economic structure of our nation.

Later, when prohibition was repealed, and women's skirts crept to knee-length, everyone knew the world was headed for perdition. 'Twas not so!


Editor's Note: Grandma Audrey didn't know it at the time she wrote the above piece, but she was actually a distant relative of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt:  half-sixth cousin, twice removed. Their common ancestor was a Dutchman, Jan Barensten Kunst, who came from the Netherlands to America aboard the "Gilded Beaver" in 1658.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Grandma Wants to Be a Writer

by Audrey L. Barclay

Grandma sat staring into space, the evening paper dangling listlessly from her hand. Suddenly straightening in her chair she hurriedly re-read the item that had intrigued her, and seemed to reach a decision. This was her chance, and she was going to take it! She arose hastily and began the evening meal, her hands moving automatically, her mind considering ways and means. It was pure chance the meal was edible--certainly it was through no conscious effort on her part.

She had always wanted to write, but Grandma had no vision of herself as author of a world's best seller; she'd be content with a much lesser degree of fame. Rearing nine children had left little time for pursuing her dream, but it had supplied an abundance of interesting material. And now Brewster College was including creative writing in the evening curriculum. With but two teen-agers remaining at home there was no reason not to realize the fulfillment of her dream.

A bit of ribbing from the family was inevitable, but Grandma was smiling as she started off for her first class, a small granddaughter singing after her, "School Days, School Days . . .!"

Grandma walked up the steps of Durham Hall with mixed emotions. There was the thrill of anticipation, also the same sense of trepidation she remembered from her first day in school as a child. As she awaited her turn to register, she discovered the building was less glamorous than she had anticipated, although she had no clear-cut idea just what she had expected; certainly not this drab building. She tried to picture in her mind the long procession of young men and women who had walked its dimly lighted halls, and thought what interesting stories one might write about them.

At last the class was called to order, the roll was called, and Grandma was about to become a writer--she hoped! However, she soon discovered there was more to writing than simply putting words on paper, and was somewhat dismayed to learn there was a definite pattern to be followed when writing for publication. The assignments were not particularly hard had she been free to do them in her own way; the difficulty lay in trying to conform to that prescribed by the instructors, but she was determined to continue.

Grandma was overjoyed when finally assigned the project of doing a short story of salable caliber. It was then Fate dealt a tragic blow when two small grandchildren were left motherless and came into her home. The following eight years were a repetition of previous years.

Finally their father and a lovely new mother took the children into a new home, leaving Grandma once more with time on her hands. She returned to her dreams, enrolling in a correspondence school for a course in her favorite subject. Today she is having the time of her life!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Audrey's Bio

Editor's Note: Audrey Smith Barclay was born October 26, 1900 and died January 25, 1987. The following is the first page of an autobiography she wrote around 1974 as a writing-class assignment. The rest of the pages, if any, are missing. If they turn up, we'll add them here.


By Audrey L. Barclay

I am Audrey Lou Barclay, daughter of Ernest and Minnie Smith. I was born near Galena, Missouri, October twenty-sixth, 1900, then going to make my home in Stotts City, Missouri when my parents separated two years later.

It was there I attended school, graduating from high school in 1916--as valedictorian. Soon after graduating I came to Springfield, living with my grandparents until my marriage to Erna Barclay on July Fourth, 1918. Our union produced nine children, six sons and three daughters, and we reared three of the thirty-two grandchildren. The present count is sixteen great-grandchildren. I became a widow two years ago last September, after it had been necessary to place my husband in a hospital three years before. I've lived alone since that time.

So much for the vital statistics. Obviously, it is doubtful if I can contain a detailed account of the nearly seventy-four years of my life in the wordage allowed me, so I beg your indulgence.

Mother remarried when I was four, in due time giving me four sisters. I became an expert at baby-sitting, which was to be an advantage later on, as were the other household skills I learned. I was quite capable of keeping a home going long before I had my own. I suppose my childhood was about that of any normal child, with the usual preferences both in work and in play.

Music and reading were my favorite interests, though there was no money for lessons on the old cottage organ. I think I read everything in the school library, many of the books more than once. And I learned to play very well by ear. I kept the mails flooded with letters to both grandmothers from the time I first learned to put words on paper. It was then I began dreaming of someday becoming a writer.

When I had no housework assigned me I often rode horseback.


Audrey Smith Barclay was my grandmother. I remember her well from my childhood but had limited contact with her after a long-distance move when I was 14. In recent years I've gotten better acquainted with her through anecdotes related by her children and grandchildren and through the stories she herself wrote and left behind. In fact, her passion for writing is the thing that's made me feel a new, stronger connection to her after so many years. I don't know if there's any such thing as a "writing gene," but if there is, I'm pretty sure I got mine from Audrey.

The main purpose of this blog is to give Audrey a posthumous moment in the spotlight by publishing all of her stories here. Many of them are already in my possession, but I hope other stories or letters she wrote might trickle in from family members who find them stored away in closets or attics. I also hope family members will continue to send in their own remembrances of Audrey or their own stories of what it was like to grow up under her care. It's my understanding that there were good days and hard ones. Isn't that what it's like in most families?

Special thanks to the relatives who have already shared with me Grandma Audrey's writings, along with their own observations, photos, and other pieces of family history. It wouldn't even have occurred to me to undertake this endeavor if they hadn't given me so much to work with.

Thanks to you, too. Audrey always wanted readers, and now you're one of them.

Linda@VS, Editor