The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Justin Osmond

Now I ask you: What author forgets to bring a pen to a booksigning? I can tell you that it's Justin Osmond, Merrill and Mary Osmond's second son, who has just self-published (with Shirley Baulmann's help) his autobiography, Hearing with My Heart. Saturday's booksigning at the Mount Pleasant Library was Justin's first one, and he forgot a pen.

But I got lucky. I shared the table with Justin, loaned (and then gave) him my extra pen, and met a friend. What a delightful young man. He has 90 percent hearing loss, the only one of his generation of Osmond cousins to have inherited a family trait. He moves gracefully between the deaf world and the hearing world, mainly because of his own will, and the strength and tenacity of his parents, who saw that he had the help he needed throughout his young life, and his reliance on the Savior.

After listening to him speak to others about his book (I assured him that was what authors did at booksignings), I watched him interact with friends and potential buyers, sharing his story and encouraging them. Justin's a busy man. He has recently returned from Africa,as part of his work with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which provides hearing aids for children and others in parts of the world where such things are terribly hard to come by. I doubt his has lots of time for booksignings, but he's a total natural, because he's such a people person.

And now he's written a wonderful book describing his quiet world, and the tremendous role that his parents and siblings and gifted educators have played in opening this quiet world and helping him reach his maximum potential, which is limitless, as far as I can tell. Over and over to his fascinated audience on Saturday, Justin explained, "While I may have a hearing defect, it doesn't have me. It doesn't define me."

That's the strength of his well-written book: whatever challenge or disability - seen or unseen - that a person might possess, it can be overcome using courage, tenacity, a sense of humor, and belief in one's self. As Justin points out several times, it never hurts to have Heavenly Father on your side.

Although some might look at the Osmonds' life as one of privilege, it's been a challenge. True, there are material blessings that have come their way, but the cost is high: travel; fathers and uncles away from home on tour; moving from place to place, at times; and real difficulties that come from having a famous label attached. Justin doesn't mince any words about the difficulties he and his siblings encountered while living in Branson, Missouri, when the Osmonds performed there. Branson High School was full of bullies quite willing to pick on the Osmonds. Even transfer to a so-called non-denominational Christian academy didn't make it better. But they stuck it out, taught where they could, and lived Christian lives among people who don't think Mormons are Christians.

As I read Justin's account of those trying years, I remember a time I was asked to speak about writing to a similar non-denominational Christian academy in nearby Springfield, Missouri. (We lived near Springfield and I worked at Cox Medical Centers.) I was all ready to speak, when I found out that the school had recently shown its students a scurrilous bit of video vomit against Mormons called, "The Godmakers." I sent a letter to the school and said that I would not speak there, after all, because I was LDS, and didn't want to have anything to do with a so-called educational facility that considered it Christian to so abuse another church, with no attempt to get facts straight.

Upon reflection now, I think Justin and his brother, Shane, were much braver than I was. In a school assembly they asked for permission to sing "I Am a Child of God" to the student body. It was granted, and they sang. After that experience, the school board voted to make "I Am a Child of God" the school song. I had refused to go to a place like that, but these two boys bravely sang in front of their peers and teachers. My hat's off to you, Justin. I didn't have your courage. (Sadly, Justin pointed out that when the Osmonds left there, the school changed the rules to ban Mormons from ever attending. Ah, well.)

Yep, Hearing with My Heart is a great read. You can buy it on Amazon, or go to I think it's also available at Deseret Book. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Zulu, my guilty pleasure

Amazing how one thing leads to another. After finding a talk by Elder Jeffrey Holland for next week's Relief Society lesson, I started nosing around on the category, "What does Welsh sound like?" Sure enough, there were plenty of good examples on the Interwebs. And that just naturally led to Googling Welsh choral singing, which is always guaranteed to send shivers down the spine. Don't know what it is about  the Welsh, but they can SING. First I had to listen to "Suo Gan," that ineffably lovely Welsh lullaby, featured on Spielberg's Empire of the Sun. If there is a more beautiful melody, I don't know what it could be.

Well, "Suo Gan" morphed into "All Through the Night," (Ar hyd y nos) another gorgeous Welsh lullaby. Found that one, too, and sang along. And once there, it was only a matter of time until I found "Men of Harlech," which is especially stirring when sung by an entire audience of Welshmen at a rugby match. I don't know why the opposing team even bothered to come out on the pitch, after that bit of vocal intimidation.

And "Men of Harlech" always and forever leads to the 1964 movie, Zulu. After two days of terrible fighting, the little British Army contingent (140 strong) at Rorke's Drift in Natal is waiting for the final charge from some 4,000 Zulu warriors. It is January 23, 1879, at the end of the Zulu Wars. (If you ever want to read a good book on the Zulu and their wars, try The Washing of the Spears, by Donald R. Morris. It's the standard work.)

There's something about the Zulu. I had a friend at BYU years ago from South Africa, and we were talking about the various native groups in her homeland. I asked her what the Zulu are like. She just waved her hands in a gesture of complete inadequacy and said, "Well, they are just...just Zulu."  I think I know what she meant. When I think about the Lakota on the North Plains, that's about what I am reduced to.

So there are the British, waiting for the final stand. The Zulus are singing and banging their spears against their body-length, cowhide shields, when Colour Sergeant Bourne approaches one of his Welshmen in the South Wales Borderers, who were the lucky guys at Rorke's Drift. The sergeant asks in his unflappable British way what the Welshman thinks of the singing.

Equally thoughtful, the Welshman replies, "They have a good bass section, but no top tenors, that's for sure." The man - dirty and desperately weary - thinks a minute, then starts to hum. He has a beautiful tenor voice, and he sings the first verse of "Men of Harlech." Men of Harlech stop your dreaming/Can't you see their spear points gleaming/See their warrior pennons streaming/to this battlefield?

The other Welsh soldiers join in, and nearly drown out the Zulu. Men of Harlech, stand ye steady/ Let it not be ever said ye/ For this battle were unready/ Welshmen do not yield.

The Zulus charge, and are beaten back. The mission and supply depot at Rorke's Drift survived, and the legend of the thin red line gets another burnish. Good stuff. Of the 1,400 or so Victoria Crosses awarded so far, 11 were won at Rorke's Drift. All that is fact.

I don't know if that singing really happened at Rorke's Drift, but as we used to say in grad school, "It should have." I know for a fact that Western history reenactors love to watch Zulu. It's our guilty pleasure. Quote me a line from the movie, and I'll quote one back. (Private: "Why is it us? Why us?" Sergeant Bourne: "Because we're here, lad. Nobody else. Just us.")

Yep. Nobody else. Just us.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cancelled book signings

H'mm, here's an interesting development. Emily called from Cedar Fort today to tell me that the two Seagull Bookstore booking signings this week end have been cancelled because all the Borrowed Lights are sold out! I was a bit surprised, and disappointed, too. Once I get geared up for a booksigning, I like to go through it.  She said the books will be arriving sometime next week, so we have to reschedule those April 16 signings for sometime in May. So it goes. I was honestly hoping for two good booksignings to take away the taste of last week's fiasco at the Deseret Book on S. University.

I'm very much looking forward to the April 23 event in Mt. Pleasant. Apparently the good folks there have remodeled their library, and are holding two days of booksignings then: one on Friday basically for children's and young adult authors, and the next one on Saturday for the rest of us. I'm looking forward to it, plus the chance to shill Here's to the Ladies, as well.

Ladies is still my favorite book, probably because the Indian Wars setting always reminds me of the fun I had during my ranger years in the National Park Service. It was the kind of a job where they paid me every two weeks for doing what I probably would have done for free. So enjoyable. And along with the setting of some of America's best Indian Wars forts were the wonderful men I worked with through the years- most retired now, one gone, all remembered with great fondness.

I'll be seeing most of the at the end of April at the Fort Robinson Indian Wars Conference, in Crawford, Nebraska. It's a terrific setting for a great gathering. Since there are only so many Indian Wars scholars, we all tend to see each other every few years.

When I was in Cheyenne a few weeks ago, I went to the State Museum there and was lucky enough to find a copy of Tom Lindmier's I See By Your Outfit: Historic Cowboy Gear of the Northern Plains. I'll take it along for him to autograph, because I gave my original copy of Lindmier's book to a friend in North Dakota before we moved. I always called him Lindmier; maybe that's where I got the idea for Mr. Otto to plague Julia Darling by using her last name only.

But Saturday, it's off to the grandkids' house in Magna, which will ultimately be more fun than a booksigning. We're having an early Easter egg hunt - provided there's no blizzard - and husband Martin bought puh-lenty of chocolate treats for the plastic eggs. I'll make my sugar cookie dough and we'll make way too many cookies, too, because we can. I can't think of a better reason.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hoo Boy

Me oh my, what a stinko booksigning on Saturday at the Deseret Book at 989 S. University Avenue in Provo! I'd been looking forward to this one, because it was my first booksigning at a Deseret Book Store, which in this area is the Big Dog. Weather was crappy, and it was a white knuckle drive through Price and Spanish Fork Canyons, but I knew this would be worth it.

Could I have been more wrong? I arrived early at the store, as I always do, but it wouldn't have made any difference. No one told the staff in the store that there was a booksigning! Sigh. I assured the person who was playing manager on Saturday that there was a booksigning, so they started clearing off a table while someone scurried away to call the real manager.

She returned to inform me that yes, there was a signing scheduled, but no one in charge had told them. Also, the books that were supposed to arrive via FedEx on Thursday hadn't arrived. Sigh squared. They did round up 12 books from various other Deseret Book Stores, and put those on the table. I had brought along a poster Cedar Fort has created. They found and easel and put that up in the entrance area.

Since I was already there - the signing was to go from 1-3 - I sat down and went to work. By 1:30, the 12 books were gone. I suggested that maybe they could drive to the very nearby Seagull Books and buy a few, but no, that wasn't an option, apparently. (Doesn't Deseret Book own Seagull Book?) I sat there a little longer, but felt a bit silly, since there weren't any books to sign. I left.

Crazy. Perhaps Deseret Book is just too big to care. Still, if I had been managing that particular outlet, and the books hadn't shown up by Friday (they were due Thursday), I'd have gotten in my car and driven TEN MINUTES to Cedar Fort and bought a few books. Initiative seems to be sadly lacking at that store.

So it was another white-knuckle drive home. At no point in this old, dreary business did I raise my voice to anyone; not my style. I'm not a writer who expects blue M&Ms in a Waterford dish, and shaved ice brought from the Andes by Inca runners, but at a booksigning I expect  a) a staff that knows there is a signing  b) actual books on the table to sign.  Doesn't seem like much, eh?

Of course, part of the problem was that the Saturday before, I had participated in a truly wonderful booksigning at the Cardston Book Shop, in Cardston, Alberta, run by father and son David and Randy Prete, so this miserable signing suffered by comparison. The folks at the Deseret Book on 989 S. University could take notes from the Pretes on how to run a signing.

I have two booksignings next Saturday, April 16: one at a Seagull Book in American Fork, Utah, from 1-3 p.m., and another at the Seagull Book in South Towne in Sandy, from 4-6 p.m. Seagull seems to be more on the ball, so I think they will be fine.

Sorry I'm complaining, but ineptitude makes me grouchy. It'll pass. Right now I'm making a few changes in the Christmas anthology collection I've written that will be out in November, courtesy of Harlequin. I'm happy with it. It's always more fun to be writing.

Still, though, a shout out to Earl and Afton Condie,who had heard about Borrowed Light from their friend Lella, read it, and bought 8 books for themselves and their children, all Wyomingites by birth. They're the kind of folks who make booksignings so much fun.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In praise of Hal Halvorsen

Next booksigning is this Saturday, April 9, at Deseret Book, 989 S. University, Provo, Utah, from 1-3 p.m.

When I travel, as I did last week to Cardston, Alberta, for a booksigning, I like to take along an unabridged novel or history to listen to. I got lucky and picked out The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour, by Andrei Cherny. There might be a bit of hyperbole in the title, but it was a great book to listen to.

And never more than on this trip, when I was headed to Canada, and drove right past the turnoff in northern Utah to Garland, Utah, where Col. Gail S. Halvorsen is from. He's still alive - 91, I think - and still remembered in Berlin, for his little effort to provide some chocolate and other candy to Berlin's children, who had never known such luxury during all those years of war and its aftermath, when the Soviets did their darnedest to shut down Berlin and drive out the allies. (The Soviets come across as thoroughly nasty in the book, and you know, they were.)

Probably most literate people know the story (and only literate people read this blog, I am convinced). Here was an army pilot with Air Transport, the least glamorous kind of flyer. His WWII was spent flying prosaic transports from here to there. The Berlin Airlift became Hal Halvorsen's defining moment. He had taken a brief tour of Berlin and noticed the little group of children watching the planes land at Tempelhof Airfield. In poor German, he chatted with him. The few kids who had some English responded. As he left, he was struck by the fact that in all his other duty posts around the world, kids just naturally came up to Americans and asked for candy and gum. Not these kids. They were polite, hungry, traumatized, in rags, and expected absolutely nothing from him.

On an impulse, he handed out the two sticks of gum in his pocket, after breaking them in half.  Those four sticks were appropriated with shy thanks, and then the wrappers circulated among the children, who just sniffed them and handed them on. Touched, Halvorsen resolved to save his little weekly ration of chocolate and gum and send it out the flare chute of his C-54 transport. He told the kids that he would wiggle his plane's wings as he flew over Tempelhof. They would know to look for the three modest parachutes made of his handkerchiefs.

It began with three parachutes. As word spread, Halvorsen's kind little gestured evolved into Operation Little Vittles, which materially altered German fear and distrust of Americans. It allowed Americans to send candy and handkerchiefs to the flyers of the Berlin Airlift. Thousands of chocolate bars - tons of candy - dropped over Berlin before the blockaid was finally lifted, and Berlin remained at least half free and in allied hands.

The book is far more than just Halvorsen; it's the complete story of Berlin after WWII, as a shattered people began to regroup and eventually defy the Soviet Union's heavy-handed efforts to choke off Berlin from the West. It's the story of President Truman, more and more demonstrating the political skill that shaped him, the "accidental president," into one of the country's finest presidents. What a story: the Truman/Dewey campaigns for the presidency in 1948; the courage and savvy of Gen. Lucius Clay, who resisted all efforts to have Allies pull out of Berlin, once the blockade began. And Gen. Tunner, who shaped the at-first-haphazard airlift into a well-oiled machine that landed a transport every three minutes at the [eventually] three airfields in Allied hands and keep Berliners alive more more than a year, when the Soviets backed down. What a good book.

Oh, the booksigning in Cardston was just super. The weather was frightful, but that didn't stop folks from turning out on Ladies Night to buy lots of books. I love Canadians, especially Darren and Verena Beazer and their kids, and Sister Barb Niche. It was good to see my son, Jeremy, and celebrate his birthday on April 4 with a chocolate pie with meringue/walnut crust.

And then I drove by Garland, Utah, again on the return home, and gave a little salute to Hal Halvorsen. Nice to be reminded there are still heroes among us. (The Germans have never forgotten him. At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Col. Halvorsen, still plenty spry, carried the German placard in front of the Olympic team. No, they haven't forgotten, and we shouldn't, either.)

Sorry I'm so long in catching up with the blog. I think about it a lot, and don't want to waste your time with inconsequentials.