Glorious Fourth of July and Other Stories from the Plains

Stories bring us together. The simple question “Do you remember when?” easily evolves into an elaboration of details that fill out an event’s narrative. In my family, there are stories that have been retold so often that, even when the incident happened before I was born, I can pick up on the telling in a matter of seconds. As we craft and pass down these family legacies, we develop an understanding of our history and relate cultural traditions to new generations.

CS 26.jpgRecently, the subject of how we tell stories has been on my mind due to an upcoming South Dakota Historical Society Press book. In Glorious Fourth of July and Other Stories from the Plains, the artwork and family stories by Catherine Rademacher Gibson, as recounted by her daughter Mary Gibson Sprague, share a common narrative with stories from my own family such stories showcase the lives of our own grandparents and great-grandparents in the small communities that still sprinkle the Great Plains landscape. What is unique about this book are the paintings that accompany the stories. Created for her husband at the end of his life, Catherine dubbed them “Memory Paintings.” Their vibrant colors give additional insight into times gone by.

The artwork entertains and draws you in. In the story “Line Storm,” Catherine’s father races home to avoid a rainstorm. When he gets to his destination, lo and behold, the back seat is wet! He was only able to stay half-way ahead of the inclement weather. Catherine’s communication of the story with both words and CS 05.jpgartwork recalls to me the thunderstorms that roll over the prairie, as well as my grandfather’s story about his first time in a car. “My brother whipped it up to fifteen miles an hour, and I was hanging on for dear life,” he would exclaim.  In the story “Cyclone,” Catherine’s use of color charms the eye as objects fly through the air and her characters huddle in the flooded basement. In her work, I see my own ancestors waiting out the storm, imagining the scene they would find once it was safe enough to ascend the stairs back to reality.

The episodes recounted in Glorious Fourth of July are a delightful look at a past era that remains ever-present through the act of telling our stories. It provides the perfect opportunity to both reflect and share with others both young and old.

 

—Jennifer McIntyre