Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Book that Changed My Life

Although I grew up near and often on a Native American Indian reservation, it wasn’t until I read a historical novel back in the 1980s that I became immersed in the culture and set myself on a path of following the Native American approach to living and spirituality. It’s amazing the power that another’s words can have and how a book can literally change the course of one’s life. That’s what happened to me when I read the novel, Ride the Wind, written by Lucia St. Clair Robson.

Until that time the Native American way of life held no special significance for me. My uncle by marriage is a Seneca Indian and lives with my aunt and their children and grandchildren on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation in Basom, New York. I spent a lot of time with them, both during family visits and living with them on and off throughout my childhood and young adulthood. While I was aware that the people living on the reservation were a minority and lived outside mainstream society, my uncle, his family, and friends were just regular people to me. It wasn’t until years later when I had an interest in Indian culture and realized I had an “in” that I paid more attention to the historical connection within my own family.

In the early 1980s I was a young mother with two small daughters. We spent a lot of time at libraries and one day I checked out Ride the Wind. It’s one of those great reads that grabs you the moment your eyes hit the first page. I’m sure my daughters ate a lot of finger foods during the hours I was immersed in the book, unable to put it down and give them the attention they needed.

Ride the Wind is a work of fiction based on a true story. The main character is Cynthia Ann Parker, who at the age of nine in the year 1832 was captured by the Comanche Indians. Cynthia, along with others kidnapped during the same raid endured unspeakable horrors, but was one of the lucky ones to not only survive but who was adopted into a Comanche family and lived as one of them.

The story chronicles the author’s vision of what life was like for the blond-haired little girl who grew up to become the loving and beloved wife of a Comanche named “Wanderer” and the mother of one of the last Comanche Chiefs, Quanah Parker.

Photograph of Cynthia Ann Parker and her daugher after she was
rescued by whites 25 years after her capture by the Comanches. 

Cynthia Ann and Wanderer's famous son, Quanah Parker

Something about the story touched me to my very core; it was the author’s exquisite writing, her ability to show both sides of the Indian/White experience, the details of life in the natural world, and the story of a little girl who lived a tragic, yet fulfilling life. Once the book was read I was on a mission to find out more of the story. I wrote to the author expressing my gratitude in writing such a wonderful tale. I combed the libraries looking for references to Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker. I contacted the state park in Texas where the story unfolded, and I found more books written about the Native American experience.

My life became that of a wanna-be Indian and my home, my lifestyle, and my spiritual journey reflected that transition. I took my girls to Native American events and museums and continued to expand my knowledge of the culture through books. When a time in my life came to return to college, I chose anthropology as my major.

That one book changed the course of my life. I often wonder how many authors realize the impact they have on their anonymous readers. I was fortunate enough to be able to share my feelings with Lucia St. Clair Robson and our first face-to-face meeting is one of the highlights of my life.

By checking out her website, I saw that Lucia was speaking at a public event in Florida during the time my husband would be in the same city on a golf trip. I invited myself on the trip thinking it was an open event, only to discover it was not. After contacting Lucia via email she graciously invited me as her guest. That was two years ago. I plan on making another trip to see her in the near future.

In her presence and in reading her books, I am inspired. As a writer and historian, I dream of creating a work of art as she has done. I have come to realize that I do not have the discipline to write a novel, much less match the caliber of Lucia’s writing. It’s really enough that I still have the joy of reading her work and that of other talented writers like her.

What book or books have you read that have made a similar impact on your life? What authors have inspired you to become more than you thought you could be? Have you contacted them and have they responded to you? Personally I think it’s important to let writers know that their work is appreciated, not just by book sales but from the voices of their readers. Take it from my experience and tell someone how much their creation means to you.


L.T. Elliot said...

I'm sorry to say, I don't agree with you about the caliber of your writing. You definitely have what it takes.

As for authors that have changed my life, there have been many but the one that really set me on my path died in recent years and it is one of my biggest regrets that I never wrote to tell him what he meant to me. I've since written to his widow and it will be a lifelong pursuit to lay a rose on his grave and tell him in my own way what he did for me.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Wow!!! It sounds like an amazing book...I may have to look for it at the library!!!! I had heard the factual account of this...but would love to read a fictionalized version!! Hope you are having a wonderful holiday season!!! ~Janine XO

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I am going to add this book to my reading list. I wrote an e-mail to an author about her book , telling her how much I enjoyed the book and she wrote me back and we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant outside of L.A. that she recommended. The book was about a chef in China and it made me hungry. So she wanted to expose me to some of the recipes. The book is packed and I feel lousy that I can't remember her name or the name of the book off the top of my head.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this very boo and having almost the same identical experience.

Her story came alive for me and will always be a part of my being.

You are a great writer.