I had been the proud owner of the little Wawona wagon for nearly 12 years when the bright idea to write a story about it popped into my little pea brain. It seemed to me to be a real "Duh! What took me so long to get that idea?" The wagon is such a precious piece of Yosemite history and Wawona Washburn Hartwig (Clarence's daughter) had shared so many stories about her family's years as the owners of the Wawona Hotel, it all begged to come together as a story. Of course, I love to share a few of the stories when visitors come into my shop and ask about the wagon, but there was so much more to share than tourists can hear in a few minutes' visit.
Once I settled on a perspective and framework for the narrative, the story seemed to write itself. Sometimes I felt like I was just observing the boy and his grandfather or Joel and Jack in the wagon shop, and I just had to write what was playing-out before my mind's eye. Of course, Floyd and I made trips to Wawona, Raymond, the Yosemite Research Library, and other relevant places. I had phone conversations with Mary Phelan (the great granddaughter of Joel Ashworth, builder of Clarence's wagon) and "picked the brains" of various history knowledge-ables, mostly folk Floyd has known for many years, for help with historical context details. As the story came together, so did a Scottish wool 1891 boy's playsuit for a lad from our church who had consented to portray Clarence in a photo session with the wagon. I wrote and stitched and stitched and wrote.
I knew the story would have to be historical fiction; there just aren't enough day to day details to write otherwise. Even so, I wanted this book to be factual enough to provide a good view of Clarence's family and life. I wanted to write something that my friend, Wawona Hartwig, if she were still alive, would declare to be good and respectful of her family. I loved that dear little lady and I wanted more than anything for her to be honored by my story, reflecting her honor and respect for her father.
My husband, Floyd, was an enormous help. I couldn't have done this project without his support and the wonderful enhancements of his artwork and photography. My son, Chris, was my best listener. I loved to read a newly written chapter aloud to him and have him smile or laugh in all the right places.
So, after about 3 years of coming into being, my book is a reality.
This book is every bit as much a children's book as is Anne of Green Gables. (Ha! The whole first page of A of GG is one sentence! It's not an "easy read.") The vocabulary and sentence structure of this book are profoundly ÒDanette.Ó Yet, even if a 9 year old might struggle with reading this book on his/her own, I am confident that even younger children can follow and enjoy Clarence through his days if the book is read aloud to them. And, that is highly consistent with my idea of reading a book - share it aloud together! In this context the readers and listeners will find lots of good adult/child discussion starters woven into the story regarding the following topics: manners, education, respect for othersÉ I should probably put together a teaching guide to accompany the book (but I won't!).
After you read the story, if you haven't been to Wawona, go. Hike back to where Stella Lake used to be, visit Grandfather Hill's studio, listen to the music of the river (if California has enough water to make music), and ride the stage with Buckshot (he's as close to a Jack Ashworth as you can get).
Then visit Columbia State Historic Park and see Clarence's wagon at my shop, Artificers' Exchange. After all, history comes to life when you get to know its people!Author Danette Oydegaard
11259 Jackson Street.
Columbia, California 95310
209 536 1859
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