Gauchos & Gumption
My new book, Gauchos & Gumption, My Argentine Honeymoon, will be released in digital format January 7th from Turquoise Morning Press (www.turquoisemorningpress.com). It’s a (fictionalized) diary kept by my grandmother, Leora Marie Banning, who as a new bride of 18 sailed off to South America to run cattle on the Argentine pampas. The year is 1910.
Far from civilization, Marie struggles to adjust to the rough life of the pampas, to be accepted for herself, and to realize what loving her husband demands. She learns to make ostrich egg omelets, converse in Spanish with the gauchos, and wear “bombaches,” the baggy, calf-length pants worn by the Argentine cowhands.
Then, camped a thousand miles from Buenos Aires, Marie discovers she is pregnant. The battle to save herself and her unborn child challenges everything she believes in.
This memoir is based on stories that Marie related to her granddaughter, author Lynna Banning, while she was growing up. The photographs included in the print version of the book are those Marie herself took during her travels using a simple Kodak box camera; these photos were later inherited by the author.
The print version of the book will be released January 22.
Below are the opening entries in the diary…
July 17, 1910
I have had a disaster, of all things. This morning old Mr. Strader’s new buggy and that horse he’s so proud of ran away with him on the way to town. I was just starting across the Floras Creek bridge when I heard it coming and saw Mr. Strader, his eyes wild, hauling on the reins and yelling, “Get out of the way, ya damn fool!”
Well, I couldn’t. The horse was coming too fast, and I was caught halfway across. I clung to the side rail and made myself as small as possible, but the mare’s front hoot caught my skirt and down I went. I didn’t feel a thing at first except for my skirt ripping, but when I tried to get up, I knew something was broken.
Something, indeed! Dr. Engell in Langlois pronounced my ankle crushed and suggested I keep off my feet until the bones could mend. It isn’t my broken ankle that was troublesome, I told him. It’s that my wedding is only four days away! “Postpone it,” he said.
But of course I cannot. Claude has booked passage on the Franklin Pierce—we sail for South America the day after the ceremony. If necessary, I have decided I will be married on crutches.
But oh, the aggravation of it! I hope the next time Mr. Strader takes that buggy out he turns it over and breaks his neck!
July 21, 1910
Crutches it was. Bulky wooden contrivances so heavy they weigh more than I do. Early in the day, Claude rode in from Dixonville and we spoke our vows under Mama’s rose arbor. Olla stood up with me, even though she is in a condition and beginning to show. She cried and Mama cried, and I could hear Papa snorting into his handerchief.
I managed to stand up for the entire ceremony and greet most of the guests from neighboring ranches with my new husband at my side.
Afterward, Papa took me aside. He called me his “kleine Molly,” but when he opened his mouth to say more, nothing came out. He blew his nose again and hugged me so tight one of my crutches toppled into Mama’s yellow Damask rosebush. Claude retrieved it while I dried my eyes.
Tomorrow I will sail far away, below the equator, and I am sad at the thought of leaving. I am the second of their seven—only Grace is older. I will miss the others, and Mama of course. But it is only Papa who seems old. He moves stiffly, as if his boot soles were weighted with iron. Streaks of gray run through his russet beard. Mama says I get my red hair from Papa. My heart hurts when I think I might never see him again.
After the wedding we drove away in Papa’s old buggy. The last thing I saw before the dusty road dipped over the hill was the flash of Mama’s yellow roses against the soft violet sky. I waved until my arm ached. And then I cried.
I am eighteen years old and frightened to death.