From where do characters emerge?
The character Ella Jane McFarland took shape as I considered my maternal grandmother.
Mama never drove an automobile, joined a woman’s club, spoke publicly, or progressed beyond third grade. But she voted with other women in 1920 and each cycle thereafter!
How different might the kaleidoscope of Mama’s life have appeared with a single twist in one direction or the other? The character Ella McFarland emerged from this essential question.
Mama turned 18 in 1904 Indian Territory and married Papa—24-yr-old William Tribble Banks
By 1922 Mama had borne seven daughters and buried four, as well as Papa. In coming years, she would lay another husband to rest alongside another daughter.
I can’t imagine.
Mama possessed a will of iron and a rock-solid faith that ultimately withstood the deaths of two husbands and five children. She experienced destitution few have known, yet she left a name worthy of a great-great granddaughter and the heroine of a novel written by yours truly, her granddaughter: The Calling of Ella McFarland.
Unlike many women today, Mama never leaned back in a massage chair for a manicure/pedicure, but she picked 100 pounds of cotton a day. She never shopped at a mall, but she sewed up a dress in a matter of hours. She never learned to type or take dictation, but she cleared brushland for farming for $8 an acre. Mama never considered the merits of granite countertops over tile or wood floors over laminate, but she made a home in a corner of a barn. She swept the dirt floor with a broom.
Although far different in superficial ways, the real Ella Pyle and the imaginary Ella McFarland are much alike fundamentally. Soft-spoken Mama never drove a car, but she handled a team of mules pulling a covered wagon from Oklahoma to the extreme southern tip of Texas in 1923. (Roadways are a sight better today.) Both are women of single-minded devotion to their families who overcome hardship through faith in Almighty God and pure grit. Both lives testify to the hope and healing found outside themselves—in Jesus Christ.
A goodly portion of Ella McFarland is Ella Pyle, but a full ¼ of me is Mama. For that I’m thankful.