Family Ties

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By Davalynn Spencer @davalynnspencer

Laura Jameson Bell was born in the 1870s. She buried two husbands, all her children, and was 104 when she died. Toward the end of her life, she lived with my family since we were the only living relatives she had. My mother was her niece.

When I was a child, Aunt Laura taught me to make bread, sugar cookies, and pie crust by “feel” without a recipe. She’d go to second-hand stores and buy wool coats, then bring them home, cut them into strips, and make colorful room-sized braided rugs that wore like iron. They weighed a ton and my mother didn’t really want those rugs in her modern home, but neither did she want to hurt her elderly aunt’s feelings. Braiding rugs gave Aunt Laura something to do. And they gave my mother a backache when she tried to vacuum them. Or roll them up to vacuum under them. Or drag them outside to beat them. No kidding. Cleaning those rugs was almost impossible.

Aunt Laura used to tell me stories about growing up in…well, I’m not sure where. I thought it was Missouri, but it could have been Texas or Louisiana because her family lived in those places as well. She talked about hail stones as big as eggs and tornado winds strong enough to drive straw into a post.

In my youthful arrogance, I wasn’t so sure I believed her. After all, things like that never happened in California’s San Joaquin Valley where we lived at the time.

But when she told me how, as a child, she had once evaded Indians by hiding in a flour barrel, I decided she wasn’t making this stuff up. Who would do that, right?

She called the wandering bands “Indians” because political correctness wasn’t even peeking over the horizon yet. She didn’t mention tribal origins, only the fact that these curious groups had a tendency to pick up children who weren’t nailed down, so to speak.

(Such a thing reportedly happened here in Cañon City in the 1860s when an early settler marched out to the Ute camp and retrieved her child after the little thing had been temporarily relocated.)

Aunt Laura was never relocated. She was good at hiding.

She was also good at doing pretty much what she wanted.

One day she showed me a little flat box holding a long coil of auburn hair that she’d cut off after her husband told her she couldn’t. According to the story, she met him at the door that evening with a styled bob, and that was the end of the argument.

She also told me, with a light in her aged eye, about stepping from a buggy showing a bit too much ankle, unsettling the menfolk nearby. And how she bought a pair of trousers and wore them to her friend’s house, hiding behind bushes in neighboring yards along the way.

Or so the story goes.

I was always a little in awe of great-aunt Laura, how she could cook, and braid rugs, and make quilts. Her wedding-ring quilt pictured above is hand-stitched from her younger days when she used whatever she could find for the backing—like an old flour sack.

But I particularly liked her name. I didn’t know another Laura, aside from Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I certainly didn’t know her either.

Today, looking back on my career as an author of historical Western romance, it seems that I would have chosen Aunt Laura’s name for a character in one of my historical novels, as I have with other ancestors. Instead, I named the heroine of a contemporary cowboy romance Laura Bell. Perhaps it was my way of continuing Aunt Laura’s legacy, assuring that she would live on through this age with a family tie that binds us still. Like the quilt.

If you’d like to read about the modern version of Laura Bell, you can find her in The Miracle Tree.


I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
(Isaiah 49:16 NLT)


She was also good at doing pretty much what she wanted. Click To Tweet

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The Miracle Tree is now available on audio!

Her pulse throbbed in her throat, and with long, slow breaths, she scanned the ranch, listening for restlessness among the livestock. All lay still, as much as she could tell, and again she wished for binoculars. Better yet, night-vision goggles like Eli and Garcia used. Perhaps Eli saw her from his lookout.

Slowly, the crickets picked up their abandoned chorus and the bullfrog thrummed. Night whispered through the grass.

Rising from the swing, she gathered the quilt against her body and at the screen door stooped to peer through the bottom for the kittens. They tumbled in the kitchen, and she slipped in, softly closing the door behind her and turning the lock. Pete and Re-Pete bounded across the room and sank their claws in the dangling quilt corners. Chuckling, she dragged them to the bedroom and dropped them on the bed, where they skittered to the floor and dashed beneath the dust ruffle.

She held the quilt wide and snapped it in the air, and it floated to the bed in a silent flutter as the first shot rang out. ~The Miracle Tree

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(c) 2019 Davalynn Spencer, all rights reserved.

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