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10 May
2017

Interview with “Sarah Martin”

“Sarah Martin” is the key protagonist of my novel. Some readers have posed questions wanting to learn more about Sarah. Curiosity is good, and I’m pleased that readers are engaged enough in the story to wonder a little more about my character’s background.

To answer the questions raised by readers, I’ve conducted a “virtual interview” with Sarah, whose story is based on my real grandmother’s life. I hope this interview will reveal some of the back story and satisfy readers’ curiosity. Sarah’s answers below are as close to the real-life situation as I know.

Since this is historical fiction, you can choose to think of other ways that the character Sarah could have answered the questions! When you read the interview, imagine someone like Sarah and see if you think my interview captures what such a person might say in reply to my questions. People were much more private back then, and it was easy to hide secrets. Of course, this was a key premise of the book!

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Grandma Scott, portrait

The real Grandma Scott served as inspiration for “Sarah Martin.”

Imagine Sarah Martin at seventy, petite, dressed in a cotton house dress, with a shawl over her shoulders. She takes each step with care and caution as she moves toward the rocking chair. Her gait is uneven as she favors one knee. She wears special shoes to accommodate her crippled feet. Before she looks up, she lowers herself into the chair and smooths her skirt over her knees.  She looks directly at me with a tentative smile and then she looks down.

I begin:

BAS: “Thank you, Mrs. Martin, for agreeing to be interviewed. The readers of “Sarah’s Secret” have asked questions about the background of the story and what happened in your life after the story in the book ends. Do you mind answering a few questions?”

Sarah Martin (SM): [She pulls out a lace trimmed hankie from her sleeve and fingers it in her gnarled hands.] “I’ve never been interviewed like this before. I’m nervous.” [She takes in a deep breath, lifts her head, and smiles.] “Please call me Sarah.  What would your readers like to know?”

BAS: “Let’s talk about Sam. What attracted you to a man who was so much older than you were?”

SM: [Leaning forward in her chair and rocking slowly, her hands quiet in her lap, she smiles.] “Well, he was a very handsome man and I was a spinster school teacher. He was very kind, interesting and a good conversationalist.” [Pausing as if she might be considering her next words] “Of course, now, I don’t know how much he was pulling my leg sometimes.”

BAS: “What do you mean, ‘pulling your leg’”?

SM: [With the firm confidence of a teacher] “That is an expression we use when someone exaggerates and tells stories.”

BAS: “So he didn’t tell you the truth about his life before you met? What did he tell you?”

SM: [Sarcastically] “Not much that was true”.

BAS: “And you accepted enough of what he did tell you to marry him?”

SM: [Slumping in her chair and lowering her eyes, toying with her hankie] “Yes, I trusted him. It turned out I was naïve. I thought he would be a good husband and father. I wanted children of my own. He did give me five wonderful children.” [She stops rocking and straightens her back. With wide eyes and defiance] “I have never told them the truth about Sam. And I don’t want you to either. I want them to feel positively about their father.”

BAS: “Don’t worry your children aren’t around anymore. They won’t find out. But, why didn’t you want them to know the truth?”

SM: [Sounding defensive] “I didn’t want my children to be as embarrassed and humiliated as I was.”

BAS: “Did you know he came from Indiana? And that his father died when he was four? His mother died in the poor house with no one to support her. I think Sam had essentially abandoned his mother to the poor house.”

SM: [With sarcasm] “Abandoning women in his life seems to have been a habit!” [Rocking again in an even voice) “He never mentioned his roots, only that his family was gone and he wanted to create his own family with me. I wanted children too. He was a good husband. My family approved of him although they wondered why he had never been married before.” [Her eyes wide and she lets out a short laugh.) “It turns out there was reason to wonder.” [Suddenly sharp and irritated] “I don’t want to spend time talking about him anymore.”

BAS: “You were left destitute when your husband died. How did you manage?”

SM: [Patiently explaining] “I had hoped to get the Widows Benefits from Sam’s service but that didn’t happen. I went back to teaching. I had been a teacher before we were married. Of course, the older boys helped to support us and we lived very simply.  I have few needs.”

Old-time Classroom Scene

BAS: “But I thought school boards frowned on hiring married women. How did you manage to get hired?”

SM: “Well initially, I was a replacement for my nephew who went into the army. Also, because Sam was gone they accepted me as a single woman. It helped that my family had homesteaded the area and my father was a respected judge. Of course, he died before I could get back to Nebraska. So, he wasn’t any help in dealing with some of the hostile town folk”.

BAS: “Why were they so hostile?”

SM: “There was one man in town who was angry with my family because of a disagreement over water rights.  He vowed to get even so he spread rumors about me and Sam.”

BAS: “Does that have anything to do with why you didn’t get Widows Benefits?”

SM: [Offended] “No, that was a government decision.”

BAS: “But why didn’t you get them? What reason did they tell you? And why didn’t you ever tell anyone”

SM: [Sharply] “That is something I have never discussed with anyone. It was too humiliating.”

BAS: “You were school superintendent of Thomas County. Are you proud to be possibly the first woman school superintendent in Nebraska?”

SM: [Frowns and looks confused] “Proud? I was proud that I did the best job I could. I made some mistakes. I learned how to deal with the problems…but I don’t have any thoughts about being proud to be the first woman. That would be unseemly to feel that way.” [Pausing before she continues] “I had to leave after a few years because my illness got worse. I took my two youngest children to live in Wyoming near my middle son who homesteaded there. They graduated from high school. I am very proud that they went on to college and ultimately graduated. They each supported themselves working to pay for school so it took a few years. All of my children were very good to me and helped support me into my old age. I am proud to have sixteen grandchildren.” [Wistful] “I haven’t even met all my great grandchildren.”

SM: [Quiet, seemingly lost in her memories. Then, abruptly] “That’s enough.  I don’t want to answer any more questions.”

END

Blackboard "History"

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