Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BACK STORY: Get Off the Fence and Start Writing

During FGS 2011, Ol' Myrt here dressed up as my paternal great-grandmother Eliza Marie (Wasden) Weiser (1862-1942) for my luncheon presentation to the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors. This "back-story follow up" has taken on the characteristics of a lengthy novel, but I'll publish this never-the-less, so my grandchildren can get a kick out of the whole story.

My paternal great-grandmothers, Eliza, wearing the hat,
is the mother of the other three ladies.
L to R: Pearl, Myrtle, Eliza and Grace Weiser.
NOTE: Myrtle is my grandmother, the inspiration for my "DearMYRTLE" nom de plume.

Charles Switzer Weiser kinda looks like
PT Barnum, wouldn't you say?
I channeled my great-grandmother Eliza, who managed to support her large family by maintaining a small truck farm. Her ne'er-do-well husband Charles Switzer Weiser (1850-1926) was often unnecessarily absent  from the home, particularly when a traveling circus came to town and kept him away for months at a time.

I can just imagine my great-grandmother's practical, no-nonsense approach as she dealt with the realities of her life in the country. Having an "inactive" husband certainly didn't bode well for Eliza, in the Mormon community of Twin Falls, Idaho.

My father often spoke fondly of trips to visit Eliza, where he and his siblings were happy to sleep on the wood floor just for the adventure of it. Dad said egg gathering with his youngest uncle Kenneth was challenging. Kenneth insisted the proper method was to climb up in the rafters of the barn where the best laying hens liked to roost, grab three or four eggs and put them in your pocket before climbing down the ladder to run into the kitchen for breakfast. Needless to say, those eggs were smashed, and my Dad at age four was pretty mad. But I digress.

Eliza Marie (Wasden) Weiser (1862-1942)
in front of her home in Twin Falls Idaho, circa 1940.

Charles and Eliza Marie (Wasden) Weiser home
in Twin Falls, Idaho, circa 1940.

View of the garden with the fence in the background.

Row after tow of potatoes and other vegetables
kept great-grandma's children busy tending and eating.

BACK TO MY APPEARANCE as my great-grandmother Eliza Marie (Wasden) Weiser

Thanks to Linda McCauley for taking these ISFHWE luncheon pics.

 Notice I borrowed heavy work boots, an old plaid shirt and a cowboy hat from Mr. Myrt.

THIS IS SOME OF THE TEXT on which my extemporaneous luncheon presentation was based:

Well, good afternoon everyone. So I understand this is the meeting of the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors, and I’ve been asked to step in on behalf of my great-granddaughter, who goes by the nom de plume of DearMYRTLE. My goal is to help you GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing!

So let’s talk about that – WRITING.

Putting your ideas down on paper, on your new-fangled computers, in your blogs, in a book perhaps an e-book, paper or hardbound, maybe even a newspaper… whatever your medium of choice.

Now just how many of you are writing like you KNOW you should – a little bit every day?

If not – GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! Don’t make me take out my secret weapon… My great-grandson-in-law, Mr. Myrt over there is holding my secret weapon, wrapped up in that old quilt should I need to rely on it.

Do you read everything you can get your hands on just to critique the author’s skills at painting a picture with words? Making characters believable? Being concise?

If not – GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! Don’t make me take out my secret weapon…

When I began writing, it wasn’t too much after the invention of the hammer and chisel. We thought we were so advanced because we had moved out of the “cave painting stage” of communicating our thoughts. In elementary school, we used a hand-held slate and white chalk -- and that was messy.When we graduated to ink pens, there was always the problem of the boys dipping our pigtails into the inkwells of our wooden school desks.

By the time my great-granddaughter, DearMYRTLE, was ready for school, times had changed. Each fall before elementary school started, she and her brother Mike would take the bus down to the local Rexall Drug and pick up some good #2 pencils and a couple of those big fat pink erasers. Now, I hear it’s not politically correct to require kids to bring their own school supplies like pencil cases and such, but I digress.

Long about third grade my great-granddaughter learned to write in cursive – but still used the pencil. By sixth grade she was permitted to use a fountain pen – the kind with the little pin on the side to draw the ink out of the bottle. Her teachers wouldn’t permit the use of those new-fangled “ball point pens” (really, truly) because using a fountain pen without smudging the ink was the sign of good penmanship.

In Junior High my great-granddaughter took up calligraphy in art class, and its no wonder there wasn’t much accomplished in the world of writing until the arrival of the Gutenberg Press. Some words took her a good two minutes to execute with all those squiggles and serifs. Movable type sped things up even more.

Speaking of “type” by high school my great-granddaughter had to type her book reports, and somehow no one ever told her that you could rearrange paragraphs. She thought she was just a TERRIBLE writer because the words didn’t flow perfectly from the beginning of the report to the end. You know – an introduction, middle and then the denumont – (tying together of loose ends). It wasn’t until DearMYRTLE encountered the dreaded MRS. GRAHAM, her tenth grade English teacher that Myrt learned about edits and rewrites.

ARE YOU doing edits and  rewrites AFTER you throw all your ideas on the page?

If not – GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! Don’t make me take out my secret weapon…

When my great-granddaughter went to college it was a marvelous thing that her parents gifted her with a manual Smith-Corona typewriter. It was pink, if you can imagine, and I hear she was delighted. But writing then was still cumbersome because if you wanted to rearrange sentences or paragraphs, you had to type the whole thirty page term paper over again – double spaced with no cross outs. That now obsolete "White-Out" hadn’t been invented yet, so she used one of those terrible circular erasers with the little green bristle brush.

DearMYRTLE's first job involved using an IBM Selectric (with the little interchangeable type balls if you wished to change fonts.) It was then that we began using White-Out or those “white correction tapes”.

I hear DearMYRTLE bought her first computer in the winter of 84-85 back in the dark ages of computer technology. It was a Commodore64 with a tape drive instead of floppies or a hard drive. Back then she thought her daughters just might need to learn on a full-sized keyboard. 

But let’s fast-forward -- Now my 2nd great-grandson, Ty knew at age 2 how to use a mouse and could click to make choices in a pre-school color-matching computer game online at

Every night 12 year-old 2nd great-granddaughter Aubrey texts her grandmother DearMYRTLE on her iPod Touch, and occasionally sends me a photo with comments via her mom’s iPhone.
Advances in word processing make rearranging sentences and paragraphs a snap. DearMYRTLE calls it "drag and drop" but not being exposed to computers, I just have to take her word for it.
 The methods for communicating thought have changed so much in the last 100 years, but don’t let that deter you. You've got it a LOT easier than writers in my day and age. Why you won't even get ink build up on your finders -- just sore eyes from staring at your computer screen for hours on end.

Don't you think it is about time you...
GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! Don’t make me take out my secret weapon… 

When it comes to  YOUR writing – it doesn’t matter:·
  • What type of schooling you’ve had
  • What tools you use – paper / computers or otherwise
GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! Don’t make me take out my secret weapon…

Now I’ve given some of  you an UNSHARPENED PENCIL with an extra eraser cap just to remind you about our little talk today. As you sit and dawdle – staring at that computer screen at home or in your office – remember you don't have to rely on the hammer and chisel to get your message across. You don't even have to worry about sharpening that pencil. You just need to DIVE IN.

We’re actually going to QUIT TALK TALKING about writing AND ACTUALLY GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! 
We're going to have a "working lunch".
Take one of the brightly colored pieces of paper in the center of your lunch tables, because we’re going to move into the INTERACTIVE part of this presentation – the part where you DO GET OFF THE FENCE.

We’re going to take four minutes for each of you to accept the WRITING ASSIGNMENT for your table. 

This will be SHORT, SWEET and perhaps most interesting.

 We won’t worry about WERE WHAT WHY, WHO WHEN or HOW.

We’re just going to write.   

It’s OK to talk with your neighbors. In fact I’d like you to work with your neighbors and decide which one of your writing creations you’ll share with the entire group.

GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! The time clock starts now...

WHAT ENSUED, my DearREADERS, was priceless, spontaneous and utterly marvelous. People started writing and sharing comments with their table mates. I tromped around the room in Mr. Myrt's big old work boots. With mic in hand, I found several willing to share the results of this writing challenge and I was amazed by the talent in the room.

When we're not worried about writing we can get C R E A T I V E!

TOWARD THE END, I TOOK OFF THE COWBOY HAT and explained why I took on the persona of my Great-Grandmother Eliza (Wasden) Weiser for this presentation.
You always hear about other folks who have a precious letter from an ancestor, but until recently I hadn't been one of those. Genealogists talk about how we'd be ever so thankful to have even a scrap of paper from an ancestor. Often we settle for diary entries from others in the family describing an event, or from someone else who served in an ancestor's military unit.

A week before the luncheon presentation, I had been sorting through a box of my father's books, including some that he had inherited from his mother Myrtle (Weiser) Player Severinson. It has been hard for me to go through Dad's things since he passed away just a few short years ago.

As I moved the book from the box to the shelf, an envelope fell out.
It was addressed to Mrs. Shirley Player, 720 West 4th North, Salt Lake City, Utah. Postmarked Twin Falls, Idaho, 11:30 AM, Oct 22, 1924 and included a 2 cent stamp. I knew this was a letter to my Grandma Myrtle, quite possibly from her mother. I was jazzed, and carefully removed the fragile pages from the torn envelope to find out more.

Inside were two pages, of what appears to have been at least a three page letter from my great-grandmother Eliza Marie (Wasden) Weiser to her daughter, my grandmother Myrtle Eliza (Weiser) Player. Though Eliza didn't sign the letter, I have no doubt it is hers, read on to find out why.

Essentially the letter describes Eliza's parents' home.

Transcription of the unnumbered page image at right. Note I've used [and] rather than the ampersand as it always gets funky in this blogger interface.

"Sketch of father [and] Mother's last home

This home was located half block from the Public Square in Gunnison, Utah their home consisted of five rooms with tyle or flatrock for walks

I can always remember with pride mothers little flower garden a variety of all kinds of flowers and Father[s] vegetable garden was always considered to be one of the earliest"

Transcription of the unnumbered page at left.
"in and around the barn Father always 
had a place for everything and everything in its place
his wagons [and] machinery [and] hardness when not in use were always just under cover [and] the home was kept immaculate -
they enjoyed entertaining their children [and] friends always
usually a splendid repast as they enjoyed always Sister Wasden cooking"

The writer speaks of his/her mother and father. There is no return address on the envelope, but Eliza and Charles Switzer Weiser were the only adult members of our family known to live in Twin Falls, Idaho in 1924. The mention of the home "in Gunnison, Utah" and that last phrase "Sister Wasden" confirmed my suspicions that this was a letter from Eliza speaking of her mother, and not a letter from Charles Switzer Weiser whose mother who had died years before in Chicago, never having lived in Utah.

Additional background Info: My father told me on many occasions about traveling for hours by car during rain storms from Salt Lake City to Twin Falls to visit his grandmother. He explained when a tire hit a rain puddle, the muddy water would literally come up through the wooden floor boards of his Dad's car, so by the time they arrived they were all drenched. Dad also told me those early cars didn't have motor driven windshield wipers, and that whomever sat in the front seat with the driver had to manually swish the wipers back and forth using a little handle on the top inside of the windshield. Dad also referred to his grandmother's vegetable garden, mentioning how you'd better lock your car doors and windows when you arrived in the late summer or else you'd be gifted with a pile of extra zucchini squash, the size of your forearm, from pretty much anyone nearby with a vegetable garden.

LET'S COUNT THE GENERATIONS involved if I share this letter and these stories with my grandchildren:
  1. My 2nd great-grandparents Thomas and Mary (Coucom) Wasden each born in England, emigrated to the United States after joining the LDS Church. Their last home was in Gunnison, Utah.
  2. Their daughter, born in Utah, my great-grandmother Eliza Marie (Wasden) Weiser, who wrote the letter and was living in Twin Falls, Idaho in 1924.
  3. Her daughter, my paternal grandmother Myrtle Eliza (Weiser) Player Severinson, who lived in Salt Lake City in 1924, later moved to Seattle when my Dad was 8 years of age. She married Harold Severinson after the death of her first husband Shirley Player.
  4. Her son, my father, Glen S. Player, MD who kept his mother's books after her passing away in his home 28 Sept 1972. Dad died in the same home on 28 Sept 2007 with my brothers Mike, David and me in attendance.
  5. Me
  6. My daughters
  7. My grandchildren
This letter from my great-grandmother describing her impressions of her parents -- her pride, her handwriting are simply PRICELESS to me.
It IS important that you  GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! Your memories and compiled genealogy tell the stories of people reaching back generations in time.

SO, GET OFF THE FENCE and start writing! Don’t make me take out my secret weapon…

Are you as overly curious about the secret weapon as were the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors luncheon attendees? At the end of my presentation, Mr. Myrt removed the quilt so I could reveal my secret weapon.

Just in case you need a little PRODDING
to "Get off that fence and start writing!"

NOTE: The luncheon and two plaid shirt photos were taken and graciously shared by Linda McCauley, who originally posted them at her SmugMug site. Thanks for sharing, Linda.

PS - Now Ol' Myrt finds herself in a pickle. There are several who know I'll be the luncheon speaker at the 5 Nov 2011 Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania's Family History Day. They say after the "Myrt and the pitchfork" presentation they can hardly wait to see what I'll come up with next. [sigh]

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. I love it and you totally caught me off guard with the pitch fork. Great post, sounds like it was a lot of fun and motivational. : )

  2. You're so creative Mom!! Love all the pictures!! :D

  3. Some days I think I need someone with a pitch fork standing over me to get me you make house calls?;-)

  4. Must have been a LOT of fun for the audience. I hope you enjoyed it also.

  5. Love it! What fun that would have been. Also what a find you have in that letter!

  6. This was fantastic. Not only did it get people writing, but also shows how you can make a lesson fun. Thanks for that.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this. I wasn't able to attend that luncheon and now I fell as if I had gone. Guess I'd better get off the fence and get to my daily writing:)

  8. I was there and it was a GREAT talk. When Myrt was talking about that letter it brought tears to my eyes - and I was certainly not the only one.

  9. I do so wish I could have seen this in person. We met several Januarys ago in Salt Lake City when you graciously joined our scrapbooking Laptop Crop. I just wanted to let you know I have been following your blog ever since.

  10. Sounds like an amazing presentation. Thank you so much for sharing with those of us not in attendance and reminding us to, too, get off the fence. Time to blog some more:-)