Romancing the Ranch…

I was digging in the dirt yesterday. And when I dig in the dirt, I think of my great grandma Annabelle. I wasn’t born and raised in this little corner of the world. I traveled a bit before I got here. But my great-grandmother, she was born and raised here.

January 1940 Annabelle Smith

I didn’t know her very well; I was five when she passed away. But that isn’t the end of someone, is it? Passing away doesn’t erase them from the hearts of their loved ones. Stories continue to be told about her by family and friends. A dinner with family will produce a story of Annabelle’s mischievous ways and how she loved it when someone asked her to pass the butter. She would do so with a twist that sent the receiver’s thumb right into the butter as they tried to take the dish. I’m told she’d laugh and laugh at that one.

by Annabelle Smith

She was an instigator of great fun, as the stories I’ve been told indicate. I put together a story of her life many years ago. The running themes of her life was that she was caring, kind, and extremely hard-working. And she loved her garden.

When I finally put down some roots, pausing my gypsy ways for a bit, those roots just happened to be in the same city my great grandmother lived out her life. And since those roots I put down came with a decent parcle of land, I started to dig in the dirt, and woulldn’t you know it,  I showed an aptitude for growing things. My mom and grandmother like to claim “I have Annabelle’s green thumb.”

So when I dig in the dirt, and when my heavy breathing becomes the rhythm in which I shovel to, my mind clears and my thoughts inevitablly drift to my great grandmother, digging in the same dirt. Plotting her own garden. Getting excited at the first signs of spring. And there is a connection to the past there. I have a sort of “telephone line through time” (as the Indigo Girls put it so eloquently). Digging in the dirt, I’m lost in a mediation of connection with those that came before me.

by Annabelle Smith

It was thinking all these things while I dug, that I recalled one of those tid-bits of information about Grandma Annabelle. She was a wonderful artist. Among some of her papers were sketches of dresses she later brought to life on a sewing machine for her daughter. There were beautiful landscapes done in pencil that might have been studies for oil paintings she did. But my favorite, are these romantic sketches that portray the era when they were done and perhaps the romantic heart of Annabelle.

This is where the story gets a little warped. Coming across those sketches, my great-uncle said, “Oh yeah, mom did some sketches for a magazine called Ranch Romance.”

Do we have any of those magazines? Sadly, no.

I was thinking about this while I dug yesterday. So I looked up the magazine and it’s actually called Ranch Romances Magazine. I wonder, having found several copies online, if Annabelle did indeed submit her artwork for publication or if she liked to use the covers as inspiration for her own sketches. These are the bits and pieces of history that ignite my imagination and excite me.

A few things about Ranch Romances Magazine. The magazine had a female editor by the name of Fanny Ellsworth who kept that ship sailing smoothly and quite popularly for 30 years.

Miss Ellsworth figured out how to drive the magazine, blending the excitement of the old west with a romantic heart. The magazine went out monthly to a subscription rate of over 200,000. However, it was the invention of the television, the rise of the Western Movie Star and the new frontier of Space that left such pulp magazines like Ranch Romances in the dust.

I scrolled through the magazine covers, easily obtained by a search for “Ranch Romances Magazine Covers”. They have an element of heaving bosom, but most of the time, the women are astride a horse and handling a smoking gun with a certain, “Don’t double cross me fucker” air about them.

And the titles of the stories included in the montly issues! Oh I love them all.

There were such stories as “Out of The Devils Bowl”, “Mustang Marauders”, “Outlaw Blood”, “Frontier Puritan” and “Tumbleweed with Spurs.”

I’m thinking of writing the short story “Frontier Puritan” because I don’t quite know what that would look like or even begin to be about! Of course, the other story plotting its way through my mind is of the women who wrote the stories and created the artwork for the covers.

Now, if you will please excuse me, it seems I have a bit more digging to do.

by Annabelle Smith


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