Although I was born in Boston, and was considered a Yankee in my elementary school years, I spent my formative childhood on a ranch in rural, central Florida. So, the cowboy image has significance in that I grew up in an environment that celebrated the rodeo-Florida Cracker Cowboy way of life about which many present-day Floridians know little. The cowboy persona blurred and merged with a Gulf coast sailing/fishing “salt-water cowboy” mentality when I moved to Pinellas County and spent my teen-age years and young adulthood surrounded by a marine environment.
I am a retired English teacher, who taught for 39 years on the college, high school, and middle school levels. I earned National Board Certification in 2002 in Early Adolescence/English Language Arts, was a Fellow with the Tampa Bay Area Writing Project, and a summer Fellow with the Poynter Institute Writers Camp. "One Gunshot's Long Echo," Chapter 19 of Growing Up Floridian, was originally published in the St. Petersburg Times newspaper in December of 2000 as a "Sunday Journal" story. This chapter is written in third person in contrast to the first person narratives of the other chapters. The text was edited and reduced to fit the word limitation requirement of the newspaper. What is offered in my memoir is the original version written during a 1996 Poynter Institute's Summer Writers Camp for teachers and students under the direction of Dr. Roy Peter Clark, Mary Osborne, and Janie Guilbault and became an inspirational beginning for Growing Up Floridian. That memoir inspired the two volume novel, Natalie, a New England Girl with Cowboy Dreams.
Growing Up Floridian is a personal memoir that relives moments as a boy grew up in the 1950's and 1960's learning life lessons in a rural Cracker-cowboy environment. He put those lessons to use as he adapted to Florida's west coast as a beach-loving teenager. The stories offer connections for people who grew up in a simpler time and would enjoy both an exploration of natural Florida and a working ranch. Individual chapters capture moments when a boy tries to understand parental decisions, encounters potentially deadly wildlife, and explores evocative moments that ensnared a youngster's imagination. Responding to the accidental death of a brother, his parents' divorce, and the turbulence of the 1960's combined to produce an individual who tried to understand life's rhythms by staying attuned to the natural world. The text presents an educational look at Floridian wildlife from the perspective of a youngster learning the cowboy way of handling the complexities life threw at him. The memoir ends in the writer's young adult years with the suggestion that a second volume has begun.
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Natalie Gray, a small town New England girl, dreams of escaping a mundane, structured life in Reading, Massachusetts by taking advantage of her skills as a horseback rider, working on a dude ranch, and marrying a cowboy. Having taken horseback riding lessons during much of her young life, she gets the opportunity to become a riding instructor at a stable in New Hampshire during the summer of 1943 after graduating from high school. The distance from home allows her to make the decision to unshackle herself from her high school romance and explore independence.
Her brother’s return home from England as an accomplished WWII pilot, her parents disintegrating marriage, and her success as both a riding instructor and a hand-tooled leather crafts woman, inspire her decision to accept a job at a Massachusetts dude ranch. Her romance with a young cowboy blossoms as her parents’ marriage ends. Her sudden elopement offers a contrast to her brother’s idyllic post-war marriage ceremony.
Natalie, a New England girl with Cowboy Dreams
Michael Arthur Taylor
Natalie, the two volume series, captures the influence the western cowboy culture, that dominated the 1940’s to the 1960’s, had on a young woman…
Book Excerpt or Article
"Where are you going with this?"
Natalie interrupted him. "Let me finish. You are going off to college, and I am working at what I like. They are two very different directions in life. I am not going to college; I've never wanted to. You don't care for any of the Western flavor of life like I do. You don't even like Western movies; do you? Can you honestly say we are headed in the same direction? I don't want to end up disliking you the way my parents seem to have come to dislike each other. They actually seem to snarl at each other. Mother accuses Daddy of all kinds of nasty stuff that he actually might be doing." Natalie shuddered as she continued. "How do two people end up in a mean-spirited relationship like that after more than twenty years? That seems like such a waste. Yet, your parents have been together longer and are happy."
She ran out of gas and slumped in the seat against the door. Natalie didn't know if Donnie would get angry, sad, or see some truth in what she was trying to say. Tears tried to escape from her eyes, but she fought the urge to give in to her emotions and glanced at Donnie. He looked stunned but not mad, bewildered but not belligerent.
Donnie slowed the car as he took his eyes off the road and looked seriously at her for a few long seconds.
"We...we," he sputtered for a moment. "We have shared important times together almost all the way through high school. I didn't expect to get a verbal Dear John letter. I'm not even in or going to be in the service. I've heard some stories of guys getting dumped after they left for boot camp or shipped out for overseas duty. I didn't think you were going to give me the brush off, but I have thought something was up lately."
They both stared out opposite windows and then through the windshield toward the stop sign that marked the intersection to Route 101. Even with no traffic coming in either direction, the car sat idling for a few minutes before Natalie broke the silence.
"I'm not dumping you, Donnie. There is not anyone else I'm interested in dating. I've just been facing some facts while watching my parents' lives go down a bumpy road. We have so much heartbreak going on in the world around us with tragic news coming in every day from the war front. Can we remain friends while realizing that you need freedom to do what you want to do away at college, and I need the same kind of independence where I am working and living?"
In the ensuing silence, the radio announcer said, "And here's The Ink Spots with "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."
Donnie cracked a smile and sang, "Missed the Saturday dance/Heard they crowded the floor/Couldn't bear it without you/Don't get around much anymore," as he turned the volume back up on the radio. He moderated the volume, and said, "There is too much sadness floating around out in the world right now. I know I love you, but you are right about us taking different roads. We can sort this out peacefully...I don't want to fight like your parents or like mine. Let's try the food at the Bedford Inn and see if we can have a nice time."
Natalie let out a heavy breath. "Thank you for understanding. I've worried about what was going to happen with us for months. Before your draft physical and when you started filling out college applications, I just didn't know how to talk with you about those decisions you were making. So, I just kept my mouth shut. What do you mean like your parents?"
Donnie wiggled his lips, ran the fingers of his right hand through his thin blonde hair, and rubbed that hand across his forehead before he concluded, "My parents aren't as happy as they appear to you. I've walked in on some of their arguments that abruptly stopped with me coming in the house...But your parents' problems...my parents' problems...have nothing to do with us. We've never argued. I've always thought we were on steady railroad tracks." He hesitated as he considered what to say. "I guess I never gave much serious consideration to your plans or dreams of ranchlife, Florida, and Hawaii, but when you got this riding instruction job up here, those ideas became a little more real. I have actually been doing some thinking about the future, our future, as I have wondered what college life will be like." He looked at Nat with a bemused grin. "There are plenty of dude ranches around, and lots of people like taking a vacation from the reality of what's happening in the newspaper headlines and the war, so they can live the cowboy life for a few days. You probably will find that idealistic place to make those plans become reality."
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