Submitted by: Roy Stewart
Because of the state’s mandate against indoor gatherings, Covid-19 is keeping the Stonyford Museum closed to viewers; however, the staff continues to accept and process donations, create new exhibits, and watch over its local treasures. One of these treasures is a highly readable “novelized” memoir about a young girl’s hardscrabble life along the Continental Divide in northern New Mexico during the Great Depression. The girl, Etta Rose Knox, grew to become an accomplished writer and scrapbooking artist who moved to Stonyford in her late fifties, to live with her son on his hilltop ranch. The life she lived in New Mexico, during her late teens and early twenties, was so traumatic that she felt it had to be written down to get it out of her system. Her daughter, Marinell, an artist, urged her to write a book in which she would provide illustrations. Marinell’s husband, a publishing professional, helped with the organization and publication, and her two children and daughter-in-law modeled for her oil-painted canvasses.
I can identify with Etta’s need to “write it down.” I, too, felt that same need after reading her haunting memoir of unrelenting poverty and privation with a husband who often treated her as chattel—treatment that was foretold when they first married. In the early pages of her story, she wrote:
Aubrey, her husband, said “I want a young wife, a young country girl. Then I can train her the way I want. ‘I hoped he was joking,’” thought Etta. In thirteen years of marriage with multiple hardships and episodes of near starvation, she found that he wasn’t joking. Etta chose to “novelize” her story because, she writes in her Preface: “A chronicle of events in documentary style would not have told the whole story. The hardship of scratching for physical survival in a remote wasteland is only half the story. The other half deals with emotional survival. It deals with improvised pleasure, pride, and perseverance and with the goals and dreams that hold together a fragile marriage in the face of suffering and despair.” “All of the occurrences in the book are true,” she says, “They are my own recollections of life on a New Mexico homestead. The characters are real people, and the names have not been changed.”
My review of Etta’s book can be read here: https://stonyfordca.org/index.php/Book_Review.
The book was self-published in 1984 and its survival into 2020 is a curious story of its own. Etta died in 1999, and the remaining five hundred, or so, copies of the book and its original artwork were carefully packed away in a barn on her son’s ranch. When her son died in 2015, Etta’s books and art were discovered and passed on to Marinell, who had recently bought her own ranch property, a mile or so west of her brother’s. Marinell coordinated with Joyce Bond, the Stonyford Museum’s then director, to arrange a showing and telling of the book’s history. This event was held on April 16, 2016, and described in this article: https://stonyfordca.org/index.php/Book_Signing_Event.
Marinell donated the books, which are packaged in their original, shrink-wrapped state, to the museum for sale. These are the only copies of the book that are available for purchase, and they can only be purchased from the Stonyford Museum, for the low cost of $10. If you can’t make it to the museum, you can arrange to have the book mailed to you at a cost of $15, by emailing Roy Stewart at email@example.com.
While the museum is not opened to the public, it can be shown in private by arrangement, and the book can be purchased. Call Joyce at (530) 963-3141 to arrange a private showing.■