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One of the joys of writing fiction, historical or otherwise, is imagining and developing dialogue between your characters. Dialogue can advance the plot, reveal nuances of your characters’ personalities and illustrate a situation. Are your characters happy? Sad? Angry? Worried? Let them tell you through their words.
Dialogue can lurk behind what is written in historical documents. When my grandfather moved the farmstead and built the new house clear across the section in 1917, he moved more than the buildings from the original homestead site. All the garden plants came, too, as these diary entries prove:
Wednesday, November 14, 1917: dug rhubarb
Monday, November 19, 1917: dug up plants & fruit bushes in old garden. Planted same in new garden in pm.
Thursday, November 22, 1917: planted raspberries
Did Abe and Addie discuss this at all? Perhaps the conversation went something like this:
Addie: When are you planning to move the garden plants over?
Abe: Can’t right now. We’re too busy building the barn and the new house. It will have to wait till next spring.
Addie: You’re not too busy to scrape out that slough now, though.
Abe: That’s different. We need the pond to collect water for the livestock. We’ll move the garden come spring
Addie: And next spring you’ll be too busy with seeding and harrowing. Then come summer, you’ll be too busy with summerfallowing and breaking new land. Next thing you know, it will be fall and you’ll be too busy with harvesting. You want raspberry jam and rhubarb pie, don’t you, so move those plants over now before the snow flies. Otherwise there’ll be no jam next year.
And so, the garden was moved.
Of course, maybe it didn’t happen that way at all. Maybe Abe merely announced one morning at breakfast that he was moving the rhubarb today, and all Addie said was, “Okay,” and went back to wiping Bert’s nose or punching down the bread dough or doing one of the thousand and one things that a farmer’s wife had to do back when there was no electricity and running water.
Now, there’s a boring bit of dialogue.
* * *
You can read about the move, and Addie’s best Christmas present ever, in Chapter 16, “A New House,” in “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!”: Tales from the Homestead. Here’s my imagined bit of dialogue (in this case, monologue) that started the move:
August of ‘16, things came to a head. Bert had been fussing all day; he was teething. Edith wouldn’t stop running around and eventually she knocked over one of my freshly cleaned lamp chimneys and broke it. I scraped my knuckles on the wash board and they were raw and hurting. The dog had upset the basket of freshly washed clothes, so I had to rinse them off again, which meant another trip to the barrel and heating up more water on the stove. I was tired, it was hot, the house was hot, the wind wouldn’t stop blowing, the stove wouldn’t burn properly, and I was in no fine mood. Abe and Mr. Little came in wanting supper just as the potatoes boiled over. I lost my temper right proper and gave them both barrels.
“I’ve heard that a farm has a big mouth, but why does that mouth feed only one-half of the farm? Why is it that you can get new machinery and the horses can get new harnesses and you can find the time to build a new granary, but I have to put up with a two room house with an old used granary for the summer kitchen and a cranky old cook stove and water I have to pail out of the barrel.” I turned to the stove and stabbed the potatoes over and over. “Supper isn’t ready yet, so just bide your time.”