He Usually Lived With a Female
The Life of a California Newspaperman
by George Garrigues
A book published by Quail Creek Press
Charles Harris (Brick) Garrigues
[Undated; probably December 1946]
I've been working the last six weeks on what may turn out to be a novel. At any rate, I'm reasonably certain of this: that either this is the novel or there is no Garrigues novel.
It is, of course, autobiographical (when has Garrigues ever been interested in anything but himself), but what is wrong with an autobiographical novel? And anyway, who the hell cares? I am having fun.
March 24, 1947
I only reflect that the troubles of love seem to be identical with the troubles of trying to write a first novel. You're up; you're down; you're through; you're off again and you resolve to say to hell with it. And don't. And can't.
September 16, 1949
It is a very fine feeling when the scenes begin to flow again. It is difficult to quit; this morning I started at nine and stopped at eleven thirty and then started again at one and wrote until three thirty. Thats the longest day Ive put in. You dont, at times such as this, worry very much about whether its going to turn out or not because to you, as you write them, the scenes feel right.
August 21, 1953
I have continued to work on the novel. I am amazed at the progress I seem to be making, in the little time I have at hand. Day after day I solve problems that have held me up for years. It may not be as good as I hope, but it is a hell of a lot better than it was.
June 14, 1957
It is strange to be free of the compulsion to be a writer. (Not the compulsion to write; I suspect that that is an affectation.) I am like a reformed drunkard who can honestly take it or leave it alone, but who hates the stuff so much that he leaves it strictly alone.
December 17, 1960
There is a theory that writing an autobiographical novel is good therapy. I don't believe it.
April 22, 1972
I thought for a long time that I was free of it -- especially when the people concerned all began to die off. As though at last I was going to have the last word. But the characters and events, even if wholly imaginary, still haunt me and demand to be set on paper.
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Beer Bottles Scattered All Along the Path
While Charles Louis and Emily Garrigues were trying to raise wheat or corn or livestock in the parched fields of Kansas, a wealthy man named George Chaffey was buying up large flat pieces of land a thousand miles away in Southern California and dividing them into smaller flat pieces of land to sell to people from Kansas.
He brought in water, too, from the Colorado River, and after tumbling through an aqueduct it gushed forth into the rich, untapped soil of a valley called Imperial. Crops sprang up as if by magic.
Decades later my father wrote a book about that land, a novel called
Many a Glorious Morning
They farm different here, Albert said musingly to Ruth in the hotel room in the little Southern California town where he took them the first night after his family got off the day coach. Theyd traveled straight from Kansas to join him in what would be their new home. Ruth had had faith that Albert wouldnt fail them, that he would find a way to double their savings, maybe even triple them, as the land promoters had said.
I couldve rented a place, but maybe wedve lost money on it the first year until I learned California farming, her husband went on. I thought itd be better . . . He stopped. He didnt want to talk more about the deal he had made to manage a ranch owned by somebody else.
It was the first time since theyd been married, some twenty years, that hed worked for wages, and he felt that maybe he was taking a step backward instead of forward, even if this was California instead of Kansas.
But Ruth, flushed and excited at finally arriving in San Julian, gave his arm a squeeze and said: I declare, Albert, if you arent a one to look on the dark side of things! I think you did just splendid.
He was pleased at that, but something made him go on:
It isnt the place Ida picked, maybe, in some ways. Im afraid theyre a godless family, those OConnells, besides being Roman Catholics. Theres five grown boys who dont do a lick of work so they have hired hands do everything. And then Im supposed to manage that place with . . .
He looked at the children sprawled in sleep across the mattresses on the floor, Bliss, the youngest, just eight years old; Grace, who was ten, and Cal and Tom, young men they almost were, and he lowered his voice.
There were beer bottles scattered all along the path! Im almost afraid to bring up the children in such a place. . . .
The Lord will watch over them, Albert, if we trust in him, she said. And then, as though still unbelieving, And its really got an inside . . . bathroom?
He laughed at that and came over and put his arm around her. And the next day after a good night of rest they rented a livery stable buggy and drove out to the OConnell ranch.
In some ways it was even worse than Albert Lane had feared. There were quarrels almost from the beginning. Mrs. OConnell objected when the Lanes used a ranch team to drive to the Methodist Church on Sundays; she objected to their use of fuel from the farm woodpile and to Blisss playing near the windows of her house; she found fault with the way the work was done and with the way the crops were handled. Albert Lane was almost cowed by the virulence of her tongue and the depth of her profanity, but nevertheless he swallowed hard and faced her down on every point. He was after all the manager, he kept telling himself.
At the end of the year, to his astonishment, she offered him an increase in wages if he would remain for another year, and, to his even greater astonishment, he accepted, though hed vowed time after time that no power on earth could compel him to remain a single day after the year was up.
I need a man wholl not let himself be put upon, she declared. A man thatll stand up for his own self will stand up for his employer, in my way of thinking. So therell be another ten dollars a month in it for you if youll take the job for another year.
But hardly had Albert decided to stay when she entered into an even greater fraud, insisting (in the final settlement for the first years work) that they must pay her twelve dollars a month rent for the house which they occupied and steadfastly refusing to hand out the full sum due them for the last quarters work.
Albert Lane came back to the house white with anger.
I wonder she doesnt fear that the Lord will strike her dead, he declared. Id fear to tempt God in that way.
He dug into his little box of papers and found the letter fixing the terms of the deal and read it over to see that it did indeed provide that the house should be rent-free and, after dinner, he went over and shook it in the face of Mrs. OConnell and her eldest son and demanded his money in full.
The old lady picked it up and spat upon it and suddenly seized her throat and cried out in a choked voice for a cup of water and fell forward on the carpet and died while her son screamed: Mother! Mother! in a hoarse and horrified voice.
That night, at family prayers, Albert read aloud the story of Ananias and Sapphire and asked God to save them from the lying and the cheating.
Bliss lay awake for a long time on his cot on the side porch and saw the reflection of the candles burning beside the body of the dead woman in the big house across the yard; he was not old enough for death to be very terrifying, but he was impressed and uncomfortable and even frightened by the solemnity of his own family and the grief of the five OConnell sons who wept and shouted by the bier.
The next day the eldest son came over and counted out 144 dollars in gold pieces and silver dollars; he counted them out on the table and then hurled them on the floor and ordered Albert Lane to clear out before sundown. Albert picked up the money and counted the coins again and wrote out a receipt, which he put behind the OConnells screen door, and then went into Edendale and rented the frame house on Euclid Avenue and moved his family that afternoon.
They loaded their belongings into a borrowed lumber wagon and hauled them into town; Bliss and his brothers and sister Cal and Tom and Grace piled the things in the weedy yard and then carried them into the house while Mrs. Lane lit the kerosene stove and cooked supper.
Ruth Lane saw the hand of the Lord in it.
I always said He would clear the way if we had faith in Him, she told Grace as they bustled about the new kitchen. Maybe some people would have lost faith in Him all these years, but I never doubted Him for a minute.
But, Mama, Grace objected. Do you think God would strike Mrs. OConnell dead just to make Papa bring us into Edendale to live?
The Lords ways are his own, Ruth Lane declared firmly. Mrs. OConnell was a wicked woman and deserved whatever she got.
For that was the way it had happened.