Strong Daughter ©2014

A true tale of revelation, rescue, and literature, by L.E. Taylor

Kay Melanie is a twenty-first century frontier woman. All one hundred-ten pounds of her. She says so.

Alone at the big pasture gate, Kay Melanie has just completed a day of cutting and baling hay on her forty acre homestead. She whips off her battered sombrero, and dries her brow with a faded bandana. An ornery thick mop of strawberry blond hair blows around in the hot East Texas wind as the boss lady calls her lumbering herd of four-legged critters to supper.

In another two hours the final course – home cooked by the boss herself – will be served to fifty-two rescued dogs, each with a new name, in the comfort of their own home on the range.

After that, Kay Melanie will retreat to her personal bunkhouse, kick off her clod-hoppers, and uncork a bottle of Merlot as she tosses together a vegan meal of green things.

Kathy Ferguson is not a native Texan, but as the saying goes, she got here as soon as she could. And an arduous trail it was.

One day about forty years ago, Kathy and her mother drove through a downpour on Packard Road in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The child cried out, “Mommy! Stop!” They’d passed a small dog, struggling at the roadside. It had just been struck by a car. The two ran back up the apron through a swirling spray, wrapped the animal in a beach towel, then hurried to their car and on to a nearby vet. The mutt would survive.

This was not a seminal moment. In fact it was only one in a series of episodes that led young Kay Melanie to her calling: A rescuer of God’s helpless creatures.

It would stand to reason that her eventual course of study might become veterinary medicine. But a diversion struck, as it did so many young women in those years. Anorexia nervosa. She dropped out of college.

Many months later, at sixty-eight pounds, and near death in a major medical center, Kathy opted out of treatment. On that grim February night, as her stunned father waited alone by the elevator, an irate psychiatrist confronted him with a stark prophesy, “Your daughter is going home to die.” He believed her.

But three nights later, in the small hours of the morning, Kay Melanie gets out of bed and feebly makes her way through her mother’s cold, darkened house, and into the kitchen. She places a boney hand on the refrigerator handle and is dazzled by the brilliance as she opens the door. And God whispers: “Choose life.”

Kathy obeys.

She works three part-time jobs, engineers a loan, earns a grant, and enrolls in the Residential College at The University of Michigan. Introspective by nature, now intellectually hungry, her choice of major is not medicine, but… literature. It is a fateful decision of the heart that will make her over-qualified for every job, role, task, business enterprise, partnership, or farm chore she will ever have. Over-qualified and under-paid.

Two years later, Kay Melanie has her degree, her health, her freedom, and a future as bright as that refrigerator light in the small hours of a magical February night. Beautiful and fit and now transplanted in Dallas, Texas, she turns a page.

Soon another page is turned. And, as if by some contrarian Plan, a succession of others. God’s logic is not our logic.

Ten years, and one failed marriage later, Kay Melanie is a capable, dedicated country woman who can fix anything, plant and mow a field, husband and diagnose animals ranging from barn cats to Chihuahuas, from pit bulls to sheepdogs, from cow ponies to longhorns. She can shoot a side arm, a rifle, and a shotgun; but she wouldn’t shoot anything with four legs. So if you have fewer, and trespass, be warned.

In 2012, she was chatting with her father on the phone and the subject of his long suffering literary project came up. He groused that he was at the end of a third draft of his “big book,” but was frustrated finding an editor. Without a pause, she said, “Let me do it!”

He replied, “Well, since the book is about your own ancestors, you might have trouble being objective.”

Kay Melanie said, “I can do it.” And she did. She turned out to be the best editor her scrupulous father could have dreamt of.

He, of course, is the fellow writing what you are reading.

I’ve read about some famous editors, and I know how dicey the interaction can be. But the Boss Lady was considerate, wise, non-invasive, and respectful of the boundaries between author and editor. She also made Elgan and Grace much better than it would have been.

So, what prompted me to share with the world at large this true tale of a Yankee hard scrabble “farm wife”– and why at this moment?

A couple of days ago, I’d found myself home-bound and badly out of commission for weeks with a post-op infection. Fatigue and dizziness dragged on. Mental fog made me feel old, right on the cusp of reclaiming some youthful zip in the excitement of a re-lit lit-life. Averse to forced inactivity, I was frustrated and bored. And depressed.

I rustled through a mess of journal notes and idea files. I organized my sock drawer and folded piles of clean laundry. My gaze fell upon a dusty stack of books on the floor. Tossing aside one after another, I discovered a slim volume bristling with old Post-Its. The remarkable book is Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, by pediatrician and mother of four, Meg Meeker, M.D.

It reminded me of the brave and unusual person you’ve just been reading about. The book had been a gift from Kathy to her Dad. It was time that you knew about her.

If you have children or grandchildren; girls or boys – very young or insufferably into their self-destructive know-it-all teens – get this book and read it. I sat down with it once more, these years later, made notes, added new markers, and found myself blessed. Again.

Onward.

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References

  1. Meeker, Meg M.D., Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters – 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know, Ballantine Books, New York, 2006.
  2. Taylor. L.E., Elgan and Grace – A Twentieth Century Saga, Friesen Press, Vancouver B.C, Canada, 2012.
  3. LET’sBlog, http://blog.letaylortheauthor.com, The Youthening Brain, April 2014 (archives).