Family Stories As Multicultural Kid’s Books!

My mom was an avid genealogist. As a child I found the dry dates and names boring (and I certainly didn’t want to look for them on ancient microfilm reader machines!).

But in 2007, a publisher asked me to write a children’s picture book about an immigrant child. I remembered that my great-great aunt had immigrated as a ten year old from Sweden and had a remarkable experience when she arrived. Her story was found in her short autobiography and in my great grandmother’s journal. The hybrid book, Anna’s Prayer, was the result (beautifully illustrated by Shari Griffiths).

I became hooked on family stories and digged up/cobbled together biographies on about seven generations of my ancestors. I’m Swedish, South African, English, Irish, Scottish, Swiss, and French. (We hope to learn soon whether there’s American Indian in the mix.)

It has taken ten years, but I finally have published my great grandmother’s part of Anna’s story as an illustrated book/ebook. It’s called Ida’s Witness. I grew up hearing Ida’s account as read on occasion by her son, Vernard Beckstrand, my grandfather. Ida was the first of her siblings to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sweden, quite vocal about Christ’s gospel, and fearless in the face of religious persecution.

Because of chronic illness, Ida was often confined to her bed (or hospital beds) and had time to study the Bible as a girl. When Ida’s mother tried a poultice from a local plant on Ida’s arm as a remedy, Ida’s arm suddenly became swollen and useless.

Fearing Ida would lose her arm, her mother took her to the city to find a doctor, but it was apparently Sunday afternoon when they got to the city and a doctor wasn’t likely to be found until Monday. The ladies ended up in a conference of the Church of Jesus Christ, where Ida received an overwhelming conviction that this was Christ’s church restored to the earth.

She was baptized that evening and given a priesthood blessing. The next day, her arm was completely back to normal. From that time Ida told everyone she could about living prophets, continuing revelation, and priesthood authority. Such declarations brought fierce opposition from peers and authority figures. But Ida would not be silent.

When Ida and Anna had the opportunity to come to America, they left their mother and brother—hopeful that they could be reunited again in the United States one day. Because Ida had been contracted to work in Idaho and Anna had to stay with an aunt in Salt Lake City, the sisters had to separate. They each had harrowing experiences as strangers unable to communicate in English.

But my great grandmother was a determined woman. She worked to be able to communicate her testimony in this new country. I’m so grateful for her courage and grit. She concluded her autobiography with this message:

“Even though I have had a lot of pain during my life, I have had a wonderful, happy, pleasant life. … I made a resolution many years ago that I would bear my testimony every time I had a chance. … I want to [tell] my children, grandchildren … and all of my descendants—and to the whole world—that I know I am a member of the *true Church of Jesus Christ. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, that Our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, visited him. … I [am] very thankful to my Father in Heaven for protecting me; that through the inspiration of his Spirit I was able to bear testimony of the true Gospel, restored to the earth through the Prophet. … May God bless you all that we may all be together in the hereafter.”

It’s a thrill for me to be able to make her witness available “to the whole world.”

[Note: *Because of the phrase “true church,” some people have erroneously concluded that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is exclusive. In reality, Church doctrine states that all people (except a handful of enlightened, but rebellious, Latter-day Saints) will be saved in glory. Contact me for information on why we search for our ancestors and “seal” them as eternal family units.]

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Muffy as a puppy, me and my dog, book cover Muffy & Valor: A True Story

My Dog – Bodyguard to a German Shepherd

The only dog I ever had was Muffy. We got her from a neighbor when I was seven—though we didn’t have high hopes of keeping her (my dad had dispatched with a cat we’d had). But we four kids pleaded so earnestly that we wore him down.

Muff was a mutt—part Maltese and part ?? But she was instantly a special part of the family. My brother Nels trained her (using cheese) to sit, shake, roll over, and eventually to close the front door. She hated getting bathed—but was at her most playful immediately afterward.

In 1977, while my mother was on a trip to Scotland and my father on business in Alaska, we three younger kids were farmed out to stay with family. Nels held the fort at home in California. One day, he came home to find Muffy licking a wound in her side. It didn’t look too bad, but he decided to take her to the vet.

It was actually a deep puncture, most likely a bite from a big dog. Muffy had to have it stitched up with drainage tubes placed to help the healing. We came home to Frankenpup. It was a shock.

I don’t recall Muffy ever liking other dogs but, certainly after this trauma, she went ballistic whenever she caught sight of any dog. It was sometimes easier to just take her barking self back inside the house. This is why what happened next in her life is so miraculous.

One day, my brother Chris and I were out playing when we came across a large German shepherd that had been hit by a car. It was lying in blood. We ran home and told my mom. Always a compassionate woman, she got us in our station wagon and had us show her where the dog was. With no fear of what an injured animal might do to her, she and some onlookers picked up the shepherd and put him in the vehicle.

II.

Without consulting my father, Mom authorized the vet to operate on an unknown dog we weren’t even sure would live. It was an expensive operation. And that was just the beginning of concerns. After the surgery and a day’s rest, the vet wanted the German shepherd off his hands. Where would we take him? —certainly not home to Muffy, our fiend in sheep’s clothing.

We decided to put “Valor,” our name for the injured dog, in a room by himself and keep the door closed. Valor crawled under a desk and collapsed. That was his spot from then on.

The first surprise was that Muffy didn’t bark when we carried this big strange dog into the house (we may have put her in a bedroom at the time). It seemed she could sense or smell the injury. We decided to see how she would respond to Valor. Holding Muff very tightly, we opened the door to Valor’s den.

Still no barking. Muffy sniffed—and pulled with all her strength to get closer to this imposing beast. She seemed to especially note that the dog’s injury (and stitches) were in the very place where she had been hurt. After examining the wound, she immediately curled up and nestled herself against Valor—who seemed quite at home with her there.

The last thing we had expected was to leave the room without our own dog. We got busy (at my dad’s insistence) looking for Valor’s owner. We canvassed the neighborhoods around us, but no one we asked had lost a dog.

III.

Each day Valor got a little stronger. Determined to show he had been raised properly; he wouldn’t empty his bladder on newspapers, but walked out his sliding glass door—painfully—each day to do relieve himself.

Muffy accompanied him like a bodyguard and heaped fury on the poor Husky next door for daring to poke her nose through the fence. Yet with her charge, Muff was a tender companion.

I can’t remember whether we put an ad in the newspaper or my mom saw an ad. I only remember my mom spoke with someone on the phone who had lost two dogs. “Would you like to come see if this dog is yours?” she asked.

Like a true drama, the story gets weird here. The person my mom spoke with on the phone wasn’t the owner of the two lost dogs—but he was surely in the doghouse! His sister had moved and asked him to watch her two dogs in the process. They both promptly escaped him—likely looking for a home that was no longer “home.”

While the brother clearly cared about his sister’s two dogs, he had only found one of the escapees. Many days passed with no sign of the other.

We answered the door and ushered our guest to the den. Standing in the doorway, the man wasn’t sure; the light wasn’t very good under the desk and, with stitches, Valor’s appearance was altered.

But Valor’s tail was all over the place. The man knelt down. Valor struggled to his feet and over to our visitor, licking the tears that were falling from his eyes. It was a special moment—especially for my dad, who was finally reimbursed for the surgery.

Valor was soon home with his longtime friend—a little white dog named Fluffy—really!!

Mom never doubted how the story would turn out (at least she never showed doubt). Our Muffy was not a changed canine; she continued to freak out whenever any other dog appeared. But her time with Valor was noble and sweet and miraculous. I still miss her.

 

My 19th book is the illustrated story of “Muffy & Valor” (with some artistic license). Pre-order the Kindle version now (July 24 release, free for Kindle Unlimited users). If you’re willing to leave a sincere comment online, I’d be happy to share the epub, pdf, or Mobi version at no charge (email: info [at] PremioBooks.com). 700 words in dyslexic-friendly font for ages 4 – 7, Hispanic characters, illustrated by Brandon Rodriguez—with online extras. 28-page, 8.5”x8.5”, hard and soft cover out Sept. 1 (© PremioBooks.com, Baker & Taylor/Follett, Brodart, Ingram, Nook, and select retailers, Hard ISBN: 978-0985398842. The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living is free now through the 23rd (it’s never too late to comment on Amazon, Goodreads, iBooks … ).

Siblings

Where would I be without my brothers and sister? Dead, I suppose. Friends come in and out of view–and that’s convenient and fine–but siblings are eternal. They know your history (and often love you in spite of it). Being the youngest, I had brothers and a sister to try the hard things before me and show me they’re doable (or that it’s okay to fail). Sometimes I hated them. We were stingy with one another. I often got put down or left out. But they shared a great deal, including friends. My siblings saved me from being more of a geek than I currently am.

Yeah, they don’t behave the way I want them to (this is a critical lesson for coexisting with other mortals–I pity the kid who lives without a sibling). Who hasn’t wanted to write their family off at some point in life? My siblings have pulled me back time and again. When life got bumpy, Nels, Heather and Chris were my home. They’ve shown me that family is the supreme priority. They have shown me that the world will never satisfy a soul. They gave me new siblings in their spouses. They have saved my life.

My family is my connection to the human family, to all the good that my ancestors gave, to all the good that my siblings and I learn and share with one another. We have the best conversations–sometimes heated–but we learn from one another; and we know we will love one another long after we’ve forgotten any disagreement.

Family is jostling love. Family is forever.

Posted by Karl Beckstrand at 9/15/2011 4:05 PM