Visiting Mom’s Writing Group

Post by Gail Martin’s daughter, Virginia.

Some years ago, I accompanied my mother to her writer’s group. She attended Prairie Prose and Poetry regularly. The time that I went with her, they were meeting in the old train depot in El Dorado.
They started off the meeting going around the table with each person telling about their recent successes. After several told of articles they’d recently published in magazines and what the pay was, then it was my turn. I introduced myself and told them I’d just made $300,000 with my writing submission.
2008-08-17 gail and ks photos 417

They all looked amazed, but then I added the punch line: “I wrote a grant application for my library and it was funded for $300,000.” No, it wasn’t money in my pocket but it was money earned with my writing for the library where I was the library director. It enabled the library to get computers and lots of high-tech networking equipment that we needed.

Those years of writing grants for the library taught me the power of persuasive writing. Making my application as clear and complete as possible while tugging at the heartstrings of the grant reviewers would get funding for my library’s special projects.

It takes a sophisticated network to support a large number of public computers. My library was in a very low-income area along the border to Mexico. Many students were dependent on the public library for computer access as they could not afford the equipment or the Internet fees at home. So the demographics favored my grants being funded, but I like to think my pithy descriptions and touching vignettes carried the day.
Have you used your writing to help an organization or your workplace?

Writers in Their 70s, 80s, and 90s

Septuagenarian, Octogenarian, and Nonagenarian Writers

I have great admiration for writers who continue their craft into their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Writing is something that fits quite well into a senior lifestyle. By the time a person reaches an advanced age, they have a lot of living and a wide range of experience to share with younger generations.

We may have to give up playing football or baking rich desserts or other hobbies we had when younger. Arthritis and high cholesterol start to cut into some of our fun. Writing remains. Some seniors don’t discover the pleasures of writing until their other activities become restricted.

Here I want to celebrate writers who put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard to record the essays, poems, and even books during their seventies, eighties, and nineties.

70, 80 and 90-Year-Old Writers on the Our Echo Website – Links to their essays and poems

Our Echo specializes in family memory writing but attracts a variety of writing from essays to poetry to fiction and family history. Check out the writing by these octogenarians and nonagenarians.

Gail Lee Martin served as the webmaster for the site and encourage these writers to keep on writing. When you read the stories from the writers listed below, click on the comment section and you will see that Gail faithfully read and commented on almost every post.

(Just click on their name below to go to their online stories, poems, and essays.)

  • Wanda Molsberry Bates (born in 1915)
    Read her essays like “At 94” and “School Days – Memories.” Over 90 Years 90th Birthday by BirthdayObsessions
  • Gone But Not Forgotten by Nancy J. Kopp
    A tribute to Wanda Molsberry Bates who died in April 2010 at the age of 95.
  • Kathe M. Campbell
    Read her accounts of ranch life and overcoming hardships. She has memory pieces like “Blooming Where We’re Planted.”
  • Gail Lee Martin (born in 1924)
    Gail wrote about growing up on the Kansas prairies. Her writing list on Our Echo also includes poems.
  • John William Daniel
    At 92, John William Daniel writes about his early experiences in South Texas near the Mexican border.
  • Nancy J. Kopp
    Read her heart-warming stories and musings. She has had nine articles included in the Chicken Soup series of books. She has an awesome blog called Writer Granny’s World too.
  • Winifred Beatrice Peterson (born in 1914)
    This 95-year-old writer tells about her childhood in “Just a Country Girl” and later life in “The Farmwife Flunky.”
  • Tom Foley of Maine (age 82)
    Besides writing, Tom also does watercolor painting and woodcarving.
  • Monte Leon Manka
    Formerly of Chelsea, KS, and now lives in California. He was 83 in 2010 when he started posting on the Our Echo site and writes poems about bleak times during the Great Depression. Take a look at these on the Our Echo website and leave a comment so Monte will know you visited.

Memoirs Written By Octogenarians

Addie of the Flint Hills: A Prairie Child During the Depression (1915-1935)Addie of the Flint Hills: A Prairie Child During the Depression (1915-1935)View DetailsMy Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s KansasMy Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s KansasView DetailsShadows in My House of Sunshine: A Journey of DiscoveryShadows in My House of Sunshine: A Journey of DiscoveryView Details

Love Local Cookbooks?

I’m guessing that every household has a spiral-bound cookbook filled with recipes from local cooks. Gail Lee Martin collected some of these and wrote about them for the Butler County Historical Society in Kansas. She submitted the research to their annual history essay contest in 2001 and received honorable mention for it. She donated 7 cookbooks to the museum’s collection. She also contributed her recipes to a number of  local cookbooks that came out after this article.

Hometown Sharing

Through the past hundred years, local cooks have shared their favorite recipes with friends and neighbors in many ways. Reunions, church suppers, picnics, fish fries, ice-cream socials, birthdays, weddings, Sunday dinners, and every occasion that could get a group of people together. The theory being, if you invite them to come eat good food they will show up at your meetings or events.

By early 1900 organizations around the town began to get on the bandwagon of publishing cookbooks as fund-raisers. Churches, businesses, schools, grocery stores, even radio stations discovered the fun of compiling favorite recipes from their members into a cookbook for sale.

So the call went out to all cooks in their organization to submit their favorites recipes. Catchy titles were sought to encourage sales. Some of the more interesting ones I found were: Meat Recipe RallyCountry Cooking; Regal Recipes, and the Partyline Cookbooks to name just a few.

The cookbooks reveal much more about the community than just the cooks and recipes. Local advertising was found here and there in the books to tell of businesses, some that are still here and others that have faded to just memories. The Meat Recipe Rally by Joe Browne’s Market advertises Joe’s own Hickory Smoked Sliced Bacon and Hams and Open Kettle Pure Lard. In the 1959 El Dorado City Directory Joe’s Market is listed as “ Browne’s Market, the complete food store since 1905.” The Market stayed on the same downtown corner of 200 W. Central until 1973.

In The Art of cooking in El Dorado, a Senior Citizens of El Dorado cookbook, Walnut Valley Bank and Trust listed their advertisement this way. Recipe For Financial Service. Take instant mix of Walnut Valley people, know-how, and concern . . .AND JUST ADD YOU!” Their ad certainly fit the book‘s theme.

The El Dorado Senior Center celebrated their 10th anniversary in September 1985. Around that time the cookbook was planned and Cathlin Buffum was director of the center and contributed a handful of recipes herself. Other businesses contributing their ad’s to the senior’s project were El Dorado Cable; Mc Cartney Pharmacy; PT Machine & Welding; Farmer’s Insurance; Arlene’s Beauty Shop; Castle of Lighting; Flavor Maid Do-nuts; AAA; Best’s Cleaners and Dale’s Service.

cookbooks with Gail's recipes

Family and community cookbooks that have Gail Martin’s recipes included.

In the late seventies and early eighties, the area radio station KOYY Kountry had a listener participation program called Partyline. Many recipes were shared in this morning phone-in style get together. In 1979 Partyline hostess, Jean Plummer compiled the many recipes that had flooded her office and published the first Partyline Cookbook . Two years later, when Connie Phillips was serving as hostess, the second edition of the Partyline Cookbook was published by popular demand. Together, young and old, men and women filled these cookbooks with their best cooking efforts.

A 1982 ‘Benton Community’ project producing a Country Cooking cookbook went all out with ten pages of advertisers, two full pages listing their supporters, some community history dating back to 1913, local artwork by Jo Bell for a drawing of a windmill and surrounding countryside for the cover and a unique list of what you could buy from the grocery store for a $1.00 in 1931, all from a small town of around 600 residents. Many contributors were Benton High School alumni from the 1920’s; Benton Busy Bee’s 4-H members; Girl and Boy Scouts, the Lions Club; Golden Agers; Jaycees Jaynes and Tops members.

El Dorado is the home to many churches and these churches have many church dinners. Food in every available form is brought. Everyone wants to take their best. As they taste tested their way through the many varieties, the women begin asking “Who brought this or that dish, and then ask would you share your recipe, it tasted wonderful.” This is one reason almost every church in the county has at one time or another put out a cookbook.

The United Methodist Church has been publishing cookbooks since the turn of the century. The recipes of a 1909 cookbook, Regal Recipes, were collected and arranged by the Kings Daughters of the Methodist Episcopal and is being preserved at the Butler County Historical Society Museum. This same group put out another book in 1924 with additions of new recipes from Circle One of the Methodist Ladies Aid. The women of this church but probably another generation or two published again in 1985 and the current one of 1996, Lord’s Acre Cookbook, Naomi Circle is still available. In the miscellaneous section is a neat saying, “Happiness is like jam. You can’t spread a little without getting a little on yourself.” Recipes in this segment include Homemade Apple Butter, Easy Grape Jelly, and Jalapeno Jelly.

The Towanda United Methodist Church of Christ published a Tribute to Our Past, Our Joy For Today, The Hope For Tomorrow 1885-1985. Some of the other cookbooks from their past were known to have been in 1907, 1924, and 1979.

The Christian Women’s Fellowship groups of Potwin and El Dorado compiled cookbooks in the 1980s. Potwin put out a cookbook in 1981 and titled it, Favorites Recipes From Our Best Cooks. They included a picture of their lovely brick church and a schedule of their Sunday School and Morning Worship services. The El Dorado women came out with a small handmade booklet in November 1983. With checkered oilcloth covers. The Young Women’s Group of the First Christian Church of El Dorado put out a three-ring notebook size cookbook in October 1986 to coincide with their fall money-making event, a luncheon, and craft fair.

Starting in 2005 the original El Dorado Farmer’s Market is planning a garden cookbook. So Butler County’s food sharing tradition just keeps going.


Writing Family Histories (a BlogTalkRadio Interview)

Back in 2012, Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain, had the opportunity to go on BlogTalkRadio for an interview. The topic was Writing Family Histories.

It was a good opportunity to talk up Gail’s memoir, My Flint Hills Childhood.  You can hear the interview by clicking on the arrow below. It’s 13 minutes long, then they take a break for reading a poem, before getting back to the interview at the 16-minute point.


Unfortunately, due to a technical issue, the interview cut off the last 15 minutes. The host was quite apologetic, but at least it did get a little air time promoting the book.

2012-01-15 april 2014 001

Virginia Allain, Gail and Clyde’s daughter.

Jog your memories

In 2007, Gail made a list of topics that would serve as inspiration for future stories. She posted the list to the Our Echo website. She hoped that it would get others on the site to write on the subjects as well.

Here’s the comment that I put on her list, “I look forward to seeing detailed stories and memories on each of these topics. How about adding some writings on:
favorite pets
weekly visits to town
getting dishes as premiums at the movies
visits from the Stanley Brush man
getting your first television
starting school
Now, these are triggering some memories that I need to put on paper as well!”

memory joggers blogs

For the stories that Gail did write about or her daughters wrote about, I’ve put a link so you can read the story.

Gail Lee Martin’s List of Memory Joggers

This year I plan on writing what I remember about some of the following topics. Do you have memories about any of these writing triggers?
Let’s share.
We made ice cream in a hand-cranked wooden bucket.
Homemade butter in Mother‘s Daisy glass churn.

Daisy Butter Churn

Here’s the kind of churn we had when I was growing up (Virginia Allain)

Homemade buttermilk and cottage cheese.
When people had horses & buggies.
Riding in a horse-drawn sleigh.
Your first car in my case my first bike.
Your first or worst accident.
FDR was president.
Pearl Harbor was bombed.
Walking to school.
Catching crawdads for a summer treat.
Sledding down a hill for winter fun without a sled.
We had an icebox instead of a refrigerator.
People did their own canning of garden vegetables & we still do.
Two-room schoolhouses.
Going fishing with a stick fishing pole and grasshoppers.
Milk was from our cow named Cream.
Life before television.
Working at Boeing.
Life away from home the first time.
When World War II ended.
When prayer was a daily part of our school.
When kids respected parents, teachers etc.
When we had to hand-crank the cars.
We enjoyed evenings on the front porch.
Chased lightening bugs.
We had pen pals and autograph books.
We played jacks, jump ropes & marbles.
Advertisements were on paper matches,
wooden nickels & Burma Shave signs.
Making rings from our baby’s spoon.
My first permanent wave.
We wore silk hose and long neckties.
When we graduated from eighth grade & high school.
Bird’s nest in the overalls.
My acting career was in school plays.
We had fun with May baskets & April Fool jokes.

These topics should keep me writing for awhile so I better get started. Which one shall I start with?

I wish she had lived many more years and had time to write about the rest of these topics. How about you? Are you writing down some of your memories? Now is the time.

Going, Going, Gone…

A Guest Post by Gail’s daughter, Karen Kolavalli (written in 2014 for Bubblews)

“I spent the afternoon sorting, sorting, sorting! It’s a seemingly unending job of sifting through boxes of photos, letters, and documents. In doing so, I came across a printout from a page at that shows a listing of my Mother’s stories that were archived there. It says that “Gail Martin created this page with the help of the ‘My History is America’s History’ website.”

I was able to pull up the page at with the list of her stories, but when I tried the links to go to the stories, all I got was “The connection has timed out.” And when I tried the link to “My History is America’s History,” it took me to a page showing that the domain name was for sale, so that site went belly up at some point.

I recognize many of the story titles as chapters in the books that my Mom published with the help of my sister, Virginia. There are some, though, that I’m not familiar with, such as Treasures from the Barnyard, More of the Treasure from the Barnyard, Carol’s Memory of the Flood of ’51, and Ginger’s Year 1948. I hope these stories survive in printed form and that my sister will be able to find them in my Mom’s files. Those files were transferred to her care and keeping after our Mother passed away a year and a half ago.
Mom didn’t start writing until she had all six kids raised and out on their own, and then she made up for lost time! From the late 1970s until her death in 2013, writing was her life and the stories poured out of her. Although she was an avid reader, she had always struggled in school and thought it was a miracle that she graduated from high school. So every award she received for her writing absolutely blew her away.

She loved to teach memoir writing classes at a senior center and was the much-loved moderator of a writers’ website, called Our Echo. When her daughter helped get her books published, she was over the moon. But at the end of the day, she was proudest just to be able to share her stories.”

gail and star writer

Gail Lee Martin hard at work on her Star Writer word processor.

J is for Journaling

My mom, Gail Lee Martin, kept a journal in whatever blank book came to hand over the years. She wrote in school type notebooks back when her children were little. She called them her blue books. I don’t know if the covers were blue or if she wrote about the things that made her blue. Perhaps in those spiral notebooks with lined pages, as an isolated young housewife, she could pour out her heart.

Somewhere along the way, these early journals were lost in the many household moves. Life became too busy with six children to raise, so she gave up keeping a diary for those hectic years. In retirement, she took it up again.

Now, there’s a whole shelf of these slightly battered books. The entries stop and start, sometimes with more than one year sharing a book. Often the entries are pretty ordinary with the small events that made up her day. She noted a visitor, a phone call, a baseball game watched on television, or the activities of a neighbor.

She kept the current one on the side table by her chair in the living room.


diary pixabay

Photo from Pixabay


Along with her journal, she maintained a variety of notebooks. Each featured some aspect of their life. One documented the sales made at the farmer’s market with a meticulous count of how many jars of jelly or loaves of bread were sold. Another notebook traveled with her back in the days when they drove to Prescott, Kansas on weekends. She noted short descriptions of scenery that perhaps she planned to use in her writing or to turn into a poem someday.

mom's book list notebook

The notebook above lists the books they collected. That was a small one that she could carry in her handbag for consulting when she found a book at a yard sale or shop. In another one, she kept a log of the fish they caught at Sugar Valley and photos of the catch.

For the most part, the journals and notebooks served as a mostly mundane record, mere fragments of her life. Her real writing about family history and about her childhood went into her essays. She labored over those and wrote a number of versions of the memory pieces. These eventually became her published memoir, My Flint Hills Childhood.



Gail Lee Martin – In the Spotlight

In 2006, the Our Echo website featured Gail Lee Martin in their monthly In the Spotlight. Here’s that story.

“I learned early to cherish the written word. I am the middle daughter of Clarence & Ruth McGhee’s three girls and we were a reading family. My folks told me I was named after characters in a book like Barbara Carpenter was. My namesakes were heroine Gail Ormsby and hero Lee Purdy in The Enchanted Hill by Peter B. Kyne published in 1924 the year I was born.


Gail Lee Martin, writer for the Our Echo website and webmaster.

I grew up living in Phillips Petroleum Company oil field camps, helping fight prairie fires and worrying about labor unions and survived a prairie rattlesnake bite as a six-year-old. I kept the rattles from that snake for years. I graduated from high school in the tiny town of Hamilton nestled among the oil fields in the Flint Hills of Kansas. During WWII, I helped build B-29 bombers at Boeing Aircraft factory in Wichita. After the war, I returned home and married my high school, farming boyfriend and we are still together after 61 years.

Many things spark my writing instincts. When I saw a 100-year-old friendship quilt in the Butler County museum, I wanted to know the story behind it. I researched everything I could find about the twelve-year-old girl who made it. Besides making each block with material from different neighbors, school teachers, schoolmates, and relatives, she documented each piece of material. Whenever I look at this one-of-a-kind quilt in the museum, I see a vision of a lonely little girl spending days, weeks, even years on her great masterpiece. Now my husband wants me to write about the twenty-five-pound grass carp I caught. It took me longer to catch than it will take me to write about it.

Many of my stories are written because of a family connection. I researched and wrote ‘Landscaping With A Hobby’ because of interest in bricks, especially Kansas bricks. My father, uncle, and grandfather worked at one of the brick factories in Tyro, Kansas in the early 1900s. Such fun exploring the backyard of a brick collector in my own hometown. I took my granddaughter, Kristy Ross along as my photographer. Her photos made my article come to life.

My teenage dream of being an airplane pilot like Amelia Earhart resulted in taking a flight over Wichita in a small airplane and my fear of heights made me realize I could never follow Amelia’s steps to fame. Instead, I researched and wrote a story about Jack Thomas, El Dorado’s World War II Flying Ace. His flying fights with the enemy scared me all over again.

I never thought about being a writer. I was always just writing something. During study hall in high school; while my children took naps in the 1940s and in waiting rooms everywhere. I have kept a daily journal of happenings around me for many years. Now here I am at the age of 81 with a writing biography that impresses my children as well as myself and earned me the Kansas Authors Club’s state writing achievement award in 1997.

During our retirement years, we went back to Clyde’s farming roots and planted gardens that got bigger each year even though our children had all married and had homes of their own. When nature let us grow too much produce to give away to our family, friends, and neighbors, we would preserve the rest for the winter months the way our mothers did. Then we found and joined a local farmer’s market to sell the rest of the surplus produce. This provided some extra money to supplement our Social Security paycheck. I soon was delving into the twenty-year history of the market. I’ll share the results of that project in a post real soon. I find time to write almost every day and learning to use the word processor on the computer makes it so much easier. But that is another story. Everyday life has given me more interesting topics than I can find time to write about.”

Note from Mom

I looked back on an early blog post I wrote and found this comment from my mother on it.

November 7, 2008 at 6:53 pm

I started writing with a pencil and a big chief tablet with lines across the pages. Now I am writing on a computer and posting online. In between, I advanced to writing with pen and ink, ballpoint pens, typewriters, improved typewriters, and a Cannon Starwriter 80-word processor. I wore out at least three, so the repair tech said.

I began to receive requests to teach others my writing ideas. What a thrill! I also had five daughters who gladly critiqued my ramblings. Now I’m on my 4th computer with grammar, spellchecks, and a grandson who keeps my computers doing what they are supposed to do. What writer would ask for more!


Gail L. Martin


The image of the Big Chief changed over the years.

Here’s my 8-year old post that she was commenting on:

My Mom keeps busy writing family memory essays. At age 84, she’s not running out of material. Her essays posted at Our Echo make for great nostalgic reading. Take a look at them and leave comments for her. She loves hearing from anyone reading her work.

gail-salina-libraryLately, she’s started recording some favorite recipes and articles on how to live thriftily. You can read her recipes, crafts and thrifty tips at the Squidoo site (username: Gail Martin).

Update August 2009: Mom’s family memories have just been published in a book, My Flint Hills Childhood: Growing Up in 1930s Kansas. You can read an excerpt on her webpage and be sure to click on the link to preview fifteen pages of the book.