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  • Kay Runyan


Updated: Dec 20, 2022

As an independently published author I am again renewing efforts to entice people to read and enjoy my memoir. Publishing mainstream is changing rapidly. The big publishing houses seem to be in the business of rejecting new authors. Even if you are one of the lucky few and get a publisher, more and more you have to do a lot of your own marketing. I belong to several writer groups and some interesting things are posted. One writer sent in 3 chapters from well know authors to the publishers that had published their books. All three were rejected. I'm not sure what to make of that. Anyway we authors must continue to market our books. I am motivated by all the 5 star reviews my book has received.

I recently was at my authors table at the Oregon state fair in Salem. There were about 20 other authors, all with impressive books. I've been told that selling 2 books per hour is good. I had a 4 hour slot and sold 10 books. I am posting Chapter 1 of CHOICES: A Story of Survival for the month of Sept. After that I will post a chapter each month. ENJOY! 1 REDRIVER VALLEY When I was born, my Southern Baptist parents inexplicably gave me a strong Irish Catholic name, Mary Katherine Runyan. It’s a name I have never used. I’ve gone by variations of the name over the years—sometimes Kay, sometimes Kathy—but for the first few years of my life, I was known simply as “Kay-Doll.” My big brother Ben, who was a year old at the time of my birth, could not pronounce “Kathy,” my mother’s chosen moniker for me. He could only manage to say “Kay” and he was so convinced that I was actually a little doll rather than an actual baby, that “Doll” was soon added to “Kay.” I loved my big brother, and many of my childhood memories revolved around the fun we had together—as well as the scrapes he got me into—as we roamed around the land where our father grew tomatoes in the Red River Valley of Texas in the 1940s. One day, when I was about four years old, I sat inside a bushel basket atop a wooden sled out in the field, clutching a big toad frog. Our mule, Amos, pulled the sled across the field as I sat surrounded by tomato seedlings and watched Ben running around, aimlessly throwing clods of dirt. I turned my attention to studying my frog intently. It was brown, with circles on its back outlined in black, and it had a whitish belly. Its long hind legs dangled from its body as it stared at me from the eyes on the side of its head. As I looked at my frog, Ben stopped throwing dirt and came over. “Look, Ben,” I said. “My shog’s eyes are on the side of its head!” (I couldn’t pronounce the letter “f” so it usually came out “sh.”) “Of course he has eyes on the side of his head, stupid!” Ben retorted. “Didn’t you know that?” He always pretended to know more than I did. With that he walked off and resumed chunking clods of dirt at anything and everything. I went back to studying my frog. This was my frog and I loved it. In fact, I thought I should kiss it, but before I had a chance, Amos the mule bolted. Everything went flying from the sled, including me in my bushel basket. My prized frog jumped out of my hands as I landed in the dirt and screamed at the top of my lungs. My other big brother, fourteen-year-old Gerald, grabbed the mule’s reins and shouted, “Whoa, durn it!” “Gerald Ray!” Daddy yelled, “Get that mule under control!” Ben stared at the commotion, but not for long. Mother grabbed him and promptly gave him a good whipping because he was the one who had thrown the clod of dirt at poor Amos the mule, hitting him on the rear end and making him bolt. Daddy and my big sister Barbara, who was twelve, picked up the spilled seedlings and put them back on the sled. I sat in the dirt and cried as my frog jumped away. Gerald put the bushel basket back on the sled and deposited me into it once more. Watching my frog take great long leaps across the field, I was afraid Ben would get him, so I screamed louder. Gerald was exasperated. “What’s the matter with you, Kay-Doll? You don’t look hurt!” “I lost my shog!” I cried. Gerald saw the frog hopping to safety and ran after it. He grabbed it and placed it my hands, assuring me, “There now, here’s your shog.” I held my frog tightly and kissed him, not just once, but several times. While all this was happening, my aunt walked to the field with a jar of iced tea. Witnessing the commotion, she bent over and laughed so hard she peed her pants. A wet pool formed on the ground below her, and when we all saw it, the whole family began laughing until our sides hurt. “What in tarnation started all that?” she asked, but we were laughing much too hard to answer. Laughter was something to be enjoyed back then, when it could be had, because making a living in East Texas was a struggle for my family. The Red River Valley had good bottom land where most crops grew. Mostly it was poor farmers like Daddy and Mother, working in the fields every day from sunup to sundown. Daddy grew tomatoes on someone else’s land. The weather could ruin or make a crop. Too much rain destroyed the fields of tomatoes, and too little dried them up. Even at four years of age I could tell how dead tired Mother and Daddy were when they staggered into our house at sundown with aching backs. Barbara and Gerald worked tirelessly as Ben and I trotted along next to them. As soon as we returned to the house, my job was to run over and start pumping water into the dishpan so Mother and Barbara could wash up and begin working again, this time preparing supper. The heat from the wood-burning stove made the temperature inside the little house unbearable, and the sweat poured down their faces as they were cooking. Every planting season Daddy plowed long furrows to set the tomato plants in. The seedling tomatoes were placed on the sled that had been made from planks and two-by-fours, and Amos the mule was hooked up to the sled. Gerald led Amos up and down the rows so Mother and Barbara could place the seedlings in the long furrows. Daddy then came behind and put dirt around the plants. I didn’t know any other kind of life, so I was happy. I was born in the house on the farm. The first room one walked into from outside was the kitchen. A door led from the kitchen to the porch, where the water pump came up from a pipe in the ground. I loved to pump the handle up and down and watch water pour out of the spout. I could barely reach the handle, so I stood on an empty crate so I could get the leverage I needed. If we needed hot water, it had to be heated on the wood cookstove, which stood in the middle of the room. The slop bucket that we used for feeding the pigs sat on the floor by the stove. It was my and Ben’s job to take the bucket, go to the pig pen, and dump the leftover scraps into the trough. We stood back and watched the little pigs shoulder each other out of the way, trying to eat as much as they could before momma hog got to it. Later in life, whenever I heard the phrase, “eating like a pig,” I’d envision our pigs trying to eat all the food as fast as they could. Mother taught me how to gather the eggs from our chickens. She warned me to always look in the nests first because a snake might be in there, eating the eggs. I felt very responsible and grown up when I handed over the eggs to Mother and she could see that there wasn’t a single broken egg. I was too young to realize that my life would soon change because Daddy wanted an escape from the back-breaking work of farming. One night I heard him talking to Mother about how much he wanted to do something different. He wrote letters to our relatives, letting them know that he wanted to stop raising tomatoes and find other work. Not too many weeks after that, I was awakened by Mother one morning as she yanked the bed covers back and said, “Get out of the bed. Hurry up and get dressed!” I didn’t know what was happening, but I knew I wasn’t going to ride on the sled that day. “Are we going somewhere?” I asked, but she had already left the room. I could hear a commotion taking place. Mother, Daddy, Gerald, and Barbara were going in and out of the front door, carrying our belongings. I was confused and started to cry. Barbara gave me a cold biscuit and said, “Stop crying!” before she returned to helping Mother take our things to the car. When the car and small trailer were loaded, Mother told Ben and me to get in. One of Daddy’s cousins had told him about a man who owned a farm in Texarkana, Texas. This fellow needed a family to live on the farm and take care of the chickens and livestock, as well as to grow bedding plants for his feed store. Daddy said it had to be better than what we were doing now to make a living. I listened to everyone talking and wanted to ask questions but I couldn’t. I was what Mother called “tongue-tied,” even though thoughts were swirling around in my head like a tornado. “How far away are we moving?” Gerald asked. “It’s about fifty miles,” Daddy said. “We’ll be in the car for awhile.” I saw Amos the mule standing by the barn. Our dog, Spooken, was in the yard. I began crying because I thought they were going to be left behind, but no one paid any attention to my tears. Finally, when everything had been loaded into the car and trailer, Mother whistled for Spooken to get in the car. I felt a surge of relief and happiness as I pulled Spooken close to me and hugged him tightly. “But how are we going to move Amos?” I asked my brother Gerald. “A neighbor will bring him,” he assured me. Daddy had paid a neighbor with a horse trailer to haul our mule to Texarkana. Amos would be needed to plow the field for the bedding plants. I was sad to leave our farm as it had been the only home I’d ever known, but I was also excited to be moving to a new place. Finally we were all in the car and ready to go. We were squished together with hardly any room to move—Barbara, Ben, me, and Spooken in the back seat and Daddy, Mother, and Gerald in the front. Daddy pushed the black button to start the car. The engine made some noise but wouldn’t start. Gerald got out, raised the hood, stuck his hand in, and jiggled something. He told Daddy to try again. The engine started and we headed out on the road. The last thing I remember seeing was Mother’s washtub on the porch of the old farmhouse. We didn’t have room for it in the trailer. At five years of age, I couldn’t imagine that another house would look any different from the one I’d known all my life, but when we arrived in Texarkana, I was astonished. Our house sat right near the road and behind it was a barn. Beyond the barn I could see a pond. It was beautiful. Mother announced she would get a flock of chickens. When Amos arrived, Daddy could start plowing the ground to raise the bedding plants for the feed and seed store. There were enough bedrooms for everyone—one for Mother and Daddy, one for Barbara and me, and one for Gerald and Ben. I couldn’t wait to get everything moved in so I could explore the place. Things were going to be good here. All my fears disappeared.


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