My talented friend Author Celia Yeary is here with me today to share the story behind Wish for the Moon, a book I’m very much enjoying–especially as it’s set in a place and time I know little about, and the characters are very well drawn. Now, I’m turning this post over to Celia.
“Thurber was, but Thurber ain’t no more.”
When my husband and I travel from Central Texas to North Texas on Highway 281, we pass under Interstate 20, which runs East-West. At that point there is a sign pointing west: Thurber-11 miles. After seeing this sign for several years, I wondered about Thurber, Texas, a small town I’d never heard of even though my place of birth was nearby. By researching Thurber, I found an amazing story of a thriving coal-mining town in the Nineteenth Century, now a ghost town with little remaining of the once populated area. Almost all signs of life are gone, including all the buildings.
Thurber was “owned” by The Texas and Pacific Coal Company in 1888. Its mining operation provided the fuel for coal-burning locomotives of numerous railroad. By 1920, conversion of locomotives from coal to oil reduced demand and lowered prices. Miners left the area through the 1920s, leaving it virtually a ghost town. It had a population of approximately 8,000 to 10,000, from more than a dozen nationalities, though Italians, Poles, and Mexicans predominated. It was the largest town between Fort Worth and El Paso.
Thurber was a pure company town. Every resident lived in a company house, shopped in a company store, drank in a company saloon, attended a company school, danced at the company opera house, and worshipped in a company church. During its heyday, Thurber was the first city in Texas to be completely electrified and amenities included refrigeration and running water. It did, however have an abnormally high child mortality rate that still puzzles historians.
Armed guards patrolled a huge fenced perimeter around Thurber, not to keep workers in, but to keep Union organizers out.
I thought to write a story based in this coal-mining town, but later my mind wandered to the next county over, Palo Pinto County, where I was born and where we lived down the dusty road to our grandparents home and farm. It was this old weather-beaten house that I placed my heroine, sixteen-year-old Annie McGinnis. I used childhood memories in the story.
And I knew how I would use the town of Thurber in Wish for the Moon.
At the dawn of the Twentieth Century, sixteen-year-old Annie McGinnis wishes for a chance to see more of the world, since all she’s ever known is the family farm in North Texas.
A mysterious visitor arrives who will change not only her life, but her family’s as well. To save Max Landry from a bogus charge, she follows him and the Texas Rangers back to the coal-mining town one county over where a murder occurred. The short journey sets Annie on a path of discovery—new horizons, an inner strength, and quite possibly…love.
“I’ve never been anywhere, at least far away. Oh, how I would love to go to Paris, too, and New York. Other than Brazos City, I’ve only been over to Mineral Wells, once. Did you know they have the healing water baths there in two hotels? People come from all over. Anyway, we went to a fair and rode a Ferris wheel and a carousel, and ate hot dogs from a stand, and even had fairy fluff. I didn’t really care for that pink gooey junk, though. It was sort of disappointing, you know? What you saw was something awful pretty and it promised to be something outstanding, but when you bit into it, all you got was a mouthful of airy stuff that just disappeared in your mouth.”
Max stopped in the field, took Annie’s arm, and turned her toward him. “Did you know, Annie McGinnis, you’ve just articulated how I feel much of the time?”
“What…what do you mean, ar-ticu-lated?” she asked with widened eyes.
Before he answered, he lowered the tote to the ground, and placed his hands low on his hips, gazing away from her. Words wouldn’t come exactly as he wanted, but she had expressed the convoluted thoughts he had in his head much of the time.
He turned back and said very slowly, “Often, I see something nice I might like to have, a big house, one of those new motor cars they’re making now, a new tailored suit with a hat to match, or…a family…” His voice trailed off as if he forgot what he wanted to say, but really, he just didn’t know how to express his feelings.
“Go ahead, Max, say it,” she urged gently. “A family to come home to.”
He shook his head. “But it could all disappear in a flash right before your eyes. Don’t you see? It’s not worth it in the end. You think you have something forever and bang, it’s all gone. Turned to nothing in your mouth when at first, it seemed so sweet.”