Maggie: A Journey of Love, Loss and Survival by Vicki Tapia is one of those books that rings true right from the start. From the first page, I was transported back in time by descriptive writing of a period so different to the world we live in now. Each scene conjured up perfect images of what it was like to live without modern conveniences, in a period of vastly different norms, giving the reader an understanding of what was important to people during that time, what their values were and what was expected of them.
Women from that era had it particularly difficult. Marriage was expected, so was raising children, mostly for laboring in the fields and around the house. Courtship was a highly regulated affair, though it wasn’t especially designed to determine whether both parties were well-suited. It was more of a business proposition engineered by the fathers. Rarely, if ever, were women allowed to have their own interests outside of caring for their children and their home.
But Maggie thought her dreams had come true when Sam declared they should marry. Instead of finding wedded bliss, she learned that appearances can be very deceiving. Her images of a happy home life were quickly obliterated by a reality so cold and brutal, she could never bring herself to share the truth with anyone.
I don’t want to give anything away because Maggie’s journey makes for truly fascinating reading. But the thing I liked the most about the story is that it’s essentially all true. Maggie Perry Jobsa Herman was the author’s great-grandmother. The book, which started out as keepsake to pass onto other generations, was twenty years in the making. And I will tell you that it’s as polished and tight as any masterpiece of fiction. It’s rich, disturbing, joyful and inspiring in turns.
It is my great pleasure to give you Vicki Tapia’s story behind the story:
On a two-lane road in the 1950’s, it took three hours to drive from Miles City to Lavina, a tiny burg of less than 200 people in south-central Montana. Mom, Granny and I made the journey every summer for a multi-day visit with Great-Grandma Maggie, her daughter Frances and husband. My memories of Great-Grandma are not crystal clear, although I do vaguely remember her as a soft-spoken, tiny woman who smiled a lot. When Maggie passed away, I was only seven years old, so I really don’t remember her well. I’ll always wonder, had I been older, what stories might she have told me?
Many years later, Maggie’s life inspired my novel in which I explore intergenerational relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, and sisters. Maggie is a story of survival and courage set against the backdrop of late 19th century Michigan and the prairies of eastern Montana at the turn of the 20th century. An independent woman ahead of her time, my great-grandmother rose above adversity through a rare determination and grit. I call my book a #MeToo story that waited over a century to be told.
How Maggie’s story evolved:
In 1997, I determined the time was ripe for someone to gather my family’s stories and promptly elected myself to the position. My goal: Compile a memory book for my parents and my children, complete with old photos and all remembered family lore. Well aware many memories had already been lost with the deaths of older family members, there was no time to lose.
Using an old cassette tape player and microphone, I spent hours over several visits interviewing Mom and Dad, the only elders of my immediate family still living. I asked them to share every story and memory they could recall and then painstakingly transcribed all their words. To this I added stories that I remembered, told and retold over the years at various gatherings of our extended family.
While compiling this family history book, one person’s story stood out, that of my maternal great-grandmother, Maggie Perry Jobsa Herman. What I knew about her life story intrigued me and I wondered how I might learn more. After some thought, I pursued locating a genealogist in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, where Maggie lived the first 31 years of her life. That’s how I met Ann. We struck up an email friendship and over a period of months, she uncovered court documents, including Maggie’s divorce affidavit and trial transcript, depositions and newspaper clippings. These treasures ultimately became the basis of my novel. I owe this amateur genealogist from the Mt. Clemens library a great debt of gratitude, because without her determination and doggedness to keep digging, I believe Maggie’s story would be lost to the ages, buried somewhere in a pile of microfiche or in old manila folders tossed in a box, sitting in a dusty corner of the county courthouse building’s basement.
While finishing up my family history booklet in 1998, a seed planted itself in my brain. I wanted to tell Maggie’s story. I wanted to expand it into a book length novel, believing in its potential to be transformed into a compelling story of one woman’s survival and ultimate triumph, set in a time when women had few rights.
Life intervened, the years passed and the seed lay fallow in my frontal lobes. Fast forward to 2013, a few months before the January 2014 release of my first book, Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia. Finally, the Maggie seed sprouted and I was ready to begin writing her story.
Late in 2014, in hopes of tying up some loose ends, I thought about Ann. What were the odds she still did genealogy work and that I would find her again after more than 17 years?
I wrote to her old email address. The email didn’t come back as undeliverable, but then, neither did a reply. Two weeks passed. I wrote again and this time I received a prompt answer. Yes, Ann told me, she still volunteered as a genealogy resource, receiving up to 75 requests a day for information. She had inadvertently overlooked my email, but well-remembered Maggie and me and we once again began corresponding.
Since I already had plans to visit my daughter in Lansing, Michigan in the coming year, it seemed only fitting to combine a trip to Mt. Clemens. Before lunching together that day in late January, 2015 and for old time’s sake, we spent a couple of hours together in the Clinton-Macomb County Library searching through old file folders and microfiche scouring for any additional information on the Perry and Jobse families.
Three years later, Maggie, A Journey of Love, Loss and Survival was born.
How much of “Maggie” is actually true?
The births, marriages, and deaths are well-documented. They are all true. Maggie also left behind two valuable pieces of information…the hand-written divorce affidavit and deposition, collaborated in a separate deposition given by her step-mother Lizzie. Rich with details, these documents were instrumental in writing the first two-thirds of the book. Much of Maggie’s life in Montana, the last one-third of the book, was written from stories I heard repeated over and over while growing up.
Alas, since time-travel has yet to be perfected, the conversations are a figment of my imagination. Or, are they? I admit to feeling a presence when writing many of the scenes. When I shared this with a friend, she nodded knowingly and said, “Perhaps that’s because you were channeling Maggie…”
Where to find Vicki Tapia:
Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/vickitapia