They say that olfactory senses are most connected to memory, which I know to be true just from experience. Walking through the grocery store not too long ago, completely unawares, I caught the sudden scent of perfume and was snapped instantly back to the summer I worked in Park County, Wyoming, sharing a single bathroom with nine other girls in our bunkhouse. Was it Essence of Green Tea? I remember one of my bunkmates having that kind of body wash. Of course the name doesn’t matter, but I marveled that the faintest hint of fragrance so quickly transported all of my senses to another place and time.
I remember one of the ranch hands at the time snickering and telling the ten of us girls that Wyoming state law specified that when more than five unrelated females resided under the same roof, it was still legally considered a brothel. Oh, how we loved this designation. It was a huge joke from that moment forth. And yet, all teasing aside, it sparked in me a fascination with the very idea of prostitutes who had truly lived in Wyoming in another century. That summer I purchased a book called “Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West” by Anne Seagraves, a wildly intriguing examination of how these women survived in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The pictures range from mildly shocking to utterly heart-wrenching. By contrast, some of the gals actually appear quite happy. Over a decade and a half later, I am still drawn like a compass point to the north, not only to this particular time period, but also to the lives of these “working girls,” women who were shunned, degraded, cast aside, and essentially voiceless in history.
In writing my historical fiction series that begins with Heart of a Dove, I gave myself completely over to the first-person narration of Lorie Blake, a prostitute in the 1860s. I could not stop writing her story. In my own small way, maybe, I am allowing at least one of those long-ago girls a voice. If the sense most intensely related to memory is indeed smell, then I am going to guess that sound is a very close second. And this is why I cannot manage to write without music playing, ideally directly into my ear canals via ear buds. Music straight to the brain. I had no idea the ridiculous variety of wonderful stations I could create on Pandora. For example – Pa’s Fiddle Songs. That would be Pa Ingalls, of course, and about ninety percent of the time when I am listening, tears flow right over my face. It’s that moving. Civil War Songs is another gem.
The older I get, the more clear it becomes to me that my soul is probably misplaced here in the twenty-first century. At least, as far as music is concerned. I heard once that a violin mimics the human voice better than any other instrument, and though I am no musician, I believe this for truth. While writing about the nineteenth century, I listen to violin and/or fiddle music almost continuously. And so I finish this blog post with the hope that the girls with whom I lived in a legally-recognized (though non-practicing!) brothel will somehow stumble across my latest book and contact me. It’s been way too long.