My great-great-grandfather Merritt Curtis Foster founded the town of Freshwater (Northern California) and my great-aunt Mandy Foster was a well-known madame at the Old Vance Hotel (Eureka, CA) during the days of prohibition. My grandson is a seventh generation Humboldt County native. I’ve been out from behind the Redwood Curtain for almost twenty years ago now, but go back each year to visit family, and my love for the area manifests in my novels.
My newest book, Bigfoot Blues is set in Humboldt County. The novel follows the adventures of a bigfoot hunter’s daughter as she finds her own path through the culture into which she was born. The story is humorous in parts, but it’s layered with issues of faith and love of family and the difficulties of becoming your own person without rejecting the people who raised you.
When I was a child, I spent a couple of months each summer with my grandmother and grandfather who lived on the edge of the Indian Reservation out beyond the little town of Peckwan. Bigfoot was a part of that world in much the same way that Jesus is a part of the world of a fundamentalist Christian. He was an entity whose existence was taken for granted. Some people felt closer to him than others, some individuals encountered him on a fairly regular basis, some heard the sound of his movements through the woods on dark nights, some knew him only through the stories of others.
My grandpa, Fritz Brockmueller, was logging partners with Bud Ryerson. Anybody who knows the history of Bigfoot in the Humboldt County area knows the name Ryerson. Bud’s sighting was the first report of bigfoot in the local Times Standard. Th newspaper article appeared in 1967, but the encounters had been going on for at least fifteen years prior to that first public report.
I know this for a fact because it was 1954 and I was four years old when my grandpa returned early from a logging trip with the story of how he and Bud’s road building equipment had been destroyed, cement pipes that weighed well over five hundred pounds tossed around like Lincoln Logs, a road grader pushed sideways and the seat torn off. White faced and shaking, grandpa told about how there were footprints everywhere. Giant, bare feet that left deep impressions in the mud.
A fictionalized account of this encounter is in Bigfoot Blues.
Living for a few weeks a year in a culture that accepted Bigfoot as a neighbor and being present when my logical, straightforward grandfather stumbled home with this tale definitely left a lasting impression on me. And, of course, being the grand-niece of the town’s madame left its own imprint on my psyche. The fun, as a writer, is watching how these two heritages play out in my novels, how my brain twists and turns history into a fictional account that tells the truth.
Do you have peculiar bits and pieces in your family history? If so, how do you rearrange that past into your own truth?