Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Alice's Boots

The day I first put on Alice’s Boots I wasn’t confident I could spend an entire day in them. Pointed-toed, high-laced shoes, with that undercut heel so important to the horsewoman— they looked like they just might become instruments of torture before a few hours at the office had passed. But it was the embroidery that sold me. Just a touch of femininity, for Alice was, in my mind, also a lady.

Alice Derby is going to be my new historic identity, so I’ve been looking into her life and times a bit. Of course, these aren’t really her boots, but as soon as Lila showed me this new acquisition, I coveted them for Alice. (Lila has a true flair for finding items at the thrift stores and turning them into costumes. She’s building up her already substantial collection in preparation for outfitting the whole town for this summer’s Centennial celebrations.)

Born on the ranch in 1865, Alice was the second of Alexander and Emeline Rooney’s five children. I can imagine her childhood, growing up on the ranch, riding the hills, and taking care of little Emma Nora, her sister seven years younger. Alice and Nora are the center of a family legend, the only story I've heard of Alice, though usually her name (and Nora’s) are missing from the tale.

For a time, it looked like Alice was headed for spinsterhood, for she’d passed the age of thirty without marrying. Then she met Will Derby, apparently an older man, and they settled on their own ranch and raised a daughter, Eloise. By 1920, Alice was 55, probably a widow, approaching my own age. Now seventeen, Eloise had recently married young Gunnar Nelson and would soon begin delivering Alice’s grandchildren.

Alice's older brother, Otis, lived on the family ranch with his wife Christina and their four children. Two younger brothers, Charles and William, were long (and tragically) dead, as were her parents. (Alex and Eme, however, had died of more natural causes.) Alice’s sister Nora was raising her four young children not far away. Although Otis inherited the main ranch and its buildings, Alice and Nora had both shared in the division of the estate and were ladies of property, land which remained firmly in their own names after they married.

That's Rooney Ranch, 1920. It’s going to be fun filling in the stories of this family’s life—and learning new ones to share!

In 1920, Alice also had a ringside seat to some major moments in local history. So far, there is little or no record of her participation, a fact which leaves me mostly free to invent. Her personality and perspective are revealed in several family letters, soon to be shared by Alice’s great-grand-niece, which should help me reconstruct some of Alice’s true character.

Necessary facts aside, one of the greatest aids to the process will be learning to walk a mile in Alice's boots.

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