THE MAKING OF A NOVEL … or … "How I Wrote The Blue Ribbon"
Changing your life is easy. All you have to do is write a novel. Of course, you have to live a little before you've got anything interesting to say. Which means, you could end up with a house full of heartache and lots of gray hair by time you've got enough to tell a story. In my case, it took 443 pages and every one of them felt like a year.
"The Blue Ribbon" isn't a novel that happened overnight. Much of it was lived by characters before anyone knew a novel was being hatched. If I remember right, an imaginative dress designer and richest girl in town getting to know each other wasn't start of story at all. The story behind making of paperback novel that's creating such a buzz right now goes way back to a hot afternoon on July 8, 1945. That's when a plump, dark-haired young bookkeeper named Jackie Kauffman got off a bus and walked along a dirt road to a farm house in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and got herself a Collie puppy. Me? Forget about me. I wasn't even born yet. Jackie and I wouldn't meet for another twenty years and that's getting ahead of our story.
Jacqueline M. Kauffman grew up in a big Victorian house on edge of a town called Manheim. There were two Kauffman girls: A glamorous one who looked like a movie star and a plain one who would spend her life working at a dull job in a big company and never marry. The plain one was Jackie, later to become wealthy Esmeralda in "The Blue Ribbon."
She was quite a romantic, this unmarried woman. Her rambling house was filled with paperback novels and there were lists of sensual names for many puppies she registered over years. The name "Lochranza" was selected from such a novel. She said it was name of a retreat for Scottish monarchy.
The Kauffman girls didn't have a father at home and I know Jackie grew up missing her Dad. But, Mother, a bitter, scowling woman, had chased him off and never liked men much after that. She ruined a love affair for Jackie by sending police after man and catching them. If I tell you Jackie was in her Thirties at time, it might give you an idea of power exerted by Mother Kauffman. Maybe that's why Jackie's heart went out to Collies: They're always cheerful. Maybe that's why she took off for dog shows almost every weekend: To get away.
Lochranza Kennels was a perfectly maintained enterprise advertising in all right magazines and winning top honors when it was my turn to look for a puppy. I remember clean, beautiful dogs; flowers everywhere; carefully mowed lawn and freshly painted house. I remember Mother Kauffman, much like character Dorothy Jacobus in story none of us knew I would one day write, busying herself as she swept porch - listening to every word.
Buying my first purebred puppy that day, I didn't know I was meeting one who would take me into world of purebred animals where I would "make my name." I didn't know I would be trusted to handle Lochranza Collies in show ring for Jackie, help to develop bloodline and that, one day, Lochranza Collies would be known throughout world. I just knew I had found a friend.
Jackie liked to read to me. She read every one of Albert Payson Terhune books to me as I brushed and fed dogs. And she liked to cook good, old-fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie. Oh, I miss that! Mmmm!
As years went by, she would call me to kennel every time a new Collie magazine arrived. These were my lessons. And she was tough! We would sit at her kitchen table and go through those magazines page by page, studying every picture and reading every article.
"What do you think about this dog?" she'd ask.
"I like him," I'd say.
"What! Can't you see how long he is in hock? You'd better take another look!" she'd scold, real stern. And then she'd laugh.
I think she liked me.
As years went by, I married and moved away. I had daughters of my own and lost touch with Jackie. One day, on an impulse, I thought I must go to a dog show again. It was Mother's Day and I remember seeing a familiar woman walking across field. Beside her was a Sable Collie with a huge coat; obviously her treasure. "Jackie! Jackie!"