It came to her in a dream.
“What do you think?” she asked, “would it work as a new motto: Port Orchard – where uptown meets down home?”
“Wow,” I responded. “How could people not like it? Look how it came. That alone makes it’s amazing.”
Whether Mayor Lary Coppola, the city council and the chamber of commerce agree or not, a message received in such a manner can’t help but be special.
Messages, as you have experienced, come through a variety of forums.
Sometimes a close friend will, without prompting, answer the very question that you have been asking of the universe and God — as is always the case with my dear friend Don McGuirk, who doesn’t realize I see him as a messenger of God.
Other times they come through dreams, or inspirations that seem out of the blue.
You can ignore them, if you wish, and are willing to take that risk. Sometimes I do.
But if they’re important enough, they’ll keep intruding until you finally listen.
That’s the way it was with the message that Casandra Firman has a story that needs to be shared.
She didn’t emphasize it herself when she called. She didn’t mention her Christmas book at all.
Instead, the advocate who works tirelessly on behalf of preventing child abuse called to ask how she might help with the community Thanksgiving dinner.
This makes sense when you get to know her. It makes perfect sense that she would care about the needs of people and would work to make sure that no one goes hungry at Thanksgiving, Christmas or throughout the year.
It makes sense when you understand the types of stories her mother told of growing up in the panhandle of Texas on the verge of the Dust Bowl in the midst of the Great Depression.
It all makes perfect sense.
The bigger mystery might be why we need this story now. Although maybe it’s not a mystery at all, but more on that later.
It was a colleague of hers from a writers’ group who e-mailed me to say, “I have this friend, Casandra Firman, who will be signing books this weekend at Bethel Avenue Book Co. You must meet her.”
And if that wasn’t enough to pique the interest, a different friend invited me to a showing of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” a lovely, heartbreaking Holocaust story held over at the Orchard Theatre.
This friend has organized a band of people who meet regularly to attend movies and support the downtown theater. One of the members of this group, Susan Richmond, volunteers as a DJ for KGHP-FM 89.3/89.9/93.7 out of Gig Harbor.
Focusing on local events and people of interest, she mentioned she had interviewed Cassandra Firman in her Port Orchard home.
Casandra’s book, Susan said, originally conceived as a Christmas gift for family members captured the interest of the Poet Laureate of Texas, who asked if he could send the manuscript to his publisher.
Casandra herself had never planned to send it off for consideration, but Red Steagall’s publisher, the Texas Tech University Press, surprised Casandra and requested permission to publish the story “One Christmas in Old Tascosa.”
How, I wondered, had we not heard of Casandra’s story sooner, considering the book sells briskly in Texas?
Maybe the story comes to us when we need it most. Maybe it comes because it provides such a marked contrast to the actions of consumers on Black Friday, who, fortified with roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pie, stormed the doors of Wal-Marts across the nation.
Maybe Casandra’s story comes to us just when our souls are crying out for it.
Set in 1931, it’s a simple tale, told to Casandra by her mother Quintille Speck-Firman Garmany about the Christmas of 1931 and life in and around Tascosa.
Casandra slowly uncovered the history of Old Tascosa, a ghost town in 1931. Once a booming community and the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the West,” it died when the county seat moved and the railroad rerouted and bypassed the town.
Only one resident stayed, a former dance hall girl named Frenchie McCormick.
Mysterious and lovely, Frenchie kept her past hidden, although some say that she might have run a brothel in her early years. But others staunchly deny the story.
Little was known of her, aside from the fact that she loved a man and loved him deeply.
Captivated by her lustrious black hair and her lilting French accent, Mickey McCormick, a liveryman, proposed marriage and the two lived 31 glorious years together.
Alas, Tascosa in its heyday harbored dangerous desperados, including Billy the Kid, and shootouts were plentiful.
Although the stray bullet didn’t take his life, it plagued Mickey until the end and ultimately stole him from Frenchie.
As madly in love as ever, she swore she would never leave the home she shared with her beloved Mack, even while everyone around abandoned the town.
Casandra’s words describing how a frail Frenchie drudged through the snow to bring and share joy with a dozen youngsters holed up in a schoolhouse in the middle of a blizzard are breathtakingly beautiful, “And then she lifted her head. What we saw were eyes the color of the sky in deepest summer, just after sunset when the moon is new. They were lit by a sparkle that must have been glowing somewhere within her, too strong and warm to be contained in their frail body.”
Red Steagall, poet laureate of Texas, says it best when he writes in the foreword, “Quintille’s story, so poignantly retold by her daughter Casandra, speaks volumes about the human condition on the High Plains in 1931. It is hard to imagine that anything so simple as a lead pencil could break a budget, or that using two in one school year could constitute extravagance. Yet children in Old Tascosa at the end of the Depression and on the cusp of even more desperate times were, like their counterparts elsewhere on the Plains, accustomed to hardship and well used to shouldering their share of the family’s burden. They had no reason to know that life anywhere, or what constituted luxury, could be different. Not knowing they were deprived, they found joy as children will in friendships and games, and in the wonders of the school room. And in the simplest of Christmas pageants they found the prospect of bliss.”
If sharing a different kind of Christmas bliss with your family calls to you, don’t miss Casandra’s book signing this Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Bethel Avenue Book Co.
Its message of joy harkens.
Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.