Memories of growing up in rural Lake County help recreate times past in “Home In God’s Country: A Novel, Not a Memoir,” the latest book by Marie Lee.
Lee, 78, the Lake County Museum director, writes about growing up on the SC Ranch near Valley Falls, a small community north of Lakeview with her parents, Donald and Darlene Simms, and her grandfather and grandmother, Lorrie and Lytle, lovingly referred to as “Grandmo” and “Grandpo.”
“I was determined to get it done,” Lee said of writing the book, which she describes as a novel, not a memoir, although it is based on real life incidents between her growing up years from 1948 to 1961.
While it recalls incidents of being bused to school in Lakeview and life on the family ranch, Lee said, “I wanted to bring mother to life … so our kids and grandchildren would know her story. I didn’t want people to think I was writing just about myself.”
In telling about her mother and “Grandmo,” Lee provides insights into growing up on the family ranch, which traces its beginnings to 1899 when her great-grandparents, Sol and Hattie Chandler, bought the property. A 1,600-acre parcel was sold in 1915 and repossessed in 1918, then turned over to her grandparents in 1926. Later this month, the SC Ranch will be recognized as an Oregon Century Ranch during ceremonies at the Oregon State Fair in Salem.
Lee said she had been writing “Home” for several years but was temporarily derailed when she was asked to write “100 Years of the Lake County Round-Up,” which was published in 2019 for the Lake County Historical Society. She describes “Home” is a sequel to “The View From God’s Country.” Her other books include, “At the Ranch Beneath the Rim” and “The Way We Were in Valley Falls.”
Along with memories of her family, Lee tells about being bused from Valley Falls to Lakeview and her experiences with teachers and principals, some who were helpful, others who she describes as tyrants. “We had teachers like that and on the other hand we some who were wonderful,” she said, adding, “I think those who were in the Lakeview school system will remember some of their own childhoods.””
Blended in, too, are stories of building fences, her brother Raymond’s experiences with barbers, redesigning of the Lake County Courthouse, saddle horses, the simple pleasure of sleeping on her Grandmo’s front porch — described as “about as close to Heaven as moral life is ever likely to get” — along with raising, docking, neutering and separating sheep.
There are also her memories of visiting the Schminck Museum as a young girl. “Their basement was arranged to look like a typical home … Everywhere you looked there was another item used by the settlers of olden days” and noting, “many of those items … were still being used at the ranch and by other neighbors out in Valley Falls.”
Ironically, in recent years, the Schminck Museum ownership was transferred Lake County and is part of the Lake County Museum that Lee manages.
“This year has been a very busy year,” she said of visits to the county and Schminck museums, which located side-by-side in downtown Lakeview and are open from noon to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. “We’ve had lots and lots of visitors.”
Lee said “Home in God’s Country” is her final book about her family, noting, “My hope is that I have brought my mother to life for my family, plus the life that she and my father shared.”