Monday, November 16, 2020

The Gypsy Bridle - on a Colorado ranch with Lenora Mattingly Weber

Title: The Gypsy Bridle
Author: Lenora Mattingly Weber
Illustrator: Kurt Wiese
Publication: Little, Brown, and Company, hardcover, 1930
Genre: Juvenile Historical Fiction
Description: Set around the turn of the 20th century, this is a family story of Mary Kettering and the Hash Knife ranch in Colorado by the author of the popular Beany Malone books.  It begins on her 16th birthday and in true Weber tradition there are so many crises that Mary barely gets a calm moment.  Her mother died long ago and Mary and her 14-year-old brother Emerson were brought up by their father, Paw Kettering, and the cowboys on the ranch.   Paw is suffering from snow blindness from caring for his newly purchased Hampshire sheep after a late winter blizzard.  When the doctors insist he go to the hospital or risk losing his vision, Mary is in charge.  She’d like to take advantage of the $10 her Aunt Amelia sends for new clothes and trip east to meet relatives but instead gives it to her father for medicine for his precious sheep and poison for the neighbors’ gopher problem.

The Ketterings’ closest friends are the Adrians of nearby Two Circle Bar ranch.  Scotty Adrian, two years older than Mary, has assumed responsibility for his family’s ranch after the recent death of his father.   Times are tough and made worse by Nicholas Wade, the unpleasant young man at the General Store in town.  He is insisting the ranchers pay their bills upfront rather than wait until the locals sell some wheat or cattle.  Scotty is afraid he’ll lost the ranch if Wade won’t give him time to harvest his crop and if the gophers don’t stop eating his wheat, he won’t have a crop at all.  As they are celebrating Mary’s birthday, Beshaley, a gypsy peddler with a dog at his heels and a mouth organ who is an old friend, appears and shows them a beautiful bridle he has been working on for three years. It has an ornate design that has been handed down in his tribe for generations.  The bridle becomes a focal point of the story as Scotty is accused of stealing the money to buy it for Mary, and it is more or less up to Mary to rescue as many orphaned lambs as possible, keep both families grounded and ranches functioning, to help Beshaley find his missing love, and to pacify the aunt who bemoans her informal garb and worries she isn’t sufficiently ladylike.

My Impression: There is no peppermint stick ice cream on her birthday but Mary Kettering is a lot like Beany and Mary Fred Malone: loyal to family and friends, resourceful, and willing to stand up for what she believes in.  And her friends, Rose and Ruth Adrian, look like the Malones with the familiar “gray eyes deepened with black lashes – gray eyes, as their Irish grandmother said, put in with a dirty finger.” It’s also pretty funny when the cowboys try to make her a birthday cake and can’t get the icing to the hard-ball stage – it’s lucky they weren’t making fudge!  When she winds up with a difficult horse as a birthday present instead of a blue dresser set, you can see she is genuinely glad the horse has been rescued from Nicholas Wade who mistreated it and a few minutes later is actually able to calm the frightened horse.

According to Nonie, Lenora Mattingly Weber’s memoir which was completed by her son David, The Gypsy Bridle was her second novel after getting many short stories published.  It is inspired by her own childhood on a homestead in Deer Trail, Colorado (home of the world’s first rodeo) where she, like Mary, was in charge of the motherless lambs.  It is possible it is a sequel to Wind on the Prairie, Weber’s first book which I have not come across.  I enjoyed this story of ranch life and appreciate that selfless Mary is the glue that holds her family and friends together like Weber’s other heroines, but I definitely prefer Beany and Katie Rose, with all their flaws. There is no romance for Mary in this book, although it is clear that she and Scotty are meant for each other when they are older.

About the Illustrator: I didn’t recognize Wiese’s name but Weber mentions in Nonie how excited she was to learn someone of his caliber was going to illustrate her book.   He was a German-born artist who spent WWI in a prison camp.  After the war, he made his way to America and settled in New Jersey.   Wiese wrote and illustrated children’s books of his own and illustrated another 300 for other authors. He received the Caldecott Honor Book Award in 1946 for You Can Write Chinese and for Fish in the Air in 1948. He also illustrated the Newbery Award winner Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, and the Newbery Honor books Honk the Moose, Li Lun, Lad of Courage, and Daughter of the Mountains.  He also illustrated the Freddy books by Walter Brooks and The Story of Ping.  Thanks to Bookology Magazine for this information on Wiese. 

Source: A personal copy I acquired recently from England.  I’d like to know how it got from Little, Brown, a Boston based publisher, across the Atlantic.  It’s in pretty good shape for a 90-year-old book!  If you are a Beany Malone fan like me who hunted down this early work, what do you think?


Katrina said...

This is yet another author that I haven't heard of - and honestly, I used to work in libraries! I'm always amazed how books from the other side of the world end up in wee bookshops in St Andrews, the Highlands or Edinburgh, with exotic sounding addresses on them.

CLM said...

One of the many reasons I liked Weber's Beany Malone series was that there were so few heroines who were Irish Catholic like me and the Malones were always trying to economize like my family. Her timeframe got a bit elasticized as Beany is about 13 during WWII and then a young mother in the 70s but no need to quibble.