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Bessie Strong Tillett

Bessie Strong Tillett

Royce and Marian Tillett

Royce and Marian Tillett

Tamara Linse

  Tamara Linse, Age 5
Bio, Long Version

Okay, okay.  When I read bios, I always want to know the juicy bits.  I always try to read between the lines.  Does this mean she can’t hold down a job?  Does this mean he’s a drunk? So here’s a few of the between-the-lines, Victorian style.  

Way way back, my father’s side of the family was French Huegenot. They migrated from France to England and then to Virginia. The great great who moved from Virginia to Indiana was 6 foot 5 inches and a crack shot with a rifle, and one of his descendents was a judge.  Another great great descended from Mayflower people and danced at Tom Thumb’s wedding.  Family legend has it that she married five times while moving west across the country, ending up in southern Nebraska.  Her son was a horse thief who met his future wife while in prison in Iowa.  The couple supplied ties for the westward march of the railroad, spent a frightful night in a barn near the “Battle” of Wounded Knee, and ended up in 1894 settling in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin. They ran a hotel and saloon that made the Mormon community nervous, and their descendents established the Tillett Ranch.  

My mother’s side doesn’t go nearly as far back here in the U.S., just a few generations.  They came from Czechoslovakia and Denmark to settle in southeast Iowa.  They were farmers and small town folk.  They were also a creative lot. One great had his own traveling orchestra, while his wife looked after the kids and ran an eating establishment.   

During World War II, my dad was in the cavalry and did coast patrol in Washington and Oregon.  My mom moved from Iowa to Oregon to go to college.  They saw each other across the dance floor. Girls hung around my tall handsome uniformed father, but my mom, who looked like a movie star, had a boyfriend, so she ignored him.  Eventually, they hit it off and he proposed to her on a bridge over a river.  They married.  Then his unit was transferred to France and then Germany and Austria after the Battle of the Bulge. His larger unit liberated six concentration camps in one day, though he never talked about it.  Meanwhile, my mom stayed at my dad’s ranch.     

In quick succession, both grandfathers passed away and the war ended. My father and uncle became partners.  Then, after years of bad feelings, small betrayals, and questionable behavior, the whole thing came to a head.  My side wanted to split the ranch, while their side didn’t.  What followed was a whole Hatfields and McCoys thing—lawsuits, guns waved, dogs shot, gas tanks sugared, people trying to run over people with cars.  

My childhood.  Well, if you’ve read any of my stuff, you’ll know I have an ambivalent relationship with my childhood.  I had it better than my older siblings, though.  I’m the youngest of seven—four sisters in ten years, ten years of no kids, then my two brothers and I in five years.  I’m the youngest.  My husband and I joke that I was raised in the 1880s because we ranched old-style.  I worked on both the ranch side and the farm side. I irrigated, drove tractor, chased cows, broke horses. Or, more accurately, one and a half horses.  

It’s no wonder I’m a writer.  My mom read us Shakespeare from the World Book Encyclopedia and loves family stories. My troubled childhood—isn't every writer supposed to have a troubled childhood?  And I have always loved to read.  No, that’s not right.  Reading saved my life. As a kid, I’d read on the hour bus ride to and from school, as well as throughout the school day and into the night, finishing three or four books a week.  I loved school. But when I came to college it took me 13 years to get my undergrad.  I had to work out a few things, not least of all that I loved English but how could a person possibly make a living with an English degree?  Turns out, you can. I wrote from an early age, but I didn’t call myself a writer until I was about 30.  That’s because no one I knew was a writer—they were ranchers and teachers and waitresses and nurses.   

On the ranch, I worked as a ranch and farm hand.  As soon as I turned 16, I got a job as a waitress.  To put myself through college, I bartended and waitressed, and I also started my own house cleaning business.  Still in school, I worked as a technical editor for an environmental consulting firm while also doing freelance writing, editing, and journalism on the side.  I also taught freshman comp and technical writing.  Now, I’m editor for a foundation.  

I started dating early, having one long-term boyfriend after another starting at the age of 14.  The first was a 21-year-old drunk cowboy. (Let me just say it—cowboys are bad news.)  The second was a very sweet boy who had no ambition and years later killed himself.  The third was a Native American bullrider. The fourth was a manipulative bastard.  The fifth was a former marine bartender who decided he wanted to be a cowboy again. Finally, I met my husband.  He is an engineer who comes from farm folks in Nebraska.  He is my best friend and a great father and is so sexy and wonderful.  We have twins (a boy and a girl) and one of the happiest marriages I know.  

Some interesting things about me:
  • My dad was a rock hound and a spelunker. He and some others in my family were in a 1972 National Geographic article about caves in northern Wyoming. My mom is an artist and an independent spirit. In her 70s and 80s, she went to Australia, drove the Alcan Highway to Alaska with a lady a year older than she, and played violin in a number of orchestras.

  • At three, I fell off the back of a pickup and broke my collarbone.  At four, I was run over by a little Chevy Love pickup in a parking lot and dislocated my ankle.  At five, I was riding behind my dad on a Honda motorcycle when it wrecked.  I broke my leg and got a pancake-sized burn on my calf.  On the way into town to the hospital, my sister told me the story of the seven princesses who wore out their shoes, and I totally forgot about my leg.  I’ve had chicken pox, shingles, pneumonia, and mono. I also had problems with infertility.

  • When I was 9, our house burned down.  It was February and the chimneys had never been cleaned, so it started with a chimney fire.  It was a Thursday and we were watching our favorite show, “The Incredible Journey.”  Even though we knew the cause, it was odd.  There were three fires in our valley that year—first my uncle’s up the creek, then ours, then our neighbors’ down the creek, causing the local paper to call it “the Crooked Creek Triangle.”

  • When cattle prices took a downturn, my family started a dude ranch, dubbed “a working cattle ranch who takes on guests.”  It’s still there, though my side of the family has nothing to do with it.  But it was fascinating to meet all those people from all over the world. In the early 1980s, the Today Show came out and did a spot on it.  There’s a quick long shot of me on a horse, the sun shining on my blonde hair as I shoo cows.

  • I turned of drinking age—19 in Wyoming at the time—and got a job bartending.  After six months, the state legislature changed the drinking age to 21.  They grandfathered in those who worked in the liquor industry but not drinkers, so I bartended for a year and a half without being able to drink.  This wasn’t a big deal because I wasn’t much of a drinker then.  Since then, though, I’ve been making up for lost time.

  • I’m a bit manic depressive, which means I go on long writing binges and then fall into a pit of despair because I’m blocked.  You can’t really tell the despair part, though, because I’m functional and don’t believe in imposing my bad mood on others.  What can I say—I’m a good girl.  This has gotten better as I’ve gotten older.

  • I’m a good cook, and I like making homemade bread. My husband is also a good cook, and we cook well together. But I’m a half-hearted gardener.  My husband, a born farmer, is the one who plants and tends and waters.  Every year we have a good vegetable patch and an herb patch and a few flowers.

  • When I was a kid, I loved unicorns, and I wanted to believe in fairies.  My favorite stone is opal, my favorite flower is the calla lily, and my favorite ice cream is vanilla. I drink Earl Grey tea with lots of cream and sugar, and I love toast.  It’s odd really, but I’m not sure what my favorite color is.  I used to wear a lot of red and black.  I still wear a lot of black, but usually with the earth tones of brown or green. 

  • I've never had a bumper sticker on my car—I think because I've never been able to reduce my beliefs to one sentence.

  • I once took a psycho-social profile, the results of which said that I wished that the world was a beautiful happy place where everyone just got along. Peace on earth, man.

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