The Making Of A Novel
How I Wrote The Blue Ribbon
By: Ron Hevener
Author Of The Blue Ribbon & Fate of the Stallion
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 the 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 the characters before anyone knew a novel was being hatched. If I remember right, an imaginative dress designer and the richest girl in town getting to know each other wasn't the start of the story at all. The story behind the making of the 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 the 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 the 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 the many puppies she registered over the years. The name "Lochranza" was selected from such a novel. She said it was the name of a retreat for the 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 the police after the man and catching them. If I tell you Jackie was in her Thirties at the time, it might give you an idea of the 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 the right magazines and winning top honors when it was my turn to look for a puppy. I remember the clean, beautiful dogs; the flowers everywhere; the carefully mowed lawn and the freshly painted house. I remember Mother Kauffman, much like the character Dorothy Jacobus in the story none of us knew I would one day write, busying herself as she swept the porch - listening to every word.
Buying my first purebred puppy that day, I didn't know I was meeting the one who would take me into the world of purebred animals where I would "make my name." I didn't know I would be trusted to handle the Lochranza Collies in the show ring for Jackie, help to develop the bloodline and that, one day, Lochranza Collies would be known throughout the world. I just knew I had found a friend.
Jackie liked to read to me. She read every one of the Albert Payson Terhune books to me as I brushed and fed the dogs. And she liked to cook good, old-fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie. Oh, I miss that! Mmmm!
As the years went by, she would call me to the 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 the hock? You'd better take another look!" she'd scold, real stern. And then she'd laugh.
I think she liked me.
As the 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 the field. Beside her was a Sable Collie with a huge coat; obviously her treasure. "Jackie! Jackie!"
She stopped, turned around, and smiled so big I could feel it all the way through me. I introduced my young daughter and we talked about Collies. She told me she hadn't bred any litters for several years and I asked why. She had no answer for me, but I knew: Jackie was losing interest in life.
Well, that wasn't going to happen. Not if I had anything to do with it. If there's one thing I know, it's how dreams keep us alive. It didn't matter to me that the big Victorian house in Manheim was now crumbling; that the flowers shared their beds with weeds; that the classy sign in front of the property had long since fallen down. These things could be fixed up. And over the next ten or fifteen years, Jackie and I planned a new life for Lochranza Kennels.
By this time, Jackie was retired and could spend all her time on the Kennel. She did, in fact, become an heiress at this point and delighted in carrying $20,000 certificates of deposit in her purse, knowing she could buy anything she really wanted to. What she wanted was the best Collies in the Breed and she knew she would have to create them. Collies were losing type, she decided. They didn't move like they used to. Their muzzles were becoming too pointed; necks were short. There were a few scattered around the country that still pleased her. And there was one in particular. If we could only send our best females to him for breeding, Lochranza would have the kind of puppies she wanted. But, Jackie didn't trust sending her dogs away to be bred.
News that she had bought one of most valuable show dogs in the Breed at the height of his career made headlines in the international Collie community. The arrival of Ch. Amberlyn's Bright Tribute (A noble Mahogany Sable known simply as "Kane") from Alaska sent shivers through her competing kennels in the Eastern United States. She didn't stop there. Driven by a bigger picture, she searched the whole country and bought mates for Kane as well. I didn't realize it at the time, but she was selecting the dogs for me, and they were the final foundation stock on which to build the Lochranza breeding program.
One afternoon, I received a call from the "Glamorous sister." Could I hurry to Jackie's house and see if she was all right? She had been taken ill the day before and refused to stay at the hospital. "The dogs need me." The ambulance crew drove her home, sat her in her favorite chair, and left. I found Jackie in that same chair the next afternoon, still alive, and begged her to let me call the ambulance again. Only when I promised I would take care of the Collies did she allow me to make that call. She never returned home again.
Before she died, Jackie left the kennel to me and told me how to manage the breeding program. It isn't often that a kennel lives on into a second generation in this way, but the American Kennel Club worked with me to transfer ownership and continue Jackie's labor of love. I took Kane to her funeral and his image is carved on her grave stone. The marker says, "Famed Collie Breeder."
Today, all the Lochranza Collies are related to Kane. Some trace to him as many as ten and twelve times within a six or seven generation pedigree. What are we finding? First of all, you must realize that all of our original breeding stock was tested for health before we started the line breeding program. So, the health of the Lochranza Collies has been maintained. Yet, I can say that our pups today are better in some respects than the original stock.
This past weekend, we showed two littermates that are ten times Kane. They are among the heaviest-boned Collies you will ever see. And huge coats! They move free and easy. The judge, a woman in her sixties, said she hasn't seen Collies like this in many years.
"Did you hear that, Jackie?" I want to ask. The chills running up and down my arms tell me she did.
Mr. Hevener is the author of "The Blue Ribbon" (Pennywood Press) which can be ordered through Barnes & Noble bookstores everywhere.