Author: Nedra Sterry
When the Meadowlark Sings
by Nedra Sterry
Born in 1918 in Fort Benton, Montana, Nedra Sterry has crafted a powerful memoir of life on the Montana prairies and a childhood defined in equal measure by poverty and grace, hard work and family ties. The daughter of hailed-out homesteaders, Sterry grew up in a succession of very remote one-room schoolhouses in northern and central Montana, where her mother, a teacher, eked out a living.
Sterry married a wheat farmer and raised five children of her own on the Montana Hi-Line, and she learned young to take pleasure where she found it: in porcupine hunts, Saturday night dances, well-told stories, and the meadowlark's song. Clear-eyed and decidedly unsentimental, Sterry traces her family through the homesteading boom, the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar advancements brought by rural electrification. In doing so, she offers remarkable insight -- and a woman's perspective -- on family, work, and life in 20th century Montana.
85-Year-Old Author Recounts Life on Montana Prairies
Nedra Sterry always wanted to write, but between raising five children and working with her husband on their northern Montana wheat farm, she found it hard to find the time.
It wasn’t until after her husband’s death in 1997, when she herself was in her 80s, that she finally settled down to craft a memoir of her life on the Montana prairies. The resulting story, When the Meadowlark Sings: The Story of a Montana Family, was recently published by Riverbend Publishing of Helena, Montana.
The book, which traces Sterry’s family through the homesteading boom, the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar advancements brought by rural electrification, has garnered high praise from such prize-winning authors as novelist Cai Emmons. Sterry “really knows how to tell a story,” Emmons said about When the Meadowlark Sings. “I realized as I finished reading that I had been holding my breath.”
Born in 1918 in Fort Benton, Montana, the daughter of hailed-out homesteaders, Sterry grew up in a succession of isolated one-room schools in northern and central Montana, where her mother, a teacher, eked out a living.
Sterry credits her mother for her love of stories. “My first memories are of sitting on a quilt in the corner of the schoolroom watching and listening while Mama taught phonics on the blackboard,” Sterry recalled. “And in the long winter evenings—after being cooped up with other people’s children all day—our mother managed us by doing what she did best: she read to us. We roamed the caves with Huck and Becky and Tom. We were Riders of the Purple Sage. She read to us by the light of the setting sun. She read to us by firelight. When we ran out of kerosene she made a lamp out of a potato cut in half. It had a wick drawn through it, and it sat in a bowl of oil.”
Clear-eyed and decidedly unsentimental, Sterry does not gloss over the toll disease and poverty took on her family. Despite—or perhaps because of—the hardships of her childhood, Sterry learned young to take pleasure where she found it and her book is graced with memories of porcupine hunts, Saturday night dances, well-told stories, and the meadowlark’s song.
“Nedra Sterry’s experiences seem remarkable to the modern reader but as tough as her life was, it was actually fairly typical for many Montana families at the time. What is very unusual is Nedra’s ability to take the reader into her memories,” Chris Cauble, of Riverbend Publishing said. “I was attracted by the stories she had to tell and, especially, by her exceptional ability to tell them.”
David McCumber, author of The Cowboy Way: Seasons of a Montana Ranch, agrees, noting that “When the Meadowlark Sings should take its place among the very best Montana memoirs."
"I realized as I finished reading that I had been holding my breath. This author really knows how to tell a story." -Cai Emmons, author of "His Mother's Son"
'When the Meadowlark Sings' should take its place among the very best Montana memoirs." -David McCumber, author of "The Cowboy Way"
Other memoirs, biographies and literary non-fiction titles:
High Country Women
Women in Wonderland
Floating On The Missouri: 100 Years After Lewis & Clark
Give Me Mountains For My Horses
Grace Stone Coates: Her Life in Letters
When the Meadowlark Sings
How It Looks Going Back: Growing Up in the Montana Woods