By DAVID SWEARINGEN
September 28, 2019
Local author and documentarian, Elaine Fields Smith, hosted a viewing of her documentary, Ridin’ Ropin’ & Jumpin’ Over Cars, which is based on the award-winning book of the same title. After the viewing, she made herself available for questions and a book-signing. Elaine has written several books on various topics or subjects and they are quite interesting.
The following was written by Smith about Virginia and writing Ridin’ Ropin’ & Jumpin’ Over Cars:
Virginia Reger loves to knit and crochet. She once raised llamas, and was on the search for some llama, or alpaca, yarn. A friend of mine ran a shop in our little town which was world renown for rodeo in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Virginia, then eighty-eight years old, came into that shop looking for yarn and found something she never expected.
I, Elaine Fields Smith, am a writer and lover of history. My friend’s shop was a favorite haunt for the interesting items and people encountered there. This friend showed a picture Virginia left and shared her phone number with me. The picture was old, a much-copied black and white photo of a woman in western clothing jumping over a car on a horse.
It was unbelievable. Riding a horse over a car? I was told Virginia wanted to see the rodeo museum in our town and was having a hard time meeting people. My response to that was, “I can fix that!”
Back at home, I did what folks do these days when they want to find out about something: I Googled Virginia Reger. Up came an article in the Llano, Texas newspaper, where she lived before moving to my area, describing a rodeo star’s life. Realization this woman had been a true rodeo star was startling. Also surprising was to discover she was old enough to be my mother.
As the information settled in my brain, I immediately penned a cowboy poem about Virginia’s life. I called her number and made an appointment to meet her at the coffee shop where she often went to teach knitting. With the poem in hand, printed in color on cardstock, I presented myself to her and she read the poem.
With a tear in her eye, she looked at me and said, “How did you write this without even knowing me?” We were bonded right then. During craft group gatherings, she often spoke of her childhood or experiences in the rodeo. I wrote one of those stories and emailed it to her. The next time we met, she said, “I’m going to have to be careful what I say around you,” with a laugh.
We went to that rodeo museum and she found herself in one of the photos hanging on the wall. She recognized many of the people featured in the museum. I was just about to release my fourth book, “Girl With a Star Spangled Heart” which is about my mother’s life and her time in the Woman’s Army Air Corps during World War II. Virginia loved that book and she asked me to write her biography.
Little by little, she released her massive amount of memorabilia to my care. Fifty year old scrapbooks tied together with string revealed photos dating back to Virginia’s childhood. She appeared in amazing costumes from age six up to age thirty-six. Celebrities posed with her. Rodeo programs from the 1930’s featuring her father were in a box with souvenirs from Mexico City and Cuba where she performed as an adult. The massive amount of memorabilia she had saved over the years was quite overwhelming.
With the attitude of tackling the mountain one rock at a time, I scanned photos and documents over several weeks and organized the images into phases of her life. I would pick some out, review them on a laptop with Virginia over lunch, and she would tell stories about the image. She loved the process since it brought forth memories long filed away. It was then I realized each photo is a separate story, and that’s how the biography came about.
She loved the end result and is a great saleslady. We went to several events together and she sold more books than I ever would have. Because this little, tiny old lady is the person in the photographs. They are her stories. People were impressed. I was pleased. “Ridin’ Ropin’ & Jumpin’ Over Cars” won best nonfiction in 2018 at the North Texas Book Festival.
Circumstances caused her to move 100 miles away, but we kept in touch almost daily by texting. Yes, a ninety-year old who texts and is on Facebook. Then I was asked to do a presentation on the book at the local university library. After creating the PowerPoint presentation, it occurred to me it was practically a documentary. The idea took root.
I teamed up with a friend and we made two separate day trips to interview Virginia on camera. With that footage and choosing select images and stories from the book, writing and narrating it myself, I created a documentary with the same name as the book.
The film has won seven awards at film festivals. At the end of the documentary, Virginia says she thinks everyone should write down their experiences and share them. My partner in the film said, “And it shows what you did then to people who know you now.” Virginia answered with, “And it shows if you really want to accomplish something, you CAN do it!”
This woman is almost ninety-two now and her health is failing. I am so glad we went on this journey together and happy how it positively changed both of our lives. She got to relive her glory years and gain a new batch of fans, and I got to know a unique and wonderful person who granted access into her life to enhance mine.
My mother always told me if I put my mind to it, I could accomplish anything. Virginia told me the same thing. And they were right!