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October 12, 2012
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Growing up on the ‘Sunnyside’

Although life on the Sunnyside Ranch outside of Lund had its dark moments, author Sally Mooney still sees the bright side of her childhood. “We loved it,” she said. “We thought we had the happiest, most wonderful life you could ever imagine. It didn’t matter to us that all we did is work. We thought it was just what you did.”In her book, “On the Sunnyside of Life,” she documents through a series of vignettes the freedom of growing up on an isolated cattle ranch. She describes herself and her older brother, Warner Whipple, as being the main characters, with a collection of aunts, uncles, cousins, a first love and hired hands all playing supporting roles. Overshadowing them all is her father. A handsome cowboy standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall, broad shouldered and slim, Clair Whipple — known as Punk — was a leader in the area. They used to say, “As Punk Whipple goes, so goes the world,” Mooney said.But he also had a mean and angry side, she said, probably suffered from depression, but that wasn’t talked about then. In her book, she tells of a time her father hosed down her brother, clad in a wool suit for a funeral, for no apparent reason. Another time, her mother had to stop him from beating a horse. For the most part, she said, he was loving and wise.“He was our hero,” she said. “I don’t have any anger at all to my father.”She expects her readers will see it the same way.“I’m hoping they see the good side of my dad,” she said. “But who’s going to be the unsung hero is my mother. She was always there to prop everybody up.”Mooney, who taught English in Carson City schools for 30 years as Mrs. Mosher, has been writing the book one story at a time. She took Ursula Carlson’s memoir writing class at Western Nevada college twice a year for 10 years. Even before that, she had started writing the stories of her life. At 10, she started a newspaper where she wrote the goings on at the ranch on carbon paper. She handed out copies to the hired hands and mailed copies to her aunts, who, in return, would mail a dime. The big story of the summer, she remembers, was an infestation of skunks. She wrote of the method they devised to kill them, where they would fill a garden hose with exhaust from a tail pipe. When they held out the hose, the skunk would approach to take a curious sniff.“It would take three sniffs then they’d keel over,” she recalled. “But they weren’t dead. They were just passed out. Then you’d have to put them in a bucket to drown them. We had a whole skunk cemetery.”With all of her stories already written, the only thing left to do was write a book. “I just had piles of stories,” she said. “The book kind of wrote itself.”The memoir is self-published, with the cover art painted by Zach Mueller, owner of Distinct Ink.While Mooney knows the book will be of great interest to her family — particularly her younger sister, Bonnie, who remembers little of the ranch life — Mooney hopes it has a wider appeal as well. She will be signing copies of her book 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at Due Sorella.“It’s a way of life that’s gone,” Mooney said. “I’m hoping that people who don’t even know me will like it.”She also is beginning work on a second book, recounting life in the 1970s going through a divorce in Carson City and raising her children as a single mother. She thinks she’ll call it, “Keeping on the Sunnyside of Life.”“There’s good things and bad things,” she said, “but I think I always have looked on the sunny side of things.”

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Oct 12, 2012 04:46AM Published Oct 12, 2012 04:44AM Copyright 2012 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.