Eugene Paslov: The power of a local voice: Sally Mooney
October 20, 2012
Schools like Western Nevada College traditionally have had a three-pronged mission: To teach students who have academic skills and interest, who want to go on with their college work, having opportunities to achieve B.A.s, M.A.s, M.D.s Ph.Ds; to teach students who desire to learn specific career skills and earn two-year credentials and licenses or AA degrees to help them achieve high-paying, satisfying jobs; to serve the special interests of the community, usually involving art, crafts and literature. This model has been use around the country and has worked well.Western Nevada did have all three purposes, but recently reduced at least a portion of its community service mission due to budget shortfalls. Too bad. Budget cuts can have negative consequences.I was part of a memoir writing class taught by Dr. Ursula Carlson. I took it every semester for two years as I was writing my family memoir, Paslovian Tales (a self-published, non-commercial story of my immigrant family and their offspring). As a senior I paid a much-reduced fee for the class, as did almost all of my senior classmates. I had weekly critiques of my work by Dr. Carlson and all of my fellow classmates. My final product was much improved as a result.Sally Mooney was in my class and she had been taking the memoir writing course every semester for 10 years. (She sometimes taught it). I read and heard many of her stories. They were wonderful. Ms. Sally Whipple Mosher Mooney has recently self-published her memoir, “On the Sunnyside of Life.” It’s a remarkable journey into an earlier time in Eastern Nevada where Sally, her brother Warner (and some years later, a baby sister, Bonnie) her mother and father operated the very large but isolated Sunnyside cattle ranch. The story has both “a dark and troubled side of life, but also a bright and Sunnyside too.” (a line Sally quotes from a song by June Carter Cash, “Keep on the Sunnyside.”)The story revolves around Sally’s father, Clair Whipple (AKA “Punk” — a tall, handsome cowboy with considerable talent and enormous charm, but plagued by what may have been depression), and his wife (Sally’s mother), Lila Whipple. Like many of these early ranch pioneers, they are heroes of mythological proportions. Sally works hard to define herself within the context of her Mormon parents and grandparents as well as the Sunnyside ranch. She was physically born in Ely in 1938 but her soul found its home at Sunnyside ranch. Her father wanted her to be a well educated lady. She wanted to be a cowgirl who knew all about animals and ranching and could do it all with great skill. It wasn’t to be.The stories of the Whipple clan, their dedication to family and faith, their love of their way of life even when it was brutal and unforgiving, as in the 1948 snowstorm which reframed their livelihood at Sunnyside ranch, are tales worth reading and understanding. It’s Nevada’s history revealed to help us understand Nevada’s future. Sally tells of the incident where she (as a young girl) and her horse are startled on the trail by a “blow-snake” who is in the midst of swallowing a live rabbit. She watches as long as she can, leaves, then brings her mother back to the spot. The rabbit is gone — devoured by the snake and the snake is content after a full meal. There may be a lesson here without belaboring the metaphor: try not to be something else’s meal. Sally Mooney wanted to own Sunnyside ranch, loving it with her entire being. But it was not to be due to the bias and traditions of the time. She would have been a magnificent ranch woman. It didn’t happen. But she is not finished. The memoir writing class is gone (perhaps it will come back as the economy improves), but Sally will continue her writing about Nevada and Nevada heroines. We need her voice.For information about the book, contact Sally Mooney at firstname.lastname@example.org. • Eugene T. Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools. Endorsements are Paslov’s and not those of the Nevada Appeal.