Mariam Cheshire is a 93-year-old Arizona transplant who knew she was destined for great things. She realized this in third grade when her teacher asked what she wanted to do when she grew up. Most students said ‘get married’ or ‘be a teacher,’ but Cheshire had other plans – to travel and write. And that’s what she did.
Cheshire was born in Pine Village, Indiana – population 300 – and grew up in Madison Heights, Virginia, across the river from Lynchburg. When she was 12 years old, she flew in an airplane for the first time, and from then on, she set her sights on flying.
In 1945, Cheshire married her first husband, Duane, at 17 years old, and they had a son named Fred. The marriage didn’t last, but they would eventually reconnect later in life.
Cheshire was looking for work in June 1946, when she happened upon an ad for a radio teletype operator at TransWorld Airlines.
“I wanted to work at the airport so I could be close to flying. I went out to the airport, lied about my experience (in those days we could get by with that) and got the job,” Cheshire said.
Her assignment was to teletype messages like weather reports and plane progress between stations.
She worked with TWA until the pilots went on strike in December 1946. Afterward, Cheshire went to work for a flight school at Weir Cook Airport in Indianapolis as a bookkeeper – this is also where she learned to fly.
After Fred turned 17, the duo packed up their Mercury and headed west. In 1963, they arrived in Phoenix, and Cheshire told Fred, “we’re home.” The pair enrolled in classes at Phoenix College and started their lives as Arizonans. Cheshire received her associate degree 53 years later, at 88 years old.
In 1977, Cheshire and her son’s life would change in an instant. On a summer day in June, Fred dove into a swimming pool and hit his head on the slope. The accident resulted in him becoming a quadriplegic.
“Life was wonderful, it was exciting, and with so many trails coming together to form one road, it has had its problems. Except for Fred’s accident, I wouldn’t have missed one minute,” Cheshire said.
A few years later, in 1981, Duane entered the picture once more. The pair met up after a family celebration when Cheshire asked Fred if he wanted to know more about his biological father (they separated shortly after Fred was born). The spark was rekindled, and Cheshire and Duane remarried in 1982, 38 years to the day of their first marriage.
Cheshire’s career spanned various industries – bookkeeping, public relations, travel agent and business owner. In 1972, she started writing.
Cheshire’s first published book was titled The Alternate Safe World of Sanctuary.
She explained the idea for the novel came from a coworker, Dottie, who had a family member who signed up for benefits from every church and “help” organization (like Red Cross) she could find. Sometimes, she used different names to get groceries, rent money, plus a monthly stipend from Social Security for a disability. This served as inspiration for the character in Cheshire’s book, a woman named Evangeline, who sets off on a trek for an alternative world where everything is peaceful.
“Characters became people, problems grew without my knowing the answer, the last two chapters were written furiously to find the ending. I spent months trying to publish it, and then it went on the shelf until 2013 – 41 years later – when Amazon came along,” she said.
After her first work, Cheshire wrote a flurry of others. Now, she has six published books to her name: Life’s and Loves of Myrt-ty-Ky-Ly – Draagan Princess, Worries Won’t Happen – Fred’s Story, There’s Nothing I Can’t Do – Fred’s Story, This ‘n’ That – Mariam’s Stories and her latest work, Stories about the Hotel Westward Ho.
Cheshire said that the purpose of Stories about the Hotel Westward Ho is to “share details of a famous building, one that was the queen of the activity during the growth of a cow town in the Wild West.” The book covers the history and the mystery of the building that still looms in downtown Phoenix.
“Towering above the others, [the hotel] welcomed movie stars, political greats, cattle and cotton growers and high school debutantes,” Cheshire said.
The Westward Ho opened in 1928. It went through various ownership changes, and in 1979, the hotel was converted into a senior living and disabled person’s residence.
Cheshire was inspired to write the book because she lived at the Westward Ho for several years.
“I intended to write a fiction-based-on-fact book about my genealogy trips and research. Instead, I became involved in historical research,” Cheshire said.
She gave away the CDs and photos she had collected during her research because she hadn’t intended to use them again. “Then, one of my neighbors asked me a question regarding the Ho, and I searched my computer files – I was amazed at the drafts and emails I had stored away. I realized that if I didn’t put them in a book, they would be lost forever.”
That research became a 250-page book with over 200 photos, newspaper clippings and interviews from various people involved in the hotel’s history. Cheshire wrote the first page at the beginning of October 2020 and the last one in June 2021.
Now, she’s waiting on inspiration for the next project – if that inspiration is meant to come.
“After I finish telling as many people as possible about the Ho, I will sit down at the keyboard,” she said. “If there’s nothing to say, I will retreat to reading a pile of books stacked on the table next to the desk. If there’s something to say, the words will come.”