At a writing conference I attended a few years ago, James L. Rubart mentioned that one of his characters was based on a real person he knew. He took that real person, and without any changes, plopped him into his novel as a character. I don’t have the courage to do that to anyone I know. I figure I’ll make them mad somehow. But since it’s Memorial Day in America, this prompt is in memoriam for two people who had a huge influence on my writing, although I didn’t realize how much until recently.
Back in the Mists of Time
My maternal grandparents lived in Fairmont, West Virginia when I was born but moved to a small house out in the country near my hometown in Ohio when I was four. Their house saw some of my most treasured childhood memories: eating a pizza supper on Sunday nights and watching The Wonderful World of Disney, stopping by on a Sunday afternoon and settling down to watch a Tarzan movie with Grandpa, helping in their vegetable garden and orchard, holiday dinners, served buffet style, in the basement and the family gathering around a long plank table while a wood-burning stove provided cozy warmth. To this day, I can’t smell a pine fire without drifting back to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s basement. The smell of cooking onions does the same thing. Grandma was a wonderful cook and baker, and she always had onions cooking in some dish for a meal.
All those memories influenced my YA mystery novel. My main character Rae lost her mother and has just learned who her father is and is getting to know him and the rest of her relatives. Rae’s father, her half-brothers, and grandmother live out in the country. As I shaped their farmhouse, I knew I wanted it to be the haven I’d found at my grandparents’ house. The grandmother isn’t like mine, but she is a fantastic cook and baker. Most of the house’s features were pulled purely from my imagination, but the basement is very close to the one where we had our holiday dinners. It’s also a walkout basement with steps that lead up to a breezeway and detached garage, like at my grandparent’s place. On the family’s property are a garden and orchard.
But more important than the physical similarities, I want to convey to my readers the peace and joy we grandkids found when we visited my grandparents. They were always happy to see us. Always. This isn’t an exaggeration. We could drop by any time unannounced, and not once did they act like they had something better to do than to spend time with us.
After my sister and I were grown, my mom mentioned to her mom how much we enjoyed coming to their house, no matter what we did. Grandma was floored. She thought she was just fixing meals and we were just watching TV or helping around the house. So thank you, Grandpa and Grandma. The love you gave to us lives on. And I have a feeling when I get to Heaven, I’m going to bang in the back door, and you’ll both be there, Grandma cooking and Grandpa giving me a tight hug around my head.
If there’s someone you would to like write about in memoriam, please mention them in the comments below.