In Memoriam

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.

West Virginia Wednesdays

IMG_7620Over Memorial Day weekend, I went with my parents and kids to place flowers on the graves of my grandparents and other relatives.

My mother’s family had lived in Marion and Harrison counties in West Virginia for generations.  We placed flowers on the grave of my grandmother’s brother in a small family cemetery that’s now at the edge of a housing development.  The land of the development once was a farm that my grandmother’s family worked.  Her brother wanted to be buried in that cemetery because he and my grandmother enjoyed playing there when they were children.

IMG_7612It seemed odd to find a cemetery among all these new houses, but I could tell it was taken care of, so at least the graves aren’t neglected.

Next, we stopped at the large cemetery in Shinnston. My grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents on both sides of my mom’s family are buried there.

As my kids place flowers around the graves, I wondered if my distant grandparents ever thought their great-great-great grandchildren would come to pay respects almost a hundred years after their deaths. It’s a stunning thought.

IMG_7623The next day, we drove into the hills above Moundsville to place flowers on the graves of my dad’s parents.  Both sides of his family had lived in the northern panhandle of West Virginia for several generations. My grandfather served in the Navy during World War II.IMG_7641

I am so glad I got to take my kids to see our family history.  I hope they can feel a connection to the relatives who came before them and the land where our family once lived.

Writing Tip

may-706940_1280Writing in Time — May

May may tie March as my least favorite month.  When I was children’s librarian, it was a month of frantic work as we got ready to launch our summer reading program in June.  We would visit schools to advertise the program and build excitement, and those visits, while usually fun, were also exhausting.

Now that I have kids in school, I realize how frustrating May is.  Everyone associated with school is ready for a break — teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, and students.  Speaking as a parent, I am pining for relaxed mornings, relaxed schedules, and no reason to pack lunches.

May makes a great setting for something crazy and unexpected to happen in a story about school.  All that frustration has great comic potential.

Something else I remember about May when I was a kid — at a certain point, maybe a week before school lets out, everyone relaxes, at least a little,  For the kids, the end is in sight.  Teachers know they have done all the instructing they can and now it is just a waiting game to fulfill required number of days.  I remember my mom easing up on bedtime and the long evenings that didn’t encourage sleep at all.dawn-1840298_1280

Graduation ceremonies from high school or college symbolize the feeling of endings becoming beginnings and vice versa.   A ceremony is a great way to launch a story or wrap it up.  It’s also a poignant time for parents and teachers, too,  if they are about to retire.

With Mother’s Day, a holiday that was created by a distant relative of mine, I can explore female relationships within a family.  One approach could be to structure the story over successive Mother’s Days, showing how the celebration reflects the relationships.

Memorial Day at the end of the month can be a setting for stories dealing with death, grief, or just remembering and celebrating loved ones who have died.  The holiday has some of the same quality as graduation — death as an ending or beginning, depending on how you write about it.

Spring is full swing during May where I live, so if I want to write about the glories of new growth and new life, May has great possibilities as a backdrop.

Despite my personal dislike of the month, the writer in me can see it merits.

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