Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Lady in Pink

One of the many wonderful things that happened when I wrote a family history (http://www.dabbscrossroads.blogspot.com/ ) was that I learned about the colorful relatives who preceded me.  Many of them reappear throughout my writing, some in tidbits, others full-blown.

The Lady in Pink in my novels is based on an absolutely delightful aunt, my Aunt Nell.  Nell raised four boys.   “My life was full of browns and grays,” she said.  “I’d had enough.”  When her last son had moved out of the house, she dedicated herself to pink…pink for the rest of her life.  Seriously…EVERYTHING was turned into pink.

The piano was painted pink.  Furniture was recovered or tossed.  The cotton balls in the bathroom were pink, curtains … of course, pink.  Bed sheets, kitchen appliances, cars and needles to say, all clothes, jewelry, glasses, and shoes were pink.  Her husband doted on her, and to everyone’s surprise, since he was a military man, accommodated her whim.  Every morning she picked out his clothes for him, and although his suit or slacks were never pink, he always wore a pink tie with pink socks, and most frequently a light pink shirt.  “I feel like a damn Easter Egg,” he once said, but regardless, like a good solider he followed the routine.

For the last twenty years of their lives, my aunt and uncle ate out every meal.  Included in her redirection in life was the plan never to cook again.  There were a series of restaurants they rotated through, according to the day of the week.  With age, they slowed.  A broken hip caused a limp and ultimately a shuffle.  But every day, dressed to the nines in pink they made their way across the restaurant floor to their favorite tables to eat their meals.  My aunt with pink sunglasses (she had no fewer than 20 pair), she would have a large cloth flower or bow pinned to her dress.  They entered arm and arm and slowly but predictably Aunt Nell would smile and wave to the diners one by one as if she were royalty recognizing her loyal subjects.

It never ceased to amaze me how a restaurant of sullen strangers would suddenly brighten.  How could you not?   Their dress, their smiles, their obvious long-term devotion to one another.  Many an evening I sat watching their entrance and marveled at the simple joy they brought to so many by just being who they were.  What a gift.  What a wonderful daily gift they gave us all.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Death at Miss Ellie's Cafe

I’m not giving anything away if I tell you that Maggie’s father, the Judge, dies at Miss Ellie's Cafe..  It’s the first sentence in the novel.  What I do want to tell you is that scene, as is the one in my second novel, was taken from a real-life experience.

I had an 88 year old uncle who was a delight.  We had dinner with him and several other relatives at a local restaurant every Friday night.  After his wife died, his health deteriorated rapidly.  While he kept up the routine of eating out, he often slept through the meal and then asked for a take-out when we were all ready to leave.  We became accustomed to this routine and began to expect it.

One evening when the restaurant was filled to capacity, eight of us sat around the table involved in our typical catch-up of the week’s events and my uncle passed away, still sitting upright in his chair.  The problem was, we didn’t notice.  When finally we realized the situation, in good southern fashion, we sat and  considered what options we might have to quietly remove him from the restaurants so as not to make a fuss.  My husband, being of sound mind and having been raised in Iowa where people are much more practical about such things, slipped away and dialed 911.  This resulted in a complete disruption of many people’s meals, for which we continue to apologize to this day.

We followed the ambulance with its blaring sirens to the hospital, to no avail.  The additional excitement and noise failed to revive my uncle.   With tears in her eyes, my mother wiped her nose and let out a gentle sob and then added the final cap to the evening, “This would have been so much better if it had happened at the Country Club.”

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Every Quaker Meeting I’ve ever attended has at least one elderly member(sometimes several) who seemed to embody Quakerism.  They had lived long enough to develop a generous degree of patience and respond gently to the impetuosity of youth.  For them, anyone less than 75 is considered youth.  Euphrasia would evolve into this type of woman over time and in many ways was already there.

 Euphrasia (pronounced: you-phrā-shă) is the name of a flowering plant found in the Alpine meadows and often used for herbal medicines.  Euphrasia Hoole, for me, was my great-great grandmother, a wiry little thing from the one picture I have of her and a devote Presbyterian.   She probably knew little if anything of Quakers.  I am fortunate to have a couple of letters that she wrote in the late 1800’s.  To my knowledge, no one in the family has ever chosen to  remember her by passing her name along to any offspring.  That may be a blessing, who’s to say?  I chose to remember her by making her a character in my novel.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Names

Finding the right names for characters in a novel is a tricky business.  I have no magic formula.   John Hersey says that “novelist Sinclair Lewis doted on names; he believed people became their names.  He had a stack of telephone books from all over the world, so he could find an odd but apt name for a character…When he had to name a new character, he would make a list of a dozen possibilities and …day after day he would pick up the list and cross off a name or two, until he had made his final choice by elimination. ”
I am not nearly so extensive in my search for a character’s names, but I will admit to changing several halfway through the novel, sometimes, daily.  Every  now and then a name just pops out at you.  I asked a friend once if he’d mind it if I used his name in my novel.  It just felt so right.
“Tell me about the character,” he said.
“He’s a Quaker turkey farmer,” I replied.
He laughed.  “Just so when people google my name, Turkey Farmer doesn’t start popping up.”

To be so lucky.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Small Towns

I have been a Quaker since 1977.  That’s a long time, and I’m the first to admit, I don’t feel like a very good Quaker.  I’m a fast Quaker, not a slow one.  By slow, one might mean Quakers who dress in the traditional black and white and live simple lives.  I’ve never thought anything was particularly simple, although I’ve learned a lot from Quakers.  I’m more patient and willing to wait for a way to open.  Those things count when you’re a writer.  Here I am, writing.  How long did that take?
I had the good fortune to live in a small Quaker community surrounded by some really good people.  Many were Quakers, many were not.  Small towns are a special place for me.  Gregory David Roberts said in his novel, Shantaram, “Every city in the world has a village in its heart.  You will never understand the city unless you understand the village.  Go there.”  In my novel, The Quaker Café, I want to take you there.  It’s a great place, but life is far from simple, even for Quakers.