Archive for July 2010

A Trip Through Family History

July 31, 2010

An Earlier Time on the Farm

Last weekend I took my maternal aunt to Iowa to that branch of my family’s annual reunion.  I’ve not been there in about eight years.  The last time I went I drove my mother there.  That was her last reunion as she became ill shortly after that and died a few years ago.

I knew the day would bring back powerful memories for me.

I didn’t expect to learn so much more about family history.  For example one of the first items that greeted me when I arrived was a whole wall, at least 25 feet in length covered with large sheets of paper about 3 feet wide.  Some sections were 5 and 6 pages deep.  This was the family genealogy.  It went back to the early 1600’s and the two relatives are still digging and researching to go back further.  Those of us there were to add in whatever pieces of information we had that wasn’t there.

I spent several minutes updating my mother’s section—which was the third page down from the top copy. 🙂

Five generations were represented at the gathering: ages 94 years to 3 months. My grandfather’s baby sister was the oldest.  She’s 4 years older than my mother would be as my great-grandfather had a second wife and a second much younger family with her.  The estimate was 170 attended, not counting the little ones who didn’t need plates for dinner.

The family resemblance through generations made it so easy for me to pick out blood relatives.  Even better was seeing in a new generation a “replica” of deceased, much loved relatives.

A Mediation Courtyard

Besides the interesting conversations and late night visits, my aunt took me around the two towns and pointed out where my grandparents and great-grandparents had been born and raised.  She showed me the business college from where my grandmother graduated.  We went to the new hospital which had a meditative courtyard area that featured a statue my great grandfather had donated to the original hospital in memory of his first wife.  I drove along and over the railroad that my great-great-grandfather helped build and my great-great-grandmother journeyed along the trail as cook and laundress for the crew.

See potential story lines here?

We visited the cemetery and walked among my relatives while my aunt told me stories about them.  Stories from her personal experiences and stories told to her by family members now buried in the ground we walked.  One I hadn’t heard about was “Uncle Mike” whose granite marker told part of his story.

Uncle Mike

Uncle Mike came in steerage from Ireland, landed in Canada, and wanted to get to Iowa where he had a brother who was homesteading.  This was in the late 1850’s.  Before he got to Iowa, he landed in New Orleans (oral history here is unclear but I suspect the Acadian route used by many) just as the Civil War broke out.  This Irish lad was conscripted into the Confederate Army, wore the gray uniform and was sent to the northern border states where he fought, was wounded, and taken prisoner by the Union Army.

Once he recovered and the Union forces heard his story, he was conscripted into the Union Army and served until the end of the war.  Finally after serving on both sides of a war for a country not yet his, he was mustered out and found his way to Iowa and his family.  He never left Iowa again.

I saw the gravestone commemorating my mother’s first cousin, a tail-gunner on a B-17 and part of Doolittle’s Raiders who bombed Tokyo during WWII.  I read through the scrap book containing all the information the family has gathered about him.  It contained the telegrams indicating he was missing in action, a few letters home from him prior to that mission that most knew they would return from.  He didn’t.

And so many stories.

A Doolittle Raider

The trip was long.  I drove 1,135 miles round trip between Friday morning and Sunday evening.  But I learned so much.  My mind whirled with ideas on the trip home.  Not only about stories but about the beautiful farmland I’d seen and the incredible changes in farming methods I heard about.

But still the farm where the reunion was held had 4 horses.  My grandfather loved horses but he used them for farming as well as riding.  Now they are strictly for riding.

I think my mother was glad I made this trip.  I believe she was with me in spirit as were my grandparents and uncle who are buried in that cemetery.  I hope they believe I’m carrying on the best of our family traditions and beliefs.  I felt them especially as I sat in the little church they worshipped at each week.  Pew 17 was their family pew and I sat there during the service and looked around the church and though about how many memories and events they had experienced in that place: weddings, baptisms, funerals, anniversary celebrations, prayerful services in bad times, such as when the locusts killed all the crops one year or the tornado tore a path through fields just before harvesting, or drought ruined a year’s crops.

They stood strong and together this family.  Through good times and bad.  When people ask how I keep going when bad times keep piling up, I will now tell them, “It’s the family way.”

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End of July Thoughts

July 26, 2010

Rolling waves of Iowa Fields

We are nearing the end of July and what a month this has been.  In my part of the country we’ve had record braking rainfall and high temperatures and humidity.  Days of all of those—so much so I’m wishing for fall.  Which is my favorite season of the year.

This month also brought a week’s visit from my brother.  He’s here right now and we are catching up on our lives.  Sure we have email and phone visits but his being here is so much more special.

This month also brought my chance to experience a family reunion which is the reason I’m posting late as I was in Iowa over the weekend to attend the event.  I’m mentally sorting and sifting through all the experiences and memories I have stored from this past weekend.  I’ll share some next week.

However, in the drive there and back (I put 1,135 miles on my car) I had much time to think about new plots and story lines.  Things I learned about family I played with in developing a new manuscript.

The weekend was tiring and exhilarating simultaneously.  The photo I have with this post is a shot I took of the same fields my grandfather and his father farmed.  The green waves of bountiful crops pulled me back into history.

Another part of July for my writer friends is this is the month of our national conference.  This year it is this week.  I won’t be there and I’ll miss it, but I’ll be there in spirit and look forward to hearing about it from my writer friends.  For all my friends traveling there, be safe.

My next post will be in August.  July will be finished; 2010 will be more than half over.  July has been a month of extremes for me and for our weather.  What about you?

A Box of Chocolates

July 17, 2010

That Box of Chocolate

“Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Most of you recognize this quote.  For me it’s the most memorable of several lines I often hear quoted which have come from the movie Forrest Gump.

But yesterday and today as I was getting so close to finishing the first major revision of my current manuscript, this phrase kept racing through my head.  Why?

Because with this revision I realized how much this particular story and the characters in it were like that box of chocolates.  I wrote them once and thought I knew them.  Then with this revision, I learned so much more—often making it necessary for me to rethink elements of my story and add or delete parts I’d already written.  My characters and my story became more than I expected.

Like life can do to us.  Like Forrest’s quote.  Even writers don’t always know what they’re going to get with a story, especially if they are part pantser like I am.  I want to be that way.  Not totally, after all I insist on controlling at least the fictional part of my world.  But I’m also wise enough to give my characters the chance to blossom and grow once I’ve given them the garden to do so.

But that means I’ve got to allow them some freedom.  I’ve found they use this freedom responsibly.  They know their parameters; they understand just how much rope I’ll give them before I rein them in.  They know I’ll put the clamps on them if they get too far out of line—because I’ve thought about them and gotten to know them and set the rules in that first draft.

Writing and revising is a bit like parenting in that respect. 🙂

I’ll have another revision to do before I think this book is ready for others to read.  But this revision most likely won’t see such big surprises.  This revision is like that box of chocolates.  I know what everything looks like know, just like if you study a box of chocolates you know what ones to avoid—or offer to others.  (For me those are anything coconut, nougat or jellied; the writing equivalent would be vampires, werewolves, sci-fi and fantasy.)  As a writer, I leave plots and stories like those to other writers…I  know they would do a far better story than I could—even if I did find a plot like that lurking somewhere in my writing box of chocolates.

It's waiting for me

So in doing this revision, I found lots of truffles, crunches, toffees and creams.  So many more than I expected and such fun to deal with.  I can’t wait to print out the pages and start my next foray into the box of chocolates this story has become.  What’s the best part?

Looking forward to the next story and what kind of chocolate I might find in that box.  That new story is waiting, impatient for me to open it up.  Soon, I promise.

What’s your take on my box of chocolate theory?  For real life or writing life?

A Gulley Washer & The Book Club

July 11, 2010

Happy Readers

Last Wednesday we had torrential rains in the late afternoon.  Weather stations were cautioning drivers about flooded streets and roadways.  The skies turned so dark and angry 4:00 PM looked more like 8:30 PM.  When the storms moved out sometime about 6:30 PM, we had gotten 3.5 inches of rain.  A real gulley-washer.

During this storm, I was preparing to leave for a gathering of book club members who had invited to me come and talk to them about Black Ribbon Affair.  They had read my book and extended the invitation through a friend of mine who belongs to the club.

Once again, this event though informal and social as it would start out around a few appetizers and dinner, was a first for me. I’d be in a social situation with people I didn’t know, and really, other than knowing they had read my book, I didn’t know what they might be expecting.

Being Irish, a worrier and a titch superstitious, I hoped the storm wasn’t a foreshadowing of a disaster.   On my drive to the address for the book club meeting, the worst of the storm moved beyond us to wreak havoc on any boaters still unlucky enough not to have made it safely to shore.

As I parked my car I decided the storm moving on was a “sign” that the evening would go well, the local farmers and gardeners needed rain, and anyone on the lake would have gotten to shore.  When I left my car, the rain stopped.

I met the women of the book club.  Interesting, energetic women, and from their conversation, voracious readers.  Exactly what every writer dreams about.  They all appeared as excited to have me at their meeting as I was to be there.

During a dinner which was perfect for a hot, humid summer evening, we talked in general ways about topics readers would chatter about: favorite books, authors they enjoy, bits and pieces of their lives.  About the time dessert was served (the most incredibly delicious bread pudding—and I love bread pudding), I got the first question about Black Ribbon Affair.  We moved into the living room and more comfortable chairs and the questions kept coming.

What questions they were!  Thoughtful, challenging and very helpful to me.  In answering their questions, I learned a few things I’ll keep in mind when I’m doing future revisions.  I also found it so interesting to see how they interpreted my characters: how they looked, what drove them, what they’d love to see if I write another Affair series book.

Author in the Middle

Of course, I had the pleasure at the end of signing their books and adding the stickers representing the book’s recent awards.

We had a marvelous time.  I hope they ask me again when my next book is published.  I decided on my drive home that the evening was a gift.  One I’ll carry with me as I work on future scenes and new books.

I’ve taken another step forward in this journey.  I’ve found fans.

This time the gulley washer brought joy. 🙂

Independence Day 2010

July 3, 2010

Happy Fourth of July

July 4th.  Independence Day.

What do you think about?  For me, these are some of my favorite things for the day.

Picnics.  Fireworks. Water fun. Grilling outside.  Hamburgers and hot dogs.  Ice cream.

Remembering past July 4ths.  Understanding the idea of freedom and the responsibility it places on those of us who cherish it; the need to have it for those who don’t have it.

I think about families and family times together.  I treasure them.  I think of my friends and times we’ve shared and hold those mental pictures close.  I think about what independence means to me and many have fought for it and have given their lives for it,

I know a few people who are celebrating a birthday today or an anniversary.  How neat is that to always have fireworks on your special day?

I wish you are all safe and enjoyable Fourth of July.