Tuesday, May 30, 2006


I've enjoyed reading the stories behind the people who have influenced you and I hope you continue to share them in the comment section of "She Did it Her Way, Part Two." I'm going to keep checking to see if any more have been posted, so please keep them coming!

On a different note, I'd like to congratulate my friend, Jennifer Apodaca. Her book, BATTERIES REQUIRED (Kensington Publishing), is a 2006 finalist in the Mainstream Mystery Suspense category of the PUBLISHED DIVISION OF THE DAPHNE DU MAURIER AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN MYSTERY/SUSPENSE! Way to go, Jen. :-)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

She Did it Her Way, Part Two

Thank you all so much for the lovely responses to "She Did it Her Way, Part One." As promised, I’m going to tell you the story of my other grandmother, Wilma, and I’ll also let her tell you part of her story in her own words, taken from an oral history interview I conducted with her a few years before she passed on.

She, like Mary Crawford, taught me the importance of standing up for myself and going after my dreams in a spirited fashion. But not only did she impart upon me strength, she also attempted to teach me to cook and bake, as she was an excellent chef; however, that wasn’t a gene I’d inherited. But I did learn expressions like “That’s not even enough to fill your ear,” which meant I needed to add more of an ingredient when making the crust of her famous peach cobbler. Now, if only I could remember what that ingredient was…

Wilma grew up in a German farming community in Colorado, the second youngest of eight children. Her parents came to the United States, with their respective families, around 1900 when the flood of Eastern Europeans immigrated here.

She told me they lived on a good farm, but their lives were hard: “You know, growing up in a German family, we all knew that the man was the ruler of the house, and it wasn’t like we had specific chores to do--we did all the chores. This included milking four to five cows night and day, working in the fields during the day, and cooking, cleaning, and so forth. My father, uh, he just frequented the bars while we all worked. . . .The farther away I could get from the farm, the better. Boy, I had too many sleepless nights with my father threatening to do things to us.” He often threatened to kill them and was physically abusive, but she’d told me proudly that he never laid a hand on her. She said he knew no good would come of it if he had. And I believed her. Still do.

In all the photos she showed me of her during her childhood, she never cracked a smile. No one in the photos smiled. They all seemed so dismal and heartbroken.

At the age of 16, she knew she couldn’t wait around for someone to rescue her from the life she hated; she needed to rescue herself. So she left the farm to take a job as a waitress in a drug store in Denver where she got a taste of independence for the first time in her life. And loved it. A year or so later, she told her family she was going on a two-week trip to visit her sister in Yakima, Washington. But she and her best friend, Audrey, headed to San Diego, California instead and never looked back. In her words: “When we left here there was about two foot of snow on the ground at the train station. When we got to California, everything was sunny and beautiful and green and I said, ‘Boy, this is for me’” [laughs].

She and Audrey left Denver in the beginning of 1942. If you know anything about San Diego, you know it’s a military city and the population boomed after the U.S. entered WWII. Navy and Marine men and their families swarmed the city.

Fortunately, she and Audrey found jobs in a diner where they worked from midnight to eight in the morning as waitresses, and then eventually as cooks. She told me: “Well, we made a lot more money, and we couldn’t find a place to live--except a hotel that was across the street from the Grant Hotel. And, uh, they were hiring out, uh, their rooms by the month and by the week and making it easier for the--because it was so overcrowded that there just was nothing to be had. There were no rooms. There were no houses. There were no apartments. Nothing. . . . Well, you know, whoever could live together did. The service men who were stationed out here usually had girlfriends who followed them out, and those girls needed housing, too."

During the day, she and Audrey would head to Shermans where, for about fifty cents, they’d dance to the big bands, like Harry James and his orchestra and Henry King and his orchestra. They had the time of their lives and their pick of men to dance with. LOL

When I look at the photos of her during her days in San Diego, I can hardly believe they were of the same girl who once grew up on that farm in Colorado. In these pictures, the girl was laughing in a diner with friends, reaching for the sky while swinging in a park, and hanging upside down on monkey bars. She was living life her way, not the way her oppressive, abusive father wanted her to live it.

Eventually, though, she did find herself sucked back into the world of bad relationships. Twice. But she invoked her own strength and divorced both men. In order to break the cycle, she was determined never to marry again. And she didn’t. My mom broke it completely when she met and married my dad. They’ve been happily married 37 years now. And my husband and I have been married for 13 years already, so the new cycle of happy relationships continues.

When my grandma and I would speak about her time in San Diego, she’d laugh and tell me story after story about her life there (too numerous to post here), but as soon as we'd speak about her marriages after the war, she'd quit laughing, except when being sarcastic, and she'd say she felt like there was not a lot for her to talk about. She also told me that when she thought about it, her life had been boring. Of course, I disagreed with her. I am still fascinated by it. She did it her way.

So tell me the story behind a person who influenced you. I can’t wait to read your stories, too! C’mon, you know you want to share them! :-)


Monday, May 22, 2006

I Haven't Forgotten You. Promise.

I want to thank you all for the kind responses to "She Did it Her Way, Part One." I am so touched by all of your comments and your personal stories. Thank you again for sharing them.

And I know I said I'd post Wilma's story soon, but it's taking a little longer than I anticipated because a few deadlines snuck up on me when I had my back turned. I hope to meet those deadlines today and tomorrow and then post Wilma's story by Wednesday at the latest. Oh, and I found the transcipt of an Oral History report I did, with her as the subject, a few years before she passed away. Finding that has brought back a flood of memories and I can wait to share them with you. :-)

Also, I plan to write a bit about a research trip I took this weekend to a working, Paint horse-breeding ranch. Wow. That was an eye-opener! LOL It certainly was great research for an upcoming story, though. (Don't worry. I won't go into graphic details!)

So be sure to check back because I have so much to tell ya'll!


Friday, May 12, 2006

She Did it Her Way, Part One

This is the easiest and the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

It’s the easiest because when I think of two women who personify strength, integrity, and love, I immediately call to mind my grandmothers, Wilma Morris and Mary Crawford. You want examples of spirited, independent women? Then look no further. They did things their way and that was that. Stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe either of them, but you can’t fault how fiercely loyal they were to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And we all loved them for it.

Wilma and Mary are my heros and the reason I’m the way I am today. They are the embodiment of the type of heroines that I write and have influenced me in countless ways—from how intensely I love my family to how I set goals and accomplish them.

It’s the hardest because Wilma passed on two years ago (I’ll tell her courageous story in a few days).

And Mary passed on Thursday night, May 4, 2006. I was fortunate enough to spend the last week in the hospital with her, to be able to tell her over and over how much I love her and for her to tell me the same. Not many get that chance and I know how lucky I was to be given that opportunity. I’m so proud to be her granddaughter and I made certain she knew that before she moved on to an existence where she’d suffer no more.

The hospital let her family camp out in her room for several days. 24 hours a day, there’d be anywhere from 1 person to 15 people in that tiny space around her bed. We sprawled out anywhere we could—on the tile floor, under the table, in the few chairs that fit in the room--but none of us minded, as we all wanted to be there for her. Just as she’d always been there for us.

Five children, whom she raised single handedly while working full time. Fourteen grandchildren. And fourteen great-grandchildren. And the majority of us jockeying for position at any given time in order to brush back her hair, to kiss her, and to say…Thank you.

As we all huddled together in the hospital room, we got to know each other better than we ever had. Family members I hadn’t talked to in 10 years or I had seen only once a year, suddenly became more than family—they became friends as our emotions vacillated between sobs and laughter. We held one another as my grandma slept and we swapped stories about her and one another.

And when she’d waken, we’d stand around her and tell her the stories, too. We’d do the talking, as she only had enough energy to tell us she loved us, that she didn’t want to be a bother to us, but she was happy we were all there. “No one could ask for more,” she’d say before the morphine pulled her back under. That was all she wanted—for her family to be together. And we were. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

We talked about how she was a “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII, how she used to only make right turns when driving somewhere, how through her bloodline the women of the family qualify for Daughters of the American Revolution (a grandfather was General Israel Putnam who fought at Bunker Hill—some sources say he was the one who said “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” but other sources say it was some poser name Prescott *VBG*), and how she fought so hard for her own independence, even as the family took away her car to keep her and others safe. But she did live in her own place until the day she entered the hospital. And no one wanted to dwell on the thought that one day that form of independence would be taken from her, too. Believe me, her shouting would’ve been heard clear across the state. She wanted to do things her way. Like I said, stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe her—God love her.

We all prayed we had her strength. When she was admitted into the hospital her heart only worked at 10% of its capacity. Most people can’t turn over in bed at that, but she was walking around. And at 86 years of age, she was still traveling, up until a few days before her heart attack.

Last Thursday, we knew she was going to leave us at any moment. With each breath, about 15 of us watched and wondered if it was her last. For hours, we cried, we assured her it was all right to go, assured her we’d be all right, assured her we’d take care of one another, assured her that she did a great job of taking care of everyone else and now we wanted her to be in peace…Then we started to laugh because we realized she was being stubborn until the very end. She wouldn’t go. It was as if she were saying, “I’ll go when I’m damn well ready. And that’s NOT now!”

Around 7:30 PM, my cousins and I decided we needed to get something to eat, but our parents stayed in the room with her. It was while we were laughing and bonding over our dinner that we got the call. She’d waited for us to leave before she passed on with just her children surrounding her. She did it her way until her very last breath.

At her funeral yesterday, my cousins and I talked about how we want to be just like her: loving, independent, and spirited. We lucked into being born into this family, to be privileged enough to have her as our grandmother, as our role model.

My heroines have her qualities, but it wasn’t until these past few weeks that I realized how much of an influence she has been on my life and my writing. I’ll never forget her and will always be grateful to her. Thank you, Grandma.

Do you have someone whose very life has inspired you in any way? I’d love to hear about him or her, too.