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DISCOVERING THE ROOT OF OUR STORIES

My mom asked me to stay while she napped. “Take a nap, honey…on my bed.” I couldn’t refuse my 92-year-old mom. Plus, her air conditioning felt wonderful. We had just come back from being outside on a very muggy day. She quickly dozed off on her small couch. I sat close by on her twin bed and looked around her studio apartment. I was tempted to stretch out and nap, but I was too distracted.

I found myself studying all her favorite things – fragile figurines, throw pillows, antique lamps. Then, I honed in on the walls, studying decorative plates, framed art prints, framed photos of my parents wedding day… I disappeared into studying everything on her walls and atop her furniture. I felt a bit comforted. Afterall, I grew up surrounded by all these things. They were home. My mom was an incredibly talented decorator. Our home was beautiful inside. Every plate, print, figurine had a specific place. And a story. She bought most things at antique stores or from collectors out on farms. In a way, she had bought someone else’s “story” and then went on to create her own. I admit, I didn’t appreciate these things growing up. My chore was dusting them. But then I learned to negotiate with my brothers, so I could mow the lawn – and one of them was happy inside dusting away!

My mom let out an occasional snore as I tip-toed around her little apartment. I wanted to stand close and get a good look at things. I got a bit misty eyed, thinking about all the stories behind them. I was surrounded by story. Then, it hit me. Lots of these things have shown up in my fiction writing – in my character’s homes, in my themes, plots, etc. How could they not, I suppose… Afterall, they are still deep in my roots. These things. Each one holds so many stories. Each one holds part of my story. Each one.

Cards and letters: A red file next to her phone contains recent cards and letters from her kids. Growing up, she stored cards and letters in a mini wood trunk. I love having my characters write or receive letters. And I’m over the moon just imagining one of my characters opening a drawer, then discovering a bunch of letters. I get so excited about the “and then and then”! Especially when a letter holds a secret.

Framed photos: Many black-and-white photos decorate her walls; many feature her parents and grandparents. I never knew them. They were born in Poland, but my mom never told their stories. Oh my gosh! One of my characters is growing up in a Polish family. Even though I only saw my Polish relatives a few times a year (and they taught me how to polka), I never knew their origin stories, their roots. Perhaps, I have desired “finding” them in my writing. Actually, I have.

Shoes: Her brown leather lace-up shoes sit on the floor across from her couch. They have sat there ever since she started wearing a pair of white Reebok shoes. I always picture my character’s shoes, even if I don’t mention shoes in my story. The color, the brand, the style. I’m especially intrigued with why my character would choose a certain shoe.

Landline telephones: My mom has three landline phones, each within a few steps. In our teen years, my brothers and I were always vying for our one landline. All of my YA’s take place in the days of landlines. I prefer the challenge inherent in a landline, such as a family eavesdropping, everyone racing to the ringing phone…

Clocks: There are four clocks spread throughout my mom’s. I remember the obnoxious sound of our cuckoo clock while the seven of us ate Sunday pot roast. Despite my struggle with chronology in writing, I thoroughly enjoy giving clocks a major role. Nothing like an alarm clock startling a character! By the way, my childhood kitchen clock hangs in my writer studio.

Here’s to the finding, discovering the root of our stories, where ‘er they come from! Children’s author E.E. Duncan summed it up best: “It’s interesting to look to ourselves and find those themes that recur in our writing and discover their roots.” Elizabeth is a member of my amazing critique group, Story Spinners. Her biographies and historical fiction explore how history affects everyday people. Her books include, Florence Sabin, Teacher, Scientist, Humanitarian; Felipe and Dolores Baca, Hispanic Pioneers; Ralph Carr, Defender of Japanese Americans; Helen Hunt Jackson, Colorado’s Literary Lady.

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