Autumn, Memories and writing a book

There’s just something about this time of year that feels almost magical. The crunch of dry leaves, their whispering as they scuttle past in the woodsmoke scented breeze, chilly mornings, warm, sunshiny afternoons, sticky fingers after digging around in the Halloween candy, the sense that it’s gathering in time, it all adds up to one of my favorite times of the year. No wonder then that autumn ended up as the beginning season in my book, “His Yankee Wife”.

Memories flood my soul at this time of year, and many of them made it into the story. My cousin and I made girl scarecrows one year. I remember we stuffed panty hose with leaves, put a dress on her, fitted a wig over her plastic pumpkin head, and put scuffed Mary Jane’s on her feet. It was fun recreating a similar scene in “His Yankee Wife” between Rae and her best friend’s daughters.

My grandma…I called her, Mamaw, was always cooking. Many an afternoon she’d have a hot bowl of soup and a piece of cornbread just waiting for her grandkids. You’ll find that Rae has the same memory in the first chapter of the book.

I did not grow up in an old house, but I have visited an old house in Romney, WV called, The Davis History House, and using my impressions of it, I put Rae there. Floor boards creak, a piece of wood left to rot in the fireplace falls, currents of air waft over her skin, all things I heard and felt while in that house. Kind of makes me shiver just thinking about it.

Much of who an author is shows up in their books. We call on our memories, our feelings, our own reactions to life and its circumstances to create characters. And, sometimes, those characters teach us things about ourselves that we didn’t even know.

“His Yankee Wife” was my fourth book, and it took a long time to write. I was busy researching and homeschooling my girls, and I had to do a few rewrites. I also had to pull out some emotions that wanted to stay buried. Death is so hard to talk about, but it is even more difficult to write about. During one scene, I actually sat there crying while typing. Yet, when it’s all said and done, and I’m on the backside of it, I realize what good therapy writing can be.

“His Yankee Wife” has been out for a year now, and I’ve since written two more books. “Caleb’s Story” and a yet unpublished work that I have titled, “You Belong to Me”. Reading over “Yankee Wife”, it feels as if someone else wrote it. But, from what y’all are saying, you like it, and I am glad. I hope it heals you as it has healed me.

Just to give you a Taste of my story, I’m copying and pasting a portion of it below along with the link to it on Amazon. Enjoy.

October, 2004

Log walls weathered with age, wide front porch with wooden rockers swaying in the evening breeze, the old house welcomed me back like a long lost friend. The GPS unit on my dash said I was out in a field somewhere, but my heart knew better. I was home. Finally home. 

Unplugging my cell from its charger, I stuffed it into my jeans pocket, shouldered my purse, and climbed out of the car. The brown scents of wood smoke and dying foliage swirled around me, and lifting my head, I breathed deep. Crickets chirped in the grass, and overhead, the leaves in the trees whispered to one another.

Autumn. Gathering in time. I glanced at the front door, half expecting to see Gran standing there saying, “Got a hot bowl of soup and pan of cornbread waiting on you, Baby.”

But the door was shut, and the yard remained quiet. Gran and Gramps had been gone for several years, and except for returning for their funerals, this was the first time I had been back since that long ago summer when I had done the unthinkable.

Teetering over the uneven ground, I told myself not to go there, but it was too late.

“You sure got a strange sense of humor, God.” But, I would keep my promise to Him, because He had kept His promise to me.

Jiggling my key into the old-fashioned lock, I gave it a turn and pushed open the door. It protested with a loud “screeek”, and I wondered how long it had been since it saw an application of grease.

Built over a hundred and fifty years ago, the house had character. Every room had its own fireplace, as well as a 1930’s style radiator and narrow doorways common in old houses, yet wheelchair ramps on both the front and back porches.

“I’m back.” My voice echoed in the empty front hall, and I closed the door against the chill creeping in. My footsteps were loud as I limped into the parlor and over to the fireplace where I stared up at the portrait that graced the wall above.

A man in nineteenth century garb looked out at me through eyes too old for his face. They reminded me of my own eyes whenever I happened to look into a mirror. “Gran always said you were a soldier. Were you a Yankee or a Rebel?”

Behind him stood an apple tree. I well remembered the sweetness of those golden fruits dripping down my chin as I ran and played tag with my friends. “Can’t run like that anymore,” I said, resting half of my weight against the mantle and the other half on the support cane that was now my constant companion. “That old apple tree is gone now. Lightning struck it while I was away.”

He remained silent, of course, but his eyes were solemn and steady as if to say, “I understand. Nothing lasts for ever.”

A floorboard creaked as I shifted my weight onto my good leg, and a stick of wood left to rot in the fireplace fell with a soft thud. Too weary to be spooked, I tilted my face to catch a draft of cool air wafting by. If I couldn’t share with the rest of the world, at least here, with him I was understood. “If I keep talking to you, they’ll haul me back to the shrink’s office so fast I won’t know what hit me.” Yet, I lingered. “Any advice on how to join the real world, again?”

Shaking my head, I stepped over to the antique rolltop desk in the corner where my grandmother had spent her evenings typing up her articles for the local paper. Remembering the clacking of that old, manual typewriter, I smiled and sat down in the ladder-back chair that Gran had sat in. I reached out toward the rocking chair beside me and set it in motion with my hand. My great granny used to sit there with her crochet, passing on her eighty-six years of wisdom to whoever would listen. “What do you think, Granny?”

“Put God first,” she would say. “God first, others second, and then yourself.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

As if it were a homing device, the wood frame sofa along the opposite wall drew my gaze, and like a flood, the memory of warm summer rain, forbidden kisses and the thud of his heartbeat against my ear came rushing back. I pressed a fist to my aching chest and choked back the guilt that threatened to drown me.

“Promise me, Rae.” That’s what they had said…both of them. First Connor, on that long ago day, and then Missy, just a year ago, in Iraq.

Looking back over my shoulder, I met the eyes of the soldier in the portrait. “God first, Missy’s girls second, and then me,” I said. “Any idea where Connor fits in?”

The wind picked up outside, rattling the windows, and I shivered in spite of myself. I knew I needed to bring in my luggage and see what in the way of groceries Jackie had left for me. Instead, however, I unlocked the desk and rolled back the lid. There, where Gran’s typewriter used to set was a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a string of twine. Curious, I untied the string and let the paper fall away. Inside was an old book, its pages curling and yellowed at the edges. Excitement quickening my heart, I opened the cover and caught my breath at the handwriting still legible there.


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