January isn’t totally to blame for my winter blues, feeling bleak and coming as it does after December's sparkle and joy. Its cold nights and short days get me down-right down.
In last week’s first of a two-part post about the January Blues, I shared seven strategies, discovered in an historic hillside town, for gentling a sad spirit that you can read aboutHERE. In part 2 this week, you’ll see how finding a 70-year-old trunk in my childhood home rocked my world and blew my blues away.
Reflections: Compliments of an Old Trunk
My siblings and I never noticed the old steamer trunk in our 100-year old Connecticut home. Tucked in a dark corner of the basement, our parents never mentioned it, either. We found it only after settling our parent’s estate after dad passed last winter.
We grew up in a no-toss home. Mama Marg kept EVERYTHING. It made me crazy at the time. Now, it felt as if she meant for us to find that trunk and its 1940s-era mementos, so we would understand and cherish. I wish I could’ve packed more to take home to North Carolina, but suitcases only hold so much, and we were wrapped in grief at the time of Dad’s passing, not thinking clearly. Yes, the ribbon Mama kept from my baby shower was tossed. Sigh. No do-overs.
Items saved from that trunk sat for months before I could bring myself to sort through them.
When I did, I discovered an incredible gift: memories from childhood seen through an adult lens. I went through a pack of tissues, seeing joy on Mama's face when presenting me a 2-year-old's birthday cake.
What a treasure to witness and again experience her tangible love that Lil Cat couldn't then fully appreciate!
History also came alive as I read Mama’s letters from WWII servicemen she corresponded with as queen of the USO in Everett, WA Made me wonder what happened to these men. Did they survive? Move on to raise families of their own? I’ll never know.
Another jolt was reading Dad’s letters to mama, written when he was in the Navy and stationed in the Philippines during the Korean War. His words helped me understand him as a young father and husband. They brought to life for a grown-up Cat a sailors’ lot during wartime, pining for home and loved ones.
Then there were other letters that took my breath away and left me reaching for the tissue box. They demonstrated my parents' growing love for each other, despite insurmountable odds of being from opposite coasts and from different cultures and religions.
I was floored discovering Mama’s family opposed the marriage, rightly protective of their youngest daughter and not wanting her to move 3,000 miles away with a man outside their circle. We never realized Mama’s family was against the match, and she never told us. Advice discovered in Great-Aunt Hazel’s 1945 letter to Mama could’ve been straight out of a Hallmark movie…..except the words were real, and it was my history!
A Novel Idea
As what would’ve been our parent’s 71st wedding anniversary approached, I felt compelled to do something with these gifts from the past. I decided to create a book about their life to share only with my family. It was a way for me to bring closure to being without them and a vehicle for keeping my family's collective memories alive.
Using a scanner from my phone, plus Vellum publishing and Apple photo-editing software, I started organizing photos and letters. I also transcribed Mama’s 20th-century emails (yep, I kept them stored on my hard drive, so I am a bit of a keeper like Mama, too?!?!) and an oral history of my parents I recorded 15 years ago.
The book’s main title, M&M, came easy. It was a first-initial combo of our parent's names, Michael and Margaret, and a beloved signature Mama used for letters and emails.
However, the title didn’t feel complete until I added its subtitle, an American Family’s Saga of Love, Faith, and Service. It now described their life to perfection.
I think my parents would enjoy reading their story. Turning pages together. Laughing at our crazy antics. Seeing photos of grands and great-grands who now carry their legacy. They’d be proud their book was penned with as much love as I could pour into it.
Giving voice to their history, I turned the pages and felt our parents near. Cherished memories of two beautiful lives intertwined and now preserved.
Looking Ahead: Changing Direction
I was gobsmacked realizing much I enjoyed writing M&M in its non-fiction/historical/memoir genre (well, not fretting about book marketing and distribution was huge, too, since the book was only for family). In fact, I loved M&M's compilation and production process so much that I’m exploring different directions for my writing journey. Whoa!
I’m 99% certain I’ll put writing the next Sweet T Tale on hold. I loved creating the series, but the time and expense to produce illustrated print books in full color takes a high personal and financial toll.
Instead, I may tackle a tale for middle graders with one or two illustrations that could be published in cost-saving black and white. Maybe write a non-fiction or historical fiction that spins off my travels to historic mountain towns or oceanside forts. Hey, perhaps a cozy novel or clean romance for adults. My head is exploding with possibilities!
As my creative energy takes a new direction, I have no idea what will shake out or what my next book might be. I do know I want to keep blogging and connecting with readers. I’m grateful for these winter discoveries that helped me come to terms with the past and point to a future path. I’m beyond grateful for your company on this writing road! Please stay tuned.
Have you found it difficult or easy to make life decisions? What helps you find energy/courage to move in new directions? Please share in the comment section.
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