Real Life and Romance

Hello, Thursday morning! Have you had your coffee yet? No? I thought you looked a little bleary-eyed. Oh, wait—that’s a mirror—I’m the bleary-eyed-one. Be right back.

I don’t think there’s any way I can top last week’s post. It was a winner. It’s apparent to me, my readers like real life stories, especially when it involves romance. Which may be why I especially enjoyed one of the reviews I found on my latest release, Rebecca’s Legacy:

Thank you, Caroline Gabor!

As a young reader, I enjoyed biographies. The real-life stories of some of my favorite people interested me. That’s the appeal of writing non-fiction, I suppose. Getting to know folks better, especially when extraordinary things happen.

Which is probably why I was always fascinated by my maternal grandmother’s life. I was only two when she died, so I have no memory of her. Only snippets of stories my mother told over the years. For some reason I was never privy too, my grandfather left her and his two daughters behind in Seattle, and moved to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, he cleared out their bank account before he left.

Right off, you’ll probably think how horrible that was, and figure the family hated him afterwards, but that’s not really what happened. He was angry when he left, because he wanted to move, and my grandmother didn’t. So he took all his hard-earned cash and went away, probably thinking she would relent.

He should’ve known better.

Grandma and Bernie Alonzo, 1952

Audrie Leon Packnett Christy (Alonzo), my grandmother, was of Austrian/native American descent (both came from her father). I hear she had a strong will. “Sit up straight, Joan.” My mother told me how she’d demand that her girls stand tall. Straight shoulders. No slouching. Walk like a lady. Maybe some of those demands are the reason my mother left home at an early age. She was still in high school when she went to live with a friend in a small downtown apartment.

Mom married at seventeen, her sister married at fifteen. My grandmother remarried around the time my mother left home. There are a lot of blanks in this story. My mother never talked about that time, and I’ve never pressed her to tell. I wonder, though, because my step-grandfather said of my grandmother, “She was the love of my life. I will never forget her.”

I know he was the one who drove my mother to the hospital when I was on my way into the world. My grandmother named me, and was the first, after my mother, to hold me. I think she created a bond that’s never left me.

I look through Mom’s old photographs and dream up stories to fill the holes. One day, I’ll tell the stories.

Henry Earl Christy, my grandpa, lived in Southern California until he died at the age of 75. His health was bad, but every photo shows him smiling, and most photos include a dog. He also remarried. My step-grandmother’s name was Viola, and that’s what we called her. Never Grandma, or any variation of it, just, “Viola.”

She smoked a lot and usually had an alcoholic beverage in her hand. She had a low voice, and she laughed easily. But, she also dictated where they would live. When Grandpa wanted to live in the Santa Monica mountains to be near a hot springs (relief for his Rheumatoid Arthritis), she put her foot down. It was too cold there. She preferred the valley, so they moved to Paramount.

In Paramount, Grandpa met some of the “movie stars” when they visited the hospital. There’s a picture somewhere, of Grandpa with Betty White. I hope I inherit that one someday. 🙂

He spent a lot of time in hospitals, sometimes as a patient, other times, as a volunteer. Volunteering helped pay the hospital bills. He also became a guinea pig, allowing them to try new procedures, hoping to help others overcome RA and Emphysema. After his death, he left his body to research. I try not to think about that. I’m sure he joked about it. Maybe they’d call him “Joe.” He’d hang out with the other cadavers.

That was my Grandpa. I didn’t know him well, because most of my life, I lived over here, and he was over there. But, he wrote almost weekly letters to my mother, so we knew about him.

Maybe someday, I’ll write that story, too. There’s a romance in there somewhere, I just know it.

Story Hour: Imagination Unleashed

Darkness crept over the landscape. Inside the rough cabin, four children enjoyed the warmth of the fire, as their grandfather rocked in a creakety old chair. Jenny and Fran played at jacks. Bud and little Tom lay on their stomachs, their dirty-socked feet warmed by the fire, stinking up the room. They all waited for what they knew was coming—Granddaddy’s stories. Which one would he tell tonight? Would it be the one about the Mississippi riverboat mired in the mud? Or something entirely new?

A few minutes passed with the crackle of the flames licking up the seasoned wood, the bounce of the little rubber ball, the click of the jacks. The drum of Bud’s fingers in time to some melody that played in his head.

Granddaddy cleared his throat. “Did I ever tell you young’uns about the time—”

Story hour. The period between supper and bedtime, back in the day. All my life, I heard my Dad talk about it. The family didn’t own a radio. Television hadn’t been invented yet. So, what did folks do in the twilight hours as they rested from a hard day’s work?

Imagination roamed free. My dad imagined the riverboat, filled with stranded travelers who tossed coins to the boy who grew up to become his grandfather. Those passengers paid dearly for fresh water. The boy was happy to do it. He hadn’t seen that much money in his entire life. His descriptions drew pictures in Dad’s young mind. The oppressive heat of the Mississippi sun. The stink of the dark, sticky mud. The creak of the big riverboat, weighed down by so many passengers, waiting for rain upriver. It was sure to come. And it did, three days later.

Mister Potato-head. Many of us spend our evenings glued to the television, watching whatever is offered there. Our minds are often unplugged, not imagining at all, just licking up whatever they’re fed.

What if we turn off the television?

Share our childhood memories with our children and grandchildren. Stir the fire of their imaginations. They’ll come to know us better. Who we are. Where we came from. What our early life was like.

Like when friends or family drop in for a visit (do folks still do that). Okay, when you’ve invited friends or family over—don’t turn on the television. Unless it’s prearranged for them to come by to watch a game or a movie. Talk. Share stories, not gossip.

If you live alone, pick up a book. In the quiet, let your imagination run free, spurred by the words on the page. I’m not asking you to put away the television forever, just try it one night a week. Have a quiet night when all you do is let your mind drift.

Dream. Write in your journal. Stir up the memories buried deeply within you.

You could call a friend or family member, if you need to talk. But you’d better find someone who will appreciate your conversation and not be angry that you’ve interrupted their favorite TV show. 🙂

Creativity grows and stretches itself in the quiet hours when we allow it room. Encourage its growth in your children’s minds. Provide them time and tools. A journal or diary, Legos or other building sets, a big white piece of paper and some water paints and brushes. And share your memories.

Sometimes the smallest things mean the most.

Do you have a favorite memory handed down from your parents or grandparents?