Write what you know…this is the sound advice that every new author hears along with write the story that only you can write.
So here goes.
What do I know? I know what most other thirty-something middle class moms know – how to (most of the time) strike a balance with the demands of family life, work, leisure, and social commitments. I know what most nurses know – how to care for the newly born, the confused, and the dying. I know what most spouses of foreign nationals know – how to navigate the road to US citizenship, how to host non-English speaking houseguests visiting for months at a time, and how to plan out and pack for a family of four to travel to the fatherland.
But what do I know? What are the unique influences of my life that have shaped me as a person, as I writer?
Grit and Grace.
Pittsburghers will recognize Grit and Grace as a trendy downtown restaurant celebrating my city’s steel mill history. Good eats aside, I know Grit and Grace – they were my grandmothers.
On the surface, they couldn’t have been more different and I rarely visited with them at the same time. My single memory of them side-by-side was when they prepared Christmas dinner together. At six feet tall, Lenora towered over five-feet-two-inch Pauline. Lenora wore woolen pants (likely from the men’s section because of her height and narrow hips), a t-shirt, a babushka, and snow boots. Pauline wore a skirt, heels, and pearls. They worked together on a Slavic feast, passing ingredients back and forth saying things like, “Mrs. Resick, can you please pass the butter” and “Certainly, Mrs. Woloszyn.” I watched them in nervous amazement, wondering how these two complete opposites could work in such synergy.
Lenora started working at 13 when she had to quit school to help support her mother and siblings. She told me stories about being a mother’s helper, a noodle maker at Vimco Macaroni, and how she made bullets during the war. Her marriage certificate from 1947 even lists her occupation as “welder”! She had a pocketful of street smarts and a purse full of rocks – no joke…her heavy handbag was her weapon of choice for would-be “muggers”. She taught me how to stockpile food and supplies in preparation for disasters – the most concerning of which she called “2YK”.
Pauline took dance lessons during the Depression and graduated from high school – the only one of my four grandparents to do so. She told me stories about disseminating her father’s homemade wine and spirits through the streets of Johnstown, PA under the guise of vegetable deliveries during Prohibition. She enjoyed travel and spoke fondly of visiting the New York World’s Fair in 1939 with her sisters and their friend. She shared beauty and make-up tips and once took me along shopping at Neiman Marcus (an experience that included a saleswoman reminding eight year-old me not to pet the fur coats.)
Different as they seemed, they were both the daughters and wives of immigrant laborers – coal miners and steel workers. Pauline, with her mother and sisters, ran a boarding house full of Slovak immigrants; she scrubbed the boarders’ sooty shirts and cleaned their spittoons. Lenora had the most delicate touch when she brushed my hair and set it in rags overnight so that I would have “Shirley Temple” curls. Neither of them missed Sunday mass. Both were proud of their Eastern European roots and traditions. Both of them taught me that girls should read, travel, and never depend on a man.
I know grit and grace. Thanks to my grandmothers, I have a treasure trove of stories and family memories that embody this coexistence of strength and femininity.
What is the story only I can write? My first novel Circle of the Silver Birch Trees. It is a tribute to grit and grace, combining family stories with what I know.