"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Family Sagas

I just finished reading The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy, a family saga based in the South. It's about shrimping, parenting, marriage, poetry, football, war, love, hate. It's set in the South Carolina low country and Manhattan. It took my breath away with the brilliance of the writing, the depth of characterizations, the masterly plotting, the truth of relationships, the compelling dialogue. Am I gushing? This is a very gush-worthy novel.

I read a lot of all kinds of books, many are enjoyable and entertaining or I wouldn't finish them. Not too many stay with me for days afterward and impact my life so that I feel changed in some significant way after the experience. Family sagas are one of my favorite genre but since many are written as historical fiction and romance, often light and fast-moving, I haven't come across a really good one to savor in a very long time. Until now.

Then there is Conroy's writing. Here are his opening two paragraphs:

My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.

I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton; my arms were tawny and strong from working long days on the shrimp boat in the blazing South Carolina heat. Because I was a Wingo, I worked as soon as I could walk; I could pick a blue crab clean when I was five. I had killed my first deer by the age of seven, and at nine I was regularly putting meat on my family's table. I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island and I carried the sunshine of the lowcountry, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders. As a boy, I was happy above the channels, navigating a small boat between the sandbars with their quiet nation of oysters exposed on the brown flats at the low watermark. I knew every shrimper by name, and they knew me and sounded their horns when they passed me fishing in the river.

This book is one I will go back to again and again. I read a library copy, now I want my own. Conroy didn't write a memoir, although he bases a lot of his characters and stories on real people and incidents, much like Willa Cather did with her Nebraska novels. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Clearing out old energy drains

That's how my sister put it when I told her we were moving from our home of 12 years and I was doing a major clear out and streamline. Because I really don't want to move all the old stuff to a new house. She said, "Good! You successfully raised four boys in that house, it's time to move on and get rid of the old energy drains." 

Of course she didn't mean any remnants of my beloved sons LOL, but I knew just what she meant. Old broken down stuff that we are so accustomed to that we look right past it. This is a huge home, there has been room in it for accumulating and for storing, and isn't it always easier to store than it is to sort?

But now I'm sorting and does it ever feel good! I am examining, choosing, tossing, cleaning, boxing. Only what we truly value will go with us to the new house. And whatever makes the cut has to be cleaned and in good repair. That's my husband's and my agreement. If we don't care enough about an item to clean it and/or fix it, then we won't take it.

It's amazing how easy it is to part with things under those terms.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Review: "True Miracles with Genealogy, Help from Beyond the Veil"

My husband was reading this little book and kept saying, "Oh, listen to this chapter." And this is how I "read" the book, True Miracles with Genealogy, Help from Beyond the Veil.

We all know what genealogy is, we know what miracles are, let me define the term "beyond the veil." It means beyond this life--in the spirit world, where souls dwell who pass on. Author Anne Bradshaw has compiled true stories from people who searched for the records of their ancestors, and found them with otherworldly help from those on the other side who wanted to be found.

From the book:

"Sometimes we forget how close Heaven is to Earth--- just a whisper away--"

From the back cover blurb:

"Personal story after story rivets your attention. This book is a powerhouse of inspiration, an absolute must-read to keep on your nightstand."

It certainly was in my husband's case. Every night he looked forward to reading another chapter, and I looked forward to having him interrupt whatever book I was reading to share it with me. Anyone interested in genealogy, or in life after death, will want to read this book!

And I'm not giving you the link to buy it online, because it's one that will be for sale on the new website for authors celerytree.com. So if you are interested in an astounding book about how those who have passed on can communicate with us here, then put it on your list to buy at Celery Tree, not from Amazon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ninety years ago, before texting and Twitter...

Today my mom would have turned 94. Here is a postcard that was sent to her on the occasion of her third birthday. Which makes this postcard over 90 years old! It was sent from her Aunt Elizabeth, who lived in Lincoln, Nebraska.

In case you can't see the inscription on the front, it says,

A Happy Birthday

Dance and play the livelong day
And startle the air with a song.
And keep just as happy as you can
Till the next one comes along.

 And on the back is a message written in pencil!!  Here is what it says:

Right, I don't really expect you to be able to read this. So I'll transcribe it for you. It's addressed to Lucille Marker, Inavale, Nebr. c/o J. Marker (her dad John Marker). The message says,

My Dear Girlie--

I believe a little girl is three years old now. Do you miss Aunt Bernice, it is nice for me to have her in Lincoln. Hope Mama bakes "her little girl" a cake if she is a good girl.

Auntie Elizabeth

What a delightful message from the past to discover on my mother's birthday!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Grieving Process

I finished final edits on my novel House of Diamonds, feeling a bit empty and at loss now with what to do with my time. There is a character in the novel who experiences tragedy and goes through the grieving process. Strangely enough, I am also editing a manuscript, a memoir, about a woman who loses her husband.

Mom has been gone now for 2 weeks and her birthday is approaching. Facebook announced it to me, and I wrote a birthday message on her wall. Yes, definitely feeling a bit empty now, missing her.

My cute Marine son (he's the one in the middle) is leaving in 2 days for Camp Pendleton, to do his 8 week infantry training. Feeling that loss creeping up on me.

It just seems that everywhere I turn, I'm face to face with the idea of loss and the grieving process. Tomorrow is church and I'm wondering how to get out of it. I suppose some people grieve by wanting to be around people, but me? I just want to be left alone, stay in my pajamas and eat food that's bad for me. Sugar-- it's what's for dinner.

Monday, January 10, 2011


At my son's graduation in San Diego, I learned that is the celebratory shout of the Marines. What else I learned--

Recruits never see their drill instructors eat, sleep, sneeze, blow their noses, or go to the bathroom. Yet these men are with them constantly, especially during the first phase. The drill instructors are like semi-gods. They are the most fit human beings on the planet. Many of them are very short. My son at 5' 10" towered over most of them, yet still felt small in comparison.

You send a kind of dorky, geeky, sometimes angry kid lacking in confidence off to MCRD at San Diego, and three months later you pick up a disciplined, well-spoken, confident young man who moves faster, stands taller, is more polite and obedient, and cares about his dress even when on leave. "A Marine doesn't wear pajama pants in public. A Marine only wears work out clothes when doing PT,"  he says. (PT is physical training) And he won't wear anything wrinkled, raggedy or the least bit dirty.

Three months ago he argued and balked whenever asked to do anything. Now he says, "Let's clean this house, Mom. It's heinous. I'll help." And he does. He used to have all kinds of reasons why he couldn't fulfill a reasonable request. Now he says, "Adapt and overcome," and finds a way.

This is why they say that parents call Marine drill instructors "miracle workers."  I thought my kid was pretty great before boot camp. Now he's amazing. And that's why I say "OORAH!" Mothers of America, don't be afraid or upset when your son comes home one day and tells you he wants to be a Marine. Thank God he made that choice and support him all the way.

(By the proud parent of a United States Marine)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

In Memory of Lucille Marker Jones, the Nebraska Farm Girl

My dear mother, who was born January 18, 1917, saw the dawning of 2011. And then she passed away peacefully early on New Year's Day. I had hoped she might make it to her birthday, but at least she made it to 1/1/11. I congratulate her on a life well-lived. I feel very fortunate to have been her daughter.

Now she is once again with my dad who died 8 years ago, and with her parents, grandparents and many other loved ones on the other side.

This is Mother and me on the signing and speaking tour for Farm Girl in Nebraska, two years ago.

                                                       Lucille and Bill Jones, together again.

                                                                       Little Lucille

                                  She loved Christmas her whole life and always made it special.

                                                 Lucille on the fence that surrounded the family farm.

She adored her dad, who died when she was only 30. What a joyous reunion it must have been with so many loved ones welcoming her home.

Until we meet again, farewell to my beloved mother of infinite grace and beauty.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolutions Then & Now

These have been my resolutions for the past 4 decades:

Lose weight

Exercise more

Eat less sugar

Clean out the closets

Random other goals that have to do with whatever work or hobbies I'm involved with at the moment.

So this year I won't do resolutions or goals, but simply set up these Three Challenges:

1. Write 30 minutes Mon-Fri.

2. Walk 30 - 60 minutes 5x a week.

3. Read 50 books.

I've already started on the walking and the reading. I'm clearing up a lot of minor tasks that are taking excessive amounts of time and energy to prepare for the writing challenge.

So forget Resolutions. This year it is Challenges. Wish me luck! (And do you realize today is 1/1/11. Can't wait for 1/11/11 in 10 days!)