Who was it that kindled your passion for a certain life-long pursuit? Who made you long to bake pie crusts so light they could fly up to heaven? Who was it that gave you a fascination for numbers, and eventually drove you to become a teacher, or a financial executive? Who made you fall in love with wood, turning it into elegant furniture? Or maybe you have a burning desire to heal those who are suffering.
As you probably have already figured out, my own passion is storytelling, and in this my first blog post, I want to lay the “blame” squarely where it belongs: with my mother, Lettie DeSilva. She’s also known as Vera to her siblings and their children. And Mrs. Stilson to her many students, before she remarried. And Lettie Andretti to the nurses in the special care facility towards the end of her life, because she whisked through the halls in her wheelchair at a remarkable speed.
When I was growing up, Saturday mornings were a very special time. After my father left to work in the family hardware store, I’d pile into bed with my Mom and sister, Marian. Mom would open up story books. She endowed each predicament with emotions, each character with voices that made them spring to life. Eventually, she’d put the books down and would start making up tales. And my sister and I would add to them in round-robin fashion.
There are little tributes and memories of my Mom that are sprinkled through, THE JUICE, my new novel that’s about to be released. The hard-scrabble town that my main character, Luscious, lives in is named Pompey Hollow. My Mom grew up in a farmhouse on Pompey Hollow Road, not very far from Syracuse, NY. I have many fond memories of visiting that farm, where my Grandfather, Aunt Janet and Uncle Robert lived with my three cousins. On lazy summer days, we’d pump cold water out of their underground well beneath a cherry tree. The metal dipper that we used gave it a tangy taste. We roamed the hills above the barn, and I’d absorb the warm, animal smell of cows as my uncle milked them. While the Pompey in my book is poverty stricken and very different than that tidy farm on an old country road, it’s a place of love for my dirt poor, funny girl Lush, just as the real place is for me.
One of my favorite characters in the book is Luscious’s grandmother, whom she calls Gram. That’s what some of Mom’s grandchildren call her. The Gram in my book has the DNA of many different people I’ve encountered. But here are a couple of lines, told from Luscious’s point of view, that describe what I experienced with my mother:
Whenever I came home, it was only in the first minutes of seeing Gram that I really saw how she looked. After that, it was as if our hearts took over, talking back and forth.
That’s what it was like for me, whenever I was with my Mom, right up until her passing, a few years ago.
NO BIG CHAMPION
Somewhat ironically, my mother wasn’t a huge champion of my fiction writing. I think it was a bit of a puzzlement for her. Although she was an avid reader, she was also a very practical person. The idea I would w
ant to pursue a career that had no guarantees of steady employment was not something that she could get behind.
It was a relief to her, I can’t help feel, that I was also a journalist. She was proud that I worked for magazines and newspapers that covered the media industry, like Variety, Adweek and The Hollywood Reporter — and eventually traveled the globe as an editor. But she taught me to be resourceful, and that helped me find other people who gave me the encouragement and drive to nurture my creative-writing passion.
To me, it’s the most precious substance, to have at least one soul who will help you discover what will make your heart quicken, who will help you discover how your life can have personal meaning and (at least) the hope of fulfillment.
Who are the special people who have powered your passions? I would love to hear from you.