This week there's just a handful of us participating, but there was no way I couldn't answer today's question. The ever curious A.S Fenichel wants us to discuss:
Which person living, dead, a relative or a stranger has had the biggest influence on your life/writing career? Tell us what he/she was like or how they shaped you.
This is a bittersweet post for me to write, and for those of you who have followed along with this blog since the beginning, I'm betting you already know the answer. It's my grandmother, Elizabeth Barbour.
Part of me feels bad for singling her out, where I'm blessed to have so many wonderful supporters, especially my parents and my husband. But this is first and foremost about my writing career and how that person shaped it. And I believe that I wouldn't be a writer if I wasn't a voracious reader. And I KNOW for a fact that I wouldn't be a romance writer if it weren't for my grandmother.
As a little girl, I loved to read. My parents would often tell me to put down my book and go outside. But not my Nan. Nope. Many a lazy day was spent with her reading. Oh, we did other things. She taught me to cook, and to crochet, and to fish, and to garden, and to wrap presents. Some of these things I've become decent at, others passable, and in the case of wrapping presents, well, I remain deplorable. She also taught me to be kind, to listen, to be ladylike (when the moment suited), and to think.
I grew up next door to my Nan, and we spent a lot of time together because of that. As we all got older, she and my grandfather started spending more and more time at their house around the bay. I'd miss her a lot. But then I'd get to make the five hour drive and spend a week there as well. And that's when the serious reading time kicked in.
Here's how a day would go with Nan, especially after my grandfather passed away, and it would be just the two of us there for a week-long stretch.
I'd wake to the sounds of her moving around the kitchen. Maybe the washing machine would start. Or the pump would kick in. Sometimes it could be the flush of the toilet that first stirred me. But then I would lay in bed and listen to her moving around.
My bedroom, because even though she had three granddaughters, as the eldest I always considered it mine, was at the top of the stairs. I love those stairs. They're wide. I bet three people could walk down them at the same time if you wanted. I'd sit on the top step and watch her. Most times, she'd already be sitting in her favourite chair by the big picture window overlooking a long white fence rimmed with the most beautiful flowers and a bird feeder that was home to squirrels as often as birds. Those squirrels drove her mad. But she'd be sitting there, a steaming cup of tea on the table beside her, reading.
I'd come down, and sit in the opposite chair. Sometimes I'd have a book already started. If I didn't, she'd have a new one laid there waiting. If I'd finished a book the day before, maybe late in the evening, she wouldn't get me a new one because she knew I'd stay awake reading. I did that regardless, because my room was filled with stacks of Reader's Digest magazines which I worked my way through when there was no novel in sight.
So what would she put out for me to read? Catherine Cookson was both of our favourites. I think I started with The Moth. And then the Mallen trilogy. The Black Velvet Gown. I might have been in grade eight, nine at the latest, when I was vacationing with some aunts. We went to the corner store and I bought The Parson's Daughter to read. It had a stunning red cover, and must have been six or seven hundred pages long. They didn't really approve of my book choice, but there it was. My first Catherine Cookson purchase all on my own.
But she also got me into historical books. Jean Plaidy was a favourite of mine. And from time to time, she'd give me a romance.
But I digressed for our day. And today, with the sun shining, and my coffee in a cup she gave me, I want to relive one of our days. I beg your indulgence. So we'd read for a while, and then have breakfast. Then we'd read a bit more. Maybe we'd go for a walk, or putter around outside cutting splits or bringing in wood for the stove. I'd hang out laundry, which I hated. But now do faithfully. Sometimes a friend from the bay would come over. I had three: two boys and a girl. And while I'd love playing with them, or as I was a teenager, flirting with them, I also couldn't wait for them to go home because I wanted to get back to my book.
Between 2:30 and 4:30 it was time for the stories. All My Children and One Life to Live. They weren't my stories. I preferred Days of Our Lives and General Hospital, but those required a different channel, and the reception was terrible. Only the shows on CBC came in clear. If I wasn't outside with my friends, then I was inside. That's when she'd have me practice my crochet skills. Once my pinky would cramp up, then I'd pick up my book, grab a snack and hide away outside to read, if the flies weren't atrocious. Or it wasn't raining. Or snowing.
In the evening, after supper and washing up, we might have a game of cards. Or watch a movie on VHS. She loved oldies, especially musicals, and therefore, so did I. She would buy up so many copies of bargain classics when she would be in town for the winter that we'd have dozens to choose from, often still unwrapped. And then, before bed, more reading.
I didn't mean to dwell on a day so much. I wanted to tell you more about her, but I got caught up in reliving a moment in time. In a few weeks I'm going back to her place, which my aunt now has. I'm going back with two writer friends and we're having a writing retreat. I can't imagine a better place.
I've only been there once in the nearly six years since Nan passed away. As a adult my grandmother became one of my best friends, and I miss her terribly.
I rarely wrote when I was with her. Writing is what I did on my own, at home. When I was with her, I was learning how to write better, by reading and talking about characters and story and setting and what compelled us to keep turning the page. Because as any true book lover knows, when you find that perfect reading companion, you do more than read. You share sentences or paragraphs that hit you. You talk about what makes a book good. Why you love one more than the other. And we did that.
The first time my grandmother met my now husband, I had insisted he had to come down the bay and meet her. I knew I had strong feelings for him. We'd been dating for maybe four months. I needed Nan to meet him. After the first day, I overheard her telling her friend, "Vicki's found the perfect man for her. She curls up on one end of the sofa reading, and he's on the other end reading. They're meant to be together."
There's so much more I could say, but this is what matters. This is what lives in me. There's not a day goes by that I don't miss her. My biggest regret is not finishing a novel before she died. But then again, it was in tribute to her that I finally forced myself to finish. And publish.
Thanks for indulging me in the long post.
Now, let's go visit Jeanne McDonald and see her post. Happy blog hopping this week everyone!