Understanding Prudence

Joan CrawfordI devoted chapter seven of my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, to developing the character of Prudence Welles Mayfield. Unfortunately, her interesting backstory didn’t move the rest of the plot forward. I struggled with cutting what became known as Chapter Prudence because I really like her, and the writing was good. In the end, I discarded it in favor of keeping the story focused on my protagonist alone.

The following account details Prudence as a child and young woman. There are a few references to things that occur later in my novel, tidbits that I dealt with in others ways upon removal of this chapter, but nothing so confusing that you won’t be able to understand what’s going on.

Although her backstory went by the wayside, Prudence herself did not. She is very much an influential presence in the life of the nephew, John Welles. I hope reading about her youthful adventures, and the following character sketch, give you a better perspective into the personality of Prudence.

Chapter Prudence

You believe you already know Prudence; she’s the stunning woman with an expensive, tailored wardrobe you would give your eye teeth to own. You would probably label her an arm ornament until she opens her mouth, and you realize an intelligent, well-spoken woman resides in the beautiful package. Suddenly, you want her as your friend.

You will find Prudence with drink in hand at the center of every social engagement, commanding her audience with a stellar personality, smoking long before it was fashionable for women to do so. She’s a lady to the core, despite what society may think about her, and would sooner burn her shoe collection than be caught drunk in public.

Don’t be fooled by Prudence, though. The petit woman isn’t afraid to speak her mind and can back down the most assertive man. Other women, especially those vying for a place in her beloved nephew’s life, are her particular kryptonite.

From the outside, it looks as if Prudence has a charmed life. She has plenty of money, secured by a good head for business, so she and John want for nothing. Her life is full of quality items from the home she lives in, the car she drives, the vacations she takes. Yet closer inspection would reveal sadness in Prudence kept hidden from the world. Her care of John, while altruistic on the surface, also services to satisfy her need for penance and motherhood.

Still, she isn’t the type to sit around mourning an unfortunate circumstance. She is proactive in her own restless life and will seek satisfaction until she has secured it instead of waiting around for a man to provide it.Coco Chanel, French couturier. Paris, 1936 LIP-283

For all her forthrightness, Prudence can still be wounded at heart. As much as she loves John, it is he who most often draws the line on her outrageous behavior especially in regards to her creative honesty. She’ll never let on that she feels the sting of his rebuke, and if pressed, Prudence would admit that her nephew is a positive influence in her life.

The pictures of Joan Crawford and Coco Chanel capture the essence of Prudence as I envisioned her.

Your Old Friend, Collie Mercer

You probably already know someone like Collie Mercer. Her laughter can be heard over everyone else in the room, and it continues long after the joke is over. She’ll be wiping tears from her eyes as she quietly repeats the punchline, cackling to herself. You can’t help but love her as you laugh along.

Collie is the person who shows up first, works the hardest, and stays the longest to make sure things are completed. It would surprise her to know that people look to her for direction. She would never think of herself as being in charge; she’s just doing what needs to be done.

Grandma Smith Jane Deniece Dad

Before she was Grandma Smith. Pictured with my aunts, Jane and Deniece, pregnant with my dad.

At church events and community picnics, everyone scrambles to get a portion of whatever Collie brought. Her pies alone would set grown men to fighting for a piece if they didn’t already know that she always brings two.

Yet no one ever fought over Collie herself. She’s a robust woman, standing no less than five foot ten, and she’s as plain as a freshly sawn board. The truth of the matter is that she can outwork most men, putting quite a few to shame. There has never been a task to make her pause and think, “I wonder if I can do that.”

Five minutes in Collie’s presence will reveal her strong faith in God. She lives out her beliefs in front of her family and friends instead of preaching it to them, and even if someone doesn’t adhere to her faith, they know where to turn in a time of need. Prayers, food, clothing, and sometimes tough love are in ready supply when someone taps the fount of Collie’s generosity.

She’s quick to forgive except when it comes to her own mistakes. Like most people, Collie is hardest on herself. When the time comes to ask forgiveness of others, she knows how to humble herself and admit that she messed up.

You would never know that she didn’t finish her education. What she lacks in formal schooling, she makes up for in boundless practical knowledge. Although this limits the boundaries of her world, Collie never shuns the opportunity to learn new things. The only place she feels intimidated is in the presence of her worldly sister-in-law, Prudence.

Neat as a pin would be the phrase used to describe Collie. Her home and stepchildren are also spotless. She won’t tolerate tobacco or alcohol usage in her house and all animals must live in the barn including the family pets.

Collie’s influence in the lives of her stepchildren is significant. She is as firm in her love and devotion toward her family as she is her discipline of them when needed. The role of protector is one she takes quite seriously, especially toward John who never knew his birth mother. At times, she shields him too much. However, one characteristic she will never be accused of is favoritism.

At the end of the day, Collie Mercer is the kind of person you want to have as a friend. She will stand by you through the good and the bad, tell you when you’re wrong, mediate between you and another person until the situation is resolved without any hurt feelings.

For some people who will read this character sketch, Collie Mercer may sound extremely familiar. Without intentionally doing so, I created a character that is strongly based on my beloved grandma, Dorothy Smith.

More than physical appearance, Collie possesses the essence of what made my grandma a great woman. They aren’t a perfect match, but the similarities are comfortingly familiar. Perhaps I subconsciously did so because in the back of my mind, everyone should have had a chance to meet my grandma.

By the time you and Collie Mercer part ways, I guarantee you’ll be friends.

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