Who’s Your Momma?

Shirley Tedesco has her hands full with eight children ranging in age from five to sixteen, but she loves being a mother. She’s also very practical about the whole endeavor and readily distributes hugs or spanks as needed to keep her brood of eight angels/hoodlums in line. In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” Shirley is feeling like less of a mother than she normally does. Her husband, Joe, knows she’s experiencing a bout of the blues, and his heart breaks for her. Joe springs into action with a Mother’s Day celebration sure to lift Shirley’s spirits and quite possibly earn him some points.

While writing, I knew that Mother’s Day had been established long before the year during which my novel took place, but the research provided some interesting history with which I’d like to honor mothers everywhere.

One of the earliest example of celebrating mothers came about with the Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” This holiday fell on the fourth Sunday during Lent, and it was once a major tradition in England and parts of Europe. Faithful church attenders would return to their “mother church” (the main church nearest their home) for a special service.

Over time, Mothering Sunday became a more secular holiday. Children began presenting their mother’s with small tokens of appreciation or flowers. This custom started to fade in popularity, but it eventually merged with the American version of honoring mothers, Mother’s Day, in the 1930s and 1940s.

In America, the origins of Mother’s Day date back to the 19th century. Prior to the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a resident of West Virginia, helped start the “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in an effort to teach proper childcare to local women. Later, the clubs served as a unifying force in areas of the country still divided by the Civil War. In 1868, Jarvis promoted reconciliation between mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers by organizing “Mothers’ Friendship Day.”

Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, also provided an important aspect to what would become the modern Mother’s Day. In 1870, Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” Her call to action asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873, she campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, was instrumental in promoting the official Mother’s Day holiday in the 1900s. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis regarded Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia department store owner, provided financial backing for Anna Jarvis allowing her to organize the first official Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Thousands of people also attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

Anna Jarvis, who never married or had children, started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and influential politicians in an effort to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar. By 1912, many states, towns, and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Anna Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association to assist with promoting her cause. Her perseverance paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure to officially establish the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

There is no set way to honor and celebrate mothers and motherhood. My experience has been that small, private celebrations or those grounded in faith touch a mother’s heart the most. It isn’t about what you can give to and/or do for your mother; it’s about maintaining the relationship throughout the year, and then taking one special day a year to say an extra “I love you.”

A Soldier’s Story – Omar N. Bradley

a-soldiers-storyA Soldier’s Story by General Omar N. Bradley is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.  My friend and fellow writer, William Alford, loaned Bradley’s autobiography to me as a source of research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.  My research required a closer look at World War II, such as those provided by doctors and nurses (And If I Perish, Heroes From the Attic), but I still read Bradley’s account of the war, and I am extremely glad I did so.

He prefaces his autobiography with the inscription, “To those soldiers who must often have wondered WHY they were going where they did.  Perhaps this will help answer their questions.”

I believe Bradley answered these questions truthfully and without the ego that might have come from a lesser man achieving such rank and accomplishing what Bradley did.  As for the tough issue regarding loss of life, he explained how every move made by troops was analyzed and not conducted until the loss was the lowest number possible.  The decision to go ahead, shouldered by Bradley and other men like him, was not taken lightly, and it is not one I would ever want to have.

There are many who would argue that the war was unnecessary, but I concur with General Bradley:  the evil that swept through Europe wasn’t going to go away on its own.  Even with the combined forces of the Allies, the battles were not easily fought or won.  Perhaps unavoidable would be the better word choice in regards to World War II.

Bradley was against actions such as taking a site simply for the prestige of location.  Yet when other commanders’ egos swelled, he remained cordial with them even while strongly disagreeing with their decisions and/or actions.  He went so far as to put his career on the line to get the truth out to the American public regarding one such instance.

Further testimony to Bradley’s humility and strength of character are his accounts of his friend, General Patton.  Bradley spoke frankly about the times Patton overstepped his bounds, yet he never criticized in a way that tore Patton down.  When Patton was placed under Bradley’s authority, the two men worked together quite well and held each other in high regard.

Bradley includes comments from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that are chilling predictions come true.  Considering that the conversation took place in 1945 and wasn’t published until 1951, when Churchill says, “There may come a day when we shall walk into a cabinet room, break the glass over a switch, dial to the nation to be bombed, and push a button to declare war,” I can’t help but wonder if this technology was in place long before we were aware.  More unsettling are Churchill’s words, “But we shall never sit by and permit a minority to force its will upon a helpless majority anywhere,” which speak to the current world situation.

The book concludes with the end of the war in Europe, an occasion that was no doubt worthy of celebration, but I was left with a feeling of melancholy that I could only attribute to the realization that the type of patriotism displayed during World War II no longer exists.  Still, I believe that Bradley’s explanations successfully bridged the gap between those in command and those in the field.  I highly recommend A Soldier’s Story as a worthy read.

F. Scott Fitzgerald – The Short Stories

F. Scott Fitzgerald The Short StoriesAnyone who knows me knows I adore reading. And for those who don’t know me, it won’t take much time spent in my presence, whether in real life or via social media, to discover this. Recently, I’ve been reading the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I assigned this task to myself as part of the research for my new novel. My goal was to gain a better understanding of Fitzgerald through his writing first, and then I would tackle books of literary commentary as well as biographies of the man, the author, and his life.

I’m not sure where to begin with my review of Fitzgerald’s short stories because I must admit it isn’t favorable in the least. I must also confess my amazement that he earned the money he did during the era in which he wrote. This is especially astounding considering how small the payment is among literary journals today. According to the Dollar Times inflation calculator, four thousand dollars for “At Your Age” in 1929 would be like earning $55, 327.48 in 2016. The section notes prior to the story state this was his “top story price.” I interpret that as price per story and not salary for the year. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but either way, Fitzgerald was simply not that good an author.

If you read one short story, you’ve read them all and his novels as well. Beautiful, indifferent debutantes who pick up and drop men like they’re choosing and discarding shoes; rich ambitious fellas, possibly a football hero, who undoubtedly attended/will attend either Princeton, Yale or Harvard; a sprinkling of drunks, some hopeless, some loveable; endless comparisons between the North and the South or America and Europe; and the ambitious pursuit of money, fame, and power over, and over, and over again. The most unforgivable crime Fitzgerald committed in this reader’s eyes was to cannibalize his own short stories for the sake of his novels. Worse was the fact that his agent, editors, and publishers allowed him to get away with this.

Ridiculous and cliché are the two words that came to mind the most as I read Fitzgerald. The scenarios portrayed were outlandish and unbelievable, and I’m not counting “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” when I say this. Why anyone, even fictional, would tolerate the behavior depicted among the characters is beyond me. I tried to keep in mind that attitudes and actions were different in the 20s and 30s, but my opinion of the situation often deteriorated to how stupid can one person be and how much longer before he/she quits putting up with this garbage? Perhaps this was common behavior among the rich and lovesick back then. I honestly couldn’t say.

None of Fitzgerald’s stories were memorable. As I looked back through the book, I tried to recall the storylines and characters by the title alone, but ended up cheating and reading the section notes. The only exception was “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and that was because it had been made into a movie. So, I’m left wondering who decides what makes a piece of literature a classic. The death of the author, the passing of time, the payment received, popularity with the audience at the time of publication, being made into a movie, or some combination thereof? I shudder to think how the last four delineators will make classics of some of the drivel being produced today.

I don’t know what percentage of readers would stand with me in my assessment of Fitzgerald’s writing. Hopefully, I’ll find the commentaries and biographies more interesting. From what I already know about him, I believe if he had consumed less alcohol and been more content to hone his craft than pursue fame and fortune, he would have moved beyond his narrow world, experienced life to a greater degree, and found something new to write about. In the end, I’ll give Fitzgerald credit for leaving writers a good lesson even though he failed to learn it himself.

Pop On Over, Love

IMG_20160607_085149863[1]By June of 1948, Dr. John Welles still hadn’t overcome his experiences during World War II. The haunting memories were more than he bargained for. Further gnawing at his conscience was the fact that his service had been quite brief. The worst part, though, was the secret John brought home from the war.

In his efforts to bury the painful truth of what took place in France, John became increasingly distanced from his family and friends. They were patient and loving in return, waiting for John to open up on his own terms. All except his Aunt Prudence.

Prudence had never been one to sit back and wait for things to happen. She always made her own outcome to her satisfaction, and this was exactly what she intended to do with John. Unfortunately, her well-meaning endeavors didn’t produce the results she had hoped for. She argued with her nephew until John simply shut down. Still, Prudence never backed off where he was concerned.

Into the middle of this family struggle stepped Lucia, Prudence’s sassy cook since the days of John’s boyhood. She knew her employer turned close friend had John’s best interests at heart, but sometimes Prudence’s tactics were too harsh, especially for a man still reeling from the effects of war.

One morning, over a breakfast of popovers, Lucia offered the sage advice that helped John make the first positive decision in his life since returning from Europe. Prudence hated to admit that her cook was right, but she didn’t press the issue.

The following recipe for popovers is the one I had in mind when writing the above-mentioned scene for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. The recipe has been in my mother’s recipe box since her high school home economics days. Popovers are incredibly simple to make, and they taste delicious fresh from the oven with butter.

Enjoy!

Lucia’s Popovers

1 c all-purpose flour

½ t salt

1 c milk

2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425° F

Thoroughly butter 5 – 9 custard cups. Mix all ingredients with a beater until smooth. Do not overbeat the batter or the volume will be reduced.

Fill the greased custard cups half full. Bake for 40 minutes. Resist the urge to peak or the popovers may fall. Check after 40 minutes. The popovers should be golden brown.

Serve warm with butter.

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