Nana married young, just a few months shy of completing her nursing education. She'd met and fallen in love with a dashing older man. He'd been married before and had two children. I'm sure it was quite scandalous.
When I was a kid, Nana lived in Massachusetts and my family lived in Maryland. We'd visit once or twice a year. She always seemed rather high brow and exotic to me, her old house in a Boston suburb so much cooler and more interesting then the cookie cutter 1970s house I shared with my parents and four siblings.
Even the story of her long absent father showing up on her doorstep enthralled me. Granddad had gone off to the Merchant Marines after his wife died. He'd left his two daughters with their grandmother. According to the stories, he reappeared in Nana's life many years later, and she took him in. He lived with Nana until he died.
When we'd visit, he'd either be sitting in an old leather recliner or on a bench under the grape arbor. He kept butterscotch candies in his pocket and offered them to us. He also chewed tobacco. Because of him, I know the exact function of a spittoon and can describe what it sounds like when a gob of tobacco lands in one.
I will spare you that, though.
Nana had secrets.
For as long as I can remember, I knew that.
Her husband died when her oldest son was sixteen. My father, the youngest of five, was eight and has no memories of his dad. There were pictures of William Pothier in Nana's photo albums. She'd let us look through the pictures, but she never said a word about the husband she'd lost.
It didn't matter. I had a huge imagination, and I filled in the details that she wouldn't provide. In my mind, she and William had a love so deep and strong that Nana had barely survived losing him. I never put a word down on paper, but I created my first romance based on Willetta and William.
Years later, I found out the truth. William hadn't been a very nice man. He was harsh and probably abusive. I would say that Nana was more relieved than heartbroken when he died, but I'll never know the truth, because she would never say. She kept her thoughts to herself and raised her kids without piling her baggage onto them.
She was a great lady, my Nana.
She was also a writer.
Years before I was born, she sold a story to a magazine. I don't know what the story was or if anyone has a copy of it. I didn't even know she could write until I submitted STILL WATERS to Harlequin. My father, being the proud papa he is, told his family that I'd queried a publishing house and gotten a request for my book. Nana was thrilled. She'd already had a few mini strokes and her memory wasn't as good as it had once been, but she remembered my submission and asked every week if I had sold the book yet.
When I finally did, Nana was thrilled. She couldn't wait to get her hands on a copy.
As the years went by and her memory got worse and her health failed, Nana never ever forgot that I was a published author. Near the end, when her children could no longer care for her at home, she stayed in a nursing home. She brought copies of my books with her and told all the nurses that her granddaughter had written them. I've heard rumors that she even slept with them sometimes.
Six years ago, Nana passed away. The morning of her death, my husband found a beautiful mourning dove in our yard. It didn't fly away when he bent to pick it up. He carried it into the house and put it in a box. My kids and I spent the day with the dove. It didn't seem sick, but it never flew out of the box. It didn't struggle when I picked it up, either. It had the softest feathers and the most beautiful eyes. If my Nana had been a bird, she would have been one just like that.
That evening, my husband carried the box outside and the dove flew away.
You can say it means nothing, and you will probably be right, but there was something magical about that day, something altogether unexplainable about that beautiful mourning dove.
When I wrote The House on Main Street, I spent a lot of time thinking about family, about love, about the things that bind us together and the things that pull us apart. I thought of Nana and her husband and her old house and the porcelain pig that sat at the top of her stairs. I thought about her secrets and her dreams and the way that she loved her children...unconditionally and without reserve.
I thought about how we can be so caught up in the daily grind, so steeped in the ordinary that we miss the extraordinary.
And the extraordinary really is all around us.
We just have to slow down long enough to see it.
Nana never said as much, but I'm pretty sure she knew it.
I wasn't asked to write a dedication for The House on Main Street, but if I had been, it would have read - This one is for you, Nana, because you have proven that an ordinary life can be an extraordinarily magical thing and because you understand the power of family and of love.