An Ode to an Inspirational Grandmother
In "Because You're the First" my character Kassandra has an amazing relationship with her grandmother.
I readily admit the inspiration for the character was my maternal grandmother, Tess Edgerton.
Nana was a first generation American. Her mother and father came to the U.S. from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) in 1906; my great-grandmother newly married and pregnant with my grandmother. The young family settled in Mansfield, Connecticut.
Nana's childhood was atypical of those living in rural New England at the turn of the century. She turned out to be the oldest of the 13 children my great-grandparents had. They were poor immigrants; but they all sang and played an instrument, and from what I heard from my mother, knew how to give great parties. Lots of food and liquor flowed, and everyone had wonderful times.
At 13, Nana left formal schooling, and went to work in a button factory to help support the family. Long before there were adequate child labor laws in America, it was not one her fondest experiences. But that ended when she married my grandfather, Frederick T. Edgerton. Ten years her senior, his descendants are traceable back Plymouth Plantation. The Edgerton family came from Massachusetts to Coventry, Connecticut in the 1720s. My grandfather was a World War I veteran, and quite the looker and the catch. They first settled in a small house for a few years before moving into the family farmhouse, which still stands in Coventry today. My aunt was born there, and my mother grew up there.
My grandfather and me, when I was two years old
In the book, I create sort of what I call a "wishful thinking" scenario. By that I mean Kassandra, the main character, goes and visits her grandmother at the family farm as a teenager; years after her own family moved to Los Angeles. She gets to experience farm life, spending an entire summer there, and getting through one of the toughest experiences of her life with her grandmother's support.
I was personally not as lucky. My memories of my grandparent's farm are sketchy. This picture above with my grandfather is one of the few I have of myself on the farm. That is because he passed away in 1965. I was four years old. Since he died in the house, my grandmother, who was rather superstitious, would not return. My father and uncle took Nana's personal effects out of the house, and the rest of the contents of the farm; furniture, animals, you name it, was auctioned off. The farm was sold, and Nana moved in with my aunt and uncle who lived down the street from the farm.
Two years later, my parents, my brother and I left Connecticut for Southern California. I was seven years old.
I did visit Nana at my aunt's Connecticut homes during my childhood, first in Coventry, and later in Vernon. In 1990, my aunt and uncle retired, moving to northwestern Florida, where they still reside. She also came and visited us in California when I was growing up, which is where I truly got to know how wonderful she really was.
She passed away in 2002 just one month shy of her 96th birthday. To say I miss her would be an understatement. But she is always with me. Our relationship has evolved from physical to spiritual, and I feel her presence with me always. There is a funny (and rather crude) story my grandmother used to tell (she loved bathroom humor, as I admit, does pretty much everyone in our family) that Kassandra's grandmother tells her and her brother Matthew during their farm visit. That story was my grandmother's story. She had a hearty laugh I can still hear; loved a good joke, a "highball" as they used to call it, and was filled with compassion and love for other people.
Needless to say, I would have loved to have been that teenage Kassandra from "Because You're the First," getting to visit her grandmother on the family farm. But luckily, through our trips back and forth over the years, my grandmother and I did develop a wonderful connection that I have found comforting and inspirational throughout my life. One of the greatest things about writing is you can use the things that are wonderful about your life in your fiction. My grandmother was only one of many people that inspired me to write. But I admit, she is probably my favorite!!