My iPhone chirped three times this morning, reminding me of today’s birthdays: My brother-in-law. One of my best friends. Grandma Ireland.
I didn’t need the reminder about the last one. I’m always a little sad on July 21.
My grandma died eight years ago. She would have been 100 years old today.
Grandma Ireland was a hugely important person in my life, especially when I was little. We lived around the corner and I spent my days with her when my parents were at work. She was my best friend, and I loved her house more than any other place in my little world.
My mom tells this story best: One day when I was six years old, my mom came into my bedroom and found a bunch of neighborhood kids I’d invited over. My toys were scattered all over the floor. Everyone was having a great time. She asked them where I was and they had no idea.
She didn’t really panic. Just a few weeks earlier during kindergarten recess, I’d hoped the fence the school shared with my grandparents’ backyard. I disappeared a lot. I always went to the same place. What can I say? I got bored. My grandma was always more interesting.
Whenever I hear authors talk about their books, I’m always fascinated about the ways their personal lives creep into their stories. Sometimes it’s accidental and takes them by surprise. Other times it’s intentional.
Grandma Ireland’s influence on my books was never accidental. From the very beginning, I knew Bennett’s grandmother, Maggie, would live around the corner from Anna’s bookstore. I knew Bennett would often feel more at home in her house than in his own. I knew he’d tell her everything, even his biggest secret, because Maggie just sort of pulls that stuff out of you whether you want her to or not. I knew Anna would love Maggie as much as Bennett did.
And I knew that, like my own grandmother, Maggie would have Alzheimer’s and that it would eventually take her life.
Watching my grandma slowly forget me was incredibly difficult. But I got to spend time with her whenever I wrote a Maggie scene. I worked through a lot of the pain of losing her, and forgave myself for all the things I wished I could go back and do over, knowing what I knew later on. Since I’m not a time traveler, I can’t go back and have a cup of tea with her, but writing her into my story was a lovely experience that kept her alive in some important ways.
Readers often tell me that Maggie is their favorite character. Maybe that’s because in real life, my grandmother was always mine.
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