Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A MONTH FOR REMEMBERING

by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Children’s literature rarely revolves around a happy nuclear family…unless the protagonist is snatched from it in some heartbreaking way. Happy families don’t tend to provide the kind of conflict and tension a good book depends on.

And sadly enough, many real families experience a similar existence to the challenging one in books. Those families tug at my heart.

As a writer, I have to study and research that kind of family to write convincingly about them. Because (don’t hate me for it) I grew up in one of those happy nuclear families.

Mom and Dad both worked, but in my early years, Mom worked at home. She ran a nursery school. Not only was Mom home all day, but hordes of kids to play with arrived each morning. Our house was filled with toys, and our yard had playground equipment. A kid’s dream, right?

We were a big family and money was tight, but that taught us what is truly important in life. And it isn’t money. The only legitimate complaint I can give for my early years is I had to compete with six siblings and a school full of kids for my parents’ attention.

My teen years brought some of the tension that story feeds from, but those early years grounded me and prepared me in a way for which I will always be grateful. Those years remain strong in my memory, and May is a month when they flood into my mind, along with the smell of lilacs.

Why May? Mothers’ Day, for starters. A day most of us think about our mothers and our growing up years. Mom is the one who first got me interested in writing. And if I have any talent for it, it came through Mom’s genes.

May is also the month we lost our dad—21 years ago. I still feel him near me often, and thank him for teaching me the value of family. I have tried to pass that along to my own kids.

Dad lost his mother—in May—17 years before his own death. Grandma was the matriarch of a huge family whose members try to stay close and connected. More great genes.

There are also those lilacs I mentioned. We had four bushes of those May bloomers in our backyard when I was a kid. The fragrance of their blossoms filled our noses every spring when we played outdoors.

I planted a lilac bush outside my front door several years ago, and every May, each time I step outside or return home, its scent takes me back to childhood, to Mom and Dad, and the happy family that surrounded me.
A Cannon-Wiechman family reunion

19 comments:

  1. It would be nice if SOME Parents survived in middle grade literature! I think it is far more common for readers these age to deal with the loss of a parent through divorce, and I've read a few more books that included that recently' but there are still far too many parents who die!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're absolutely right. The tension that makes for story doesn't have to come from inside a broken family unit. Outside tension works, too.

      Delete
  2. I grew up in a happy nuclear family too, and so did my kids. My oldest son complained that he didn't have anything to write about in his college essay about overcoming obstacles! Maybe that's why tension is so hard for me to write. I do like happy stories with happy families. Ahhh, well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alas, the tension for story ideas surrounds us everywhere. It's in the news every day. If only all families could be happier, we'd have to look a little harder for story ideas.

      Delete
  3. Great post, Kathy. May your May be filled with happy memories.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I understand family memories…triggered by smells, pictures, flowers…I am with you on that, Kathy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Carol. The senses have enormous powers to conjure memories of all kinds.

      Delete
  5. Lots of May flowers to you, Kathy. There is so much to celebrate!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Juliet. Sending love your way.

      Delete
  6. This is a really neat post. I'm glad you had such a happy childhood. It probably gives you a more sensitive perspective for those who didn't in your research.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, MJ. My heart breaks often for children not fortunate to have the kind of loving parents I had. A set of good parents can help us forget the ache of an empty stomach or a lost friendship.

      Delete
  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nice post, Kathy. You and I have a great childhood in common. My parents have both passed away in the past three years, and I am so very grateful for the gifts they gave me. A stable, loving home is something I took for granted for a long time! (It does make the writing a little more difficult, but we have good imaginations. Don't we?) :)

    Jamie DeMumbrum

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So glad you had a good childhood, & I'm sorry for the loss of your parents, but it seems as though they prepared you well. A good imagination is a necessary tool for an author.

      Delete
  9. It was great learning more about you. My May memories, as well as family memories, are quite different and feed into my writing in some way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. It's good to write what you know. My early years gave me very little conflict, but my teen years provided a great deal to incorporate into my work.

      Delete