Category: Heirlooms

Through the Lens of Love

To mark the release of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, I am happy to welcome writer friends to the blog to share with you a story about a family heirloom that is precious to them. An heirloom scarf is what ties two women together in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, and heirlooms are what tie these blog posts together. At the end of the week, there will be a fun giveaway. Enjoy!

MarcibookcoverToday I am happy to welcome novelist Marci Nault, author of THE LAKE HOUSE,  to the blog. Marci Nault hails from a town not too far from Lake Nagog in Massachusetts. Today she can be found figure skating, salsa dancing, hiking and wine tasting around her home in California. Marci is the founder of 101 Dreams Come True, a motivational website that encourages visitors to follow their improbable dreams. Her story about attempting to complete 101 of her biggest dreams has been featured in newspapers and magazines nationwide, and she regularly speaks on the subject on radio stations in both the United States and Canada. Marci says THE LAKE HOUSE began as a comedy, “but as the characters revealed their stories the book became about the desperate need for second chances and finding home in the most unlikely place. It’s about friendship and falling in love even when you think the opportunity has passed.” Read to the end to see how you might win a signed copy.

“…found the deepest beauty and clicked the shutter…”

MarciheadThere’s a simple house in Leominster, MA, built by my grandfather. He lovingly placed joists, support beams, and stucco to create a strong foundation and secure walls.  Inside he crafted the cabinets in the small three-bedroom house where he and my grandmother raised their four children.

As a little girl, Sunday afternoons were spent in this house playing with my brother and eight cousins. We’d run up and down the hall sliding in our socks on the shiny-waxed surface. We played wiffle-ball in the backyard and could be entertained for hours on the glider swing that turned into imaginary modes of transportation.

Days when the Patriots played, the men overtook the living room and no matter how many times our mothers called out it was time to go, the men would respond, “There’s only five minutes left in the quarter.” Five minutes seemed like hours of pure playful luxury to us kids.

MarcihouseWe marked the New England seasons in this home: summers running through sprinklers; fall jumping in raked leaf piles; winter making snow angels; and spring licking our lips in anticipation of homemade maple syrup as my grandfather hung the buckets from spouts on the Maple trees.

By the time the flowers bloomed in the yard, my grandfather would retreat to his rusted shack to pour the sap onto the hot, table-like burner. Due to the wood fire and the sizzling, popping sap we were told to stay away. I’d always creak open the door, my long blonde hair, which hung to my knees, held tightly in my fist behind my neck.

My grandfather seemed to glow in the last of the sunlight that came through the windows. He’d motion me to his side, take a string and tie my hair back. His hands smelled sweet with the tinge of syrup combined with the scent of tobacco. I’d sit with him, not talking, but somehow listening to his thoughts about birds, the woods, and past memories. To many he was a bear of a man, stubborn in nature with a loud accusing voice, but his granddaughters were his sweethearts – Pepere’s little girls. The definition of safety was being by his side or in the house he’d built.Marcihouse2

My grandmother was the photographer and seamstress – creating beautiful creations with both her arts. She worked mostly in slide film, enjoying how she could shut off the lights in the kitchen and project her memories on a big screen for all of us to see. There was something comforting about those yellow boxes of slides – the story of my life and family kept safe and important.

A few months ago, my grandmother suffered a massive stroke that landed her in a nursing home. Five years before my grandfather had passed after surgery for a broken hip. Soon the house of my childhood will sell; the sugar shack replaced probably with a new home built on the land. I want to keep this home with everything I have, and I wonder if a house has ever been considered an heirloom.

As my mother was going through the lifetime of their belongings I found my grandmother’s camera equipment.  As I held the metal Canon in my hand, I felt as if it carried a presence of my grandmother’s life. Every time she saw something she loved she brought this camera to her eye, found the deepest beauty and clicked the shutter.

cameraTears came to my eyes as I held the lenses that were used in my first photography lessons. I put the camera away, knowing it would go to my aunt, but I asked one thing – if she’d pass it onto me in her will.

A few weeks later my mother handed me a note. The camera was mine because my aunt understood what it meant to me. It’s film, not digital. The lenses are ancient in today’s world, but for me this camera holds every memory of that sweet childhood. I can’t carry a house with me. I’ll have to let it go. But every time I look through the lens a part of their lives will be with me. This camera is a physical reminder of all they brought to my life and how they helped me to see the world through the lens of love.

You can reach Marci on her Facebook page, her main website or her 101 Dreams website or on Twitter at @101dreamslist.

Thanks so much for being here, Marci, and sharing such a tender story about your grandparents’ house. My paternal grandparents’ house has the same effect on me. Readers, you can be in on the drawing for Marci’s lovely book, THE LAKE HOUSE, just by commenting below. Post your hello by Friday, March 7 at noon Pacific. You can just say hi or tell us about your grandparents’ house and what memories thinking of it conjures…


Stories Beyond the Tangible

To mark the release of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS this month, I am happy to welcome writer friends to the blog to share with you a story about a family heirloom that is precious to them. An heirloom scarf is what ties two women together in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, and heirlooms are what tie these blog posts together. At the end of the month, there will be a fun giveaway. Enjoy!

I am happy to welcome to the blog today, Jessica Brockmole. She spent several years living in Scotland, where she knew too well the challenges in maintaining relationships from a distance. She plotted her first novel on a long drive from the Isle of Skye to Edinburgh. She now lives in Indiana with her husband and two children. Read to the end to see how you might win a copy of her latest book, Letters from Skye, a sweeping story told in letters, and spanning two continents and two world wars. This debut novel captures the indelible ways that people fall in love, and celebrates the power of the written word to stir the heart.

“The scraps of ephemera…”

Jessica Brockmole photoI come from a family very serious about their heirlooms. They hold on to them tightly and pass them on reluctantly. Beds, chests, Bibles, wedding dresses, medals, family photographs—all are treasured and given places of honor in the house. But the little things, the scraps of ephemera that usually languish in attic boxes, are often overlooked. As a historical novelist and an enthusiastic researcher, I find the ephemeral to be the best part, where stories beyond the tangible can be teased out. And so I willingly accept the postcards, school papers, recipe cards, and books not noticed beside the other heirlooms.

One of these that I treasure is my grandmother’s yearbook. Blue and silver, embossed with stars amid the universe and “1938,” it documents her last year at McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio. The certificate of credits tucked into the yearbook shows good grades, especially in English and applied math, with most of her credits built up in the school’s commercial program. Ladylike even then, she received perfect marks in deportment. JessicayearbookShe rounded out her studies with the Booster club, the Modern Writers’ club, and one year on the girls’ basketball team. I can just pick her out in the tiny black-and-white group photos.

The researcher in me loves the yearbook for the pages of photographs, the autographs and scribbled mottos (“Loads of luck and happiness.”), the ads for local businesses (“Canton Pure Milk Co. – There Is Health in Every Drop”), the scraps of memories tucked between the pages. It’s a record of a year, of a city, of nine hundred hopeful teenagers. The book and everything in it show a fascinating slice of local history. But as a piece of family history, the yearbook represents so much more.

JessicagrandmaGrandma was the oldest child of Romanian immigrants, hard workers who came to America young (Great-Grandma was sixteen, alone, and traveling with a borrowed passport, if family stories are to be believed). Her parents were uneducated and neither could read or write in English, but they worked where they could—Father in factories and steel mills, Mother in domestic service. They worked so that their six children could go to school.

My grandmother not only went to high school, but graduated. I have her carefully calligraphied diploma in the yearbook. And that motivation carried through the next generations. My father graduated from high school and took college courses. My sister and I graduated from college and from graduate programs. From my great-grandparents, with their dreams as they sailed across the Atlantic, descended generations who built upon those dreams.

JessicaLetters from SkyeWhen I flip through the pages of the yearbook and the papers slipped between the pages, at everything my grandmother accomplished in her four years at McKinley High School, it makes me think of my own years in school. She sat in the audience at both my high school and college graduations, smiling so big that she outshone the rest of the audience. I know she’d be proud of everything that I’ve achieved since.

So, you see, that starry blue-and-silver yearbook from McKinley High School is more than a piece of history. It’s the hopes of an immigrant family, writ on glossy pages and bound between embossed cardboard. That yearbook reminds me of the women in my family who reached to pull the stars down closer so that I could touch them.

You can connect with Jessica on her website and on Facebook, but most often on Twitter at @jabrockmole.

What a great story, Jessica. And what a beautiful woman your grandmother was. If you would like to win a copy of LETTERS TO SKYE (isn’t the cover delish?)  just leave a comment below by noon Pacific on Tuesday, March 4. will choose a winner! Good luck. Anyone else have an old yearbook from days gone by?

Leaving a Legacy

 To mark the release of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS this month, I am happy to welcome writer friends to the blog to share with you a story about a family heirloom that is precious to them. An heirloom scarf is what ties two women together in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, and heirlooms are what tie these blog posts together. At the end of the month, there will be a fun giveaway. Enjoy!

GillbertbookcoverI am happy to welcome to the blog this Monday morning, Kellie Gilbert. A former legal investigator and trial paralegal, Kellie Coates Gilbert writes with a sympathetic, intimate knowledge of how people react under pressure. Her books tell emotionally poignant stories about woman in life-changing circumstances. Her next release, A WOMAN OF FORTUNE, will be available this June.  It’s the story of a Texas socialite whose world is filled with designer clothes, luxury cars, and stunning homes. But her Neiman-Marcus lifestyle comes crashing down when her charming cattle broker husband is arrested for fraud and she finds herself betrayed by the man she loved the most. Read to the end to see how you can win a copy of this book!

“…All the promises and counsel…”

GilbertheadHer name was Leona May Abbott Coates.  A woman of extraordinary grace and dignity. Born into an affluent and politically connected family, she surprised everyone by marrying a lowly sheepherder. As the story goes, my grandfather saw my gram on a horse galloping through a meadow, her long black hair flowing behind, and he set about making her his wife.

The kind of story often found in romance novels.

For all his charm and incredible business acumen (he ended up building one of the largest sheep operations in the state) the romance quickly wore off when my gram realized he was an alcoholic—an illness that sadly has run rampant in our family.

His addiction caused my gram much heartache, I suspect. At that time, a person didn’t speak of such things. Which really didn’t matter, given the era. There were no blogs, no Facebook buddies or smart phones. The nearest neighbor was miles away.

Thankfully, my great-gGramsbiblerandmother introduced my gram to a friend as a child—a companion who would be near and would walk with her during the hard times.

This is the bible she gave my gram, inscribed:  To my darling Leona from your Mama July 12, 1906. 

Inside, my gram underlined all the promises and counsel that pulled her through the heartache. I remember her arthritic hands underlining scriptures.

On Christmas morning, 1965, she gifted me with a bible, one I still cherish. I use another bible now, and as you can see, I also underline.

In May, my granddaughter will be born. I’ve already bought hGrambible2er bible. Inside, I’ll inscribe it, and tell her when life gets hard (and this journey gets hard for all of us at times) her help will come from inside that book, and the one who wrote it. From experience, I know the truth of that sentiment.

I’ll do my best to pass on this faith legacy that began with my great-grandmother, then my gram . . . and think of them both with a grateful heart.


Thanks for being here, Kellie, and sharing about your gram and her beloved bible. If you would like to be in the running for Kellie’s new book (she will send it to you as soon as it hits book store shelves!) just leave a comment below by noon Pacific on Friday, Feb 28. Anyone else have an heirloom family bible?

The wondrously mysterious life of A. L. Sweet

 To mark the release of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS this month, I am happy to welcome writer friends to the blog to share with you a story about a family heirloom that is precious to them. An heirloom scarf is what ties two women together in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, and heirlooms are what tie these blog posts together. At the end of the month, there will be a fun giveaway. Enjoy!

The amazingly gifted Lisa Wingate is my guest on the blog today. Selected among BOOKLIST’S Top 10 of 2012 and Top 10 of 2013, Lisa skillfully weaves lyrical writing and unforgettable Southern settings with elements of women’s fiction, history, and mystery to create stories that Publisher’s Weekly calls “Masterful” and ForeWord Magazine refers to as “Filled with lyrical prose, hope, and healing.” Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and the author of over over twenty novels and countless magazine pieces.

Her books have held positions on bestseller lists, both in the U.S. and internationally. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, an Oklahoma Book Award finalist, a Christianity Today Book Award nominee, an Inspy Award nominee, and a two-time Carol Award winner. Read to the end of this post to see how to be in on the drawing for Lisa’s newest book!

“Among scraps of the past”

Wingatepubshot2011julybWEBWhere do I write?

Among scraps of the past.

I think all writers do.  As a writer, you eventually find that the people you create, the places you thought were plucked from the ether are not so misty and ethereal, after all.  They’re really just a patchwork of people you’ve known and places you’ve been.  They’re sewn together with a fine, glistening thread of imagination, stitched and fitted and nipped, turned this way and that, their textures and colors creating a quilt of story.

I have a strange fetish for old things – especially antique organizational furniture.  If I buy one more thing-with-tiny-drawers-in-it, my family will probably have me committed.  I love card catalogs from library sales, my big roll top desk, oak file cabinets with heavy old drawers that are hard to open.  The new ones with stainless steel sliders would work so much better, but they wouldn’t have history.  They’d lack the character of the graceful old forms cabinet that sits at the end of my row of bookshelves.  The forms cabinet is a family heirloom of sorts.  I found it covered in depression-era green paint and a patina of grease, in a warehouse belonging to my husband’s granddaddy.  The cabinet was filled with tools, nuts, and bolts.  I knew I had to save it.  It had so many drawers!

I could never have imagined how beautiful the cabinet would be, refinished and sharing space with the massive oak bookshelves of my childhood.  The forms cabinet has thirty-six drawers in all (there are eighty-one little drawers in my office, but who’s counting).  I don’t know how the cabinet came to be in Grandaddy’s warehouse and neither does he, but it’s a great place to keep manuscripts and paperwork.  I wonder at its story.  Clues hWingateFormsCabinetide inside the drawers in the form of log sheets, affixed on the drawer bottoms at the time of manufacture.  Someone with lovely handwriting used a fountain pen to make notations in the drawers from 1900 to 1925, off and on.  I don’t know what the notations, like the one in this photo, mean.  I wonder about them sometimes.

Who was A.L. Sweet?  What did he do in 1907 that caused his name to end up in my forms cabinet?  Did he buy something, sell something, borrow money?  Get arrested?  Start a business?  Join the army?  Pass away?

Did his name fit him?  Was he sweet?  Was he the town baker, or the candy maker?  Or was he a dastardly villain with a handlebar moustache, the type to cast helpless widows and orphans from the their farms in the dead of winter?

Did the whole town turn out for his funeral—pay final respects as Mr. A.L. Sweet traveled on to the great by-and-by?  Or was he buried alone, in the rain, with only the undertaker and the gravediggers to bid him adieu?

Wildwood_Creek_standing_book_image This is where the crazy quilt of story begins—with a name, a glimpse, a notation in an unlikely place.  With questions tumbling over questions, all arms and legs like children cartwheel racing down a hill.  With a mist of wondering, with oddly-shaped shreds of reality, scraps of truth and fiction floating about.  For me, storytelling is so much about snatching up what’s already there, about the turning, and the trimming, and the fitting, and the stitching.  That’s why I like my busy writer space, with its clutter of found items and its myriad of nooks, cubbies, and drawers.  There are dozens of stories here, hundreds perhaps, or thousands.

Like the tale of A.L. Sweet.  He’ll find his way into a book sooner or later, I’m sure.

 You can connect with Lisa  in so many ways! Her website: On Twitter:!/lisawingate On Facebook:  Pinterest:  She blogs Mondays at:

Thanks for being here, Lisa, and sharing such a beautifully composed story about your passion for furniture with drawers!  Readers, a signed copy of Wildwood Creek awaits a lucky winner. Just leave a comment below between now and noon Pacific on Wednesday, Feb 26, and you are in the running.

This Odd Little Artifact

To mark the release of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS this month, I am happy to welcome writer friends to the blog to share with you a story about a family heirloom that is precious to them. An heirloom scarf is what ties two women together in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, and heirlooms are what tie these blog posts together. At the end of the month, there will be a fun giveaway. Enjoy!

Today I am happy to welcome Sharon Short to the blog.  Sharon is the author of the novel My One Square Inch of Alaska (Penguin Plume) in which a pair of siblings escape the strictures of the 1950s industrial Ohio town on the adventure of a lifetime. Opening chapters of this novel earned Sharon an Ohio Arts Council individual artist’s grant and a Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts & Cultural District Literary Artist Fellowship. She is the Literary Life columnist for the Dayton Daily News as well as the Executive Director of the renowned Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  Sharon holds a B.A. in English from Wright State University and an M.A. in English from Bowling Green State University. She lives in Ohio with her husband and is the mother of two adult daughters. Read to the end to see how to be in on the drawing for Sharon’s book!

“Made vague and opaque by shrouds of time. . .”

Sharon Short Author PhotoMy heirloom piece is a tiny navy-colored booklet, just two by three-and-a-half inches. It’s a union booklet; on the cover is the seal of the International Association of Machinists and below that I. A. of M. The inside front cover bears my father’s name, the company for which he worked, and his profession: Machinist.

After that, are the monthly dues pages. On the first page, to the right of the ‘19’ is stamped ’61.’ January and February have no stamps, but bear these admonitions, rather fortune-cookie-language-like in tone: “A good union member pays dues promptly,” and “Your union is only as good as you make it.”

March bears a blue ‘initiation’ stamp; the other months bear pink ‘monthly due’ stamps, except for November 1961. That stamp is an orange strike stamp. With December, the stamps go back to pink, and stay that way through June 1963.

I ended up in possession of the booklet because of a rare conversation about my writing with my father as I was working on MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA. He’s proud of me, but my work is foreign to him in many ways, just as his work was foreign to me.  So I was a little surprised when he asked, as he has just a few times over the past few decades, “how is your writing going?” To be fair, normally, my answer to that question is a protective, “fine,” which I’m sure contributes to the rarity of the question.

unionbookletcoverBut this time, I had a different impulse.  My novel includes many themes; just one is a strand about workers seeking to unionize a paper mill in the 1950s.

So instead of an abrupt, “fine,” I offered, “Well, actually, I could use your input on union life in the 1950s and 1960s.”

It was my father’s turn to look surprised. The next moment, he lit up and started talking.

I knew he’d been a machinist for a company, knew (vaguely) that he’d been a union boss. Knew the legend: his company refused to give him a penny raise, even though he’d earned it, even though he was the only one on the shop floor that knew how to make a particular, necessary, part. That penny would take him, after all, to the top of his pay grade, and then the company would be forced to bump him up a level, which his boss didn’t want to do. My father had an eighth grade education. The next level wasn’t meant for men with eighth grade educations.

So, as a matter of pride, my father quit. He sold the family’s house boat, used the proceedings to rent shop space, buy necessary machinery, and put in a telephone line. Then he sat by the phone and waited. His old company boss called a month later, asking if he could hire my father to make that part after all. My father chuckles when he says he told him, “Sure. But you’re gonna wish you’d paid me that extra penny instead.”

I was born in January of 1961, the “a good union member pays dues promptly” month.  I have no personal memories about my father working for anyone other than himself, no memories of strikes or union dues or houseboats being sold. By the time my own personal memories start having substance, my father made far more money than he ever would have, had he stayed in a union shop, money he hoped would please my mother enough to save their marriage. That wasn’t to be the case. My father left when I was 15; we next spoke when I was 29, just months after my first child was born.

unionbookletinsideOff and on since then, we’ve caught up as best we could, made as much sense of and peace with the past as we can.

But this was a rare visit to a handful of years on either side of my birth, my father’s union years.  He didn’t say it—again, a matter of pride, you know—but I think he was pleased to have his daughter interview him. To be, in some way, part of my writing process.

I’m fairly certain this is true, because the next time I saw him, he brought me the little navy union stamp booklet, not much bigger than the square inch that’s part of my novel’s title and the symbolic core of its story.

He said, “I don’t need this any more.”

And now so I keep his union stamp booklet, this odd little artifact from his mid-life and my infant and toddler years, on my bookshelf.  I keep meaning to frame it, to preserve it, but then I couldn’t open it up and look at the stamps.

MyOneSquareInchAlaskaCoverWhen I look at that union stamp booklet, I can only imagine my father’s strong, muscled hands, his thick fingers, already permanently stained with grease, holding those delicate stamps—mostly pink–as he dutifully licked the backs and stuck them in each month.  I can only guess at the nervousness and optimism and pride he must have felt upon leaving a good union job to start a machine shop.  I can only guess at the emotions that came later.

I think about how unknowable, in many ways, those closest to us can be, perhaps must inevitably be. How the facts of family stories are so often made vague and opaque by shrouds of time and, yes, pride. How I cannot save these stories as fact, any more than I can save the people in them. But as a writer, a storyteller, I can, rather magpie like, collect bits and hints from the remnants of those stories, redeem them into stories of my own making, and offer those to myself, to readers, as a bit of reclaimed grace.

You can connect with Sharon on her website or on Facebook or on Twitter at @SharonGShort.

Thanks for being here, Sharon, and sharing about your “odd, little artifact.” Readers, a signed copy of My One Square Inch of Alaska awaits a lucky winner. Just leave a comment below between now and noon Pacific on Saturday, Feb 22, and your name’s in the hat.

The Wedding Plant

To mark the release of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS this month, I am happy to welcome writer friends to the blog to share with you a story about a family heirloom that is precious to them. An heirloom scarf is what ties two women together in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, and heirlooms are what tie these blog posts together. At the end of the month, there will be a fun giveaway. Enjoy!

On this lovely Valentines Day, I am happy to welcome Kaira Rouda to the blog to share a wonderful story about a special little spider plant.  Kaira is an award-winning entrepreneur, marketer, speaker and author. She is the bestselling  author of REAL YOU INCORPORATED: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs (Wiley), founder of numerous companies including Real You, and brand creator of Real Living Real Estate, the nation’s first women-focused real estate brand.  Her first novel, HERE, HOME, HOPE (Greenleaf Book Group) was published in May of 2011, and won a 2011 Indie Excellence Award for fiction. Read to the end to see how you could win a copy.

“But most importantly, it survived.”

My keepsake is a liviKaira-Roudang and growing reminder of a relationship that has withstood the test of time. I call it The Wedding Plant and this is its story:

The wedding plant originated as a tiny spider plant that was part of my green and white wedding bouquet I held in my trembling hands in May of 1990. My mother, an avid gardener with a bright green thumb, plucked the unsuspecting spider from my bouquet just before I tossed it per custom to all the single ladies at the reception.

Mom returned home that night, planted the little spider, and helped it grow for the next five years. I had no idea she’d even thought to do this. On our 5th Wedding Anniversary, she presented the plant to my husband and I.?Through the ensuing years – including four babies, two cats, three dogs, many jobs, snowstorms, six different houses in two states, two birds, and all that life will throw your way – the wedding plant has flourished. Sure, some years it looked a little pale. Other years, it had offshoots galore, growing and thriving with gusto.Kaira photo

But most importantly, it survived. And with its survival, it became more than just a plant, it has become symbolic of the struggles and joys of a long-term relationship, of the need for its care and feeding, of the need to nurture and cherish it.

It sits behind me as I write in my office, soaking up the Southern California sunshine, a daily reminder of love.

HereHomeHope-FinalCoverYou can connect with Kaira on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter at @KairaRouda.

Thanks for being here today, Kaira, and sharing such a lovely story of the resiliency of love and commitment on this Valentines Day. Readers, just comment below for a chance to win a copy of Here. Home. Hope. Do you have an heirloom reminder of love? Do share. Or just say hello! Enter your comment by Weds. Feb. 19 noon Pacific. Good luck and Happy Valentines Day!



Five Silver Spoons

To mark the release of A FALL OF MARIGOLDS this month, I am happy to welcome writer friends to the blog to share with you a story about a family heirloom that is precious to them. An heirloom scarf is what ties two women together in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, and heirlooms are what tie these blog posts together. At the end of the month, there will be a fun giveaway. Enjoy!

Today I’m happy to welcome Yona Zeldis McDonough to the blog today. Yona is the author of five novels, including Two of a Kind.  Her sixth, You Were Meant for Me, will release from New American Library in October 2014.  She is also the author of 21 books for children and her fiction, essays and articles have been widely published in many national and literary magazines.  She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, children, two yappy dogs—and five silver soupspoons tucked safely in a drawer. Read to the end to see how you can win a signed copy of Two of a Kind.

“The only things to have survived…”

YonaOne of my most precious heirlooms is a set of five silver soupspoons. They came from the house of my maternal grandmother, Tania Guttmann. Tania was born around 1909 in Ekaterinaslav, a city in Russia. Her mother, Miriam, was almost biblical in her fertility—she had 22 children; Tania, the second to youngest, was born when her mother was 52 and her youngest sister was born when their mother was 54.

Tania’s father was a tanner, a profession that was considered repugnant—and therefore a profession permitted to Jews.  It was also very lucrative, and so unlike many Russian Jews of her generation, my grandmother grew up in a very fine house with parquet floors, velvet drapes and crystal chandeliers.  She and her sisters were given dancing lessons and the older girls played the piano. The boys went to a prestigious military academy.   They spoke Russian at home, not Yiddish.

But then her father went on a business trip and did not return.  Anxiously, her mother awaited word from him. It never came. Instead, she received a gruesome parcel: his dead body in a canvas mail sack.  The body had been found on the railroad tracks; it was presumed that he had been murdered. Since his papers and prayer shawl identified him as Jewish, it seemed likely that other Jews, correctly surmising that someone would be worried about him, sent the body back.

Miriam’s response to this horror was to drink poison; my grandmother once told me that she still remembered the burns at the edges of her mother’s mouth.  But Miriam did not die; she rallied and decided to flee the country, now in the throes of its bloody revolution, with her five youngest children. She put mattresses in the windows to deflect the rockYonaspoonss and bricks that were frequently lobbed through them and she went out, day after day, to sell what she could: jewelry, dishes, silver. Tania and her sister were left alone, waiting for their mother to come back.  They were cold and hungry.  Her sister would ask, “Where’s Mama?” and Tania said, “She’s coming soon.”

Miriam was able to put together enough money for the tickets and she and her children went first to Riga, and then ultimately to America.  For some reason, she did not sell those five silver spoons, but gave them to Tania, who gave them to my mother, who gave them to me.  They are lovely spoons, simple, yet elegant and they have a pleasing heft in the hand.  Tania lived to be 94 and those spoons were the only things to have survived from that house, that country, that life.

Yonasbook I have long believed in the talismanic power of objects and these spoons are for me, very potent symbols.  And in my novel, Two of a Kind, my protagonist Christina Connelly shares my belief about objects—she is an interior designer and deals in antiques as well.  There is a pivotal scene in the book that centers on a silver candlestick and although a candlestick is not the same as five spoons it was those spoons that led me to write that scene. I will keep them until it is time to hand them down to my own young daughter.

Connect with Yona on her website , Facebook or Twitter : @YonaZMcDonough.

Thanks, Yona, for sharing such a moving story about your grandmother and great-grandmother.  You can be in on the drawing for Yona’s newest book, Two of A Kind, by commenting below, even if it’s just to say hello! But if by chance you have a family heirloom that has a difficult journey or situation attached to it, I’d love to hear it. Post your comment here by noon Pacific on Feb 17 and your name’s in the hat. Good luck!