Monday, November 19, 2012

FAIRHOPE—A Search for Family Roots

 In 1999 I began my third manuscript, FAIRHOPE. The working title was GRANDMA'S GHOST. I had no idea how close that first title was to the heart of the book and its relevance to my life. FAIRHOPE tells the story of a woman who unexpectedly receives a box of family mementos from a stranger who has been hired to demolish her great-grandparents home. Though the characters and the events that occur in the story are a product of my imagination there were strange coincidences that came to light after I finished my novel.

I was having lunch with my aunt one day shortly before Christmas. She asked me about my writing and I told her I was working on a book set in Texas. She remarked that my great-grandmother had been from Texas. Sadly my great-grandmother died on Christmas Eve when my grandmother was six years old. When I look back at my mother's childhood and my own, I feel confident in saying that my great-grandmother's death was a traumatic event that shaped all our lives.

A few days before Christmas I received a gift from my aunt marked with "Don't open till Christmas." My sister also received a package but couldn't wait and called me on the phone all excited demanding I open the package immediately and tell her what I saw. Being the dutiful younger sister, I ripped off the paper. I was speechless for several seconds. It was a picture of my great-grandmother, but I felt like I was looking in the mirror. I set the the photo on my dining room table. My kids tiptoed around it for weeks, calling her the spooky lady who looks like mom.

I knew I had to find out more about this mystery woman who'd had such an influence on my life. My aunt gave me the name of the town where my great-grandmother had lived—Bells, Texas. As as searched the map around the town of Bells, I noticed place names on the map were names I'd chosen for my characters—Lawton, Whitney, Petty. Then, as I was searching cemetery records, I found one of my dead characters names on a gravestone—both first and last—Lizzie Mayfield. I had spelled the last name with an "e," but it was close enough to give me the shivers.

In 2004 I went to Texas for a conference in Dallas. A few days before the workshops began, I rented a car and drove to Bells to see the town. I had the strange feeling of deja vu. Instinctively I knew which way to turn toward my great-grandparents' home place. The house burned down years ago, which is another strange coincidence connecting the past to the story of FAIRHOPE.