Aeons ago, I had each member of my staff write an article on what inspired them to be a writer. I did not include myself, my nose too far buried in ARCs, author profiles and press releases, but today there is a stillness to the world, the kind brought on when a soul departs it, and I feel it's time I told you why I became a writer.
At three o'clock this morning, my Grammy--Patricia Dahleen--passed away due to complications from old age. She is survived by eight children and numerous grandchildren. She was a widow at a very young age, left to raise nine children all by herself on a shoestring budget. An Irish Catholic with raven hair and viridian eyes, her formidable years were spent on a farm in Des Moines, Iowa. She would regale us with tales of her youth every Sunday at dinner from the time I was twelve up until I was 21, right before she left for Fountain Hills, Arizona to live with my selfless and caring Aunt Teresa.
She was no picnic. Patsy (as she liked to be called) could look you straight in the eye and tell you your shortcomings. She was witty and wise. After keeping a lesbian couple's secret safe guarded from a small-minded community, she inherited their fortune, and after years of being stingy with money, she enjoyed the luxuries brought on by fiscal security. This did not bar her from giving to the Catholic charities she loved so well, and she often gave more than was recommended. By the time she left for Fountain Hills, most of her inheritance was given to her small parish in Winfield, Illinois and sprinkled over Catholic hospitals and cancer centers.
While I have many fond memories of her, the one I recall most ardently is from my freshman year of college. Grammy had come over for dinner and winter's chill laced the air. Some boy had broken my heart and I was up in my room crying. Grammy knocked softly and entered. We talked for some time, catching up, and then she tilted my face up to hers and said:
"Everyone thinks our eyes are brown. They're not brown, they're green."
I remember feeling like I'd received a gift in that moment. In so few words she was able to remind me of who I was when I'd forgotten.
I became a writer because my Grammy (and later my beloved sister) nudged me down that path. I remember when I went to orientation at Columbia College Chicago in the summer of 2008. I was originally going to go into theater, but as soon as I arrived at the small table, I heard Grammy's voice in my head and spat out:
For the next four years, as arduous as it was to grow as a writer and constantly bare my soul, I discovered who I was, and I fell in love. My journey is still going. I bear the torch from my Grammy who always wanted to write a novel about her youth in Iowa, about the odyssey she went on after her husband died, and about the lessons she learned from her children and herself. My Grammy taught me what it meant to be an independent woman. I will miss her everyday, but I know she's in a better place and I'm forever grateful for what she's given to me.
Filed under: Opinion