I recently started a series that I titled the “Easter Eggs” found in The Edge of Nowhere. Today I’d like to continue this series and talk about the children represented in the story — specifically the younger children whose character names were Grace, Jack, Ethan, Sara and David.
When I sat down to write The Edge of Nowhere, it was important to me that I somehow represent each of my grandmother’s children, as I felt strongly that protecting and caring for her children was a huge part of who my grandmother became. Toward that end, I wanted to keep them as close in age as her real children would’ve been at the time. So, for purposes of The Edge of Nowhere, Grace, Jack, Ethan, Sara and David were roughly the same ages in the book as they had been in real life.
Grace represents my Aunt Gerry, the oldest of the children my grandparents had together. My Aunt Gerry was an amazing woman whom I adored. I spent a lot of time with her during my childhood, and it’s clear that the 1930s and the deprivation she saw had a huge impact on the woman she became.
In The Edge of Nowhere, Victoria mentions her deep dislike for patchwork quilts. In fact, when she leaves to marry Dale Greene, she gives all of their clothing away but hates those quilts so much that she burned them. To her, those quilts represented the depth of their poverty. This passage in The Edge of Nowhere is a direct tribute to my Aunt Gerry.
Countless times over the years, I’d heard my Aunt Gerry talk about her dislike for patchwork quilts. The hatred for them ran deep, and I don’t think she’d even like the beautiful handmade ones that my mother-in-law makes today. To her, they represented poverty. I remember her once saying to me, “I had enough of those quilts growing up. I don’t like ’em and I won’t have ’em in my house.” And really, who can blame her? To her they were one more reminder of all they hadn’t had.
I’m not sure my Aunt Gerry had the easiest life after the Depression era. She married a man named Curtis and, together, they had one daughter. Sadly, her husband — my Uncle Curt — passed away much too young, and my Aunt Gerry and her daughter were left alone. Her daughter, and then her daughter’s husband and children, lived with her until her death. I never got the impression that they lived together because of financial reasons; nor was it a hardship. I always got the impression that they lived together because they couldn’t stand to not be that close to each other. She died in roughly 1990 or 1991 from complications with cancer, but there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think of her.
My favorite memory — maybe the memory I share with all of my extended cousins — is that Aunt Gerry always made “chicken and noodles” when we’d have a holiday gathering. To this day, nobody has been able to duplicate her recipe — though all of us have tried and come close.
Jack’s character is modeled after my Uncle Bill. I have no idea what Uncle Bill was like in his youth, but he was a man who was “bigger than life” as an adult. He was rough around the edges and lacked any filter for political correctness, but he had a heart of gold. And oh how he loved his wife, my Aunt Mary Ellen! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a man love a woman more than he loved my Aunt Mary Ellen. It wasn’t necessarily anything he said, but in his actions…the way he spoke to her, or looked at her. He may not’ve been rich or eloquent, but I’ll tell you this: My Aunt Mary Ellen scored a winner when she married my Uncle Bill.
If memory serves, Uncle Bill never had any biological children of his own; but he raised a whole bunch of kids who called him Dad. Though I’m not entirely sure, I believe he inherited several children when he married my Aunt Mary Ellen, but he claimed those children and raised them as his own; then went on to raise several of his grandsons as his own after the premature deaths of their own parents. He was an incredible man, and I was blessed to call him my uncle.
The character of Ethan was modeled after my own father, and his storyline runs very true to actual events. If you’ve read The Edge of Nowhere, you know that Ethan survived a very serious medical condition. That medical condition — and the circumstances surrounding it — were taken from stories my daddy told me from the time I was a child. While I’ve taken liberties wth what happens after the diagnosis (specifically in terms of Dale Greene), my dad truly did survive the diagnosis that Ethan was given.
Today my dad is 84. He’s twice retired (U.S. Army and Teaching), and holds a bachelor’s degree and three master’s degrees. I guess if anyone is a testament to the idea that we become who and what we want to become by our own grit and determination, it would be my dad, and I’m really proud of him.
Sara represents my Aunt Shirley, and I can only tell you that her story from the book was entirely fiction. Like my Uncle Bill, my Aunt Shirley went on to marry the love of her life, and together they have three daughters, four grandchildren, ten (?) great grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren. In fact, my Aunt Shirley’s oldest granddaughter and I are a year apart, grew up next door to each other, and are still the best of friends. Our children are also good friends, and I think this is one example of the enduring ties of family that my grandmother instilled in all of us. How many families do you know have distant cousins that are as close as first cousins? In my family, it’s the norm.
In the novel, Victoria’s oldest stepdaughters talk to her about the hardships they’re enduring. At one point, one of the girls makes reference to the fact that the children don’t have shoes that fit properly; and that one of the children’s feet are growing humps along the tops from the bones not having room to grow. This is a direct nod to my Aunt Shirley whose feet have large bumps across the top. I remember asking her once, when I was a child, how her feet came to look like that. She told me then that it was a result of wearing shoes that were too small and that didn’t give the bones in her feet room to grow. It’s something I’ve never been able to forget, so the reference in The Edge of Nowhere is a direct tribute to my Aunt Shirley.
David’s character is a meshing of two of my uncles. Similar to Victoria, my grandmother had two children between husbands. I’m not sure anyone knows who the father(s) of those two boys were, or even how they came into existence, exactly. But I can tell you this much: those two men have never been any less a part of our family for it. In fact, I can’t even begin to imagine our family without them. Our family simply would not be complete.
The first of the “Davids” died in the 1980s. Sadly, he lived in California through all of my childhood, so I never came to know him that well. The second is still alive and well, and another of my favorite uncles.
Growing up, this uncle was always a bit of an enigma to me. He was always the “handsome” uncle — the one who always had a beautiful girlfriend on his arm. Interestingly, he married young, had several children with his first wife, then they decided to divorce. To this day, I’m not sure how they didn’t make it as a couple because (as far as I can tell), they’ve remained the best of friends. His first wife has remained my “aunt” for my entire life, and still attends many of our family reunions, often with her current husband. I still call her aunt, and her husband has become an honorary uncle. As far as I can tell, there’s absolutely no animosity between the two former spouses or each other’s current spouses. The two even share a birthday and, I’m told, always exchange cards. This, my friends, is how you conduct yourself after a divorce. I’d argue that the true character of a person can sometimes be found in how they handle the adversity that is inherent to a divorce. If this is true, I can tell you that this uncle is a true gentleman and an absolute gem.
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