One question that writers dread–at least the ones I know–is : Where do you get your ideas from?
Um, I don’t know, not usually, but sometimes I can pinpoint the moment, the place or the person that sparks an idea. My new short story–“Kissing Strangers”– is one of those instances. I had long wanted to write a work set among the family stories I grew up with. Not about them, per se, but motivated by them, and when the call came out for a Christmas story, I knew exactly what I was going to do, or more precisely, who I was going to write about, if only loosely.
I am fortunate to have known three of my great-grandmothers growing up. They came from different backgrounds–rural, mountainous, and urban–but they ALL had one thing in common: they were badasses. Not one was a knitting, cat owning, cookie baking granny of cartoons. (Though, weirdly, I do all three.) These women were survivors and witnesses to a world that changed significantly during their lifetimes.
The great-grandmother I knew best was Frances Osborne a.k.a. Mother Frances. As a child, she seemed ancient to me, but I could see flashes of the young woman she must have been.
The family stories about her are legendary. She was a non-conformist, loved to drive, and one time was pulled over by a cop who asked about the revolver sitting on the seat next to her that she’d just purchased from an antique store. I have zero doubt she knew how to use the gun, though that was not her intent that day. I am also certain that there are stories she would have shared if I’d had the wit to ask them, stories that involve dancing on tables, dashing young men, and parties, maybe a little bootlegging, too, though that’s more likely to have been my Grandma Peery.
None of those tales made it into “Kissing Strangers,” but Mother Frances’s spirit did.
The one thing she taught me, if only by example, is that objects hold stories, stories that are precious to their owners, even if the world isn’t impressed with them. “Kissing Strangers” begins with a Christmas ornament treasured by Viola, and the tale she tells her grand-daughter is one of love, waltzes , and a ghost.
I like to imagine Mother Frances would have liked this one. And though it’s set when she was an infant, I like to think that she could have been Viola.
I hope you enjoy it, too.
I also just noted that my favorite flower is in the vase behind her head. It’s strange how things work sometimes.