Having survived childhood, some of my favorite memories are my mother’s stories. She was the keeper of family fables.
Mom was the youngest sibling in a family of seven, born from 1899 to 1921. She could embellish stories about the past and make them real. One of her stories stuck with me. I posted it on my blog last year. http://trilbyplants.com/welcome/lost-and-found/
In the 1870s northern Michigan was forested wilderness. My mother’s maternal grandfather, a French Canadian, logged old growth trees, cashing in on the bountiful harvest of lumber that built the Midwest.
One of Mom’s aunts, when she was about three years old, wandered away from the camp. Everybody, even the lumberjacks searched until long after dark, but did not find her. As is common in northern Michigan in the early summer, there was a frost that night. The parents gave up hope and thought they would never see their child again.
Next morning, the little girl ran from the forest, alive and happy. When asked what happened, she told everybody the gray lady helped her by giving her berries to eat and covering her with leaves and pine needles to keep warm.
Nobody lived in the area. All who heard the story attributed it to the child’s imagination.
That seed germinated into my self-published children’s book Meena Mouse’s Perfect Raspberry. The gray lady became Silver, the Guardian of Lost Mice, who protects Meena when she gets lost in the forest. It’s a story about responsibility and the necessity of following rules.
Fast forward to the present. My granddaughter started school in England in 2013. Some of her experiences stuck with me: she knew no one, and at a visit to a prospective school, a little girl asked her if she wanted to hang upside down on the bars. Instant friendship.
So in the next book Meena Mouse will start school and have a perfectly awful first day. Everything goes wrong. The mouse bus is crowded and she doesn’t know anybody. Another mouseling offers to share her seat.
Later, a classmate asks her to hang upside down on the bars. A mouse friendship is born.
While painting, each mouseling has only one color of paint. That happened to my husband in Kindergarten. His picture was all red. In Meena Mouse’s world, in order to paint a complete picture Meena suggests trading paints. Everybody then paints complete pictures.
Meena forgets her lunch. Each mouseling gives her a crumb of theirs.
Despite everything going wrong, Meena learns the value of sharing and kindness.
The reason Meena is a mouse? My grandmother’s name, according to my mom was Hermine. Everybody called her Minnie. I couldn’t use Minnie because of Disney. Minnie (my grandmother) was a tiny woman, barely five feet, and her husband called her his “Little Mouse.”
Meena posted on my blog at Christmas a poem about what the holiday season really means. Sharing is what I learned from my family growing up, and my family now: husband, children, children’s spouses and a granddaughter. So sharing my family stories comes naturally. I am my mother’s daughter.
Meena is afraid of monsters in her bedroom. Weren’t we all leery of the dark at some time in our lives? But the monsters in the closet I told my brother about when I was young will become something else in Meena’s world. It will be a story about being different and about acceptance. Yet to be written.
As writers we sometimes hesitate to look at our own lives for stories. But there’s a wealth of material, whether we write for children or adults. Just remember to change the names of real people. Or turn them into mice.