Post one, Anticipation. January 4, 2022

Two years ago, I was recovering from having both knees replaced about six weeks apart. Then, the Pandemic hit, and I decided it was past time to finish my first book, The Gift. Writing became my therapy. I'd been working on it for the past two years. Memorial Day weekend, 2020 Mike and I drove down to see Aunt Jeanne, masked and socially distanced, to hand her a copy of the book printed out in a big notebook. She loved it, especially because one of the characters, Aunt Violet, is based on her personality and a little bit of her story. Jeanne was a Rosie Riveter during WWII, building B-17 bombers in Chula Vista, California. Her husband was a mechanic and also worked at Rohr's with her. 

My lifelong friend, Beth Lyman, read several drafts of the book, as did author friends Barbara Lounsberry and Gail Kittleson. I worked with a young woman I met at the Cedar Falls Christian Writers Workshop (CFCWW), Anne Philo Fleck, to reshape the story; we created and killed off a few characters and plot twists and added more, rearranged some chapters, and deleted or compressed others. Over the past decade, I showed drafts to several writers at the CFCWW (Thank you Jocelyn Green, Jolene Philo, Anne Philo Fleck, and Mary Kenyon). After more drafts than I ever thought possible, Gail suggested that I submit it to her publisher. After more waiting, Mr. Parker of WordCrafts Press, said, "Yes, we're interested!"

Now, we're waiting for the Spring of 2022. 

Aunt Jeanne, below.

Post Two

January 23, 2022. My mother, Charlotte, spent several years teaching at the little country schoolhouse up the hill from her mother's farm. Here she is with her children on the steps of the school. She's in the top right, far left. I based Grandma Grace on my mother. Both shared a sense of adventure, My mother helped the electrician wire up the schoolhouse and her parents' farm in Tama county in 1942. She took the train to California to help Aunt Jeanne with her first baby, my cousin Jimmy, and then worked at Rohr's Aircraft as a riveter (just as Jeanne had done), building B-17 bombers. Mom didn't learn to fly but she would have done it, given the opportunity. I saw her as fearless. She was also an independent, strong woman and feminist. And she was a passionate storyteller and family historian. She and my father drove all around Iowa and down into Missouri collecting information on her family tree. She also did research on my father's family, which came from Minnesota. 

Feb. 15, 2022

More to come on these lovely potholders, a Christmas gift from a quilting friend, Hope.

Post Three, Grandpa Lee's chest, 1920s

February 15, 2022

Gracie, the main character in the series, works at a county museum, arranging exhibits. She does several quilt exhibits, so I did some research and discovered that it's best to handle quilts with cotton gloves to protect them from the oils on your hands. Several sources recommended wrapping them up in clean cotton sheets to store them. So, I felt a sense of accomplishment over the holidays when I managed to wrap the dozen or so old quilts in sheets, after taking pictures of each one and doing an inventory of them. It's something I've wanted to do for years!

My grandfather on my mother's side, Lee Lewis, was a very intelligent, hardworking, and family man. He also was something of a renaissance man: a farmer, he had two farm trucks and hauled grain for other farmers. He served on the city council in Garwin and was well-liked. He was also a carpenter, and built things, like this nearly 100-year-old chest that holds all of my quilts. 

Post Four, Afterword: the story behind The Gift

Almost every baby boomer has parents who were part of the war efforts during WWII. Here is my family’s story.

My mother, Charlotte Lewis Patten, and Aunt Jeanne Lewis Egger were two Iowa Girls who traveled to San Diego, California and worked at Rohr Aircraft to build bombers in 1943-1945. They became Rosie the Riveters. My mother, a country schoolteacher, worked with a local electrician to wire up the schoolhouse and her parents’ farm when electricity came to rural Tama county in 1942. She was fearless, loved flying, and inspired the character of Grandma Grace.

Mother’s younger sister, Aunt Jeanne, became my second mama when Charlotte died suddenly in 1996. At 98, Aunt Jeanne is eager to see my book published and told me all about her California adventures. She joked they flipped a coin to decide whether to go to California. Her young husband Wendell, a skilled mechanic, became the inspiration for cousin Ed. Aunt Jeanne inspired Aunt Violet’s character. When she read the first draft, Aunt Jeanne said she liked how Aunt Violet’s character developed. 

Her older sister, Aunt Reva Lewis Brenneman, married a soldier (Uncle Lester, who deployed to Europe with the signal corps), while she worked on an Army base in Atlanta. When both brothers-in-law wrote to Charlotte that her sisters were pregnant, she took the train east and stayed with Reva for a few months. She worked in a bakery where she got the nickname of ‘teacher,’ with the owner telling others to watch Charlotte fill a donut. She got to travel to New York and Washington before Lester’s sister could come out and take her place. Then she took the train home to Iowa, repacked, and headed for California.

Mom was a writer who kept journals and diaries. She wrote up her experiences in retirement and left behind a large notebook with a chapter about each year from the late 1930s through the late 1940s. She corresponded with a childhood friend from their small town of Garwin. I used her notebook as a primary source.

My father, Harry J. Patten, was close friends with a young Japanese American student in high school–also named Harry. They ate lunch together every day until the authorities sent Harry to an internment camp with his family. My father grieved for his friend until his dying day and wished he could have found him after the war. A skilled carpenter, my father built houses with his father before the war. Then Dad worked in an aircraft factory, building planes to train pilots, and later built houses for returning soldiers after the war’s end.

Harry sang in a gospel quartet over the radio in Hollywood, California. My mother’s college roommate from Iowa State Teachers College married a member of the quartet and invited Charlotte to stay with them for a few days, so she stopped there first. Because their car was in the shop, they got a ride to practice with another member of the quartet, and sparks flew between the petite country schoolteacher and the tall, handsome carpenter musician.

Harry and Charlotte married and eventually moved back to Iowa with their beautiful baby girl, my big sister Cathi. I came along a few years later and listened to their stories, imagining the glamor of living in Hollywood, California, especially after dad told me that one of the other men in the gospel quartet was Frank Sinatra’s gardener. I’m still impressed! 

Post Five: The Rewards of Writing

The other day I was at a physical therapy appointment on the Western Home Communities campus. My P. T. and I were walking around the indoor track and I was focusing on trying to stand up taller and use my new purple cane more efficiently. As we came around the curve, a woman using an exercise machine looked up and smiled.

"Cherie, I'm almost done reading Book Two and I'm loving it!" she said.

I got a little taller. "Thank you!" I said. I didn't know her name but she looked familiar. 

We kept walking around the curve and my P. T. looked at me and smiled. "That must make you feel good," she said.

It does. It's one of the main reasons I write -- to entertain people. The other reason is that I come from a long line of storytellers. My college students and children will tell you that I love to tell stories. 

One of my husband's old friends contacted me and said how much he'd enjoyed The Gift. I thought, well, I have a more diverse audience than I imagined. I thought my audience would be a mix of women from their 30s onward. Then, I talked to some students at Hawkeye Community College and they were interested in my series, too.

My ten year old grandson, Mason, said, "Grandma, my friend saw your book at the Waverly library and he liked it!" 

Then, later, he asked, "So why don't we have any girl Presidents?"

He has me stumped, there. I told him that we would someday. I hope I'm right.

If nothing else, I'm going to write about one.


Mason, below, at the CARL A. & PEGGY J. BLUEDORN SCIENCE IMAGINARIUM the summer of 2023.