Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Mother's Heart

In the antique room at my mother’s house there are several old family portraits. I love looking at them and trying to imagine what some of these long-gone family members might have been like. My favorite is the portrait of my grandmother’s parents holding Grandma between them when she was just old enough to stand. It was probably taken around 1898.

My Great Grandmother, Katherine, was a beautiful woman. In the picture she’s not grinning or anything outrageous like that, but she has a pleasant, friendly face that seems to welcome you in to whatever she’s doing. I wish I’d been able to knock on her back door and spend time with her over k├╝chen and coffee in her kitchen.
Katherine had plenty of sorrow in her life. Her daughter – her first I think – died in infancy, and my grandmother, Clara, was so scrawny and sickly when she was born that the doctor told Katherine and John (Great Grandpa) to hurry up and get her baptized, because “this one isn’t going to make it.” Actually, Grandma outlived the whole family: parents and all four sisters and four brothers.
Grandma had her share of troubles, too: her own ill health, losing a son to polio, caring for a dying mother in law… But even with her own sadness and challenges, Grandma never stopped being a mother to her five other children, even as they grew older.
And of course, there’s my own mother, Dorothy, hundreds of miles away from me, but still taking care of family members who should be taking care of her. And even though I scold her about it, I understand where her heart is. I’m a mother, too, proud of my sons at times, my heart bleeding for them at others.

What does any of this have to do with Writing Eddie’s Wake? I think Karl’s mother, Maggie, is a mixture of these women and many others I have known and loved. You have only met Maggie for a tiny moment in the first post below, but I think you’ll like her. She’s not perfect, with her hot temper, but then who is? Through all her own heartache, fear and adversity, she is absolutely, completely and undeniably committed to Karl and his sisters, Lizzie and Anna. Moments when any of them are in danger are nearly as devastating to her as… Well, I shouldn’t say too much more here; I sure wouldn’t want to spoil the story for you! Till next time…

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hello, there! It's been almost a month since I decided to try my own blog, and this is only the second post I've made. Just two weeks ago, Tom and I spent four days on the north shore of Lake Superior at our favorite place, Bob's Cabins. A highlight of the visit was our trip to Tofte, MN to visit the commercial fishing museum there. We were able to see some old photos of fishing boats from 60-80 years ago and found one that might be similar to the Maggie O'Keefe -- Eddie and Will's boat. Sizable enough, but small enough for three or four men to operate.

The publishing process is moving along. I have a graphic artist ready to design the cover for Eddie's Wake and I've signed on with Outskirts Press and now have an author's rep. I hope to move forward quickly, although having a printed and bound copy in my hands is still a few months off.

Soon I will post a revised version of Never Alone, the story that started all this. It's about Karl Stern -- the main character of Eddie's Wake -- as an old man. In 2003 I took it to a writers' workshop in Chicago and someone who read it said they wondered what Karl was like as a boy. So began the writing of Finding Home which morphed into Eddie's Wake.

For now I will leave you with the verses from scripture that seem to add a little wisdom to my first attempt at writing something BIG.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one's house, it would be utterly scorned.

Song of Songs 8:6-7

Welcome to "Eddie's Wake"

October 3, 2009

Hello and welcome to Eddie's Wake. This is the first entry I made on my blog ( back in September 2008. Using the archive links in the box on the right, you can read all the posts I've made from this first entry to the very latest. Some entries are personal reflections on times and events in my life, some are about Eddie's Wake characters and some are combinations of the two. Eddies Wake is available from Barnes & and and in a few small bookstores in Wisconsin. As my time permits, I love to visit local book groups, discuss the novel with you and tell how I experienced the writing process. You may post a comment to any entry; or you may contact me directly at

Here are a few pages from Chapter 1. Happy reading!

Chapter 1 Love Strong as Death
October, 1928 Tomos Bay, Wisconsin

The way his flannel pajamas bunched up around his knees that morning as he dozed, the blood-red linoleum of the kitchen floor, the smell of wet wool and fish mingled together, the feeling of cold air on his bare feet as it swept through the house: these were the things that chiseled themselves into his memory as his world tilted and came crashing down around him.
Thirteen years old and a seventh grader at Holy Angels School, Karl Stern had to stay home for the day, sick again. October was only half gone, but he’d already missed three days of school because of the wheezy cough he came down with every fall. His mother, Maggie, blamed it on the damp lake air that settled over Tomos Bay whenever the weather turned colder. Since the kitchen was the warmest place in the house, his father set up the roll away cot between the cupboards and the table before leaving for work that morning. There Karl’s mother could watch over him while she took care of her other housework.
Wrapped up in his blanket with his feet dangling off the end of the cot, Karl dozed and dreamed about the summer just past, when his father, Eddie, had finally given him real work to do on his fishing boat. Karl liked to think he was truly helpful and needed, and in the dream, he was; his young, strong muscles casting and hauling nets, sorting fish and throwing back the ones that were too small, keeping the boat on course when his father had something else to do. But just as his father said Good job, son, Karl heard a ruckus on the boat and someone calling for his mother. When the voices came closer, he awoke to the sound of a frantic commotion on the front porch. Bleary eyed, he got up and stood at the kitchen door in his bare feet and wrinkled pajamas.
Before his mother crossed the living room, the front door burst open and hit the inside wall, cracking the grey plaster behind it. The framed picture of Saint Andrew that hung there bounced once and crashed to the floor, face down, its glass shattering into a thousand pieces. Eddie’s partner, Will Denver, and their crewman Rob Holstrom each tripped on the threshold, nearly dropping Eddie’s limp, wet body. The many layers of waterlogged wool, the long underwear, heavy jacket, sweater, and two shirts underneath it all added to the load Will and Rob had to carry. Panting, they laid Eddie on the worn grey and maroon rug.
Maggie spit out the question Karl wanted to ask.“Is he dead?” His heart began to beat the way it did when he raced his pals around the schoolyard and down the block after school.
“No, but he will be if we don’t get him warm right away.”
His mother took charge. “Rob, get some wood from outside and stoke up the kitchen stove, then go feed the furnace. Will, help me get these wet clothes off him. Karl, move your things off the cot. We have to get him into the kitchen where it’s warm.”
Too stunned to move, Karl watched with dread as his mother and Will fought with swollen, nearly frozen buttons and buttonholes. His pounding heart reached down and clutched at his stomach.
“Karl, go get my sewing scissors, and bring the quilt and the featherbed from our bed. Hurry!”
Karl jumped and did as he was told, grabbing the scissors, racing through the house, nearly tripping on the bedding as he brought it from his parents’ bedroom. He gave the scissors to his mother and took the quilt and featherbed into the kitchen, where he removed his pillow and book, but left his blanket for his father. When he returned to the living room, his mother was cutting every button from Eddie’s sodden, smelly clothing while Will helped peel it off, layer after layer. Finally freed of it all, Eddie Stern looked like a corpse lying there, even though his chest moved up and down ever so slightly.
“We need the quilt out here, Karl.”
Karl ran to get it from the cot.
Rob returned as Maggie and Will wrapped Eddie’s icy body in the quilt. Now the two men carried him easily into the kitchen, where Maggie pushed the table away and pulled the cot close to the wood stove. There they laid him, cocooned in the quilt and featherbed. Karl thought this would certainly revive him.
After Karl’s mother sent Rob for Dr. Lyman, Will told them about the black ice that covered the deck when they arrived that morning; treacherous, invisible ice, slick as all get out. “No one saw what happened, we didn’t even realize he’d fallen in. When we found him, he was already going under.” He turned away from Karl and Maggie, pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. He didn’t turn around again for a long time.
The fishermen had a saying: if you fall in, swim to the bottom because it’s warmer there. You might as well give up the fight and die quickly. The northernmost and deepest of the five Great Lakes, Lake Superior’s average temperature is 40 degrees, cold enough even in summer to suck the life right out of a body. Yet Will and Rob refused to let Eddie go. Together they outweighed him, but holding on and trying to pull him in stretched their muscles and their determination. Rob slipped and almost fell in himself and Will hit his head hard enough on the railing that he had a goose egg before they got Eddie on deck, drenched, freezing and waxy as death.
When Karl and Will came back from hanging Eddie’s wet clothing in the basement, Maggie lay on the cot with his father, all wrapped up in the featherbed with him. Maybe the warmth of her body next to his would help; for a moment, Karl had the impulse to climb in, too. His mother held his father’s hands close to her heart and kissed his face - something he’d seen her do a hundred times.
“Eddie, can you hear me? Open your eyes; you don’t have to say anything, just open your eyes so I know you’re still here. Please? Can you do that, can you open your eyes for me?”
When his father’s eyes fluttered open, Maggie cried out. “Oh, there you are! I love you, Eddie, I love you...” She kissed his cold, motionless face again and again; she brought his stiff, white fingers to her mouth and kissed each one of them, too. “We’ll get you warmed up, don’t worry...”
She lay still, staring into his blank eyes. “Eddie... Edward... Eddie? Where are you?” Her words wobbled; her voice rose in panic. “You don’t know me, do you? You can’t see me, can you?”
Although he refused to admit it, in the pit of his clutched up stomach, Karl knew how this was going to end.

Late that night, after the priest had been there and Grandma O’Keefe, Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Melvin had come and gone; after his sisters, Lizzie and Anna were asleep; after Dr. Lyman had come and gone a second time, Karl woke up and crept through the darkness and down the stairs. A dim light spilled through the kitchen door, a beacon to his father’s sickroom.
His mother sat on the floor next to the cot where his father still lay, his face now flushed with fever. She’d propped up his head with three pillows and covered him with only a light blanket. The familiar smell of Eddie Stern’s sweat filled the kitchen; his tall, sturdy body seemed shrunken from its dousing in the cold lake. Every few minutes he coughed weakly.
Maggie still wore the faded green house dress she had on yesterday, green like a sick, stormy lake. Her long hair fell around her shoulders, its reddish flecks brought to life by the lamplight. Karl thought she looked like a young girl, her arm across his father, her head resting between his upper arm and his chest.
Maggie raised her head. “Karl, what are you doing out of bed? Where are your slippers?” Deep shadows filled the curves beneath her eyes and her puffy eyelids drooped, half open, half closed.
“I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. How’s Daddy?”
“He took in too much lake water. Dr. Lyman said his heart isn’t beating very well.”
“Is he going to die?”
“I think so.”
Karl’s brow wrinkled, his throat suddenly tight. “No!” He wanted it to be yesterday at this time, he wanted to be able to warn his father to watch out for ice on the deck.
“Come here, sit with me.” His mother pulled the blanket he’d left for his father onto the floor, making a place for him to sit between her and the cot. She wrapped him in the blanket and then in her arms, smoothing his curly blond hair away from his face. They sat without talking for a long time as she rocked him and he cried. She had no words or wisdom for him, only the strength of a sorrow shared.
“I wanted to be his partner on the boat. I wanted to work with him. I wanted to be just like him.” Karl pulled away and looked into his mother’s eyes.
Maggie smiled a little. “You two have been squabbling an awful lot lately, so you’d better tell him, Karl, you’d better tell him everything you want him to know before it’s too late.”
“Do you think he can hear us?”
“I don’t know for sure. Just believe he can, and tell him everything.” She stood up and rubbed the back of her neck. “I’m going to change out of these clothes and look in on the girls. You stay here and talk to him.” She kissed the top of Karl’s head and disappeared up the stairs.
All alone with his father, at first Karl felt foolish, like he was talking to himself, but it didn’t take long before he remembered all the things the two of them had done together. He talked about the sunburn they’d both had after the first day on the lake last summer.
“But that didn’t matter, ’cause it was the best summer of my whole life.”
He talked about their wrestling matches and told him how proud he felt when Eddie quit letting him win, laughed and said, “But I still hate losing.” Karl remembered the day they’d gone out to the woods to see the huge sugar maple that Eddie climbed as a boy, and how they’d made plans to tap the tree for syrup next spring. “I can almost taste it, Daddy, you have to get well.”
Karl buried his face in his father’s blankets, crying. He said, “I love you” again and again. He kissed Eddie’s bearded cheek the way he did when he was still small enough to be swooped up in his father’s arms and lifted high into the air. And he whispered over and over again, “Please don’t go, Daddy. God, please, don’t let him die, please. He has to get well. I’ll never be bad or talk back ever again, just let him live. Please!”