Monday, August 14, 2006

Helen's Inspiration

When my daughter, Kelsey, was born I started making annual trips down to Chicago to visit my Grandparents. They were pretty old back then, in their eighties, so I didn’t figure I’d be making all that many trips. Dylan came along five years later, and I wasn’t even sure if he’d remember his great-grandparents, but it was important to me that he be given the opportunity. So I’ve continued the tradition through the years in spite of financial difficulties, bad weather, conflicting family responsibilities, kids athletic commitments, whatever.

There were many times during the long drives down and back that I’ve wondered about the sense of it all. I don’t wonder any more.

Grandpa died four years ago, shortly after turning 97. My grandparents were still living in their own home at the time, a home my kids remember about as well as I do. They remember playing cards with him at the kitchen table, messing with the controls on his bed and chair. Laughing with him, eating meals with him. Listening to a TV turned up about as loud as the volume would go. They remember Grandma’s spot on the couch, how she would fuss over Grandpa, how she’d wave good-bye out the front window as we drove away.

This past weekend Dylan and I took our annual pilgrimage to visit my Grandma for the first time without Kelsey. It was sad, but she had commitments we couldn’t work around. Now we visit Grandma in her assisted living facility (she couldn't stay in her own home without Grandpa), but it’s amazing how little assistance she really needs. Although she’ll be turning 100 in November, you’d never know it. She refused to walk with a walker or even a cane until about a month ago. She still takes all her own medicine, and, with congestive heart failure and high blood pressure, the schedule gets pretty complicated. She still pays her own bills, washes and irons her own clothes, and makes her own bed even though it takes her half an hour.

She’s amazing. My grandpa was amazing. They inspire me in ways it’s difficult to put down on paper. They’re stubbornness and determination, are things I think of all the time in reference to my writing. But as a romance writer in particular, they set an example that’s hard to find these days. Get this, my grandparents were married for 76 years.

Can you imagine? Seventy … six … years. These days making a twenty-fifth anniversary is a milestone. They weren’t the snippy, badgering kind of old couple you see on TV, but they weren’t perfect people either. Trust me. I couldn’t have lived with either one of them for half that long. Even so, they were sweet together. They adored one another, respected each other, were considerate in every possible way. They LOVED each other.

So when I’ve finished writing my romances, I take time to think about my hero and heroine and wonder whether they could possibly live as happily ever after as Grandma and Grandpa. If yes, I’ve done my job. If not, it’s time for revisions! Grandpa and Grandma keep me in line.

Do you have someone (or something) that inspires you, either in your personal, professional, or writing life?
How does it makes a difference?


Betina Krahn said...

wow, Helen, what a gift! Inspiration. . . mind if I use your grandparents, too?

anne said...

wow, helen!! your grandma is amazing! 100 soon. and she looks fantastic!!!

Helen Brenna said...

Go for it, Betina! That made me think ... I know that's dangerous ... but wasn't Nicholas Sparks' inspiration for The Notebook his wife's grandparents?

Helen Brenna said...

She does look great, Anne, doesn't she? Hope a little bit of that rubs off on me!

Candace said...

Wow, Helen, that's a great story--and great inspiration!

The life stories of my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents are exactly the opposite. Nobody seemed to stay married very long. Divorce runs rampant through the generations, all the way back to when divorce was a scandalous thing to do. What it taught me (and it was a VERY valuable lesson) was what I didn't want.

As a child and teenager, my inspiration for what love and romance could and should be came from books. I read about people who loved and respected one another; who stayed together through a lifetime because they wanted to; and I decided that's what I wanted for myself.

My inspiration still comes from books but it also comes (Now, this is going to sound really sappy, I know, but it's the truth so what can you do?)from my own marriage and my relationship with my husband. We'll have been married 33 years come November--a record in my family by many years!

Pretty much everybody predicted it wouldn't last. And to look at us back then, you'd probably have agreed everybody was right. There's 10 years difference in age between us for one thing. Plus,I was a bleeding-heart liberal hippie chick who was into bohemian fashions (think peasant blouses and fringe) and Joe was a conservative businessman in a three-piece suit with a briefcase. Not a match made in heaven. Except that it was.

So, when I am writing my stories I know that no matter how different my hero and heroine are, if they really love each other, they can make it work.

Helen Brenna said...

Yes, Candace, that is sappy, but so very sweet too. You're talking about the best inspiration of all!

anne said...

i come from a dysfunctional family, so my characters tend to be dysfunctional. even when i was writing romance. which could explain why i'm no longer writing romance. :D i once got a letter from a reader complaining about my books being too dark and depressing. this particular book was about a woman in an abusive marriage. the reader said she had been in such a sitituation and read romance to forget about that period of her life. i felt pretty bad about that.

Helen Brenna said...

Don't feel bad, Anne. I'm guessing your book had a relatively happy ending. You never know, it may have encouraged someone to leave a bad situation!

And don't get me going on dysfunctional families! My grandparents were a bit dysfunctional, but I think after so many years, the wheels had been greased enough that the train ran on its own.

anne said...

"but I think after so many years, the wheels had been greased enough that the train ran on its own."