It’s hard to pick just one strong woman to write about, because I come from a family of them. We’re from the south, and southern women are known for their inner strength, well-hidden beneath a soft veneer. Remember Steel Magnolias? We stand firm. We don’t buckle in the face of adversity. And that was definitely true of my grandmother.
My grandmother was born in 1906, several months after her father’s death. She was the seventh daughter, and her mother named her after her father as a final act of remembrance – Bennie Virginia. (Yes, I was named after her.) Her mother never remarried, and with such a big family and no father around, you know they weren’t wealthy. My grandmother put herself through school, and then married. She gave birth to three boys – two of them survived. Then, when my father was nine, her husband died suddenly. The girl who grew up without a father became a widow without a father for her sons. She got a job as a teacher and worked hard to support them.
I called her Mono. The name came from an older cousin who couldn’t pronounce ‘Mother,’ as all the grown-ups were calling her. It stuck, even though I went through preadolescent agonies of embarrassment over the name when Mono was my fourth-grade math teacher. But she loved the silly name, so I couldn’t do anything about it. (I did try to call her Granny once, but she insisted, “Grannies are old ladies who sit in rocking chairs and knit. I’m not Granny – I’m Mono!”)
Some of my most cherished memories come from my times with Mono. Her house always smelled of cookies, and she prided herself on her secret fried chicken recipe (which she took to the grave with her!). She was a proper southern woman – don’t wear white or open-toed shoes after Labor Day, always wear a petticoat, male guests should only be entertained with an appropriate chaperone hovering nearby. I don’t ever remember Mono sitting me down to teach me the lessons I learned from her; instead, her life was her classroom. From her, I learned that difficulties are not reasons to stop striving; they are merely obstacles to be overcome. I learned to love fiercely and forever, as she did. I learned that the difference we make in life is not measured by a list of accomplishments, but by the number of lives we have touched.
That was evident at Mono’s funeral, when the mourners overflowed the funeral home. Many of them told us that Mono had taught three generations of their family, and had been the favorite teacher of them all. They’d smile and tell us their favorite memories of that grand old lady who’d lived to be ninety-six, then they’d file past the casket. The funeral spray on top had two ribbons – one said Mother. The other said Mono.
What does Mono have to do with my new book, Murder at Eagle Summit? Why, not a thing! The grandmother in this book is a funny old character, bur she bears very little resemblance to my Mono. On the other hand, now that I think about it, the heroine, Liz, is an awfully strong-willed woman. And in the course of the story, she learns that love—true love—is forever. So maybe Mono does show up in Murder at Eagle Summit after all. You be the judge!”
For more information about Virginia (Ginny) Smith