Character Research: Rekindling My Memories

One piece of research for writing the sequel for Dragonfly Prince involves a character who doesn’t actually appear in the book, yet her influence is part of the story. She is based on my great-grandmother, who lived to the glorious age of 98. My great-grandmother was a fascinating woman. There were aspects of her personality that, to this day, I’ve never been able to reconcile. She was a variety of eccentricities with a heart of gold.

On Sunday morning, Realm and I worshiped with members of the Lord’s church in the building my great-grandmother took us to when I visited as a kid. The congregation happened to be having their homecoming, celebrating 123 years. There was another visitor there who said he hadn’t been back in sixty years. He talked about some of the things he remembered as a boy living there. He knew my great-grandfather—well, step great-grandfather.

Listening to him sparked my own memories. I remember arriving at Gaga’s (that’s what we called her–no, not Lady Gaga) at night when I was little. She came out of the house to meet us—she loved people, especially her own flesh and blood. She had a wrinkly, round face framed by a filmy scarf. Beneath the scarf was a head full of curlers. She wore a duster and tiny little slippers. Everything was tiny about her except her eyes and her personality.

turning down memory lane
Turning down the road to Gaga’s house.

The house she lived in she kept like a museum. You see, her second husband had been married before to a woman named Lucy, who died three days before I was born. When Gaga remarried, she came to live in “Lucy’s house.”

I remember entering the house as a kid. It was like going back in time. In the corner of the sitting room was one of those big televisions you see on black and white films—you know, the ones they would depict a smiling family sitting in front of. There were long, plastic mats laid out anywhere there was carpet. It was Lucy’s carpet. Even as a child, I knew to stay on the walkways. I remember losing my balance and stepping on the carpet by accident. Fortunately, Gaga didn’t see it.

down memory lane
The road to Gaga’s house.

I loved going upstairs. There were two big rooms with dormer windows that jutted out of the roof. They let in all the light. Between the two bedrooms was a hall with a big walk-in closet. I could not imagine what that closet was any good for. It had no shelves. It was completely bare except for a big vase-looking thing that Gaga always reminded us was “the slop jar.” I had no idea what that meant, but I would comment that I wished that closet had been a bathroom. It was the perfect size. 🙂 And that way I wouldn’t have to walk all the way downstairs and across the house to the only toilet—which happened to be in front of Gaga’s bedroom, where she was sure to hear you, grab your arm, and start talking before you ever reached the bathroom door.

Gaga could talk. She had a way of saying things like they were well-kept secrets that she was letting you in on. But what she said often didn’t make any sense! It made sense to her; and if you took the time to listen, she would explain what she meant. Then her eyes would twinkle, she’d purse her lips in a special Gaga sort of way, and look at you as though she’d just told you the answer to the most interesting question you hadn’t thought to ask.

gaga's house
Gaga’s house

Today, the house is falling apart, but my memories are still vivid. I can still hear Gaga’s slippered feet shuffling along the plastic. I can still see her wrapped head looking up at us from the bottom of the stairs. I can still feel her warm fingers clutching my arm because she has something to tell me. Something wonderful.