LUCY BURDETTE: I love all of Maddie Dawson's books (she also writes as Sandi Kahn Shelton), and the newest, THE OPPOSITE OF MAYBE, is no exception. I tried to read really slowly to make it last...
I'm delighted that she agreed to blog for us today--talking about her grandmother, who was a model for a character in the newest novel. Welcome Maddie!
MADDIE DAWSON: My grandmother wasn’t like any of the other grandmothers.
When I was a kid, all my friends had sweet, white-haired grandmas who looked like they were sent over by Central Casting. They wore loose, flowered house dresses and they smelled like lavender, and yes, they could bake a great oatmeal cookie, and could knit up a sweater or two in an afternoon. I got to see these grandmas up close and in action, when my friends invited me along on museum trips or out for “ladies’ lunches,” where we politely chatted and sipped tea with Grandma.
They were wonderful.
Mine, however, was not like that. For one thing, she wanted to be called “Gigi” instead of Grandma, and she had short blond, bleached hair, a suntan, legs up to there—oh, and the best clothes you ever saw. She wore turquoise and orange and polka dots and hot pink—and she had shoes for every outfit. Closetsful of sandals and stilettos , as well as baskets of costume jewelry! Heaven.
She also had three husbands (not all at one time), and two houses—a regular modern house with sliding glass doors leading outside from every bedroom, and a lake house that, near as I could tell, was built from old sticks and boards people had found along the road. The sun shone through those boards, and the water from the lake was reflected in wavy, dancing lines on the ceiling. The whole house miraculously stood on pilings planted in the lake, so you could walk out the front door and jump right into the water.
We spent lots of lazy summers out there on the lake, floating around in the lake on inner tubes, watching the moon rise over the water while we told stories, and eating the fried chicken and boiled peanuts my grandmother cooked up on the rickety old gas stove that spat flames at her and every single day tried to kill her with its WHOOSH of gas.
She was brave about that, though. I hid when she went to turn it on, but she would laugh. “Hasn’t got me yet!” she’d say.
That wasn’t the only thing she was brave about. There were the snakes that sunned themselves on the dock in the early mornings, and she’d go out to brush her teeth (yes, in the lake—why? You think there’s something wrong with that?) and she’d shoo the snakes away, suggesting they might want to “get on out of the sun, now y’hear?”
She stood up to my mother, too, and when I was 16 years old, Gigi declared I was “working too hard,” and whisked me off for a summer in Hawaii. Just her and me, a whole summer of adventures and traveling. She worked, and I worked at my tan and wrote stories that she read in the evenings.
At the age of seventy, she and her third husband bought a motor home and traveled across the country. She often called me from the highway. “Dahlin’, I went tubing this morning on the Mississippi, and now we’re riding down the road, and I’m cooking us up a pot roast for supper. Wait, John, don’t swerve like that! You’re gonna get us killed!”
Brave. And then some.
I got to see her bravery in action once more when the diagnosis of inoperable liver and colon cancer came. She was only 78, recently widowed but still running her own business, still wearing fabulous clothes, still going tubing on rivers that terrified me. She told me she wasn’t scared; she was ready for whatever came.
When two months later, it came time to move to hospice, she brought in her file cabinets and closed out her business from her hospital bed, talking into the telephone while trailing an I.V. and using oxygen. The doctors and nurses kept shaking their heads. No one had turned their hospice room into an office before.
Twenty-five years later, I wasn’t all that surprised when she showed up wanting to be in a book I was writing. In The Opposite of Maybe, she stars as the grandmother, Soapie, an irascible rascal of a grandmother who, at 88, dates a married man whose wife has Alzheimer's, cheats at Scrabble, and wants to be allowed to die without crazy medical intervention or nursing homes. She’s difficult, opinionated—and my grandmother’s light shines right through her.
As any author will tell you, characters in books don’t tend to come from any one person we know in real life. They are a composite of traits and quirks of lots of people: our third grade teacher, the barista at the coffee house, the guy who fixed the computer that one time, and 70 percent people we’ve made up in her own heads. It’s just the way they arrive in our heads.
But with Soapie, it’s as though my grandmother stepped back into life and said, “Here, honey, let me help you with this book. You’ve been working way too hard.”
Do you have a rescuer in your life, someone who showed you the possibilities of living outside the normal expectations, or showed you how to be brave?
(AND for anyone in Connecticut, Maddie will be reading from THE OPPOSITE OF MAYBE at Burgundy Books in Westbrook at 1 p.m. on May 3 (her grandmother's birthday!) and at 7 p.m. at the Guilford Library on May 7.) For those not in CT, find Maddie on Facebook or her website.