Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Kindness repayed?

My friend John told me this story of coincidence and how it can change things. Maybe.


John was from New York City, where his parents still lived, but at the time he was working in Washington, DC and lived in Virginia. The rush hour going home each day was a hassle, with several lanes of traffic headed out of the capitol city. This day there was a car pulled onto the wide median, obviously broken down. Four men stood around it. This was in the days before cell phones, and calling for help was much harder than it is today.


Although it was against his usual habits, John pulled off onto the median behind the disabled vehicle. He said that he had never done that before. He offered to take one of the men to the next off ramp and find a telephone to call a tow truck. (Aren't you glad we have cell phones now?) They did just that, and on the way back to the broken down car, John asked where they were from.


"We're from Acme Company (not the real name)," the man answered.  "We're here from New York City."


"What do you know!" John said. "My father lives in New York City and works for Acme!"


"Acme has two offices," the man replied. "One in New York City and one in Washington, DC. We have to close one of them, and we are visiting both, trying to decide which one. It's a hard decision."


By then they were back to the disabled automobile, where they parted company. A couple of days later it was announced that Acme was closing the Washington office. John's father kept his job.


If John had not stopped to help the stranded motorists, would the result have been the same? Or was John's kindness the little nudge it took to make the decision? If he had passed on by, would the choice been different? Or did those guys say, "You know, it's so hard to pick which location to close, and that man was so nice to stop and help, let's let his father keep his job." ? Or what if John had driven by that spot an hour earlier, or an hour later?  But he didn't.


Coincidence. God's way of remaining anonymous. Or maybe a test.



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I write fiction--I think.

Some time ago I wrote a novel that I titled "Broussard Court". I later decided to leave open the possibility of making this a series, so I added "The New Witch" to it.


It tells the story of several women who are drawn (by the 'spirits') to New Orleans, where they find rooms in one of the apartments surrounding a courtyard, known as Broussard Court. A shop is adjoining, and all are managed by Madame Clothide Badeaux, nee Broussard. Madame was the granddaughter of a slave who, as was typical, took the name of her owner as her own surname. Madame 's father was the son of the slave and the plantation owner, set free upon the owner's death. Lighter skinned, Madame's sister, Adeline, 'passed for white' and moved to the East Coast and kept her past a secret. It is Adeline's granddaughter who inherits Broussard Court, apartments and shop when Madame dies. Until then, Addie knows nothing about New Orleans or her black grandmother.


When I started the tale, I wanted typical French names, nothing too common nor too unusual. As is usual for me, I changed the names several times before I lit on ones that were 'just right'. Broussard is a common French surname in south Louisiana, so I picked that for the plantation owner and his slave, Madame's grandmother, and by extension for her father and his three children. For her married name it took a little longer. I worked with a name I had come across when in that area—Breaux (from the town of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana). I changed it a little and it finally ended up as Badeaux.


Now we are getting to the coincidence part.


Quite some time after writing the novel, after I had it professionally edited and started sending queries to agents, on a completely unrelated interest, I had my DNA tested by Ancestry.com. Working on the family tree is an intriguing hobby. I now have 400 plus pages of people whose DNA matches mine. On many of them I can look at their tree and mine and see how we are related (actually Ancestry does that for me) but there are many more folks who I don't have a clue how we fit. I know they are kin, though, because the test shows we are from the same line of ancestors in one way of another.


So here is the coincidence:


I have a 4th cousin. The 'code name' she goes by is MsNancy. Already there's a coincidence, but nothing really special. MsNancy may be my 4th cousin, but I don't see any mutual ancestors on our family tree. What I DO see is:


Her several times great-grandfather was Jacques Francois Broussard. His son married Adeline, daughter of Claire Buteau (spelled differently but pronounced almost the same as my Badeaux.). Adeline, grand-daughter of Pierre Buteau) was born in 1685 in Ile Orleans, Quebec, Canada. I wonder if she too, like my character, had a sister named Clothilde? Eventually the family migrates to "the East Coast", New York.


So how am I related to the Broussards and Buteaus? By way of imagination, or maybe race memory, I guess. 

It's just a coincidence. Isn't it?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

It's a small, small world

It's a common occurrence to run into someone you know. You are shopping at Walmart and see someone from your church, or maybe you are shown to a table at a restaurant and sitting at the next table is somebody from work. We all have those moments. But how often are you on vacation and see someone from back home? It happens—at least it's happened to me.


And how often, when you are on vacation, do you meet somebody who knows one of your family members?


Let me explain what I mean. Often when on vacation my husband and I would strike up a conversation with another couple, and the usual question would soon be asked. "Where are you folks from?" Or maybe someone would have noticed something on our car that indicated we were from Arkansas. On every trip—we watched for it—someone would say, "We met a girl from Arkansas earlier this summer (or last summer, or two years ago.) She was working at the camp our daughter went to/running our vacation Bible school/teaching a class/etc. Her name was . . ." And you can bet it was our daughter, Holly. These vacationers might be from California or Pennsylvania or Florida. It didn't matter where. On a vacation, we'd meet someone who knew or had met Holly. I'll admit she did get around a bit on her summer volunteer projects, but to meet people who knew her in a completely different state far away from either our home or theirs was something else.  It was a coincidence that we came to expect wherever we went.


Another coincidence involving meeting people occurs regularly at our local genealogy library, The Melting Pot. It is a good sized place, having several thousand books. It is open two days a week, Monday and Friday from 10am to 2pm, and is staffed by volunteers. I work one day a month—the first Friday. It was already a joke that anybody who comes in to research their family tree always finds a cousin. That's because the 'regulars', the volunteers who work most often, were mostly born and raised in Garland County or the surrounding area, and are related to many of the founding families. A stranger can come in and when they leave they have a family.


I was working my Friday about six weeks ago. I was in a back aisle, matching index cards to books in the Texas section. I could hear what was going on 'up front', (we aren't a keep quiet kind of library) but I wasn't paying much attention, when I heard the name "Mehaffey". I spoke up. "I have Mehaffey's" I called out and went to where the conversation was.


I have to tell you first that although I and my parents moved to this county when I was a teen, neither I nor they were raised here. My parents were born and raised in Arkansas, but not in this county. Life took them other places and when they decided they wanted to move back to Arkansas, they chose this beautiful, artistic town to live. It is centrally situated in the state so they could reach their siblings and other loved ones within a few hours drive in one direction or another. Other than one of my children who now lives here, there are no relatives of mine in the county (but plenty of my husband's).


So the Mehaffey I was kin to wasn't in this county. Genealogists will recognize how I can stretch and find the kinship. My great-grandfather's sister married a Mehaffey in DeKalb County Georgia. He died (killed in the Civil War, I believe. Think the burning of Atlanta) and when the family moved from Georgia to Arkansas by covered wagon, sister Mehaffey and children came too. But not to this county.


So I went to the front of the library and explained the connection. The couple who were researching had come from Utah to find out more about her father's roots, and they came to the Melting Pot Library because of our size. In trading information, we never did find the exact connection between us, BUT (and this is important) she called up her DNA relatives on her laptop, and there I was. We ARE kin. We couldn't figure out exactly how, but we will.


What a coincidence! They came all the way from Utah, to a library that happened to be open the day of the week they ended up in Hot Springs, and it was the one day of the month I, a relative, was working, and I overheard the family name and recognized it.


Coincidence? Or God's way of remaining anonymous?




Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Blessings Jar

For many years, my church has performed the same ritual, or a variation thereof, on the first Sunday in January..


We are given a sheet of paper. On it we write the things we are wishing for in the new year, OR we write the things we want to do away with—bad habits and all. It's the minister's choice. I might write "be on time", or "eat healthy foods", or on the other side of the coin, I might say "I will stop being negative" or "I will not procrastinate."  My statements might be like wishes on birthday candles: " I will be in perfect health this year," or "My books will become best sellers." Then we walk up front and stick the paper into the flame of a candle, and burn those words—send them out to the universe, so to speak.


In another version of the same thing, we write on our piece of paper, put it in an envelope, seal it, and put it in the offering plate when it comes around. Next December it will be mailed back to us so we can see that everything that has materialized. (Yeah, right.) I don't think I've ever seen one thing in my envelope come to pass. I'm never more patient, neater, thinner, nor more organized.


This year I was expecting the same old same old, but the minister surprised us. She had us bring a jar to church, and she handed out a slip of paper that reads, "My Blessings Jar. When you experience a blessing, write it down and put it in here & count your blessings whenever you need a lift." We taped the message on the outside of the jar and put it where we would see it every day. I think this is going to work--maybe not exactly the way it's stated on my jar, but in an even better way.


Counting your blessings is certainly a good idea, but I see another benefit to the slips of paper in the jar—actually looking for blessings. I think we often overlook the good things that come to us, but we are all too eager to tell the bad things that come along. And there are even some people who says things like "that always happens to me" or "nothing good ever happens". With the jar sitting by the computer, and I'm on the computer every day, my attention is drawn to the good in my life—that extra little bump that makes me say "Thank you, God!", since something has occurred that is more than just having a good day. I'm sure I'll be counting those blessings more often than I used to. I'm just as sure that if I wasn't writing them on slips of paper and putting them where I can see them every day, I'd forget to actively watch for them.


So that stirred up something else in my thought process. Why not do the same thing for coincidences? If what Albert Einstein said, (or whoever really did say it, if not him,)  "Coincidences are God's way of remaining anonymous," is true, then coincidences are signposts, pointing the way to . . . what? A discovery? Could coincidences really be arrows showing us the path? Like signs that say, "turn here", "go this way," or "stop before you get hurt," maybe we need to pay closer attention.


Some years ago I watched a TV program about people who won the lottery (or more than one.) One of the people they featured was a man who had won (and was still winning) lotteries. He said he watched for numbers wherever he went. He remembered the numbers, and if they repeated, that's the numbers he played. He had trained himself to be aware of the numbers around him: street numbers, dates, time, phone numbers, etc. In one instance, he stopped to help a woman who had a flat tire. As he changed it for her, he took mental note of her license number. When he bought his lotto card for the day, he picked her license number. It won big.


I'm a reader. Writers are, you know, or they wouldn't be writers for long. There are times coincidences come by way of the books I choose. I'll pick a book completely at random, and then the next one, and the next, and I'll find that something about them is the same. It might be similarity in the base on which the plot is formed, or the characters have the same name, or the books take place in the same city. Mind you, I haven't read the cover or a review, or anything else that would have told me, but there they are, alike in one or more ways. I remember one time I read three novels in a row that all took place in the forests of the far northwest. I had no idea until I was deep into each book. Just a coincidence. Hmm. Just because I notice the coincidences doesn't mean I know what it means.


So I'm putting a little notebook beside the computer, and like the blessing jar reminds me to watch for blessings, I hope the notebook will help me watch for coincidences. I can only anticipate that they will point me somewhere I need to go . . .  or think about. Maybe they'll point me toward a blessing.





Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What's In a Name? A Rose by Any Other Name isn't a Coincidence.

I've mentioned here before that genealogy is a hobby of mine. It's like solving a mystery, going back in time like that, finding our relatives and how they lived. My daughter caught the bug too, and likes to delve in the past--ours or someone else's.

She's currently working on her mother-in-law's genealogy. It is especially interesting because her MIL was adopted at age two weeks, and didn't learn this until she was well into adulthood. The clues they had (such as her MIL's birth mother's name) took her just so far, then DNA took her further.

Before telling more of this story, I have to tell you that her MIL is very patriotic. Her home is decorated in red, white, and blue and she has Americana in every room. She drives a red car, red being her favorite color. July 4 is a really big day at their house.

So a few days ago, my daughter had gotten as far back as her MIL's great-grandmother. She called. "You'll never guess what your great-grandmother's name was."

"Oh, I hope it was Liberty. Liberty or America. I've always wished my name was Liberty or America. When I was a little girl I used to pretend it was!" she replies.

I'll give you two guesses what great-grandmother's name was, and the first one doesn't count.

God Bless . . . .

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Valentine

This is the tenth Valentine's Day I've spent without my own Valentine. It's easier than it was the first one.

The first one, he'd been gone six months, and I was really sad to be without him. It had been getting better, but Valentine's Day is the day of the year you really want your sweetheart with you.

I had cried off and on all day. Not the big, sobbing kind of crying, just the kind that catches you off-guard and has the tears flowing again. Memories that flash suddenly, without warning, and puts that lump back in your throat.

I cried a bit as I went to sleep that night. As is common among those of us who are 'a certain age', I woke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I was still sure-footed enough that I didn't turn on the light. Coming back, in the doorway from bathroom to bedroom I stepped on something soft and furry. I backed up a half-step and turned on the bathroom light. It was a small stuffed rabbit which a friend had given Jim when he was in the hospital. There it was, in the path I had taken a minute earlier.

I stopped telling people this story when they started saying, "It must have been there before. You just didn't notice it." Yeah, right. A stuffed animal was on the floor in the doorway to the bathroom and I just didn't notice it. I guess that's as likely to some people as the thought that Jim put it there for me.

The rabbit sits on the old trunk that serves as my nightstand. It's been there for ten years now.

Some people will say it was just a coincidence it appeared there on Valentine's night.
I say it was Jim letting me know he is still close by.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Genealogy and Books

((Sigh)). Ok, I admit it. I've been so lazy about this blog. I haven't posted in . . . well . . . it's been a long time. Not that I think anybody has missed it, but still, when I start something, I really should keep it up. Like cleaning house . . .well, let's forget about that.

I'm still noticing coincidences, and one of these days I'll get back to writing about them. For now, let me tell you about my writing, and, come to think about it, about how coincidences shape the series that Betrayal on the Brazos has turned in to.

The idea really started with genealogy. That's one of my interests, and one of my daughters, the one who lives nearby, has inherited that interest. We have both my family and that of my late husband, traced back a long, long way. And the weird thing we found was the coincidences that show up along the way.

Now I don't know if I can explain this properly in a blog, but stay with me while I try. We keep finding long ago relatives who live next door to, or marry into a family, of people who show up in 'modern times'. Example: My mother-in-law was orphaned and adopted as a young child. Her adopting mother was a cousin of her father. That branch of the family had moved here from Indiana maybe 50 years previously. Her adopting father's family moved here from Tennessee a generation previously. In Tennessee, they lived NEXT DOOR to the ancestors of the man my mother-in-law would eventually marry.

And my daughter and I have ceased to be surprised at the numerous coincidences that pop up. People from one side marrying into a branch of the other side, a hundred years before the modern couple even meet.

She's working on the tree of her mother-in-law, who was adopted and knew very little of her biological parents. Wouldn't you know I'd find that in her lineage was the same ancestor from my husband's side of the family--back in 1700s Virginia. That means my daughter and her husband are very distant cousins.

Edgar Cayce said we reincarnate with the same groups of people, and it looks like that is what is happening. If you believe in reincarnation. And I do.

So what does that have to do with my books?

Betrayal on the Brazos is the first in the series Tales From the Brazos. All the books will take place on or near the Brazos River. Some of them will emphasize the complete name of the river, The River of the Arms of God, and that name will have meaning to the story. They will not be written in chronological order, but can be read in any order. Each one is a stand alone story, but characters will show up in various books, much as in real life we meet a person, lose track of them, and meet them again later. Just as coincidences happen in real life, they'll happen in the lives of my characters.

So far, the earliest book in the series, time-wise, is Betrayal on the Brazos, which starts in approximately 1875 when Maggie's uncle sends her to the fictional town of Rock Springs, Texas, to care for her cousin's children. There are laughs and love, along with murder, before the Happily Ever After.

My WIP (work-in-progress) is set a couple of years later, and it is about Rachel, who moves her family by covered wagon from Mississippi to Texas to join her husband on the same ranch where Betrayal on the Brazos takes place. There are lots of surprises, both good and bad, and you'll meet some characters you met in Betrayal. The title of this one is Wherever Life Leads. Coincidences play a big part in this one.

Just because it is the next chronologically, that doesn't mean I haven't been writing others in the series. Gussie and the Cherokee Kid is next one to be released.  It is set in 1901 and follows the daughter of a character in Betrayal on the Brazos as she accompanies orphaned six-year-old Julia, to  her   uncle in Rock Springs. Full of more laughs and love, I think you'll like it. Release date is Feb. 10, 2016.

Next is The Marriage Bargain, set in 1932. The Brazos River plays a big part in this one, along with the full meaning of the river's name. It has a lot more action and some sadness. That's the way life is, you know. Some fun. Some not so much. But if you have faith, it all works out in the end. Release date for that one is March 30, 2016.

When I finish Wherever Life Leads, I have lots of options about what to write next. I have sticky-notes all around my computer monitor with ideas, and I have ordered scads of books to give background whichever direction I go. I even have one that will involve the mob and be full of tension, but I can't write that one yet until I pull the series closer to present time so I can connect the characters. I don't know yet how it will connect to those long-ago people I've already written about, but it will. The coincidence just hasn't shown up yet.

In the meantime, maybe I'll start with the young man who comes back from WWI damaged in mind and body and the young woman who helps him. Or maybe the young woman who learns to fly airplanes, or Julia, who grows up to fall in love with the boy next door, who owns a vineyard and winery--during prohibition.

In YOUR meantime, start looking for coincidences in your own life. Remember, they are signs of something. It's up to you to figure out just what!