Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pieces of History--What Inspires My Fiction

I've been thinking a lot about what inspires me to even dream of fiction writing.

I think it's pieces of history that spark my curiosity and make me imagine the truth behind the history. For instance, I recently bought an antique soapstone foot warmer.

I love to set it on our wood stove until it's toasty warm, then I take it to my office and rest my feet on it while I write. What about this piece of history? How old is it? Who used it? Did a young lady use it in her carriage or sleigh in the cold midwestern winters? Is soapstone native around here? Was it handcrafted from local natural resources or ordered from afar? What 19th century gowns draped the chilly legs of the fair maidens who rested their patten leather shoes upon it?

And that's only the beginning. With a little push from the reality of history, it doesn't take much for the imagination to go wild! And that's why I love historical fiction.

Recently my mother was sent this family heirloom, a quilt that is 100 years old. The relative who sent it knew that my mother has researched our family history and wanted it to go to someone who would cherish it.

I researched on the internet what kind of pattern: "King's Crown". It was hand pieced of cotton with cotton batting between the layers. The stitches are exquisitely tiny. My Grandma Emma would have smiled quietly, bent over, and proudly run her fingers over these tiny stitches, admiring the fine craft of the woman's hands who'd spent hours over this quilt.

So why didn't this quilt just stay locked up in some granddaughter's hope chest? 

To find the answer, my daughter, my mother, and I packed it up, and took a road trip to see some cousins, Rufus and Thelma Martin. Thelma has a whole room of her home for her genealogy library. Rufus is my mother's second cousin. This trip reminds me not only of the time I stepped into yesteryear at my Great Aunt Mattie's, it is treasured because I got to tell Rufus a treasured memory of his brother, Jason Martin, who prayed over me when I was 14 years old that the Holy Spirit would enter my heart and annoint my life. As I watched him tell my daughter how he handcrafted this hutch, I recalled the same gentle spirit of love and conviction that could reach to the younger generation without seeming stuffy or too old fashioned.

As we looked through the genealogy we found that the woman who made the quilt, married my great great grandfather, John W. Martin--but she had no children of her own. So the quilt was handed down to her step children, and the siblings of the woman who made it lived far away from her. So she wouldn't have given it to her nieces or nephews. We see her in the 1900 Indiana Census, with eight children still living at home, now ages 8 to 20. I wonder who slept beneath this quilt?

I wonder about the woman who quilted it, and how it would have been to not have children of her own, yet become the step mother to John's nine children, ages 1 to 15. They married in 1893--the same year his first wife, Susannah, died. And though it's wonderful to have this piece of history, it's more wonderful to remember this gentle loving spirit that I see in Rufus, I knew in Jason and in my Grandpa John. If my Great Great Grandfather John W. Martin was anything like them, I can see why Catherine L. Weaver married him and became the mother of his nine children. And I can imagine that the love they shared beneath this quilt was one that God Himself breathed His grace upon. Certainly she found a way to let God's love and grace flow to these motherless children, or I'm certain the generations that followed would have held bitterness closer than love, and brokenness closer than healing.

I labor over my fiction, much like Catherine labored over the tiny stitches of her quilt. I don't want my stories to be locked in a hope chest somewhere, never pulled out or cherished, or passed on. I want to find the truth behind the history, the story behind the symbols left behind--that show us how God works in the lives of those He loves.

I wonder how she would have told her true story?
What symbols of God's faithfulness will you leave behind for the coming generations?
Will they know your story?
Will they know the Truth behind it?


  1. OH MY GOSH, Anne!! I love this post! Your research adventures kill me. So fun. I'm definitely relocating to Indiana to be closer to you :)

  2. What a great post! I enjoyed reading about this quilt and your family legacy so much!

  3. I really enjoyed this post! I love family history, and how you learn about yourself through those who lived before you.

    For those who come after me, I'm hoping my writing will tell of my love for God, and my faithfulness to His promises and Word.

    1. I'm a sucker for exciting genealogy. And Amen to the legacy of faith in our writing!

  4. Anne, are you active on Ancestry.com?? If so, you need to do a blog post on that and how it works :) :) (hint hint)

    1. Yepper!! I'm an Ancestry addict. It's where I'm found when I should be editing! :)

  5. In 1993 we went to a church picnic in the town we'd been living in for 4 months. We still had only a few friends. Our pastor invited us to the church picnic, so we went. I saw a table of olive skinned people and said to my hubby "They're Arabs".
    "They could be Mexican, for all you know."
    The pastor knew my dad was from the Middle East. He called us over and said "I want you to meet some friends"
    He took us to that table. "John and Jennifer, this is Elias and ELizabeth Zarifeh"
    ELias looked at me and said "Do you have a problem with our name?"
    He was NOT pleased with me.
    "NO! Zarifeh is my maiden name!"
    He dropped his jaw and freaked.
    LONG story short, he was the descendant of one of two brothers who lost touch in the 1800's. My dad is a descendant of the other brother. At that church picnic, I was the link that joined the family back together after almost 200 years.

    1. Sorry, hopefully that didn't sound like *I* saved the family.

    2. What a great story Jennifer!!


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