The title of this blog is a line from a very old television commercial. I don’t remember what product it was for. It was that line that made it memorable for me, and probably for every other girl who had a mother with a forceful personality. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my mother. But we got along best with me living in Maine and her living in Florida. Put us in the same room together, and we could only last about five minutes without pushing each other’s hot buttons.
I mentioned my mother and her “worry gene” in my last post. I’m pretty sure earlier blogs have given her credit for pushing me to succeed and for bringing me up to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. This was well before the Feminist movement got going, so that’s no small achievement. Mom was born in 1910 on a farm in rural Hurleyville, New York. She was a young woman during the Roaring Twenties and she roared a bit,
especially when she visited relatives her own age in “the city.” That would be New York. Not many girls of that era went on to college, but Mom wanted to be self-supporting, so she went to school to become a licensed beautician. She didn’t marry until she was twenty-five. And when my father enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps to fight in World War II, she didn’t see any point in staying home while he was in Europe. She took a job demonstrating cosmetics that took her all over the country. That’s not as frivolous as it sounds. The demonstrations were actually patriotic.
Rationing was in effect but it was considered important for the “girl back home” to keep herself looking her best for the sake of her absent soldier or sailor. Anyway, to make a long story short, my father came home and he and my mother, both of them aged thirty-seven by then, made their contribution to the baby boom. That would be me.
Mom worked all the while I was growing up, but she always managed to be there when I got home from school. She nagged me to get good grades, pushed me to continue dance lessons until I was seventeen, and encouraged me to get involved in all sorts of extra-curricular activities. Some were a bust. I lasted one day in Brownies, bombed on both the clarinet and the piano, and can’t carry a tune in a bucket, although I did sing (if you can call it that) in the junior choir at church. She pushed. I pushed back. I was a shy kid, but I also had a temper. There was a lot of shouting in our house, interspersed with “Do you want the neighbors to hear you?” and reminders that she had high blood pressure and that “one of these days you’re going to give me a heart attack and then you’ll be sorry!”
Am I making Mom sound like an ogre? She wasn’t. She was just very set in her ways, and absolutely certain she was right. I take after her more than I like to admit. It’s probably a good thing I never had kids of my own. Anyway, belatedly, here’s the point of this essay: My mom was the inspiration for Liss’s mother, Violet, in Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides, which will be in stores on July 31.
Now, obviously, since Liss is just short of thirty years old in the novel and it’s set in the present day, her mother can’t have been born in 1910. In fact, her mother is (groan!) my age. That means there is a lot of me in Violet, too. In fact, in creating her backstory, which connects her and Liss’s father to the murder victim, I lifted a great big chunk out of my own life—the four years I spent at Bates College as a double major in English in Speech (in other words, as a theater rat). Fellow Batesies, especially those who were students in the mid-1960s, will definitely recognize a few things. I did not invent either the pit or scenery storage loft #2. Bates College in Lewiston, Maine does not appear. But sitting here at my desk, with my pencils in a mug with the college seal that reads “Academia Batesina * Condita 1864” may have had something to do with naming Violet’s fictional alma mater Anisetab College.
I had a lot of fun writing this book. It’s Liss’s story. Her wedding. And an entirely fictitious murder . . . although perhaps the victim might have been made up of a few bits and pieces of obnoxious pedants I have known. Next time I blog (July 30), I’ll be talking about the speculative history that inspired the rest of the story. I’ll also be offering a free copy of Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides to some lucky person who posts a comment, so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, here’s just a taste of the relationship between Violet and Liss, as inspired by Mom and me:
Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides
Liss MacCrimmon’s mother’s idea of “helping out in the shop” consisted of rearranging every bit of merchandise sold at Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium. True, Violet MacCrimmon dusted as she went, but the overall result was chaos. By the end of the first week of her parents’ visit, Liss no longer knew where anything was. If an entire rack of ready-made kilts could disappear—she’d finally located it tucked away behind a large display case—Liss feared that the search for any of the hundreds of smaller, Scottish-themed gift items she kept in stock might last hours, even days.
“Mother, please!” Liss exclaimed, fighting the urge to pull at her hair in the best cartoon-character tradition. “I know you’re trying to be helpful, but I like that section of the shop the way it is.”
“Nonsense,” Vi said. “Nothing is ever so perfect that it can’t be improved.”
She disappeared behind one of the bookcases that gave the illusion of privacy to the shop’s “cozy corner,” an area furnished with two overstuffed chairs and a coffee table. There customers could make themselves comfortable while they examined Liss’s offering of novels set in Scotland or featuring characters of Scottish descent and volumes of nonfiction with a Scottish theme. There were a few histories and biographies, but for the most part Liss stocked coffee table books full of pictures, cookbooks, and instruction manuals. The how-to books covered everything from dancing the highland fling to preparing your own haggis.
The lemony scent of furniture polish wafted across the showroom, making Liss’s nose twitch even as her hackles rose. Vi MacCrimmon was accustomed to getting her own way. She’d only recently retired after teaching world history to junior high school students for thirty-five years. Nothing fazed her, least of all objections from her only child. Short of seizing her bodily and shoving her out the door, there was no stopping her.
For a brief moment, Liss toyed with the idea of doing just that. Vi was five inches shorter than she was and proportionately petite. She reassessed the idea as one of those comfortable, overstuffed, heavy chairs shot out from behind a bookcase and traveled a good two feet beyond. Vi kept her figure with ruthless workouts at a local gym. For a woman of fifty-eight, she was in great shape.
And you are almost thirty years old, Liss reminded herself, not thirteen. It was absurd to revert to the behavior of her childhood simply because her mother hadn’t changed one iota in all the years they’d lived apart. Besides, there was something more important at stake here than the arrangement of displays in her place of business. Liss’s parents had returned to Moosetookalook because she was about to get married. Unchecked, Vi’s meddling wouldn’t stop with the Emporium. She’d already talked her daughter into making major changes in the wedding plans. Liss had no doubt but that Vi had other “improvements” in mind.
Grimly determined to reclaim control of the situation, Liss marched across the shop and flattened her palms against the soft fabric of the easy chair. Putting her back into it, she shoved. A loud scraping sound made her wince and fear for the state of her hardwood floor, but she didn’t stop until she’d returned the cumbersome piece of furniture to its original location.
Vi turned from one of the bookcases, a dust cloth in one hand and a spray bottle of furniture polish in the other. Her frown was a formidable weapon and she knew how to use it. Liss had to squash the impulse to back away, apologizing with every step. She held her ground, but it was a near thing.