Thanks so much for having me on the blog!! I was asked recently what influenced the writing of THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN. If I had a grandma like Greta, the bourbon-swilling, matchmaking, sassy grandma who puts my hero and heroine together in the book. My grandma wasn’t Greta exactly, but she was unforgettable, and I think her spirit is in all the grandmas I create. I wrote an essay about her years ago (that got picked up by Chicken Soup, and Woman’s World) and I thought I’d share that with you today to show you the kind of influence I had as a little girl.
I’m late. Again. My fancy digital watch, with an alarm and two built-in time zones, is losing twenty minutes a day. I’ve made three trips to the store this week and every time, forgot to buy a new battery. A mom on a constant schedule, I need an accurate timepiece, so I grab the only other watch I own, a delicate silver one my grandmother left me when she died.
Nana’s watch is small, with a diamond-encircled face and a sliver of a band. It’s beautiful and petite, just like she was. I’ve always loved it, but rarely wear it. It’s the old-fashioned, battery-free kind that needs winding each night. For me, a person who has trouble remembering to feed the cats, wearing a watch requiring any degree of upkeep is a bad idea.
The first few days I wear Nana’s watch, I keep forgetting to wind it and still end up late for everything. But by week’s end, its elfin face and ticking second hand are as familiar to me as the feel of Nana’s hand in mine when I was a child.
Wearing the watch wraps me in memories of Nana. She used to take regular walks around the yard, just to see the loganberry trees in bloom. After dinner, she and Grandpa would walk me down to the 7-11 for a packet of M&M’s. We spent countless afternoons strolling downtown, window-shopping and dreaming of things to buy and adventures we’d have someday.
Nana appreciated the value of time. Her son,
Bobby, died when he was 8 in a tragic accident that
left a measure of perpetual sadness reflected in Nana’s eyes. In 1976, Nana
herself slipped through Death’s grasp when she had a brain tumor removed
successfully. We celebrated the bicentennial of our country that year, cheering
for the woman who was still here to sing silly songs and give advice on making
Nana refused to waste a second of the extra time granted to her. She taught me piano, asked about every school day, and waded with me through boxes of photographs and memories, trying to imprint legacies on an eleven-year-old girl who couldn’t know then that time would ever feel short.
She laughed, she cried, she hugged, she kissed. She lived.
Years later, when she passed away, Nana left me the watch. In the busy-ness of my life with a husband, two kids, two cats, a dog, a job and a house, I often forget to slow down and really see the little things around me. Bread is store bought, self-scrubbing bubbles clean bathrooms, and my car is a mobile office between soccer games and Brownie troop meetings.
When Nana’s watch stopped one day -- because I’d forgotten to wind it again -- I was lost. The children and I were shopping, on our way to an appointment that seemed important at the time.
I stopped in the middle of Wal-Mart and looked around for a clock, muttering to myself, annoyed. The children started whining about missing some show on TV. Spying an opportunity, my son darted across the aisle to a toy and my daughter headed for some books nearby. I had melting ice cream in the cart, cranky kids and someplace I had to be. I didn’t need another frustration.
I tapped the watch with the futile hope that it would magically start again. When I did, a flash of memory slammed into me with the force of an electrical jolt. Nana, my mother, and I were strolling in the sunshine at a sidewalk sale. We bought a book for a dime, a drink from the soda fountain, and nothing else. Twenty-five years later, I still remember it as one of the best days of my life because every moment seemed to last forever.
I realized I’d been letting schedules and errands swallow those mini-moments in my own life, ruled by the ticking of a clock that weighed heavy on my shoulders. I abandoned the cart and joined my kids, bending down to see the toys at their level. I marveled at the latest Buzz Lightyear and a colorful new
book cover. Hand in hand,
the kids and I ambled through the aisles, poking at this toy, pushing the
buttons on that one, dreaming of Santa and birthdays and days to come. We
wandered by the pet department, made friends with a hamster and chatted with a
We arrived home much later, carrying a puddle of ice cream in the grocery bag, and one new goldfish. I’d missed my appointment, but it didn’t matter. After dinner, we explored our neighborhood on foot, hunting for squirrels and rabbits in the summer evening light. We fed the ducks at the pond, soared through the air on swings and played a rousing game of tag. When we returned home, we were exhausted but laughing. And we all had another happy memory to hang onto.
That night, while I turned the tiny knob to wind Nana’s watch, I realized why my grandmother had left me this particular piece of jewelry. Her legacy wasn’t a million-dollar home on a hill or a priceless art collection. Her gift was much simpler, one we often forget in our calendar-driven lives. She gave me the gift of time, wrapped up in a watch that needs daily attention, a continuous reminder that our days pass as fast as summer storms.
In its tiny silver face, I see Nana, and in the ticking of its second hand, I hear the running journey of my life. That’s when I turn off the phone, close the calendar and take the kids outside to greet the first daffodils of spring.
You can buy THE SWEETHEART BARGAIN in stores nationwide, and also at all online retailers like Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Visit Shirley’s website and her blog for more behind-the-scenes looks at her books and family!