Welcome, Grace. What is your story?
I was born on April 12, 1909, in Pennsylvania. I had a sister, Emily, who was only ten months older than me. We were very close. But then, Emily died, and my grief-stricken father moved us to a small farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
I was content to be an only child, although I missed Emily terribly. I spent my days helping Mama in the garden, doing the mending, singing in the church choir.
But then, God gave us quite a surprise gift: Mama gave birth to twins, Matthew and Miriam. But that gift was not for us to share for very long. Matthew died of typhoid fever, and Mama, too broken by the loss of yet another child, died a year later. That left me to care for little Miriam and our father.
But Papa was changed. The loving man who had been our father became angry, bitter. He became abusive, especially toward Miriam, and he spouted Biblical verse to justify his behavior.
Lucky for me, I fell in love with a wonderful man, Otto Singer. When we married, I moved to his home on Windy Hill, and took Miriam with me. I thought things would at last be stable for my sister, and that I could raise her to have a normal life. But Papa would not let that happen. The rest of the story is beautifully told by my author, Smoky Trudeau Zeidel, in the book On the Choptank Shores.
What is your problem in the story?
My father, and his descent into madness. Understand, my father was a kind and loving man when I was a child. But the deaths of Emily, Matthew, and my mother were too much for him to handle. He went increasingly insane, and as he did so, he tried harder and harder to control me and to take Miriam away from me. I could not let that happen: he abused Miriam terribly, and spouted verses from the Bible to justify his abuse. Of course, he was taking them terribly out of context, but he would not listen to me, or to my husband Otto, or anyone else who tried to help him.
Unfortunately, Otto was struggling with demons of his own, demons I was not aware of when we wed. He believed he was responsible for the death of a young woman named Lily more than two decades earlier, in a tragic accident that left his brother, Henry, brain damaged. I don’t know why he felt he couldn’t tell me about what happened. Maybe his guilt was too strong; maybe it was his pride. But his story came to a head just as my father became totally deranged, and there I was, stuck in the middle, wanting to help my husband, help my father, and protect my sister, all at once.
So, did you embrace this conflict, or did you run from it?
Neither, really. No one likes conflict; we all want our lives to run smoothly, and we want to be happy, content. But neither could I run from the conflict in my life. It involved the people I hold most dear to my heart. I had to do what I could to save them, or I could not live with myself. As it is, there is a deep ache in my heart about how the conflict resolved itself in the end. I’m not ready to talk about that now, though. I think Smoky, my author, was able to sum up my feelings pretty well in the book, though.
How does your author, Smoky Trudeau Zeidel, see you? Do you think she portrayed you accurately?
I’m very pleased Smoky recognized me as a woman of quiet strength. Yes, I am young. I had my twentieth birthday only recently. But I mothered my sister for several years before marrying Otto, and of course, I continue to mother her now. I cared for my father as well as he would allow for as long as I could; I would have continued to care for him after my marriage if he had allowed it. Otto would gladly have built a room on our house for Papa, just as he did for Miriam. But it was not to be …
Yes, I believe Smoky portrayed me accurately. I put my family first in all things, but I also have the good sense to know I must keep my own strength up and take time to care for myself, Grace, in order to be able to be the wife and mother I need to be. She captured that in the book. I’m very proud of her for doing that.
You said your father spouts Biblical verse to justify his abuses. What do you believe, Grace?
I don’t believe in the violent, vengeful God my father espouses, the one found in so much of the Old Testament. I also don’t believe God meant for man to dominate woman, or for parent to abuse child. I believe in a kinder, gently God, a God with a feminine face. I believe in the God of Naamah, Noah’s wife, a story that is not in the Bible but which has been handed down from generation to generation through the women in my family, and other families as well. My mother told me the story of Naamah often as a child. Smoky relates it in On the Choptank Shores. It is a beautiful tale of a woman’s strength and the important role she plays here on earth.
What makes you happy?
My husband makes me happy. Seeing Miriam growing and thriving, despite all she has been through, makes me happy. Working in my garden, getting dirt and sand beneath my fingernails, watching my plants grow, knowing they will nourish my family, makes me happy. Reading a good book while sitting on the riverbank makes me happy. And the two gifts I receive at the end of Smoky’s book make me happy, although I’m not at liberty to say exactly what those gifts were.
Life makes me happy. I am a content person by nature, despite all that has transpired.
What is your greatest disappointment?
I believe there are two that are equally disappointing to me. One is that my siblings, Emily and Matthew, did not survive, and are not here with me today. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t miss Emily; she was my best friend as well as my sister. And Matthew was such a sweet little boy. When he died, he took a part of Miriam with him. They were twins, after all.
My second disappointment was that things could not have ended differently in On the Choptank Shores. Yes, in the end, Otto, Miriam, and I were all safe and happy. But things ended differently for other people we loved. And while I know it could not have ended any other way, I still have regrets.
Do you consider yourself lucky?
I consider myself blessed; I don’t know if luck has anything to do with it. I am blessed to have found this wonderful man, Otto, to love, and to be loved by him. I am blessed that Miriam is thriving. I am blessed to live here, in this special place on the shores of the Choptank River, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. There is much that is good in my life, and for which I am thankful.
What are you afraid of?
Goodness, I never really thought of it! Afraid of, afraid of … I’m not really afraid of anything that I can think of, although I detest earwigs! Earwigs in the garden give me the shivers, but when they get in the house, well, yes, I am afraid of them! Isn’t that the silliest fear on earth? To be afraid of a little bug like an earwig? Oh, and I’m not to crazy about centipedes, either. That’s very odd, being afraid of those two things. Usually, I really like insects. They play such a valuable role in nature, pollinating plants, doing what they do. But earwigs and centipedes? What was God thinking?
What is your most prized possession?
I don’t really have a lot of possessions. We live a pretty simple life. But I guess if I had to name one thing, it would be this pearl, here, in my wedding ring. We found it in an oyster we bought at the Oyster Shack when we stopped there to eat, the day we were married. It’s a beautiful pearl, isn’t it? We married so quickly, Otto hadn’t had time to buy me a ring, so he had it set in one for me. I never take it off, I treasure it so.
What are the last three books you read?
I love to read! Often, I can read a book a day; I guess if I was born with one God-given talent, it was my ability to read very quickly. The last three books I read were A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; which was a very sad book with a wonderful, heroic ending; Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, which is a perennial favorite of mine; and Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley, a delightful tale if there ever was one!
Can you name five items that are in your purse?
Good heavens, what a question! Let me think! Hmmm, I have my handkerchief, my wallet, my change purse, my house key … the thing weighs ten pounds; there must be more in there than that! Oh! I know why it’s so heavy—I put a book in there, in case I had to wait a while to meet with you. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. No wonder it’s so heavy! That’s five!
Thank you for your patience, Grace. I just have one final question: If you had the power to change one thing in the world that didn’t affect you personally, what would it be?
We are all connected. What affects one, affects all, although we may not see it at the time. But if I did have the power to change one thing in the world, I would eliminate hate. Hatred is the root cause of evil; hatred causes war. If hatred were eliminated, if love was the predominant emotion on earth, the world would be a better place for all of us to live.
Smoky Trudeau Zeidel is the author of two novels, On the Choptank Shores and The Cabin. She is also author of Observations of an Earth Mage, a photo/essay collection; and two books about writing. Smoky lives her life honoring Mother Earth through her writing, visual art, and spiritual practice. She lives in California with her husband Scott (a college music professor and classical guitarist), her daughter (a college student and actress), and a menagerie of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains and deserts, splashing in tidepools, and resisting the urge to speak in haiku.
You can find Smoky and her three blogs at www.SmokyZeidel.wordpress.com.
Click here to read an excerpt from: On the Choptank Shores
Click here for an interview with: Smoky Trudeau Zeidel