At age 13, Marie Frances Nash was told by her momma that Marie’s first father was Frank Pollard.
Before that it hadn’t mattered to Marie. She had a loving family. There was her best cousin, Suzy, who became her sister. They grew up together in the arms of their aunts, momma Ethel, and papa George.
It was with Suzy that Marie experienced death for the first time. Aunt Dianne, Suzy’s momma, was sick for a long time before dying. Watching someone die and figuring out how to mourn was difficult. It formed the bond that Suzy and Marie never broke.
Frank came out from the shadows asking for forgiveness by sending money, buying Marie a car to drive while at North Carolina State College, and visiting whenever momma would allow.
Marie began having babies. She was good at it. She had three by the age of 26. Her momma was never far from her.
Soon it became Marie’s turn to support momma, Suzy, and Frank when the family foundation needed strengthening.
Get to know Marie more deeply in all three Nash Sisters novels.
As a child and into my adulthood, my mother would say to me nearly every day, “You are beautiful.” It was never contrived, nor did she have to search for the reason to say it. She never meant it as how you looked when you dolled up for an event or changed your makeup routine. To mom, beauty was the way she felt when seeing or talking to you.
As I age, recognizing beauty becomes easier. I notice more often how people speak to one another, stare longer at beautiful actions, and I listen intently for the goodness in stories. The new generation calls it having all the feels.
Sometimes beauty bursts in front of you. Almost startling you. I am quick to capture it. To hold it. To secure its memory in my brain.
But most of the time beauty evolves slowly. A change in season. I have to be paying attention to notice. Maturity changes the beauty into something even better.
I think that is what my mom wanted. Not only a moment of beauty in nature or her children but noticing how they change and blossom further.
You are not beautiful because you have a new haircut. It is because you love yourself.
You are beautiful because you offered to help, to visit, to spend time with another, corrected a wrong, took responsible for your role in a friendship or family, and much more.
So, when I wore my handmade clothing, added a hand-me-down straw hat, put on somebody’s sunglasses and got my picture taken. Mom said, “you are beautiful”. I wasn’t really. But I was hers.
It’s a 1953 Buick Skylark. A real beauty. But not for long. In the third Nash Sisters series, chapter 1, it is demolished in front of Marie’s house. It is not the worst that happens in 1954 to Nash family, but pretty close. Marie tells how it all started.
As my momma would say, “It is hot as hell out here.” And she would be right. I can’t remember a summer like this. The weather guys said we had more days over 100 degrees this summer than any other year on record. I believe it. I looked at the thermometer hanging under the crabapple tree—96 degrees. I looked at my watch to make sure it really was morning. Yep, 96 at 11 o’clock. And that’s in the shade. I am standing under the canopy of the tree, fanning my face with my hand, rocking from side to side trying to create some breeze up my dress. Jimmy, my two-year-old, is pulling at my skirt. My fourth child is in my belly, and it’s a heavy one.
I know we had a record-breaking hot summer two years ago, but I was not pregnant then. Although I seem to always be pregnant here in my adult life. I had Jimmy in June ’52 before the sweltering heat settled over Raleigh. At this time two years ago, I was 20 pounds lighter than I am now. For sure this is the hottest I’ve ever been.
My husband, Al, likes the fact that he has a large family. But he doesn’t have to carry the babies inside ’till he is about to explode. And he doesn’t have to endure the most excruciating pain ever giving birth. We both wanted children, but that was before I understood how much work they were. My friend Susan and Aunt Annie make it look easy. They talk about all the fun they have with their children. Susan says being a mother is a gift from God. Well, after this one, because it is coming whether I like it or not, I have plenty of God’s gifts. He can stop with that bequest.
I’ll call Momma later, as I do every Sunday night. Maybe she can give me some new ideas about enduring this heat. I have tried all of her earlier ideas—put a cold, wet cloth around my neck and drape it down my chest, stick my head in the freezer while fanning with the church fan, drink plenty of cold water, sit down in a chair and stick my feet in the freezer, and never leave the shade during the day.
On our last call she said, “Heavens, Marie, you learned how to make ice cream at the knees of North Carolina’s best ice cream maker. Keep doing it and eat it all the time. It doesn’t matter how fat you get right now, you got three kids and one more coming any day. Nobody’s looking at your figure.”
Oh, gee thanks, Momma.
From the yard, I could hear the radio inside switching from news to songs. “We’re Gonna Rock Around the Clock Tonight!” was playing. It’s depressing. I will never be able to rock around the clock again, unless I am up nursing a baby. I don’t remember the last time I slept all night. Another song comes into my head. One that is more what I want. Doris Day’s song, “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” Yeah, that’s what I wish for.
I was jerked from my dreams by a thunderous noise. The ground actually shook. It sounded like a tree falling or cars crashing. Or a tree coming down on a car. I grabbed Jimmy’s hand and ran around the house to the front yard. Sure enough, there was a car turned on its side in the deep ditch in front of our house. There was smoke billowing from its hood.
My feet stopped like I had reached the edge of a ravine and if I took one more step we’d fall into a bottomless pit. I jerked Jimmy’s arm swinging him off his feet, propelling him behind my back. Jimmy shrieked, “Momma, no!”
I hoisted Jimmy on my hip and carried him to the front door of the house. Shouting at my children inside, I yelled, “Al! Mary! Come get your brother!”
I could hear the children running toward the front of the house. I opened the door and practically tossed Jimmy inside. “Stay in there, children. You hear?”
Slamming the door behind me, I ran toward the car. The neighbors must have heard the crash or Jimmy’s shout. Half dozen people were sprinting into our yard—mostly women. The men were at work.
Even though I didn’t want to, I ran toward the car. I stopped short. I recognized the car. “Oh my God, no!” I screamed.
I could not make my feet move. The red Buick convertible had its top down. The man in the driver’s seat was slouched forward. His head was on the huge steering wheel. Blood was everywhere—on the dashboard, windshield, and gushing from wounds on his head. I didn’t know for sure who it was because his face was turned away from me. He was not moving. I could not see a rise and fall of his chest. He did not seem to be breathing. I wanted to vomit.
When I began writing my first fiction novel, I was motivated by a dare. And a deadline.
In 2018 I was part of a writing group. The leader of the group Lee Heinrich, an editor and publisher, placed an opportunity in front of us. “We will hold an author meet-and-greet in a few months. Those of you who have published books, choose one to showcase. Each author will have six minutes to read a portion of their book to the audience.”
At that point I had no published book. Just snippets of stories I created from entries in my journals. It felt like a dare. Family and friends had been telling me for years, “you should write a book about that.” I could tell a good story, but I wasn’t sure my writing was audience worthy.
I expressed my mixed emotions to Lee. She dared me, “Show me what you have. Get me a first chapter by next month’s meeting.”
A whole chapter in a month? A first chapter can’t be written without the whole story in mind and flushed out characters. Right? Is that possible in four weeks?
I went straight back to my office, dusted off the white board, and started to plan a novel. The characters had been swimming around in my head for decades. I would use them. My experiences and observations of family, which everyone was telling me to write, were there.
By the end of the week, I had a story of sisters who relied on each other even when life placed challenges in front of them. I now needed to build the characters. Who are they? What was the first tragedy they faced? How could they make it through?
The second week, I began to write. Ethel and Dianne Nash are sisters. Dianne is on her death bed.
Who is most affected? Dianne’s only child, Suzy, whose father previously died.
Who helps her through it? Her cousin Marie, Ethel’s daughter. Suzy’s mother by preparing for the inevitable. Family conversations about the memories.
Why was I doing this? The deadline stared me in the face. I needed to devote more hours to writing this. And most of all, I wanted to get the story on paper.
It was like magic. The characters became real. The story flow was making sense. A favorite quote from a writing course, Show Don’t Tell was my guiding light.
I sent the first chapter to Lee right before our group’s scheduled meeting. Her response was quick. “Wonderful book emerging. I love the way Marie’s is trying to understand death. Powerful.”
There it was. The new motivation to write. The reader.
After The Nash Sisters was published and sold, the reviews were very positive. Readers were moved by it. They couldn’t wait to read the next one.
Wow! I thought it was just me that loved these characters.
I remember well the ornaments on the family Christmas tree growing up. My favorites were the delicate glass ones handed down from my grandma, or new ones bought that looked like grandma’s and great grandma’s collection. I get to revisit them as we decorate our tree each year. The yellow, red, and blue ones pictured here are all that is left from generations gone by.
In doing research for the last chapter of the 3rd Nash Sisters novel, I rediscovered those ornaments and their story. It was a delightful find! Memories and emotion came racing back at seeing the variety from the 20s through the 60s.
I hope you enjoy reading this and uncovering memories of Christmases past.
I am often asked about my motivation to write The Nash Sisters series. Most of the time my answer includes things like:
“I like to tell stories.”
“My family has provided lots of material.”
“I love to explore history.”
“My journals are full of observations of friendship, family, joy, and sadness.”
I recently ran across something Robert Frost said in 1916 about how a poem begins for him.
There it was!
Ethel Nash rose from my wonder of what it might be like to survive as a young single mother in the age of war, poverty, intolerance, and grief. Then came her sisters who would be the best and sometimes only way to hang on.
The sisters were raised by a single mother in rural North Carolina. The 20s, 30s, and 40s were tough times. Poverty, mental illness, war, and intolerance test their character. They were sisters through it all who made it though with loyalty, humor, and love for each other.
Second book in the Nash Sisters series!
Ethel, the elder Nash sister, is tested in her ability to hold things together for her sisters and their families. Annie’s growing family is outsizing her. And it is not easy. Caroline’s fear and mental illness makes it hard to keep from hurting herself or others. As the Nash family extends beyond the three sisters, so does the reach of world full of opportunity for misunderstanding and injustice. Each Nash family member has always had a plan for their life. They achieve that plan day by day with each other’s support, humor, song, and plenty of hugs. Most important is to search for happiness wherever it rests. Because it is there if you take time to notice.
My daughters grew up without men. It was not planned that way, it just happened.
Their daddy died in the great war when my youngest was still a baby. I never searched out another man to help me raise the children, manage a tobacco and pig farm, run a household and feed the family. Figuring out if there is another man that could come close to matching the partnership I had with my James would take too much time. Sure there were other men out there, but not many. In the 1918, most men died of illness, going to fight in the war, or just plain stupidity. By the time I got over losing James, I had figured out how to make it all work by myself. Of course I couldn’t do it alone. There was plenty of smart people that I paid to help me get everything done.
What brings me the most pride are my girls.
Dianne, the oldest and most practical, grew up to be the bookkeeper for the house and farm. The two most important things about farming is to have enough to pay cash for what we needed at the farm, for the people, and the church. She was the sweetest one. There was not a soul in our county that didn’t know and like her.
Ethel was three years younger than Dianne. She was the always working out how things should work – the fairness and justice in our county. When she saw something going wrong, she let everyone know. Ethel is probably why I never married again. She never saw a man that was good enough to live in our household. It was not easy to make it through our gate if Ethel didn’t think you a good person.
Annie was the third child and the most ambitious. Annie kept pushing us to plant different crops, not just one or two. When she was about 15 she wanted us to “diversify” just in case something people didn’t want to buy tobacco anymore. She also was eager to leave North Carolina to make a good wage. At 17 she move to Washington, DC and sent home money every month.
Caroline was the fourth of four girls – my baby. She never saw her daddy, but she looked just like him. She had a tough time as a baby. She cried a lot. I figured she was making sure the attention didn’t go to something else. Caroline was a nervous child. It was hard for her to get along with people. None of the jobs she took to earn money panned out for more than a few months. I think she was so angry because the war took her daddy. Most boys she knew “couldn’t be trusted”, she said. Caroline tried hard to fight off the devil, but one time she could not. I am most proud of Caroline for knowing that she needed others to help her. She grew into a wonderful young woman that could teach children to be better than most.
Get to know the Nash Sisters in both novels. Available on Amazon.