The Little Red Hen

When it was time for naps, one of my mother’s favorite stories to read aloud was a picture book version of the Little Red Hen. There’s a good possibility that story has fallen out of favor these days because it may be a case of stereotyping. Maybe the character in question didn’t identify as a hen, and perhaps calling her/him red is actually racist. Be that as it may, it was still my mother’s favorite because, as it turns out, Evie Busk was the epitome of that Little Red Hen.

I’ve mentioned before that there were nine people in our family. As built, our house on Yuma Trail in Bisbee was one-bath/two-bedroom with a rounded-block exterior and with a wooden front porch, storage, and sun room structure attached to the front. The master bedroom doubled as a nursery with a baby crib tucked in one corner. By the way, one day when one of my brothers was napping in the crib, Evie discovered a mama scorpion carrying a number of babies was also in the crib. In true Little Red Hen fashion she immediately dispatched all the interlopers with no harm to the baby.

The other bedroom, the “kids’ room,” was for everyone else. Stocked with a three-quarter bed, a stack of bunk beds, and a much larger crib, it worked. The three older girls got the three-quarter, and I was always stuck in the middle. The folks had discussed the idea of remodeling the house, but somehow, with my father in the construction business, remodeling other people’s houses always came before fixing ours—a variation the theme of the shoemaker’s kids going shoeless. He got around to framing in and closing up the front porch, but that’s as far as things went.

One afternoon, I came home from school (third grade most likely) to find my five year-old brother and my over-all clad pregnant mother sitting on a stool in a dusty, debris-strewn living room. Once Arlan came home from kindergarten, the two of them, armed with crowbars, hammers, and determination, had demolished ten feet or so of exterior wall, and suddenly the long-delayed remodeling project was at last underway. The living room/dining room expanded enough to hold an enormous sectional (suitable for watching I Love Lucy) as well as a hutch for my mother’s new china. What had once been the sun room became a room I shared with my younger sister, and the “kids’ room” became the “boys’ room”.

I’ve watched enough remodeling projects on HGTV that I’m quite sure the pink and gray tile my dad installed on the kitchen floor contained asbestos, but the house in such a state of disrepair these days that I imagine the asbestos contained therein has never been disturbed. But I digress.

The point is, Evie Busk started that remodeling project and was there day in and day out to see it through. Many of the things she said to me growing up still resonate with me, one in particular being: “If it is to be it is up to me.”

Those of you who have read my books may have encountered things my various mother characters say on occasion and have suspected that you might be hearing echoes of Evie’s voice. It’s true. I stand guilty as charged.

When the last Beaumont book went to my favorite copy-editor it came back with one line marked as being “trite but appropriate under the What Mother’s Say Exemption and that made me laugh.

I’ve been struggling with the book I’m writing. Getting that long ago remodeling project started was up to my mother. And writing this book is totally up to me.

This week someone who listened to the podcast mentioned in last week’s blog, wrote to me about my writing formula, including the fact that I usually start with a dead body. It turns out, this time around, I had neglected that important part of my writing recipe. It’s fixed now. Finally I realized that the person who’s most in jeopardy isn’t someone my readers can care about. Overnight last night, I figured out a way to make them care. Now I should be good to go.

Because, just as my mother always said, when it comes to finishing this book, if it is to be, it is up to me.