07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Friday, March 25, 2016

Marguerite Kennedy Willis-Smart, Brave Heroine

By Linda Lovely

My heroines all have different personalities but they all share certain traits. They’re smart, brave, stubborn, and have a great capacity for love. In other words, all have inherited some of my mother’s traits. Marguerite Kennedy Willis, my mom, is a model for my heroines’ better qualities. A heroine of the first order.

We had a creepy basement. Our oil furnace alternately growled like a bear and clanked like Scrooge dragging his chains. The forbidding furnace replaced our coal bin. It seemed  ready to swallow me up or hide monsters in its inky recesses. What looked like hair from buried creatures mysteriously poked through nooks and crannies in the planked floors. Shelves lined with old Mason jars hid unidentifiable slime.

Marguerite Kennedy Willis
Sometimes at night when the basement began to belch a series of terrifying creaks and groans, my sister and I would freeze, certain a boogeyman was about to creep up the stairs. Mom’s reply? “It’s just Casper the Friendly Ghost. Nothing to worry about. I’ll go check.” I don’t recall if Mom grabbed any weapon (her choices would have included a baseball bat, umbrella, or cast-iron frying pan—no guns). But she would descend to the basement, check things out, and return with a smile. “Like I said, just Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

As an adult, I asked Mom about Casper, and she laughed. Mom admitted the noises often seemed as scary to her as they did to us, but she didn’t want her daughters to grow up fearful. Mom was brave.

Funny thing. I don’t ever remember seeing Mom in her bed. I’m certain I did, but it’s not among my memories. I grew up in a single-parent household, and Mom worked fulltime—our all-female household’s sole support. When we were little, a great aunt stayed with us during the week. Still Mom did all the laundry, a lot of the cooking, and she cleaned the house on Saturdays (a family affair when my sisters and I were old enough to participate).

For years, if I happened to wake around five a.m., I’d find Mom either ironing clothes or studying. After she graduated high school during the Depression (early since she skipped two grades), Mom immediately went to work to help support her family so her younger brother could stay in school. Later, when we were kids, Mom took accounting correspondence courses so she could get a better job. She did. Of course, it didn’t pay the same as the man she replaced, but that’s another story. Mom was smart, determined, hard-working, and fiercely loyal to her family.

Like any teenager, I had my share of rows with my mother since I inherited her stubborn streak. But I never doubted her love, and I always, always admired her character. Though she’s been gone many years, I still miss her.  Yet I often hear what I like to think is her voice, sharing the mantra she ingrained in me when I was young—“You can do anything you set your mind to.” 

I dedicated my last novel—LIES: SECRETS CAN KILL—to Mom. I was waiting for the perfect fit, a novel with a heroine who demonstrates all her qualities. Mom inspired this book, a 1938 romantic suspense set in my mother’s era. Even though my other novels feature other dedications, I’ve yet to write a novel that isn’t influenced by my mother. Thank you.


Polly Iyer said...

Very nice tribute, Linda. There are some comparisons to my mother, maybe in some ways to every working mother of the time. Lies is in my Kindle. Looking forward to the read.

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks, Polly. I think all working moms are heroines.

Judy Copek said...

Saw your post of Facebook, and checked out the blog. Your mom was a true heroine and it's fitting that you are honoring her. Enjoyed the post and was happy to hear that you helped clean on Saturdays. Cool book cover, too!

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks, Judy. Yes, cleaning was a family affair. I'm afraid I'm no longer a stickler about cleaning once a week!

Ashantay Peters said...

My mother shares some of those attributes, and I'm wondering how growing up in those times helped create the sort of self-sufficiency so lacking today. Insightful post. Thanks for sharing your mom.

Sarah Raplee said...

Your mom was a true heroine! Thank you for sharing your inspiration.

Linda Lovely said...

Thanks, Ashantay and Sarah. A single working mother in those times (yeah, I'm ancient) had a very tough life. But she taught me a woman can do anything--and she ought to be paid the same as a man for the same job.

Diana McCollum said...

Lovely post about your mother and the influences she had in your life and your books. Love the picture!

Judith Ashley said...

Single women and single mother's in particular in our mothers' time had many strikes against them. Your mother was certainly courageous ferreting out Casper the Friendly Ghost among other challenges and dangers. Thanks for sharing her story with us!