Pears on a Willow Tree ~ Leslie Pietrzyk ~ 10/99 ~ Fiction/Author Event
August 30, 1999 - 11:25 am

Pears on a Willow Tree
by Leslie Pietrzyk

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Leslie Pietrzyk, the author will be joining us.
Your Host was Charlie W


A family saga comprising 16 self-contained chapters, each a monologue (or dialogue) featuring one of four women in a prolific Polish-American clan, this compelling debut is an example of the novel-in-stories at it s best. In prose as plain and four-square as her protagonists, Pietrzyk traces the family's evolution from 1919 through the late 1980's, from its transplantation to the U.S.--specifically, Detroit--through three generations, showing how the older women (who privately refer to themselves as Marchewkas, after matriarch Rose's maiden name) preserve ethnic traditions and family customs and why their daughters shake them off. Of the 10 women of the Marchewka family, the book focuses upon Rose, her daughter Helen, her granddaughter Ginger (the rebel who abandons Detroit and settles in Phoenix) and great-granddaughter Amy. The voices of these four women are quite different--Rose's primal and earthy; Helen's pathetic; Ginger's cool, irreverent, iconoclastic and questioning; Amy's tempered and mature beyond her years. Reading this novel is like leafing through a family photo album (one of Pietrzyk's favored motifs) except that, once you pick up this book, it's hard to put it down.

Pears on a Willow Tree Website

Further Reviews and Reader Comments

Authors who've participated in Books discussions

September 7, 1999 - 06:36 pm
This is must read book for women with daughters, for families who value the struggles encapsulated in their family history. But also for those who appreciate the dialectic between individualism and tradition – how we come to be comfortable in ourselves as members of a larger entity. I hope you can join us on October 5th and discuss with us, and the Author – Leslie Pietrzyk – her heartfelt first novel, Pears on a Willow Tree.

To learn more about the book – and the author – you can go to their very well done website (see above). Charlie

Fran Ollweiler
September 16, 1999 - 06:23 pm
Dear Charles,

What dumb luck I have had this week. I belong to a bookclub here in Dover. It consists of 5 women friends who go out to lunch once a month. We just finished reading "I Capture the Castle", and I suggested a short book, "84 Charing Cross Road". It was decided that that would be the book we would read, but since it was such a small book, and could be read so quickly that we would read another also. Another friend suggested "Pears on a Willow Tree". So, I will finally be in sync with both book clubs. I know it would be wonderful if I can get one or two of them to join in here. But, even if I can't you can be sure that I will be here.

Speak to you soon.....Love, Fran

September 17, 1999 - 12:14 pm
That's good news, Fran. It would be interesting to have your friends join us and share with us their thoughts from your face-to-face discussion group

September 20, 1999 - 11:03 am
I just now read the description of this book, it looks absolutely marvelous, love the premise, love the title, ordered the book and await the discussion with glee!


Ella Gibbons
October 1, 1999 - 08:35 am
Picked up the book in the Library yesterday and will be joining in the discussion in a few days. Looks very interesting.

October 2, 1999 - 05:19 am
Read "Pears" earlier in the summer. one of the points that made is so interesting is that I have lived in the Detroit metro area long years. It will be great to have the author.


October 3, 1999 - 12:22 pm
Charles, is this book likely to be in the libraries? Sounds great - would love to join.

October 3, 1999 - 05:21 pm
Sarah: I think so. It was well reviewed, including NYT, so I think it could be had at the library. Please do. (In Pears... we have a female alcoholic by the way. Fair's fair.) (That's a Charming Billy reference BTW so there's no misunderstanding!)

Andrea Flannery
October 4, 1999 - 04:51 pm
I have just completed the first 4 chapters of Pears On A Willow Tree. I am so delighted that I chose this one from the list. I am especially impressed with Pietrzyks insight into the heart felt sentiments of each character. I was "hooked" on the 1st page with the introduction of "Remember when---- haven't we all witnessed this with our own mothers and daughters? Funny how they consider themselves Krawcyzk women only- women that belong to women solely. I'm quite intrigued with the Time analogy thruout the entire 4 chapters I've read. Interesting & thought provoking- WHERE is the time we save? Great question.

October 4, 1999 - 05:25 pm
ALF - We're just as excited you found your way here. Tomorrow "officially" kicks off the discussion of Pears... And did you know? Leslie Pietrzyk has agreed to join us here for at least part of the discussion. The showing of the picture was a great device wasn't it?

Time. Time happens to be my favorite theme in literature.

"Save as much time as you want, but when you go looking for it, nothing's there."

October 4, 1999 - 08:41 pm
Photographs have always been something to me that spoke of the possibility of storytelling. Every picture tells a story they say. A picture is worth a thousand words. I have an old sepia-toned photograph on my wall taken in some tropic clime, probably in the 1930’s. It’s a picture of 10 men standing and sitting on stairs leading to the doorway of some stucco building. Along with those men are two Chinese fellows with little leather looking caps with rather surly expressions. There’s also a little dog. I have written many stories in my mind about this picture….So I’m very receptive, in tune, to how a photograph can speak volumes.

What a great way, for me, to start a novel. I can see Amy fingering the photograph of the four generations of Marchewka women and remembering the proud retort of her great-grandmother:

”These are Marchewka women…That’s who we are, Marchewkas. Marchewka women.
” Perhaps this was Amy’s first remembrance of her place as one in a line of Marchewka’s. I don’t come from this type of close-knit family. And anyway, as we learn, this kind of “passing on” seems to be a particularly matriarchal thing. I’d be interested to know how close to home this kind of thing rings with you.

We also learn from Amy why her mother, Ginger, had left the fold: The ubiquitous awareness of the passing of time, especially evidenced by the 15-minute chimes from “the clock on the fireplace mantel.” The sense of loss that this forced her to confront, constantly. Lost opportunity, lost moments. For Amy, the clock was a steady counter of growing up – a comfort. So like the attitudes of the very young – wanting time to progress – to be a grown-up!

I loved the part about cooking. I do most of the cooking in my household – my wife thinks I’m a great cook. But I’m not. I can follow and turn-out a perfect dish from a great recipe – but I have no feel for the art. It’s measure, measure, measure. Like Ginger, I like to cook “fancy.”

Were you surprised to read the meaning of the title in the first chapter? I was, but I liked it. And of course the thread is picked up over and over again. An interesting device. Wonder why this choice was made, I think it’s effective. It’s a signpost. I appreciated it. Shortcuts and secrets. The ready-to-wear way.

”Pears on a willow tree with you – always wanting what’s impossible.”

October 5, 1999 - 02:23 am
I think the writing is very subtle in the book, I was surprised by the title of the first chapter, too. I was surprised by the title, period. I wonder if that's a Polish expression or is original with the author?

It's amazing the images which stay with you once you put the book down. The characters just jump off the page and seem real. By the way, and I know this will sound strange, but as a bibliophile, I love the paper this book is printed on, it's rough and plain and seems to capture the mood of the book, just love the whole experience.

One of the first things which struck me was Amy's only keeping one of the photos which had so carefully been sent to her. Perhaps she thought there might be copies in the family anyway and it's clear she was trying to get away, I like the point made about the extended separated branch of the family not being visited or considered. I think this book says a lot more than it appears to, more later...


Andrea Flannery
October 5, 1999 - 05:34 am
Charles: I was very moved by your insight into this.. I dont come from this type of family either. Perhaps that is why I draw these women to my heart. Yes! Photo was a perfect beginning for this novel. Isn't that where are memories are, in images? Help me with this one--TIME IS SHARP EDGED CHUNKS, (she says)& in America time is tiny droplets, always there- nothing to hang on to. The daughter liked following the steady march (of the mantle clock)thru day and night. How true of youth, as time marches past them, they know NOT. "Time to work hard and a time to laugh and tell stories." "The clock chimed"-- Am I obsessive re.these time references ? I've just asked a friend with Polish ancestry to join us in this discussion.

Ella Gibbons
October 5, 1999 - 08:47 am
This is a book I'm going to love reading - I would imagine the author's name is Polish? How much of the book is true I wonder - I've penciled where remarks have touched memories in my life and the photograph of the 4 generations certainly did. We did one of those when my first child was born; however, the family on my husband's side were not affectionate people and I had to pose them and even place my baby on her Grandma's lap for the picture.

Certainly I've know women who could cook without the recipe book and would laugh about it - it's a generational thing I believe. The older women who during the depression in this country had to make do with food they could get and try to make it palatable - they had no recipes for their stews, etc. I remember my mother-in-law, who will always be remembered by those who knew her for her cooking skills, always said "Taste it, taste it" - you will know.

"Conversation in these houses moved around and around in loops, but it never tightened into a knot." I relate to that.

Loved the way the author put this:

I imagined my grandmother's ears filled with this talk, and then, like a waterfall downstream, my grandmother tipping it into my mother's ears. And then my mother leaving for somewhere dry....."</blockquote.

Contrasts in language, love it.

We toured Ellis Island last year and I thought of the immigrants' stories as Rose, the daughter, writes the letters to her mother. Many of the immigrants names were changed as those in charge of recording them could not spell the names properly and could not communicate. "The people we know don't have the names they had on the boat.......when I got here they made me Rose, so this is who I am now."

Perhaps the author knew the history of an immigrant family? Was this her own family's story?

More later -

Andrea Flannery
October 5, 1999 - 10:06 am
Yes Ella. As the author says "This is what I did for my family, made food with my hands. It is who I am, what I have!" This is how they defined themselves. Somewhere in the text she says "just FEEL it, don't think it " --as she kneads the dough. That was their gift to their families. This was hearth and home. Remember when Rose wrote her mother in Poland, attempting to share her "duck stuffing" at the Thanksgiving table longing for her mother to be a part of this TRADITION (not unlike Fiddler on the Roof.") Even grampa felt this love and bind, exclaiming while photographing the Marchewka women, "Never have I seen anything more beautiful " I've also noticed the "KNOT" references and I love it. What makes the ties any more binding than knots? Be they tight or loose.)

Andrea Flannery
October 5, 1999 - 08:56 pm
Two questions please:

1. Where do I find Leslie Pietrzyk? Was she not supposed to be here today? 2. I understand there is a study guide available with applicable questions for this text? Will these questions be posted anywhere?

Thank You.

October 5, 1999 - 09:34 pm
Ginny - Subtle, yes. In fact I found her style somehow “low key” and very comfortable. I’d guess Amy didn’t hold on to much. The one photograph obviously meant a lot to her, though.

What about this “passing on”? Is this something that women do with their daughters – but not fathers with their sons? It would seem so but why is that?

Alf - ”Time in America is measured differently….sharp edged chunks [in the old country]…[in America] tiny droplets, like rain always there. In the old country life is brutally hard and there is probably little else other than work, sustenance and some rest. Huge blocks of time – separated by the most basic functions. In America, more gentle? Less definite? But ubiquitous? Ticking away in small 15 minute increments?……Do hope your friend joins in

I also like the phrase: “I loved how she talked, her thick words like blocks stacking into a story.”Very expressive.

Ella - Yes. I also thought the waterfall/desert polarity was terrific. A very expressive way of relating this phenomenon of “passing along” to the daughters. And Ginger’s fleeing to the desert…the dryness, “stillness and emptiness.”

The immigrant naming…..Many times this is related as an insult, a kind of negative acculturation. But Rose embraced her new name – “a happy name.” I think she shows her determination to succeed in this new land.

The never tightening into knots seems to connote a union but not a constricting one.

And the second picture didn’t come out – making the first one more precious, more special – a perfect snapshot in time of the generations.

October 5, 1999 - 09:41 pm
Alf - Do not be discouraged. Leslie will be here at some point!!! In my paperback, there is a small discussion guide in the back - if it is not in you copy, perhaps I can get it posted here.

Everyone should visit the website (see the clickable up top) when they have a chance. Ella there is even a picture of the author's great-grandmother's wedding (her name was Rose).

betty gregory
October 6, 1999 - 02:29 am
Oh, my goodness, this book is good. And what complex but elemental/primary issues this author has taken on. These are the demons/blessings we all wrangle with---am I my family, am I my own person outside the family, are the old ways my ways, how do I stay close to family if I don't agree with them, what do I teach my children? Her writing is so clear and easy, sometimes I forget how involved the issues are.

The snapshot approach of chapters--from the point of view of one character in a specific year--reminds me of a photo album. We look through the album, stopping to see that person in that time frame.

And, of course I loved the generational photo at the beginning. When my son was born, there was a 5-generation photo taken--on my (ex)husband's side. (And I'm almost certain a 5-generation photo was taken on my side.) My mother has been the historian/photographer in our family---there are bookshelves full of photo albums, ranked by year. Each new grandchild in the family has eventually reached the curious stage, so it's a familiar sight to see a ten year-old with 3 albums on his lap and fifteen on the floor, saying, "Is this my Dad?"

Your question, Charlie, on women passing things on. I suspect this area is an unfinished one, that men share in this passing on but in less obvious or documented (or not yet thought through) ways. But, women do share a history of doing the emotional work for the family, although with increased participation of husbands today. Choosing and sending birthday, get-well, anniversary, Christmas cards---all these connections with family recorded on a calendar and remembered by women. Passing along the religious and spiritual heritage is often left to women. Also, the organizing and doing the work of family get-togethers and holidays have for so long been done by women. I think of it as inside work---inside the house, inside the kitchen, inside the emotional framework of family.

Even the geneological work my mother has done for years has been for both her and my father's families---so the stories of both men and women in this family are told by a woman.

It may be related to the historical caretaking role, as in caring for children, that stories begin. So, for reasons of PROXIMITY and OPPORTUNITY, as well as other reasons, the women have been telling the family stories. And I suppose there are the verbal/expressive arguments. My mother and grandmother and greatgrandmother could tell family stories for hours. My grandfather didn't tell stories; actually, he was not much of a talker. My father's stories, though not many, lasted a few minutes each.

Then there are the relational theories that propose that women's way of being/relating in this world is through connections, that is, a primary way of how we view ourselves is through connections to others (including at work). If this is so, it's easy to see how we would value passing on family stories.

How subtle these explosive issues...Helen secretly wanting a girl when she's pregnant but being told by mother Rose that sons are better--this from a mother who had four daughters! Three of those daughters are sitting right there (Wanda, Joane, Helen) to hear how it's better to have sons! Rose says, "Because a boy will not be you. You know that. But a girl you expect will be you. And then she isn't." How sad she sounds. I wonder if she means being so identified with "female child" but then the child turns out to be a separate individual? Or a lost vicarious wish? Someone help me out on this.

A page or two later, Rose was asked what she craved while she was pregnant. "A son," she said.

I love these double/suggestive images from the author. Helen's snoring husband was "sucking up all the air in the room." I like it that the author has faith that the reader will picture Helen feeling she doesn't have enough air to breathe, without having to spell it out. The double meaning that made me so sad, however, was from Helen's thoughts..."We got married before I knew John couldn't dream."

This issue of time is so interesting. Rose's generation had none of our so-called time-saving devices, yet even with all the hard work that had to be done by hand, there was not the press of time that we so universally complain of now. Washing machines and electric mixers in the 1950's, dishwashers in the '60's, pocket calculators in the '70's (do I have these right?), then computers, cell phones, now breadmakers and buying/banking on the internet. Each with a promise of saving time...and yet.....Then here's Rose asking what we're going to do with all this saved time? Made me laugh and laugh!

I also liked this from Rose..."Work when you have to but dance when you can." She's a character!

Many thoughts on Ginger, of course. I'm the Ginger in my family...but without the alcoholism...just the moving away. Since I'm getting ready to move back (health reasons) after being away 9 years, it's interesting to read an author's story of another's leaving. I'm trying to leave an open mind for her story.


betty gregory
October 6, 1999 - 02:44 am
This book reminds me a little of the book, An American Quilt. A grandaughter comes to stay the summer with her grandmother and great aunt (her mother, a not-so-good mother, drops by). The grandmother, aunt and other close women friends are sewing on a quilt as a wedding present for the grandaughter and telling their life stories aloud to the young woman and sewing them into the quilt.

betty gregory
October 6, 1999 - 03:27 am
Me again. I've invited my mother (gulp) to join us. I sent her the book, knowing she would like it. She says, oh, yes, it looks good and she's begun to read it, says she will follow our comments---hasn't said yes or no to sharing her reactions, though. Hope she does. I wondered if there are others here who would want to invite their daughters or mothers to read and join our discussion.


October 6, 1999 - 05:52 am
YES!! Welcome, Betty's MOM!!

Wish I could get my mother in here but alas, she's not on the computer!!

We are all enjoying your daughter no end and have big plans for her!! hahahahaha

Andrea, as per usual, your comments made my day!

Back later,


Andrea Flannery
October 6, 1999 - 09:40 am
I would LOVE to hear Bettys moms viewpoint. I spoke with my 33 yr. old daughter last night and asked her to pLEASE read this novel and comment. She has never understood why I would NOT be the historian or relate stories of "yester-years tears" as I've dubbed them. It would be interesting to see how she contends with the sad truths.

Thank you readerdoc. The American Quilt! Yes!! I couldn't shake the deja vous perceptions. Been there-done that. Anne Bancroft. A movie that affected me deeply. I was profoundly depressed & moved.

Charles: Don't men "pass on" to their sons the skills of hunting & fishing? Aren't they taught the victory of "winning" while inflicting the "final blow" --be it game or a GAME? Dont most men "pass on" the love of the sport: baseball, football, basketball? THE GLORY OF THE WIN. Perhaps the rush a man gets when hearing that engine "turn over" after spending hours on the carburator or engine. Yes we all "pass on!" One could take that literally. Thank you, Chas for your insightful explanation of "sharp edged chunks". I read that over & over and it didn't penetrate. You are so correct!

Ella: Your mention of the "stillness & emptiness" took me back to the prose- "some questions are more important that answers" and "In a family there is something you don't need to hear in words." How Ginger hates the truth, the words. She hated AA because it was like "confession" back in Detroit, "time moving backward," for her.Remember when Amy was told to listen to the priest? Ginnys thoughts were how the "silence stretched so thin it had to snap." OUCH! Profound, yes? Ella, I love your expression re. the perfect snapshot in time of the generations. Very emotional consideration of ideas.

Readerdoc:Your perception of a photo album is ideal for this read. I am so impressed with your acumen to discern this. It makes me feel foolish that I never picked up on that. As far as your description of the emothinal work that the woman is responsible for--- suffice it to say women truly think with their heart, at an emotional level, whereas men think with logic. It's an innate, inherent trait, not to be ignored. I understood Rose. I remember "craving" a son during each pregnancy. I din't want the responsibility of teaching my girls the burden of being a woman.

Ginny: I love you too & look forward to your comments. I thank you all for sharing your thoughts on this penetrating subject matter.

October 6, 1999 - 12:46 pm
I can't wait to get this book, I ordered it over the web the other day. should be here this week end for sure.. good week end reading is sounds like.


October 6, 1999 - 07:27 pm
readerdoc - I think you’ve put your finger on it once again. The “complex but elemental/primary issues” that the author has taken on are done in such a comfortable way, with a “clear and easy” style. Even the “look and feel” of the books pages are, to Ginny comfortable…familiar. “How do I stay close to my family if I don’t agree with them?”.. Boy oh boy.

“Inside work.” Well, readerdoc, I like that phrase. And I know that I have always rebelled against viewing myself through connections to others. And I don’t know how many times I’ve heard my wife exclaim with some humor about our only child, a daughter, “how did my child turn out like that….well the answer of course is she turned out like herself rather than like her mother. These “shortcuts”, these time-saving devices often seem to put pressure on us to make better use of our “saved” time – how ironic!

Stratton2 - Glad you’re getting the book. Everybody spread the word. Isn’t this a book you like a lot? I sure did. This is really a word-of-mouth book.

Then after the photographs, the letters. This is an excursion through the family archives.

The story of the Wolves – how well this demonstrates not just the importance of family, but of family memory. The passing on.

Helen’s craving: Not only the craving of pregnancy, the craving for a male child – but the craving for something more. Does the ‘next’ generation always long for something more than the last generation? Something that they consider “better?” Something more “glamorous?” Something more “Ginger Rogers” like?

I do like very much the themes circling back and recurring. The mantle clock something like Woolf’s Big Ben. The story of the Wolves. The dropped rosary beads. I’d like to talk more about these blue beads tomorrow.

betty gregory
October 7, 1999 - 03:48 am
I was thinking...there are other times in life that we expect a "leaving" of sorts and see it as necessary to development. The "terrible twos" is a healthy pulling away of a 2 year old to establish a separate "me" for the first time. Lots of opposition expected. Then again in the teen years, we expect some major pulling away from parents in further development of an independent self. I don't think there is a comparable separating or pulling away in adult development theory (although my memory of this area is foggy). I've often wondered if there isn't a natural ebb and flow of connection with siblings and extended family throughout life. I see it everywhere in families but it's not something that is expected or talked of easily. Do others know what I'm talking about? I'm not talking about problems, just an ebb and flow of closeness.

Still thinking of Rose in her kitchen. Probably from my early experiences of being with Mother and others in my grandmother's kitchen while she made peach jelly and preserves from her own peach trees each summer, and the general good feelings/warmth of this kitchen work, I still dream of gathering people in a kitchen setting of informal dinners....of my own brand, candles burning, wonderful food, laughter and good conversation. I haven't done this in years but when I'm in a what-would-make-me-happy mood, this is always what I think of.

October 7, 1999 - 05:05 am
readerdoc said: “I don't think there is a comparable separating or pulling away in adult development theory” – I don’t know about theory but I was thinking last night that in later years there seems to be a “coming back”, a settling in, an acknowledgement of place, connection, of debt – to family. “Ebb and flow” seems to fit – like water seeking its own level.

Leslie P
October 7, 1999 - 07:32 am
Hi Everyone--I'm Leslie Pietrzyk, the author of Pears on a Willow Tree. Thank you so much for choosing my book for discussion; it's been fascinating for me to read all your comments. You're such insightful, careful, enthusaiastic readers! (Exactly the kind of readers I dream about when I'm sitting at my computer puzzling over a difficult section in my writing...!) Early on, someone asked about the title and noted that it was unusual that it was explained in the first chapter. Yes, the title is taken from an actual Polish saying. I decided to include it a brief explanation in the first chapter so that people would have that meaning in mind as they were reading. Maybe it appeared too obvious or intrusive...I debated that. But I like to think that that meaning deepens as you read the book and that not bringing up the title's meaning until the final chapter ("Pears on a Willow Tree") would lessen the impact. Someone also wondered how much of this book is based on my life. It is actually my father's family that is the Polish side, and many of the details are accurate, but most of the main storyline is fictional. I grew up in Iowa, and every summer we would drive to visit my grandmother in Detroit. I was fortunate enough to know my great-grandmother (her name was Rose; she's the one who came over from Poland) and though she spoke mostly Polish and I spoke only English, I felt a strong connection to her. To me she seemed very strong, very vibrant--as if she had many stories inside her that I just couldn't get to. My grandmother is still alive--she's 93!--and spent much time talking to her and her two sisters about the "old days" and memories of the family. They were very appreciative that I was taking an interest--I think those conversations gave me a lot of the texture of the book and, as I mentioned, the details. For example, my grandmother actually had a clock like the one described in "Shortcuts." To me, one of the remarkable things about the writing process is how something will just show up as a visual detail as I'm writing the first draft--that clock--and then later end up being something significant in a more thematic way. But when I described the clock the first time around, it was just a clock on the mantel--not an indication of time passing and generations moving forward and so on. This book does focus on women because it seems to me that--for better or worse--they are the ones who tend to pass the sense of family from one generation to another. And it takes place mostly in the kitchen because it seems to me that one of the eaisest, simplest ways to preserve any semblance of family tradition is through food--in general, if people have anything that reminds them of "home" or growing up, it is bound to be some sort of food. (Plus I love to cook--there is always, always food in my writing!) But the topic of "why no men" and "what are the men doing" comes up quite often in other book discussions I've done--and intrigues me. I am interested in the men's story, and I think the point that someone made about men teaching sons about sports and hunting and winning was interesting. Of course, those are things that are taught primarily to boys while what the women teach is for the family (though the women's world is exclusive in its own way as well). Finally, someone noted a reluctance to be the family "historian" and to tell the stories from yesteryear--despite a daughter's insistence. It will be "interesting to see how she contends with the sad truths," this person wrote. (Oops--I've never done an on-line discussion before--I'll remember to write down names next time! Anyway....) I think that's interesting. My grandmother told me that my great-grandfather didn't like to talk about the old days or life back in Poland. I think there was a definite desire to put the past behind and to be American. I think it's people like me--growing up in Iowa, without an extended family around me--looking for a sense of connection to the past, to who I am. The people in the midst of all that (Ginger) can find that closeness claustrophobic. Thanks again! I look forward to hearing more of your comments.

Ella Gibbons
October 7, 1999 - 08:53 am
Thank you so much, Leslie, for your warm and interesting thoughts and everyone taking part in this discussion. Leslie, I love your book, it is certainly written for women, about women and I like the history that provokes many memories, e.g. the strikes of the workers. That was a troubling time and although no one in my family was a union worker, I can remember discussing both sides of the issue - the self-made entrepreneur who had worked hard to make his business a success only to have his employees join a union and be ordered by the union to raise wages, safety standards, work ethics, etc. There are rights and wrongs on both sides of that troubling time in our nation. We don't hear much about striking workers any more.

Several things in the chapter "Cravings" need clarification for me - why did it bother Rose that her husband did not dream? She is talking about dreaming at night, not daydreams and Wanda tells her "Better he has a steady job than dreams at night."

I made applesauce for years but froze mine and used a foley mill for straining, and I remember the clock that sat on our old piano that I used to have to dust every other day or so. Your book brought a vision of that old clock home to me - doesn't everyone have memories of clocks in their childhood? Our old piano sat in the parlor with a long "scarf" - that isn't what they called it but I've forgotten the word used - on top of it which had tassels on the end and if I didn't take the "scarf" off and shake it and then put it back with the clock on top, my aunt always knew - how did she know I had not shaken the darn thing.

Monday I heard a lecture about the Russian people today and they are so poor that 2-3 generations are living together in a small apartment as these immigrants are doing. It seems impossible doesn't it?

Andrea Flannery
October 7, 1999 - 10:33 am
I cannot tell you how long it's been since I've enjoyed a book as much as Pears. I must admit that I have finished the novel, but promise to follow the guideline schedule as I reread and absorb it further. It has had a profound affect on me. My daughter (the one who has for years encouraged "too much" discussion of yester-years) is now reading it & has agreed to share her thoughts. I found it pervasive, intense and weighty without being extreme. Accolades to you! These women are all so full of passion in their own right. One of our readers noted the "photo album" affect & since then, I have plucked a few quotes to help substantiate this . Jimmys face- open like a book with a picture you didn't want to see. Leslie--such a powerful picture THAT prints. Amy, as a teen, with her own clear vision as she ponders her "untitled canvases." She says a true artist was supposed to have a clear vision @ all times. Now THAT is a picture to ponder. Who, other than a teen, could possibly see life that way? VISIONS, like pictures are merely flashing images of life. The perception differing only "in the eye of the beholder." You write, "Amy sees all the parts that were about to come together into the whole." A wonderful image there. Au contraire, my dear! The inclusion of the title in the 1st chapter was far from intrusive. It was brilliant. All thru the book I kept repeating, to myself, "No, Ginger, now Amy, this question you ask is like "Pears on A Willow Tree" - impossible!!!! Did you mean to depict the blue rosary beads in this same light? "The rosary is not for things. The rosary is for who,why, how. Life is questions , God is questions. Some questions are more important than the answers. Many, being impossible to answer. I do not want to monopolze this discussion, but it seems as if I could go on forever. Later, I would like to comment on contrast, silence and choices. I would be interested in others views on this TIME concept. I have one of those chiming (every 1/4 hour clocks ) that I inherited from my aunt, where my fondest memories are. Again Thank you Leslie for a beautiful story.

betty gregory
October 7, 1999 - 10:56 am
ALF -- DO go on, don't worry about "monopolizing." The more comments, the better--and what you've written has been so interesting. Something you write may spur someone else's thoughts. Betty

October 7, 1999 - 06:41 pm

This is the second time we’ve done this with an author, and it’s such a treat each time. It’s a real revelation when writers describe for us their creative process. How “visual details” for example, become “significant in a more thematic way.” For me, this really enriches the reading experience. That and the new act of reading in a group has rediscovered the written word for me. I believe there will be more of these types of things in the years to come.

The title reference: I certainly agree with ALF: Not obvious or intrusive at all – at least to this reader. For so many references in this book, as you say, the “meaning deepens.”

Did I catch something of Amy in Leslie? From her post she said that she grew up on Iowa “without an extended family around”. It seemed Amy grew up like that, “looking for a sense of connection to the past.” – but more on that later.

Oh, Ella - That’s funny about clocks. I do remember, growing up in the fifties a very kitschy clock in our Florida Living Room. Oh brother!

ALF - Great if your daughter joins in. Good that she’s reading the book anyway. And readerdoc, we’ll be looking for your mother, too!!

Now – When Helen’s life was becoming “the way it was supposed to be” and she wondered about the possibility that her husband didn’t dream - Don’t you think that she was just voicing a nagging feeling that by marriage she had given something up? Given up the “glamour” for the steadiness? She couldn’t shake remembering that eyes-wide-open kiss, and the rosary beads clacking on the floor. A nice image that kiss and the falling rosary beads – more there than meets the eye? The loss of her hopes (prayers), dreams? But the rosary, the hopes, the aspirations of the family are passed on. Rose’s Blue Beads are taken by Helen for Ginger – but Ginger doesn’t take possession of them (and all they symbolize) but passes them on to Amy – a generational leap of sorts. The image of Ginger glancing at Amy as they drive back to the desert – Amy fingering the beads through her blouse – is a poignant one. I get the feeling that Ginger has lost hope of reconnection, but there’s hope for Amy.

Ella Gibbons
October 7, 1999 - 07:25 pm
Yes, Charles, it was Helen that rather loved that kiss at the altar shortly before she was to be married - I can see I'm going to be getting these women's names mixed up. Perhaps when I've read the whole book I'll get them straightened out in my mind. Didn't Helen wish that her girl would have a bit of that "devil-may-care attitude" that she had when she accepted that lingering kiss? Let me go back to the book a moment.

Yes, here it is -

But there will be one part of her - maybe not a part I can see, maybe not a part I'll always like or understand - but that one part of her will be a girl who lets a rosary drop to the floor and lay there because she refuses to let go of a kiss.

In Ginger, Helen got her wish and much more don't you agree?

And poor Ginger. She never learned that you can not really leave the family. You can put time and distance between you, you can get drunk before, during and after the visits, but you have them inside forever. Did you notice that she couldn't tell Amy what Grandma looked like or the stories Grandma told when Amy asked; she denied remembering the prayers - the whole chapter of the Blue Beads is a denial of where she came from. But the day of the funeral, waking up early Ginger is thinking:

I still couldn't remember her face, the way the bridge of her nose crinkled when she smiled, the blue of her eyes just like my own, how before she spoke she held her mouth open for just a moment as if thinking how the say the words before saying them.

Grandma is still there deep down and Ginger is trying to drown the memories.

I had to turn back to the first chapter "Shortcuts" to try to discover the reasons for Ginger's behavior. She said she didn't like Detroit because of the same gray skies overhead and "too much bustle," and, of course, the clock and the time that was slipping by. Perhaps I'll discover more valid reasons as I read on.

Andrea Flannery
October 8, 1999 - 06:35 am
ELLA: The "gray skies" overhead are specific for Ginger and her outlook on life. The author uses color contrasts thruout all her prose: gray skies, white against the dark, my "too bright day" and a wonderful contrast when Helen says, "There is no easy way beyond DARKNESS even if she pushed the white wall aside, there would be only MORE darkness." Whew, that is dissecting contrasts!!!

The "blue" rosaries- which were articulately described by Charles as the hopes and aspirations of the family, I took metaphorically as "blue-blood" and blue describing saddness,despondency,melancholy, if you will. Charles: that was very introspective of you viewing Amy making a generational leap. Well worded. My 1st thought, while reading that was the the beads were now close to Amys heart, around her neck, as she fingered them lovingly. A "passing on" as you described earlier in our discussion.

I, like Charles, have "rediscovered" the joys of reading with you all. It has been wonderful . A form of catharsis for me as well. As Leslie says--- "the meaning deepens." Ella, I believe that Ginger DID know. She made the conscious choice to leave her family. In essence, she closed her eyes, her heart, as well as her memories. To everyone else, she has made THAT choice--to forget, or rather turn a blind eye. This text is FILLED with choices that I hope we can discuss as we get further along. Charles, will Leslie be joining us again?

Ella Gibbons
October 8, 1999 - 07:12 am
GOOD MORNING, ALF! - When I see your onboard name I think of that song "Alfie" which is so pretty and, as you pointed out so well, the color contrasts in the book are so true. I also wanted to comment on the phrase that LP used - there are no answers, only questions - again, very true.

You express yourself so well, ALF, and we are all so happy you have found Seniornet and are filling your plate with all the pleasures of reading and discussing books with each other. I found it about 2-3 years ago and haven't stopped yet. Could you join us in Chicago next month by any chance? We met last year in NYC for the first time and had to do it again and hopefully will meet annually from now on - do come if you can!

Loving this book!

Andrea Flannery
October 8, 1999 - 10:51 am
ELLA: How sweet of you to invite me to join your group, meeting in Chicago. I am afraid that I will not be able to make it as my kids will be visiting (I live in warm, sunny Fla.) However, they live in New York so if you go there again, I'll kill 2 birds with 1 stone. Thanks for the invite, tho. My onboard name is my initials & as my husband says "ALF" is also an extraterestrial. Hmmm? Why was Joe, Helens bro-in-law never mentioned again in this book? I kept waiting for him to reappear. Was it deliberate? Only his memory remained? Any thoughts on that? 2PM-pool time.

Ella Gibbons
October 8, 1999 - 12:05 pm
Hi ALF - we just might do that next year! We all loved NYC - some had never been there before and wanted to go this year again, but we voted on Chicago to allow those who are in the midwest a chance to come and get acquainted.

It was Joe, yes, that gave her that kiss and we'll just have to ask Leslie about that when she appears.

Charles, ALF, readerdoc - am I missing anyone here? I know there may be some lurkers reading along with us - I have knowledge of one possibility - and let's mention as we go along some of the Polish foods mentioned in the book and ask if anyone has made them or remember them. Would be fun to hear from someone who has Polish ancestry and Leslie also would be interested in their memories.

Am making cookies - may read another 2 chapters this afternoon yet.

betty gregory
October 8, 1999 - 02:04 pm
Another way to interpret the blue beads---family tradition. Ginger doesn't accept or isn't able at that time to accept the traditions of her family. She hands the beads, the traditions (religious and maybe other?) on to her daughter Amy. Before, when Ginger's mother Helen drops the beads, she is being kissed by her fiance's brother---so for the moment, letting go of the family. When Helen is pregnant with Ginger, she wishes for her daughter something more and different---maybe beyond the confines of the traditions of family, beyond marrying someone steady and stable (who does not dream).

Even though I haven't read beyond the first week's assigned chapters (an experiment that may be failing--I hate waiting) and don't yet know more about Ginger or if I will like her or not, I propose a way to view families with a wayward member. (This is just one way to view Ginger.)

A family is a system. When you look at one member of a family, you get a picture of the whole system. If one family member is having difficulty, it's probable that it's a sign, a signal of a larger problem within the family. The classic example is the elementary school age child who begins to have emotional and school problems when the family begins to go through divorce. So, when reading about Ginger, my thoughts stray to mother Helen and grandmother Rose. Ginger didn't grow up in a vacuum; she's a product, to some extent, of the family in which she spent all her young years.

Also, my own BIAS comes into play when I read of people dumping tradition---almost without taking a breath, I'm in their corner. Tradition, especially for women, is not something so glorious to hang on to. Whether religious tradition or family tradition, there are numerous healthy reasons for women to examine the traditions to decide which suit their lives.

Also, without knowing what happens later in the story, I often view any journey of disconnection...then thought-ful a healthy process. Conversely, when I read of Helen's complete acceptance of how-things-are, I don't see that as healthy.

Leslie, welcome, welcome. How wonderful it is to have you here. Could you at some point describe how you came to the time line of chapters? Was this an evolutionary process, or did you know at the outset that you would have these snapshots of family back and forth across time? Also, I hope I ask this how I'm thinking of it, how or when did you learn to so deftly touch a subject---without preaching about it? For example, the tradition of valuing sons over daughters. Some authors never get this less-is-more lesson. So, when I read this feather light but powerful treatment of such subjects, I'm blown away. (I really want to often when I'm talking or writing, I fear I'm still in the more is more category.)

Betty (readerdoc)

Ella Gibbons
October 8, 1999 - 05:50 pm
You put that so well, Readerdoc! Particularly, when you said this: Tradition, especially for women, is not something so glorious to hang on to. Whether religious tradition or family tradition, there are numerous healthy reasons for women to examine the traditions to decide which suit their lives.

We're in the same corner - Amen!

I read the Wedding Day chapter this afternoon, so I am one ahead I think, but I will get behind at other times. I'll be the factual one in this discussion and will leave that beautiful expressive language to the rest of you. I have a million questions that I want to ask someone - or maybe no one will have the answers. Do that tomorrow.

betty gregory
October 8, 1999 - 06:27 pm
I think Charlie and I are talking about the same thing...his words "hopes and dreams" and mine, "tradition" when thinking about the blue beads. Maybe two sides of the same thing. I picture daughters saying "tradition" and mothers saying "hopes and dreams."

October 8, 1999 - 09:02 pm
I am slow in catching up but I will get there this week end..

I am enjoying this book very much. I enjoy tradtion in families.

I think Ginger has a lot to learn in life, in many ways Amy is better at dealing with day to day life than her mother. I think it is true that you can never leave your family behind no matter how hard you try. Just when you think you have made it ,a song or a picture or a smell will bring it back.

The Blue Beads are the connection from one generation to the other. I think that is why Ginger does not want them. she is still trying to get away from her background and her roots.Helen took them to perhaps to try to make Ginger understand the importance of her family. I wonder if there is any hope for her? Her drinking to access is another way of her running away from her family, past and present and from maybe... herself?

I enjoyed the story about making the potato dumplings. I have friends who gather in the kitchen as a family, and talk and cook.There was one family when I was a child who made a deep impression on me ,and I can still close my eyes and smell the food and hear their laughter and some times their fussing in that big kitchen.

When I was found missing from our yard, my dad knew where I was.


Ella Gibbons
October 9, 1999 - 07:28 am
Could this book have been written without Ginger, do you think? We see the family through her eyes in a different way; boring, dry, ritualized, hokey-pokey living! We may not agree with Ginger, but talk to a Catholic today and see if they disagree with Ginger's views of the church.

Weren't the family mean to poor Rose with her wedding gift of 12 qts of home-made pickles and telling the clerk in the store that Rose "didn't know better" than to handle an expensive plate and what, pray tell, is kielbasa - some kind of a sausage? It is mentioned several times with sauerkraut so obviously they go together. Have any of you ever tried to make homemade sauerkraut in a crock with brine? After eating some delicious sauerkraut that a friend made, I tried very hard years and years ago, doing all the things she told me - but it turned out so badly, I dug a hole way in the back and buried the stuff. Couldn't even bring myself to put it in the garbage bin - but I've always remembered that homemade sauerkraut - nothing at all like what you buy at the store.

In a magazine that comes with my TIME - one they will spin off eventually into its own - called DIGITAL, there were several businesses listed that might make do well on the Internet; among them was a bridal registry - now isn't that a bright idea! Two women thought that up - and I thought of that while reading the chapter "Wedding Day" and Rose's thoughts about this American custom.

Can anyone enlighten me as to the difference between "bobbin lace" and crocheted lace? Well, of course, I know about crocheting lace - my older sister used to do make it and I have pillowcases with her liberty bell lace on them - but bobbin lace? What a dream of a wedding dress Helen made for Theresa but she put the crocheted lace on the petticoat underneath; whereas the bobbin lace was put on the dress and the handkerchief, so it must be the finer lace??????

Helen's favorite pattern for lace was True Lovers' Knot and, of course, she had made that for her daughter Ginger's wedding, put it away carefully for the day which never came.

It was my favorite pattern….my mother had put it on my own wedding dress, tellling us that when she was a girl they sometimes used chicken bones for bobbins and when it was too dark to work, they filled a bowl with water to reflect the candlelight and brighten the room.

Such love - is this lace story fiction or a true story told to LP?

Leslie P
October 9, 1999 - 08:38 am
I was very interested in the discussion of the rosary beads--I've been learning a lot from your close reading! So much of writing is sub-conscious, and to be allowed to read a detailed anaylsis helps me trust that my sub-conscious knows what it's doing (sometimes!). Writers are never 100% happy with any finished piece, and one of the flaws of this book is that the rosary is one of the details that doesn't feel wrapped up to me at the end. C'est la vie...maybe if I'd had the benefit of your discussion, I'd have figured out how to handle those beads!

Ella asked about why Helen was upset that her husband didn't dream...I thought Charlie's comments were on target. To me, Helen is trapped because she senses that there is more out in the world, but she has no way to access any of it. "Those Places I've Been" explores her feelings in greater depth.

Readerdoc asked about the chronology...the book actually started as a short story (the first chapter) and I was interested in the women so wrote another story and another and another before realizing I was going to write a whole book. So I didn't write it in the order it appears--but I wanted the book to reflect the way someone would think about their family history, which would not be in a linear, chronological fashion.

Leslie P
October 9, 1999 - 08:54 am
(My computer is old and cranky, making me nervous to type anything that's too long, so messages in several parts makes more sense to me!) also paid me quite a compliment when you said that my touch was light and that I had suceeded with the "less is more" approach. I work and work at that! It's difficult-and I still struggle--but I guess I've become better though lots of practice (and many mistakes!)

Ella--yes, Kielbasa is a sausage (yummy!), and if you haven't had one you're missing a treat! I buy mine from a Polish butcher when I go up to Baltimore, w hich has a larger Polish population than the Washington, DC area (where I live). In fact, I also cheat and buy some excellent, handmade pierogi from a market up there, too.

And Ella also asked about lace. I had to do a lot of book research about lace. You're right--the more delicate, finer lace is made with bobbins. It's very complicated to make; as I recall, you have to hold a little pillow in your lap as you manage all these wooden bobbins (that look sort of like fingers, about that size) that all have different threads on them. Crochet lace is rougher (but still pretty) and is made with a crochet needle. I've never made lace myself--I have no "craft" skills whatsoever!--but, as I said, book research is great and the library is a wonderful place. The story about the chicken bones and the candles reflecting on the water is a detail from one of the books I read. (When I go to the library to do research, I generally check out every single book on the subject and renew them again and again, as many times as possible! I used to hate researching, but getting details right really pays off, even in a work of fiction.)

Thanks again for your comments, and I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about anything--the book, writing process, writing life, etc.

October 9, 1999 - 12:01 pm
Leslie - Your comment that “so much of writing is sub-conscious” confirmed something that I’ve often thought. As a reader, when we look at and try to make sense of the symbols we find, it seems to me that we’re, on a conscious level, attempting to understand something an author has written on a sub-conscious level. When an author does that well, we see varying interpretations of those symbols – interpretations that spring from the readers’ own experiences. This is a fascinating area.

Ella - Your sauerkraut experience reminds me of one I had with Polenta once. Good foods can be VERY bad, can’t they?

Tradition, “the ways we do things” – it’s always an area that we come at from different angles, isn’t it?
Rose brought it over from the old country
Helen momentarily lost sight of it – or had a glimpse of other possibilities – but ultimately embraced it whole.
Ginger rejected it totally. [Note how, just after dropping the blue beads back into her mothers purse she heads straight to the corner bar].
In many ways, the story of Amy is the story of how she found in “tradition” what she could use in HER life. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing thing, does it?

Jane - You said that “…in many ways Amy is better at dealing with day to day life than her mother.” Exactly right. Don’t we find that this is the usual situation where a child has to deal with a ‘dysfunctional’ parent? Betty may be able to speak to this better than I. In Blue beads it was interesting and very poignant that when Amy realized that she would never see her great-grandmother again she is very concerned about keeping memories of her. Remembering how she prayed in the closet right along side her. Not trusting that her mother would keep the memories alive.

I loved the story about how in the family, if they thought someone was lying, “they’d take [them] to grandma’s house.” When I was a kid, there was an Italian family across the street. The “Ma” (Grandma) of that house had the same “gift.” It was great sport for us kids to catch little Gil in a lie and give him the “Grandma” test. He passed every time of course.

betty gregory
October 10, 1999 - 03:17 am
Well, I've been reading ahead (finally) and am smitten with this book. I must say, these characters are much more complex than at first glance, so it becomes more difficult to label someone's behavior as all "right" or "wrong." The more I learn about these women who are mothers and daughters to each other, the more I understand how their perspectives were shaped by time, culture, circumstance, ethnicity, faith. In fact, I begin to get glimpses of similarity peeping through the differences, like an old quilt with worn places that reveal cotton batting.

I marked it in red somewhere (don't have the book open right now) but when Ginger said something to Amy that sounded so much like something her mother Helen would have said, I laughed and laughed. It always fascinates me to hear grown women half seriously and half jokingly work so hard at not sounding like their mothers or not being like their mothers.

It was 5-6 years ago that I called my sister-in-law, with whom I share a running critique of my mother's irritating skill of making do and buying things on sale, to wail loudly, "I've become my mother!!" It had to do with being so proud of a futon cover purchased for $15 and couch pillows I'd made myself. And since then, not that I've told anyone, I've gotten worse. There's nothing more thrilling than finding a Christmas present for my son in April marked off 75 percent. I defend this behavior (in my head) by thinking that I buy EXPENSIVE things on sale, GOOD QUALITY, and SHE (the mother under fire) doesn't care about all that. (I did call her the same day I called my sister-in-law. We're close enough for me to tease her about this awful thing I'd become.)

October 10, 1999 - 06:32 am
Oh, readerdoc - You DON'T buy Christmas wrapping paper in January do you???!!

October 10, 1999 - 06:36 am
Oh, yes. And this is NOT a gender thing. Don't you think that every time I jump up from the dinner table and start to clear the dishes (or "red" the table, as my father used to say)that I don't see him pulling the plate out from under my mother as she's still daintily eating her little morsels???

October 10, 1999 - 08:00 am
"And it takes place mostly in the kitchen because it seems to me that one of the eaisest, simplest ways to preserve any semblance of family tradition is through food"....... Was thinking as I read this thought: in the Hebrew (Old)Testament food was a strong tradition.


October 10, 1999 - 09:01 am
The kitchen was an ideal place to contrast the generations. Leslie gave us the photograph as an introduction to the generations:

Rose: solid like her dumplings. "Her thick words like blocks stacking into a story."
Helen: "Those are the old ways, Ma...times have changed." - but Helen seems to know the old and the new ways. Aware of frozen pierogi at the supermarket but certainly unwilling to buy them.
Ginger: Laboriously writing down the recipe. Even (and I loved this detail) sketching the crimping pattern for the pierogi (just like in Moosewood!!). Unlikely ever to refer to this recipe again.
Amy: TV dinners for her (nutritionally balanced according to her mother). But, looking at the picture, remembering the taste and smell, I could see Amy learning how to make them.

The picture of the generations lined up in front of the stove is an image that I can see in my mind. But the picture that "didn't come out": of the finished product, steaming dumplings and flour smudged faces I can see also. That the picture is lost is such a great detail - I'm not sure why. Maybe one of those "sub-conscious" details that seem natural, and it DOES seem natural, doesn't need explanation. But seems to speak volumes of loss and remembrance. These are the kinds of details, understated and subtle, that will make me remember this book fondly.

Andrea Flannery
October 10, 1999 - 11:14 am
Charles: It could be the idea of loss and rememberance. I have just reviewed the earlier comments re. this and Ella felt that the 2nd picture, which did not come out, made the 1st one all the more precious and dear. She called it a perfect snapshot in time of generations. Again one of the greatest analogies here is the "image," a reflection of what transpired there in the kitchen.

I chuckled as I read how readerdoc "became" her mother. I smiled remembering when my daughter called me, chiding herself, for "becoming" just like me. She had just washed out and air dried Zip-loc bags. The kitchen is where we women gather our flock - to insulate, nourish and to comfort those we love. The kitchen (hearth and home) is also an INSTITUTION: an institute of learning & education. A school, so to speak. Like the purpose of all schools - where groups of persons under a common influence are taught a unifying belief. Ginger felt the constraints and restrictions of this consolidation, and anethetized herself from the comraderie of this group,her family, her past. This was aided by the never-ending remarks that she "was not like the rest," she was different. The kitchen is the guts, the entrails, the viscera of Leslies story. I would be willing to bet that there's not a reader amongst us, who doesn't fell this at a "visceral" level."

October 10, 1999 - 01:07 pm
Good points, Alf. And anaesthetized is right. Ironically, that's why Ginger finds HER hearth, her home in the corner bar:
"Don't you think you ought to be getting home, lady?"
"I am home," [Ginger] said.

October 10, 1999 - 08:05 pm
In Wedding Day, Amy gets “advice” from the bridesmaids – go far away but don’t stop there like her mother. So we find that Ginger was not necessarily “just” a misfit. She acted on what others may have wanted to do. But she didn’t complete her action – “She went to Arizona, but she didn’t get anywhere.”Amy thinks that she’ll get away too, but that she’ll find something different. Amy’s thoughts remind us of Ginger’s thoughts at the end of Blue Beads: that Amy would somehow know what to do and how to do it. We get an inkling that Amy will somehow complete her mother’s mission – in her own way of course.

Ginger at the reception…remember the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter?

betty gregory
October 11, 1999 - 01:16 am
I do love how this author captures the inevitable tug-pull of pride on the one hand and embarrassment on the other...of family. At the wedding, Ginger is focused on how the New Yorker will view this ethnic wedding, imagining how he will turn it into a funny story to tell his friends, much as Ginger has told "funny" stories of her family in Arizona. At one point, though, the pull of family (naming all those names) outweighed her embarrassment and she left to stand in line for the money waltz. (Which begins to answer my question of why she comes back to Detroit every summer if she wants so much to be separate. Obviously, there are mixed feelings.)

Reminds me of an episode that lasted about a year when my son was maybe 15. Going together to the movies was fine with him but we had to sit with one seat between us and I couldn't talk. "What do you mean, I can't talk?" I kept asking him the first time it happened. "Mo..ther," was all he would say. I got used to it. When it ended, he sat down next to me in the theater as if nothing was different, talked and talked. Someone behind us tried to shush him and he leaned back and whispered, "Sorry, I was just telling my mother who wrote the music," which promopted a response from that person about the music...until someone else shushed them both.

The Christmas time Vigil. Oh, my. Yes, the phone call from Ginger next to the empty plate was a heartbreaker, but the story up to that point was what meant the most to me. What a stunning piece of writing showing a distance of light years between generations. Charlie's words "hopes and dreams" come to mind. I can imagine Ginger from her perspective and Helen and family from their perspective saying to the other...WHO ARE YOU? And yet how universal this distance is. Each not hearing or understanding the other, maybe in some respects not capable of understanding the other. I can't find much wrong in this process, it seems so normal, but I do wonder about the pain it causes. There is a moment I will always regret----not standing still for my mother to take a picture of me in cap and gown as I was flying out the door to go with my boyfriend to the high school graduation ceremony. Other pictures were taken, but not that one. She says she doesn't remember it, but I sure do.

Which reminds me. Heard this or read this a few weeks back. Something about how children are like cats and dogs. A small child is like a dog---follows you everywhere, loves you dearly, is always glad to see you, misses you when you're gone, always wants to sit in your lap. Around age 13, a child changes into a cat. A mom reaches out to hug and the kid ducks, scowls and has a look on his face that says, "Who died and made you Queen?" This lasts a long, long time. Around age 24 or so, the mom gets up from a meal to clear the table and the grown kid says, "Stay where you are and rest your feet. I'll take care of the dishes." The kid is a dog again.

Many apologies to cat lovers, of which I'm one. Doesn't quite capture the loving cat in my house.


betty gregory
October 11, 1999 - 01:33 am
No, never bought Christmas wrapping paper in January, Charlie. I did get cards once, but by December I didn't like them. So, I've never done that again. It may be the internet with those wonderful bargain prices at Lands' End (new overstocks list every Weds. and Sat.) and other places that spurred me to have fun watching for just the right thing. Thrill of the hunt, and all that. I've never liked "going shopping" (except for out of the way and quaint used book stores) but the internet has changed that.

Andrea Flannery
October 11, 1999 - 08:18 am
Again, Leslie thoughtfully shows us how alienated Ginger feels at the reception. The polka is the epitome of a Polish wedding and the 1st sentence sums it up - "rollicking on # 200 or 2 thousand OR 2 zillion." She feels that that many polkas would send the Pope scrambling for a bottle, thereby justifying a 3rd martini. Here in this chapter we again find Ginger dead center IN THE MIDDLE of a generational gap. She criticises even the dance, making a show and drawing attention to her seperatness, as she stands BETWEEN her mother and her daughter. When she chastises Amy for the way she is eating the cherries, Amy's retort is, " It's how YOU eat the olives in your drink." You can feel her distaste for the traditional festivities. She finds it "too synchronized, like everything in Detroit- what someone else wants, someone elses way." How sad, both her mother & Amy beg her "not to go", not to leave during this traditional dance. They want Ginger to remain- a part of them! Is this not the pattern that we see throughout? Such saddness I felt as Helen hugged her granddaughter, "first with one arm, then longer with both, as if there was MORE than Amy's body to hold on to."

The chapter: No Last Names- A true alcoholic- she hated AA because of the way everyone drank black coffee. Just to be seperated and differerent, she dumps sugar & cream in.(????) This chapter is LOADED. Ginger focuses ALL of her attention on everything but the issue at hand. Here, it's colorless, stuffy, things needing tuning. she hates #12, parking lots, etc. , etc., relating back to her past again and the best being--- "HI, MY NAME IS BETH." This would have the AA reps coming out of their seats. More later. Has anyone else ever witnessed this denial by an alcoholic?

Ella Gibbons
October 11, 1999 - 08:32 am
PIEROGI -as Leslie has explained a dessert., but - CHRUSCIKI?

Silence - I must start listening to silence. LP mentions a dry silence and a thin silence - probably more as I go on. A gap - a long gap - a difficult gap to close between thoughts.

Leslie - I have many questions for you when you have the time. You said the first chapter was just a story you had written - was that the one about Rose? Was she your grandmother or someone you knew well and what was the process that led you to continue writing the other stories into a book? How does your mother feel about these relationships? Your research - was it into Polish customs, traditions, etc. such as the "onion cures?" I found those very amusing!

The kitchen where the woman cook, gossip, exchange recipes, and help the children may be warm and cosy, but there are things each woman does not share with any other, e.g. Helen's lingering kiss with Joe and as you read on there will be other emotions they hold tightly to - don't we all? Psychologists have names for these I believe - the id, ego and superego - the many faces we all look out from behind.

At times, I heartily disliked Helen, could just shake her if I had known her, particularly the way in which she handled Ginger's divorce. Without trying to understand what lie behind her problems and her anguish, she says to her:

No one else in this family is divorced. No one else would do such a bad thing, destroy a family on purpose. Only you. The family. They don't need to know this awful thing has happened."

What a condemnation of a daughter who supposedly you love - an only child! There are times I despise myself when I make remarks to my own daughter that later I regret - mothers, we are constantly attempting to assert ourselves through our children - to have them be all we had hoped - we cannot escape the role of mother!

Ginger at Christmas on the telephone "Oh, Mother, Ma, you know I don't really want to be here. Why am I so far away? Why?"

Many questions, few answers.

October 11, 1999 - 07:23 pm
ALF - Yes, she does a good job with Ginger’s alienation – even the alienation she feels as an AA member. Then at the end of the Chapter in an AA meeting in Arizona she uses her real name: Ginger, rather than Beth. I took this for progress…but where the author really nails it, is that this is just one step forward and two steps back. Kept thinking Ginger was on-the-wagon, only to find out she was off again.

Ella - Silence. Probably the silences of which Leslie speaks can only be heard in the desert. Wonder if she’s ever lived there?

Ella Gibbons
October 12, 1999 - 08:01 am
In Leslie's acknowledgments she mentions "four grand ladies who made the dinners and told the stories around the table - Grandma, Aunt Sylvia, Ant Doris and Cynthia. An in honor of a Polish lady I never met, Robb's Bushia (is that Polish for grandmother?) and the one I met but never really knew until now, Rose Lendo, the original Marchewka woman.

How much did these ladies contribute? And is Rose Lendo the Rose in the book?

Ginger often mentions feeling trapped among the family in Detroit and her husband remarked the one time he visited that he didn't like who she was when she was at home. He says "You're the kind of girl I tried to stay away from." Obviously then Ginger is not herself at home, not the woman he loves, and you wonder who is the real Ginger? She doesn't seem to be a loving wife in Arizona does she? Wild in their young married days, an alcoholic as a mother in later years, is it any wonder that, Jimmy, the husband left her?

Yes, Charlie, I thought she might be successful at AA, but have read on and obviously she hasn't "kicked the habit" yet. But I'm not finished reading the whole book.

betty gregory
October 12, 1999 - 08:19 am
The one aspect of this tale that troubles me is Ginger's double "negatives"---her yearning to move beyond Detroit, thus leaving family behind geographically, and her alcoholism. Our too easy assumptions that these two things could be or have to be related doesn't add up for me. Unless I missed something, the drinking became a problem with the husband and their joint partying lifestyle. The yearning in her late teens to leave Detroit did not include early warning signs of alcoholism. Additionally, if we follow the accepted medical model for her drinking problem, then we should be bending over backwards to not tie it to anything else... so quickly, or at all. Later, of course, after the alcoholism is in control, frustration during family visits send her off to the nearest bar, but she does the same thing back in Arizona. Her FAMILY judges her harshly for leaving Detroit, treats her like a BAD person, and to provide support for their judgment, points to her drinking/alcoholism. (Makes me think of the time I quit smoking years ago and my grandmother was so happy I had quit---because it looked bad for a woman to smoke, was morally wrong.) I do understand that these are all pieces of generational evolution, with each generation seeing with new eyes.

Where I have the most trouble is when Ginger acts like a rotten mother---leaving the kids unsupervised, fending for themselves, expecting Amy to take over adult responsibilities, not being present for her daughter and son. Her alcoholism is in control. I guess I wish I could know her without the alcoholism, to see who she is when she is in control of her life. The alcoholism keeps me from understanding all this yearning she had for things to be different. (The gossip at the wedding about how she didn't go far enough when she left holds no interest for me---we're only hearing these young bridesmaids' perspectives.)

I do wonder why the author decided to have alcoholism be an additional barrier between Ginger and her family. Is she hinting that some changes from one generation to the next can be so painful and handled so badly that they can trigger a drinking problem? Also, I wonder why there is no evidence of alcoholism in the family---it rarely shows up in only one person. (Maybe this is cleared up later in the book.)

Leslie P
October 12, 1999 - 12:31 pm
ELLA asked what a chrusciki is--it's a cookie (the English name is "angel wing"). Think of a square of dough that is sort of twisted to create a wing-like shape, deep-fried, and then drenched in powdered sugar. And pierogi are not really dessert food--usually they're filled with something like potato or sauerkraut or mushroom, fried in butter.

ELLA also asked about the first story and how that turned into a whole book and what kind of research I did on Polish customs. "Shortcuts" is the chapter that I wrote first as just a story, It was inspired by a visit to my grandmother's house where I learned that she made the best pierogi in the family. But she never taught me how to make them; my great-grandmother was no longer alive at that time; and it is my FATHER'S family that is the Polish side, not my mother's, so my mother had nothing to do with pierogi! The next "Story" I wrote was one that now appears at the end--"Best Friends" and the one after that was "Blue Beads" and then "Cravings." Then I decided that I was writing a book, not just stories. So you can see that this book did not follow any sort of grand and organized plan. I think that what happened is that each story raised a question in my mind that led to the next story--which led to the book.

And, yes, I read a number of excellent books about Polish customs and immigration. I had been to Ellis Island a couple times (I highly recommend a visit if you haven't been--it was very moving for me). I read several cookbooks and books about Poland.

And, yes, CHARLIE, I lived in Arizona for 2 1/2 years--2 years in the Phoenix area and 6 months in the mountains in rural Arizona. Everything feels different down there. I like how the landscape can feel important and integral to how you live--it's not that way on the East Coast, more so in Iowa (where I grew up).

Leslie P
October 12, 1999 - 12:59 pm
ELLA asked about the original Rose Lendo (my great-grandmother's name) and whether or not she is the Rose in the book. (And yes, bushia means grandmother.) I knew my great-grandmother only in a very general way--as the woman I had to spend an afternoon with whenever I visited--and in a secondhand way--through the stories my grandmother and her sisters would tell (only with much encouragement). She was always very intriguing to me--very small, vibrant blue eyes, a strong presence--but I never really knew her. So I invented her. I'm sure if she were alive and read this book she wouldn't think she was like this Rose at all. Or so I imagine. I write fiction because I don't want to be beholden to the way things are--I want to write about the way things seem or should be or could be. It is rarely (if ever) my intention to recreate something that happened exactly as it happened--rather, my inspiration comes from odd details, a voice, a strange paradox, a line in my head, the basics of something that happened to someone (or me). But I shape and change things to suit my vision of the world, to heighten tension, to explore issues, to tell a better story. So I would say that the Rose in my book was inspired by Rose my great-grandmother--but she is not my great-grandmother just as I am not Amy. I think most fiction is an intricate dance between reality and imagination--and it's usually difficult (if not impossible) to determine where one ends and the other begins.

READERDOC was wondering about Ginger's alcoholism. I always viewed Ginger as someone who was feeling great pain and conflict that she couldn't express--or perhaps even admit to herself. That's what led her to drinking--as a way to numb herself to the pain. I read a lot of books about alcoholics and tried to keep to the sort of general "case history" (including the child becoming the caretaker, as Amy does)--but of course every person is different; there is no one way for an alcohlic to be. There may be some genetic predisposition, but it didn't seem that that was 100% the case all the time. (I included a hint or two along those lines anyway--covering my bases?) But my goal was not to create a "perfect alcoholic" but a woman who is an alcholic. My question as a writer is: Is this character believable? Not--Did I cover every aspect of alcholism. Ultimately, fiction is a story about a person/people, and ultimately, my goal is that readers believe the story and the people are true. I feel fortunate if I suceed in achieving that goal fifty percent of the time!! And I try not to be offended or take it personally if someone doesn't believe something about a character or story--writing (like any artform) is highly subjective. What works for one person doesn't work for another--that's just the way it is.

It's tricky to write about something you don't have first-hand experience with--yet all the more exciting if you can pull it off. For example, one of the things I am the most proud of in this book is the story about the wolves in "Stories from America" because I totally made it up. People have asked me about that at readings and have been very dismayed to learn that it's not a true story. But that doesn't mean that I don't want every single person reading the book to totally believe that that wolf story wans't something passed down by generations of my family! (Quite a challenge, huh?)

Ginger always seems to spark a lot of discussion. Many people dislike her immensely; many people feel sorry for her. Few people have no opinion!

As always, thanks for letting me be part of your discussion!

October 12, 1999 - 07:34 pm
Hello to everyone in this perceptive, stimulating group. I am Catherine, Leslie Pietrzyk's mother. Needless to say, I am extremely proud of Leslie's achievement in writing "Pears on a Willow Tree." I know I am not at all objective about "Pears" so I don't feel I should add to the analysis of the characters and plot of the book. I am delighted to read all your comments and thank you very much for your interest and support of Leslie's book.

In addition to making everyone in our family very proud, the publication of "Pears" has been a wonderful gift to both sides of our family. I was very moved when Leslie did a reading in Detroit with her grandmother, her aunts Sylvia and Doris, and cousin Cynthia in attendance along with many other relatives. Everyone was there to help Leslie promote her book and they did that, but in addition, everyone left with a stronger appreciation for the complex web of relationships that make up a family. There were several family events the weekend of the reading and in talking about the stories in the book, more family stories were brought forth. I think they provided intellectual and emotional nourishment, just as the special foods at these events provided physical nourishment. Leslie later did other readings in Minneapolis where some of my relatives live as well as her hometown where we still live. Again, the events were occasions for family and friends to gather, be proud, and reflect on some of the themes of the book. I thought it was interesting that even though the location and characters of the book are patterned on my husband's Polish-American family in Detroit, one of my sisters thought that some of the general themes--particularly leaving home--seemed to be talking about our family, an Iowa farm family with immigrant grandparents from Luxembourg.

I agree with Leslie that the story about the wolves is very effective. I was surprised to learn that she had made it up. I am equally impressed by her perceptiveness, courage, and success in exploring mother-daughter relationships.

betty gregory
October 12, 1999 - 08:31 pm
Welcome, welcome, Catherine P. What an, then author's mother joining us, wow!! I loved hearing of the family gatherings on the days of Leslie's readings. It made me smile, too, to hear how some on your side of the family thought some characters were fashioned after them, even though it's Leslie's father's family who is Polish-American.

That's one thing I love about reading. We can really get attached to characters and see ourselves and others we know in them. As Leslie said in her last post, she works to create believable characters. In Pears, these women are so carefully and intricately formed, spur so many memories for me, that as I'm reading, it's difficult to remain detached. I'm thinking now of the words Amy writes about her paintings (don't know if we're there yet, so I won't say more)---but, instantly, I thought of the theory of children "carrying" the pain that their mothers (parents) were unable to express. Well, maybe several generations of these mothers' pain begin to be expressed---in Ginger in unhealthy ways and in Amy in healthy ways.

Leslie, my wish to know Ginger without the drinking springs from my own issues, not from any thought that the alcoholism didn't fit the character. The intricacies of the pull of an addiction---your words to describe these ring with accuracy, are so convincing. I suppose I have a smattering of wanting to rescue Ginger, of wishing away her alcoholic haze. See, then I could defend her cleanly. I could say, "See there? There's nothing wrong with moving away!! Mind your own business." Real life is rarely that convenient or simple, though.

Ella Gibbons
October 13, 1999 - 05:01 am
CATHERINE! WELCOME This is just wonderful to hear from both daughter and mother! Yes, indeed, Catherine, we can understand how proud you must be of Leslie and she certainly did not pattern Helen after you, did she? Do you get asked that question often? What an admirable achievement - to get a book published and, of course, being such a curious person, I must ask Leslie how she did it? Did you have an agent? I have noticed that the stories were published in all sorts of different magazines or reviews and you have told us that you realized you had a book in hand after writing several chapters. After that realization how did you go about getting into the hands of Avon Books?

I will go back and read the first chapter again when I have the time and have not read through to the finish. The chapter on Ginger's AA experience was the one I liked least of all and I cannot put my finger on the reason or perhaps cannot express it well. Perhaps I cannot relate to it, but I can certainly understand Ginger's pain and conflict within herself. My husband's nephew is an alcoholic but he has always lived away from the family; his first wife tried every way she could to help him even joining AL-ANON, but finally in despair she divorced and he married a woman who also is a borderline alcholic, although she does maintain a job. We always look for reasons, of course, why people allow themselves to become addicted; they are not usually apparent.

Thank you Catherine for coming to the discussion and adding to our interest in this book - Leslie has written wonderful stories - a wonderful book and we are enjoying it immensely! I do hope she continues on this path, she has great potential. I noticed your email is with a university - do you teach? We would love to invite you to read and discuss some of the books we have current or one coming up soon. Now that you have found us, you can come often - stay late! Seniornet, in itself, can become an addiction - a perfect and wonderful addiction and one that can only enrich your life!

I am going to Michigan to visit my daughter for a few days - she teaches nursing at Michigan State Univ. and is always quite busy. But she is a reader and always has books beside her bed. Often we exchange names of authors or will buy them from time to time and exchange them - this is one I will recommend very highly to her.

Charlie -I will return in about a week - will take the book along and finish it while in Michigan.

Andrea Flannery
October 13, 1999 - 12:23 pm
It is difficult to add a warmer welcome than you've received thus far by our readers, but I wish to add to this hospitable reception. WELCOME to the site and thank you for your comments. I envy your position, as you read the accolades to your daughter and enjoy the tremendous admiration that we all have for her. What can be better, as a mother, than to have someone compliment and praise your child? SMILE ON, we love her.

Fran Ollweiler
October 13, 1999 - 01:48 pm
I join the other members of this great book club in giving you a very warm welcome. we are so happy to havw you with us.

Speak to you soon.....Love, Fran

Fran Ollweiler
October 13, 1999 - 01:58 pm
dear leslie,

thank you for writing such a wonderful book. reading it has given me some respite from a painful broken wrist.

we have a little bookclub here in dover, delaware, and it is this book we are discussing next month. so....i was particuarly interested in reading through the discussion here, and thrilled to read your comments.

question......after amy's motorcycle accident why did she sign up to teach in thailand another 3 years, and who was it who captured and helped her?

thank you for your participation.

Speak to you soon.....Love, Fran

October 13, 1999 - 03:54 pm
Welcome, Welcome, Welcome Catherine!!! We're so glad you were able to join us. And WELCOME BACK Fran! We missed YOU and I remembered you were going to discuss this book also in your F2F club so I was VERY sorry to hear you broke your wrist. So you are able to type again?? Hope it is not painful and hope you heal up quickly.

I've been unable to connect since Monday night so I'm a little behind. I'm posting the following which I tried to do on Monday so it may be a little out of sequence. Will try and catch up between THE RED SOX!! - Charlie

Being married to a woman from a large family, a family that is still relatively close by, I recognize certain elements here – elements that were brought to min d by Ella. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard of any of the four sisters indicate any feelings of being trapped by “the family” – but all deal with issues of their own independence, their growth as separate individuals, their distance from the family, their view of husband-wife relationships. Powerful thing a large family unit. Like a giant magnet. And they sure are “not themselves” at home. Who are they? Most likely their mother’s daughters. I guess that’s not too hard to understand. I genuinely feel and my wife agrees – she would not be “the same” person she is today, without having moved from the town she grew up in. So Ginger’s feeling of being trapped, suffocated, “being worn down into something you aren’t”, (or not being allowed to be the person you cam become) rings true.

readerdoc - Yes. Thank you. You’ve crystallized something I couldn’t put together. I asked myself many time WHY Ginger was an alcoholic. Then telling myself it was for all the above things. But later I’d asked myself WHY again. Obviously not convinced. So you think this alcoholism some kind of obscuring for you of the Ginger persona? Though I don’t understand your objection to Ginger being the only alcoholic in the family. You are obviously more versed in the topic than I. Is it that this is always the case – that it “runs” in the family? Certainly that is the conventional portrayal of “the problem” but is it the true one? I really don’t know – this is a question…Leslie seems to indicate that it is not always the case.

Oh, Leslie! This is very nice: “I think most fiction is an intricate dance between reality and imagination--and it's usually difficult (if not impossible) to determine where one ends and the other begins.” I know I, as a long time reader, always find it necessary to ‘ground’ the fictional characters in reality – to say, yes, that character sprung from that real person – I don’t know why that is. I always consider it some kind of ‘fault’ I have as a reader, this compulsion. I think it has something to do with ‘imagination’ and the extent to which one gives it reign. There seems to be some line that a writer crosses over, some dimension to which they journey in their creation. But you said it much clearer than I. And add me to the list of those stunned that your story of the wolves and the gold coins was not genuine folklore!! Thanks.

October 13, 1999 - 04:12 pm
Welcome Catherine P. I know you are very proud of the achivements of your daughter. She has such a depth to her writing. I feel I know these people, and can almost touch them.

I am behind on the book, but I hope to catch up soon, Sickness in the family has kept me busy this week.I am going to give this book to my daughter Melissa to read when I am finished. She has a daughter who is 13 and maybe she will be willing to share it with Meg also.They do not have a computer but they come to use mine often. so, who knows maybe we can get their input too.

Again Welcome and Leslie I am really enjoying this book.


October 13, 1999 - 07:34 pm
Everyone's going to Michigan!!...What's going on? There's a party and I wasn't invited? Dear Ella - I think you're going to give Ginny a run for her money as far as being an advocate for this book site!

October 13, 1999 - 08:08 pm
Ginger’s coming home in the Chapter All I Know to Tell You – this time to tell her mother that she is divorced – is another nicely nuanced scene. As if she’s still a child – her mother’s daughter – she’s been avoiding this task. There was no “right way” to tell her. In the presence of a mother a daughter is always a daughter first. (I just don’t have the sense that it is the same for sons. Sons seem to cut the tie more easily. To be able to relate to the father on a more equal footing.) There’s a sense of a double pull here for daughters. While Ginger may make her trips home as a duty, she wants her mother to always be there. “What I expected was my mother to be home to let us in.” As the mantel clock chimes you can tell Ginger really resents her mother not being where she is supposed to be – home to greet her daughter. As if to punish her mother for this infraction, she heavy-handedly unloads the facts of her marital status. Of course, by the very fact of her divorce, Ginger is fulfilling the roles that she has carved out for herself, always being the one who did the wrong things, “whatever it was that was bad.” But also, meeting the low expectations that her mother now has for her. Ginger’s frustration may be that she always wanted to be the one to be different, break the mold as a way of carving out her own life. But her mother has turned the tables on her in a way – these are now the expectations that her mother has for her. Symbolically, after breaking the news, she really does “break the mold” (a blue vase which she smashes into the fireplace). A vase which has been in the same place seemingly forever. In the “same spot on this same table for years.” A vase of plastic flowers gathering dust – what a perfect, stilted, static symbol for the life mold she wanted to smash

Leslie P
October 14, 1999 - 11:15 am
READERDOC--I liked what you said about Ginger, that if she were not an alcoholic, you could defend her decision to leave "more cleanly." It would be easier that way, wouldn't it? I like that she's flawed--that everyone is flawed--and they're all just sort of muddling along (like me!). I don't think I want the book to say that by leaving home bad things will happen--just as I am not trying to say that by staying at home all will be goodness and light. Everyone has to make these decisions for themselves--and you never get to know what it would have been like if you'd decided the other way. I think Amy comes the closest to finding a path that works--but it's not easy to find that path.

ELLA asked about the publishing process. I did publish a number of chapters in literary journals first, and an agent read one and called me to see if I had a novel. I had just finished the first "final" draft of the manuscript, so I sent it to her and she liked it. I did some rewriting (among other things, I added "Farang"). Then the agent sold it in the first round of submissions, and I did some more rewriting (I added "Those Places I've Been"). This all sounds so simple and easy--but I'd been through this process before when it did not result in the happy outcome! This is my first book published, but it is the fourth one I've written. One had an agent, and two others never did. So I realize that I was very, very lucky with this book!

Leslie P
October 14, 1999 - 11:26 am
FRAN asked why Amy stayed in Thailand. I'd be interested to hear what other people say--my intention was that she stayed because she realized she wasn't getting what she wanted from her mother (Ginger hadn't changed) and Amy still was not able to accept that no matter how far she away she was, she was still part of this family. And it was the only place and time she had to herself--her only chance to try to learn who she is, what family meant, what it meant to leave home.

CHARLIE, I like your musings on truth and fiction. I, too, want books to be real. It's disorienting for me to read a book by someone I know, wondering what parts really happened, what parts didn't. The writer Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried") said, "Just becuase something didn't happen doesn't mean that it's not true." In an interesting twist, he has denied saying that. (The saying was printed on a T-shirt at a writers' conference that he taught at.) ... And I will probably live to regret this development, but I have become somewhat attached to the Boston Red Sox--I'm really on Orioles fan, but I don't see them heading to the post-season anytime soon! GO SOX!

I will be out-of-town until Monday--talk to you then!

betty gregory
October 14, 1999 - 12:25 pm
Leslie----Your words "that everyone is flawed" begins to ring true around age, what, 40, 50? That life is mostly a jumble of shades of colors, almost no black or white, good or bad, either-or. Realization of these shadings brought such a deep sigh of relief from me when I finally did "see" it, still does when I run into it. I may wish Ginger could have pulled off her leaving home in some glorious, mature way---but my leaving has had its own ups and downs, so in a deeper way, it is comforting right alongside being frustrating.


October 14, 1999 - 08:24 pm
Leslie - When I think of “first novels” I think of first novels written. Obviously that’s probably never the case. Your fourth! (My last baseball game this year was the Orioles…)

Ginger, back in Detroit to tell her mother she is divorced, says that she never could relax when back home in Detroit.”I could only fight or give up, the only two options a child has.” What do you think she meant by that? Is it true that when arguing with your parents for instance, those are really your only two options? Either to fight or to give up? It’s an interesting thought. I’m sure that for some people maybe that is the only way they can interact with their parents under conflict.

And that scene over breakfast the next morning. Isn’t breakfast the warmest family meal when visitng home? Better than dinner!

Andrea Flannery
October 16, 1999 - 06:48 am
Darn! I just completed a long dissertation (it seems) on choices and contrasts and I LOST it-- must be in cyberspace blowing around with Irene. I was remarking how the entire book was wrapped up for me in Leslie's description of Helens bedroom. The "white" bedspread is sad against the darkness, white curtains seem like ghosts." The mirror reflected darkness, stillness, quiet, all thrown back on itself- she says. The contrasts are brilliant! Helen felt it "was wasteful" to burn a light for no reason. She says" the exotic place I know is always dark and quiet in the middle of my TOO-BRIGHT day." So sad, so bleak, as she says there's No easy way beyond darkness. My favorite sentence, in the book, Leslie, is -"There's no easy way beyond darkness even if she pushed the white walls aside, there'd be only more darkness." I LOVE that!! The contrasts! The grey skies and the description of the sky slowly turning dark as Helen watched Ginger pack. That is just how I felt when my daughter packed to leave for college-- dark, dismal, empty. Leslie tells us that everything they held dear could disappear in a tiny piece of a minute. Very profound and OH SO TRUE...

Oh by the way all of you SOX fans I have 1 thing to say ----GO YANKEES

October 16, 1999 - 10:38 am
ALF - OUCH!!! That hurt!

Leslie's WHOLE riff on rooms just blew me away. I loved this book and that was the best thing in it. Not finished with that - back later. (an historical event is unfolding in Boston today!!)

betty gregory
October 16, 1999 - 12:23 pm
ALF---I know where your lost post is. It's with mine out in cyber-lala land. Mine of 2 nights ago had focused on the children of people unable to express pain, living reduced lives. There's a theory that proposes that those children "carry" the parent's unexpressed pain. I wondered whether Ginger carried the unexpressed pain and reduced life of her mother Helen. And, in a more global sense, if Ginger, then Amy, carried generations of women's unexpressed pain and circumscribed lives. I haven't spent that much time thinking about that theory, but every now and again, I wonder about the difficulties of recent generations of women who, maybe for the first time in their families, begin to claim more space, more wholeness for themselves. I haven't explained that very well, but I only get glimpses of the concept. It has to do with the unhappiness of staying the course (Helen) and breaking away (Ginger). Neither is an easy path.


betty gregory
October 16, 1999 - 12:36 pm
This computer is driving me crazy. We're in the rabbit-ears, hit-it-on-the-side era of PC's, I'm convinced. AND AT THESE PRICES!!! I have to "disconnect" the modem, type up the post within the bookgroup box, then "reduce" the Seniornet window down to the bar, then start up the internet again, hold my breath---hope it doesn't crash, then enlarge the Seniornet window that has been waiting, hold my breath, then click on "send this message", hold my breath, see if it downloads.

October 16, 1999 - 05:03 pm
Readerdoc, that doesn't sound right, I don't understand, poor Charlie can certainly sympathize tho I'm sure. I don't have a "Send this message" button. What kind of computer are you running? The disconnect of the modem puzzles me, I wish I could help.

Have you tried the Computer problems section?


Andrea Flannery
October 16, 1999 - 05:59 pm
Another lost post!! It's a good thing tho, I was picking on Charlie re. the Sox and it winds up the historical even has become a hysterical event for me. Oh brother, am I humble tonight, Chas. My other post was to ask Leslie IF her many references to ICE was an intentional one, or if I just oned in on it too much? It is irrelevant, tho, as I LOST MY POST ANYWAY. The ice references are numerous throughout& I am curious about it. Ginger hates the clanking of the pipes that whe heard in AA, reminding her of how badly she wanted a drink; Helen was told to put ice in her mouth when she felt faint, Ginny used ice for her headaches (now that's irony.) the rosary beads were described like ice chips melting in the palm of her hand. The chairs were hard and cold! Leslie says "the liquid felt cold and sharp like ice. Time melts away as pleasantly as ice in a cold drink,the crack of the "Ice" tray was heard. Lots of stuff here Leslie. Ginger WAS an iceberg--who broke up & floated away from her glacier (family.) I'm curious if you mean this metaphorically? Ice as in cold & distant, lacking warmth? Much like the relationships in our novel. Interesting thought Betty, how children might carry parents unexpressed pain. Deep and thought provoking. Most times I feel that this book has been a great catharsis for me then--- up pops a question such as the one Betty raises.

October 17, 1999 - 06:41 am
Betty: I think you expressed your theory about “people unable to express pain, living reduced lives” very well. I’m wondering if Leslie was thinking along the same lines – and emphasizing the extreme difficulty of working through that pain – a process so difficult that it is generation – it can take generations to work it through. As you say, there’s Helen, “staying the course”, although claiming a beachhead in the new “space”, glimpsing the possibilities offered through difficult choices, but ultimately giving herself up in a sort of self sacrifice. Ginger, the damaging “breaking away”, leaving her in a directionless drift, but free. Finally leaving it to Amy to claim a ”meaningful” space for herself- but what a journey. And it is she, I think, who finally realizes that the journey has been log, beyond her years – and the debt she owes to those who journeyed before. Allowing her to finally come home – really come home.

Betty: Computers. A gift and a curse. Nothing is more maddening than technology that promises so much – and fails to deliver much of the time, as if to say “I’ll show you who’s boss here!”

Oh, GOOD post ALF! I missed some of those references (ice). Yes, I think the metaphorical iceberg breaking away is right on (and apropos to current events!). And of course, the time/ice reference is terrific. Can’t wait to hear what Leslie has to say about that. So many references can’t possibly be sub-conscious can they?

October 17, 1999 - 07:37 pm
Wigalia: The Vigil - We were talking before about Helen “staying the course” , and how subsequent generations expanded their lives and their possibilities. Interestingly, here Helen says ”All the questions I was afraid to ask ended up in my daughter, Ginger…” Afraid to ask. Ginger, the next generation had no fear of those questions. It was a one-way ticket out of town at first opportunity. But it was poignant how Ginger, at her first Christmas Eve away from home reached back to the family. Acknowledging the powerful pull of family despite her resolve to get away from the place where there is always someone to say “no” and “can’t” and “don’t.”

Andrea Flannery
October 18, 1999 - 06:50 am
Charlie: Allow me to pass on my condolences to your SOX. Naughty boys! As an X New Yorker, I can't help but yearn for a subway series.

Wigilia- we have returned to hearth and home, in the kitchen again, love enveloping the family - "May your deepest wishes come true" --do- for Helen, as she answers Gingers call. This is so sad! Ginger yearning to be there, sharing the OPLATEK and finally admitting she really does wish to be home, before disconnecting, once again from her family. Moments of sweet sorrow. Silence- another theme throughout the novel manifests itself; "There was a silence that probably wasn't as long as it felt." Later on, Amy feels silence in Thailand amidst the temple ruins--thousands of yrs. of impossible questions and answers. Impossible questions and answers or PEARS ON A WILLOW TREE! Can we feel silence or is it merely a perception ??

Leslie P
October 18, 1999 - 09:22 am
Hi Everyone--Sorry this has to be so quick.....

I love the theory that children carry their parents' unexpressed pain; that was definitely one of the points I was trying to get across. Parents invest so much of themselves in children--their hopes and dreams--it seems natural that there might be unconsious pain as well. And I'm intrigued by the expansion of that idea into women and the progression through the generations. I'm sure that's one of the things I found appealing about writing about several generations of the same family--how each woman impacted the next and the next--and will continue to do so, perhaps endlessly, even if it's only something as simple as baking a certain type of bread the same way. Utlimately there is no escape.

And, again, this discussion has been so illuminating to ME. I don't remember consciously thinking, "Ice" as an ongoing image or a metaphor. (Certainly not the way I knew I was working with the idea of time and photographs, for example.) Yet there it is--a beautiful summary of numerous and varied ice allusions! Fascinating. The writer Francine Prose is quoted as saying, "Admit you are powerless over the word." I think that's true. The subconscious works harder than we know (or even want to admit!). I do find myself using a lot of the same images/words in my writing--blue skies, silence stretching thin, lots of people drinking. That probably means something, too!

Can't wait to see what else you find! I'll be out-of-town until Oct 25--have a good week! Leslie

October 18, 1999 - 07:59 pm
Back at the Christmas Vigil supper: Didn’t you get the feeling that Gingers’ not being home for the first time marked the beginning and the end of something? Helen seems to understand that she’s really gone now, out on her own – off to “follow the stars through that desert of hers”. Likewise Ginger seems to understand that the break is complete and there’s no turning back. Like I said before – a very poignant scene. The warmth of the supper is palpable, as is the loneliness of Ginger.

Leslie noted her penchant for using “a lot of the same images/words in [her] writing—blue skies, silence stretching thin…” Re-reading Wigalia, at the end of her phone call, Ginger closes her eyes: “There was the blue sky above her, the deep silent desert…”

October 19, 1999 - 08:12 pm
The Wanting-To-Be-An-Artist-Summer - Interesting and rather complicated exploration of bigotry and identity here. A young black girl tells “Polack” jokes to Amy – Ginger lets Amy know that one can’t really escape one’s identity and “who we are.” Some connections just can’t be severed. Ginger doesn’t expect Amy to understand, but Amy paints Untitled XXX. She understands.

Andrea Flannery
October 20, 1999 - 12:46 pm
I really loved the contrast in the "artist" chapter. Amy connects the colors with her moods and thoughts! Everyone reveals their bigotry- even the little black Lois, belittling the Polish. Oh how true to life this scene is. I liked where Amy let the "sun burn deep into her skin", as she felt how important everything was, that Lois said. She's just a child TRYING to connect.. UNTIL--- Lois meets Ginger and immediately understands the situation. Amy, in denial now, tells Lois "It's different. Your dad is different. She's different." THE CEMENT SPARKLED under her feet.Poor Amy...

The artist in Amy pictured violet,deep blue , rust, colors dropping away, FADING. Amy says here she was as far away as forever, as she witnesses the family's obvious prejudice?

I feel that untitled XXX portrays her confusion. She is trying so hard to make the squares appear exactly the same. "BUT THEY'RE NOT.'" she checks everything, but she still doesn't Get it.

October 20, 1999 - 03:31 pm
Alf - Nice image ending this Chapter also….Ginger nods her “nod for when she didn’t want to be bothered.” Amy nods her nod “like [she] understood.” They sit in silence. In the dark, Not really connecting. Like the fireflies, tiny solitary beacons in the night, flashing, searching for…[recognition? connection?]. “Alone against the dark.”

Ella Gibbons
October 21, 1999 - 01:50 pm
Readerdoc made the comment "everyone is flawed" - it took many years for me to realize this; having lived through a very abnormal childhood, I longed for the "normality" of hearth, home, roots, picket fence, and father-knows-best type of family life.

There is no such thing as "normal" - everyone is flawed, every life is unusual - the stuff of novels - who could ever write a book about ordinary, common people - furthermore, who would read it?

Leslie - thank you so much for answering my questions about the journey of this book and, as you can see from this discussion, we are all so grateful that the journey ended so successfully. It was a delight to read and you have put into it such wonderfully human characterizations that each of us can see ourselves or some friend portrayed, which to me is the mark of a very good author.

My book was due back at the library, with a few others which were not so well attended by me. The trip to Michigan was lovely as the trees were displaying their beautiful fall clothing for us to admire.

Before I go on to another discussion here on Seniornet, again I wish to say thanks for so graciously taking your time to answer our questions and commenting on your work, thanks also to your mother for her appearance and we do hope that both of you will visit often, pick a book among our many choices and join in the discussion. You'll make many friends and the stimulation of a good conversation cannot be overstated.

Thanks, Charlie, for being such a grand host and everyone else for a great exchange of views on Leslie's book.

October 21, 1999 - 05:17 pm
Ella: Thanks for joining in here. I enjoyed your comments - and your kind words
What a terrific idea to have Helen describe her house this way:
The front entry way like New York City: “the place you pass through before entering the real thing, the real life, the house. And there’s that silence again – Helen listening to it in her empty house. Her husband has just passed away, and you can imagine her moving from room to room in the empty house.
The living room like California: The sunny room. The place where company gathers. Funny how when there’s big gatherings at our house, all the men tend to cluster in the living room (where the big tv is- some game on). Meanwhile all (most of the women are in the kitchen talking about what they talk about…
The dining room like New Orleans: “the place we all end up eventually.” I loved this one – where the men and women meet – where the living room and the kitchen come together. I don’t remember if this was one of Leslie’s short stories, but it should have been. A chapter that can be read over by itself. Really nice.
The bedroom like Hawaii: the room that we spend nearly a third of our life in – in the dark. That is pretty exotic. The place where “darkness flows like lava.” The place where life begins.
Helen, thinking about the time Ginger was packing to leave, remembered how she was unable to stop her – even unable to ask her not to go. Basically telling Ginger that if she really wanted to go there was no way Helen could stop her. She thought her mother would probably have the right words to say – remembered the times that she said things to Ginger and realized how much like her mother she sounded. Later, in a reversal, she hears her mother utter the same words to her that she had uttered to Ginger years before. Again, that circular feeling – things in the family seem to circle back in on themselves. Those recognitions of family-arity. She mops on Mondays and Thursdays. “Those are the days my mother mops, the days my sisters mop.”

betty gregory
October 22, 1999 - 05:23 am
Ella---Actually, it was Leslie, our author, who introduced the idea of everyone being flawed. (I forget this too often to bring it up first.) Betty

Andrea Flannery
October 22, 1999 - 11:39 am
Chas: Despondent, Helen reflects back on when HER mother traveled around the world to come to a place she'd never seen and built a life of her own, out of nothing. Yet, she recalls asking her mom how big an ocean was, and was told "If we knew how far from one side, we wouldn't leave." With the mention of all of these different places, she only wants to be some place ELSE! She's afraid to go there, afraid to leave, so vicariously -- she moves from room to room, dubbing each a different city, another place. She stays where she's comfortable (physically) altho she does pack- daily , comparing her suitcase to her mother's old trunk when she left Poland. I loved the words --- Helen thinks "everything could disappear in one tiny piece of a minute."

Charles how perfect the "family-arity." Terrific! At the end of the chapter we read "The kithchen is the kitchen." It's where we ask questions and where, maybe we find answers.

Andrea Flannery
October 22, 1999 - 01:58 pm
How honest and admirable of you-- admitting that you too often forget that everyone's flawed. I do too! Perhaps by acknowledging and admitting to our intolerances, we ALL can make the world a better place.

Ella: Thanks for joining us and sharing your thoughts.


October 22, 1999 - 06:52 pm
Andrea - I hadn’t thought of the vicarious aspect of her room naming. I still smile when I think of how Leslie wrote about the Kitchen, the Living Room and the Dining Room. That just seems so universal, doesn’t it? Do you get the feeling that Helen is dying here? Lost the will to live as it is said so many do when their long time spouses pass away?

Andrea Flannery
October 23, 1999 - 06:33 pm
Chas: Helen's NOT dying here! This is where she's been- forever!

OR -- IS she dying here?? Isn't it where she's ALWAYS been. That's the point of the traveling all around-- the kitchen, New Orleans, Arizona, the bedroom, to the ocean, etc,-- all of those "places" --just to be somewhere else. She's trying! She' s reaching. Her husband is gone and so is she. Her role is now unfullfilled. WHAT should she do, she wonders and WHERE shall she go? she gets no answers & The silence remains!! Wasn't that the point of that chapter? To live vicariously?

My Yanks are playing, so I'll talk to you later.

October 23, 1999 - 08:23 pm
Well…My Red Sox AREN’T playing so I’ve got time on my hands!!

Helen says the front entryway to her house is like New York City in that it’s a way station – the place you pass through on your way to your true destination. Like her mother and father who passed through on their way to Detroit to start their new life in America. The real thing, the real life is the house. Only now the house no longer lives for her: her husband is gone, her daughter has moved away, and now in place of the life the house has always held for her is only silence, or at best the empty words of well meaning relatives. But I guess when she says that she doesn’t really know much at all – she has never left Detroit after all – the only thing she has ever known is her home - she is saying that her whole world has been this house and the people in it. But doesn’t she seem to be fondly making one last tour of her world? A goodbye of sorts? She has bought and packed her bags for some purpose after all. Isn’t she a visitor suddenly in her California – a widow, and alone? Where she has always been comfortable in her California sun she is suddenly out of place. Shouldn’t it be “somewhere else”? What’s the point of planting the garden she, and all the family has always had now that there’s only her? Helen knows “that when a daughter left, the mother died.” And New Orleans is the meeting place, the celebration place but lurking always is the danger, the wind, the flood that sweeps everything away. “That what you value most might suddenly be gone…just like that…everything they had could disappear in one tiny piece of a minute.” I think she’s talking about loss here…and the end. I think she’s packed to go.

October 24, 1999 - 06:46 pm
When I first read (in Things Women Know) that during the depression, when her husband was on strike, Rose had to get food for the table from the butcher for sexual favors I was not prepared for it. It took me by surprise. I guess we’re to understand that Rose’s mother once brought home a chicken, no questions asked. What was your reaction? It’s hard for us to understand something like that today I suppose. Hard for me anyway, born in 1945 well after that era. Hard to identify with the depression and no money coming in and the children needing to eat…

But the sense of sacrifice is real. The sense that whatever it takes will, in the end, provide a better life for the children and the next generations. There is a sense also that it is very difficult to preserve the old ways in America. Included in the old ways are the superstitions which seem not to apply to the culture Rose finds herself in – or apply in odd ways. They are clung to nevertheless for the value as identity. How are these things passed along if they are not accepted? Being a stranger in a new culture must be made even more difficult by having things to pass along which may be seen as anachronistic, not worthwhile, outmoded, old-fashioned. Must make one feel a stranger in their own family.

Well – I hope Leslie peeks back in here after she gets back because I have a very stupid, personal question to ask. When I was a kid (in Miami) I remember Vernor’s Ginger Ale. Like no other Ginger Ale you ever tasted. Then it couldn’t be found anymore. Then it passed into legend. Later, no one I ever asked had ever heard of it. And here it is in Leslie’s book. IT REALLY DOES EXIST!! Leslie – so Vernor’s is still around in the Midwest?? I need to make a special trip!!

October 24, 1999 - 07:08 pm
Vernor's was only in Detroit, I thought... where it was made... and now you can get it here in cans... at the supermarket

betty gregory
October 25, 1999 - 05:22 am
I've stopped being surprised that you can get right to the heart of something, Charlie Wendell, but your language skill in making sense of it for the rest of us still stuns. Your thoughts on "things women know" go right to the center of the entanglements, stresses, tensions that families endure when struggling with identity, tradition, even honor and respect for those who came before us. How can we not respect Rose and prior generations in our own families who did "what they had to do" for survival. Yet, how can we not understand three of these four women (all except Helen) striking out on their own---although there is a world of difference between, for example, Rose's behavior and Amy's. Rose was working to save her family; Amy was saving herself.

No, I can't know about hunger or the lessons of the depression, except through the people in my family it produced. And that the experiences probably shaped my mother for perseverence through her own hard times. And, in between making jokes about her frugality, I get glimpses of the source of my own strength.

The differences in mindset are stark, however. Two generations above me is the unwavering "man is the head of the family." Abuse is not defined or questioned. In some ways, it was an easier way to live.

I'm deep into the book "History: A Novel" by Elsa Morante (discussion starting Nov. 1st) and oh, my, oh, my, talk about capturing the day to day experiences of a family living through World War II. I CAN'T QUIT READING THIS BOOK and each piece of our discussion here on LESLIE'S book Pears lands right in the middle of my experience of reading Morante's "History" novel. Each layer of comfortable life that we, here, now, don't ever give a moment of thought, in this Italian mother's life, at risk.

How in the world does this author, Morante, make the fear of what is happening, what might happen at any minute, so real. This story is a mystery story; we don't know what will happen next or how it will "turn out." This story is a love story, a story of what a mother feels for her children, what she will do to make sure her children are not as hungry today as they were yesterday, or if they are, that they will be less hungry tomorrow. This Italian mother would understand what Rose felt she must do to feed her family.

The "History" novel is about watching your child separate from who you are, not appreciate what you've done to keep him alive but you watch the separation and keep working. The child's pulling away, the restlessness, brings to mind Ginger in Pears, even though it takes place in a world far away and 30 years earlier and in a different culture. This pulling away that mothers endure. (And fathers. Fiddler on the Roof captures that.)

The Italian mother's life is governed by cultural, ethnic, religious principles. They shape her life unquestioned---until something dear to her is threatened. Rose would understand that.

Ok, all you guys who think your time is sewn up in a study of Faulkner, you're going to miss something if you pass up "History: A Novel." A few nights ago, I thought I would read the first few pages of History and a few hours later I looked up at the clock, then over at my now desperate cat. Not realizing how much time had passed, I'd been shifting the book back and forth, elbowing my cat away---he'd been climbing back and forth across the pages, talking, talking to me. When I was finally in the kitchen, spooning out his dinner, was when it hit me that I hadn't eaten either. I can't remember when a book has done that to me.

The English translation is out of print. See Charlie's link in the "History" folder to find places for quick ordering of out-of-print books.

Andrea Flannery
October 25, 1999 - 07:48 am
You are absolutley right-- I was also SHOCKED and MORE surprised at my reaction. I felt her thoughts as she closed her eyes to see pork chops, etc.- anything to feed her family thereby fullfilling her role as mother and protector.) Then I thought WHY am I astounded? Women have sacrificed like this for yrs. The Holocast is the best example-- there is nothing that a mother wouldn't do to preserve and safeguard her family, even choosing her own demise to save one of her own.

Charlie: you've done a masterful job in your interpretation & I applaud you! Andrea

October 25, 1999 - 06:43 pm
Betty - Something you said about “a world of difference between, for example, Rose's behavior and Amy's. Rose was working to save her family; Amy was saving herself” brought me up short. I’m thinking that…is it possible that the underside of this struggle to keep a family viable and alive can be the strangulation of the individual? It can be a necessary thing, but also a smothering thing. Looked at one way, you can almost see that a byproduct of Rose’s noble struggle for survival was the gradual, generation by generation decline of the lives of the women. Helen just seemed a little less alive than Rose, and Ginger a little less still. Amy needed to revive and reinvent herself in order to survive, in order for her to be in a position to become a vigorous new branch of the family tree. To be worthy of the clock on the mantle…

Andrea - Why do you think Amy refused the clock at first?

Andrea Flannery
October 26, 1999 - 12:27 pm
Amy remembered as a child Ginger telling her that she had to escape the clock on the mantel .. The clock chimed every quarter hour, "stretching themselves longer and longer as time passed." Ginger told Amy there was never a moment that she was not aware that time was slipping by & that every chime meant something was lost. I think Amy felt this loss profoundly! "15 more minutes gone by, 15 minutes you don't have, " Ginger reminds her, accentuating this feeling of loss. Her youth was lost& her grandmother was lost to her! "A clock that could chime you to death." (I felt such hatred for Ginger when she said that to Amy.) Amy must reject the clock that is being offered. The clock symbolizes the time that has gone by, the time that will never be again & the time that is lost forever. Also, let us remember her grandmother is NOT dead yet--- Amy still feels her grandmother there, smells her. How can she take away the clock that was a wedding gift to her grandmother? I can site many reasons for her refusal to take the clock, but can not find one why she would, harboring all of these conflicting emotions.

Leslie did an excellent job of putting me right there-- INSIDE of Amy's heart and sensing her over- whelming grief. We know when in Thailand, she asked for the clock back. The real symbol of family, her youth and "Time."

Leslie P
October 26, 1999 - 01:47 pm
Hi Everyone--I'm back from a great trip to Michigan...and yes, Charlie, I DID have Vernors there! It's from Detroit and is relatively easy to find up there. I can get it sometimes in my grocery store here in Virginia (in cans, rather pricey). It IS the best ginger ale! People in Detroit have told me how happy they were to see things like Vernors and coney islands...but then ask why I didn't also include Sander's chocolate sauce!? (It's absolutely the best chocolate sauce for ice cream. Speaking of ice cream--a "Detroit cooler" is an ice cream float in Vernors! Now you can see why all this food ends up in my writing...?)

I liked reading your impressions of "Those Places I've Been." Actually, I added that chapter last. My editor suggested including a bit more about Helen, so I wrote that section. Now, when I look at the book, I can't imagine it not being there. Helen was the most difficult for me--the other women's needs and desires felt more on the surface, more accessible, than Helen's. She made me work harder to figure her out!

I think Rose's sacrifice is startling--especially since it comes along when the book is really moving more towards the "modern" problems with Ginger and Amy...reminding the reader that Rose still has a few things to say! I think women continue to make immense sacrifices for their families and to take care of people--maybe not things that are as horrifying as Rose's sacrifice, but difficult things nevertheless.

As always, a fascinating discussion! Thank you for your insights. Leslie

October 26, 1999 - 05:57 pm
I know this is SO silly but I was just thrilled to see "Vernor's" on the printed page. I sometimes have the occassion to travel to the Western Michigan area and next time I do i'll be sure and bring back some Vernor's!! Thansk Leslie!
Andrea - When Ginger and Amy are taking care of emptying Helen’s apartment, I was reminded of a scene from (the movie) Zorba, The Greek - only because it’s about the possessions of someone who has died (or soon to die, like Helen). It’s much different of course, really has nothing to do with what happens in I Want you to Have this Now, but I still remember it. Someone has died and the mourners begin picking at and fighting over the possessions – it’s like a flock of crows picking a field clean. It’s an incredible scene.

I can appreciate how difficult working out Helen was – sort of the transition generation from the old country to the new. A number of ways you could go with that I imagine.

Quite an interesting choice to help Amy in her realizations that the world is not as big as she thought, help her understand her choices – a young Thai drug lord. I got the feeling that they were both kind of working out their own issues by talking to each other. Was it your impression that in the ‘old world’ it is much more difficult to break away from the family traditions than in the ‘new world’? When Amy decided to stay another year in Thailand I thought she just decided that she was not yet ‘ready.’ Or is it just that her mother didn’t ‘ask’ her to come home?
Andrea – you mentioned early on that the many references to time and its passage were one of the reasons you liked this book – you must have liked the image of Kala, “forever devouring himself”.

betty gregory
October 27, 1999 - 05:17 am
It's taken a while, Charlie, to think through your question about the possible "strangulation of the individual" to keep the "family viable and alive." First, I can't pass up noticing your word "strangulation." Of all the words you could have chosen to goodness. I can't possibly guess how that word came to mind...but you could, so I'm turning that part of the question back to you. (My tendency is NOT to see some meaning, but you might.)

Your whole question reverses what is usually assumed. We assume that each successive (women's) generation's gains of independence, strength, voice (a favorite word) is a good thing for families---maybe not easy but ultimately good, but you're saying maybe not so good for THE family, as in parents, grandparents, extended family. Hmmm.

That larger family has to start somewhere. Maybe my son will think of my mother's generation (pivotal, most change) as the start of his family.

After thinking about this in 10 different directions, I've concluded that this would be an excellent subject for a lively, noisy, 6 month seminar.

Your "byproduct" theory---Rose's struggle for survival equals decline in subsequent generations. Now, THAT sounds easy to respond to and my response is a quick, no, that doesn't make sense to me. Some recent books on the day to day work of women on the Oregon trail along with descriptions of what life was like for the ones who arrived in Oregon as heads of families (many husbands died on the way); plus the fact that within a year, almost 40 percent of the men left families in Oregon to make their fortune in California gold, never to return---all of that implied strength of women is a tonic, a touchstone, a resource I didn't even know I had. That my grandmother's garden supplied most of the food on her table for many decades is part of who I am, despite the fact I have never planted a vegetable. If she had had my opportunities....if I had had her responsibilities...who knows.

I can't get my mind around the subject as you wrote it. I tend to veer off into other issues. I can see pieces of it, though. I know I'm a better mother because of things I do differently than my mother and grandmother. Some of these differences my mother NOW AGREES WITH. In fact, some of our closeness today comes from a few not-so-easy discussions over the course of several years that changed how we relate to each other. We have a respect for each other that is directly related to general changes in women's self concepts. That I came to these changing self concepts before she did says a lot about the amazing person she is. AND WHO'S TO SAY IN WHAT DIRECTION IN A GENERATIONAL LINE THE INFLUENCE FOR CHANGE MUST GO.

Bad mothers and fathers show up everywhere. That the Pears book combined a story of generational struggles with a story of one bad mother is unfortunate. I don't think the author is saying that (expected) generational changes lead to alcoholism or bad parenting but the temptation for us to go down that road is evident in (some of) our discussion.

That makes me think of an area of research that looks at "word magic" and, in general, at the SELECTION of subjects or questions for research. The selection of the subject or question may, on its own, be loaded with meaning. Studies in the 1950's and 60's looked at various types of mental damage done to children left in daycare. Studies in the early (?)'70's looked at which treatment option worked best for "curing" homosexuality. Studies in the '30's, 40's looked at brain size in black males and all women, to try to explain low intelligence in the first and lack of reason in the second. So, what am I trying to say. Uh, let's see. Presentation counts. Subject, proximity, suggestion count. But I'm saying less than it looks like. I would not change a thing about the book....every page feels true. And I do believe we're living in the toughest time ever, that all this constant, ever present change in human relationships, including immediate family and extended family, has taken a toll that is difficult to underestimate. I like the current signs, though, that so many of us are scrambling for meaning, for focus, that we're asking questions not so different from the ones this book inspired.

I have a question. What's the scientific relationship between not knowing the answer to a question and the length of a post.


Andrea Flannery
October 27, 1999 - 02:54 pm
Betty: Good question and one that I am guilty of . Why do we belabour one moot point that we're certain of while trying to grasp that obscure, unreachable answer that we can't discern? It's as if by expanding our vernacular we can decipher & compute our responses. How's that for BS? Do I sound like I know what I'm talking about? Or that I know the annswer to your question?? NAH----

"FARANG"- Amy makes the momentous decision to leave after being challenged by a drunken Ginger, "How do you know you're not me?" Haven't we all explored that admission, at least to ourselves, if not to our parents or our children? Maybe one of them??? Leslie does a superb job reminding us of the Pears theme as we find Amy in Bangkok, feeling as if "nothing could ever reach her." Amy feels thousands of years of IMPOSSIBLE questions without anwers. Subconsciously , she is in pursuit of answers , as she searches, explores & "vacations." Imagine, in Thailand she could smile @ problems that didn't have solutions & that was considered enough. I loved the Thai who instructs her to look for things NOT in her guide book. (Pears on A Willow Tree, so to speak.) You felt Amys liberation from her family, as she basks in the dialects. She felt THIS was why she came to Thailand --"no decisions, no one to take care of." (Reminded me of the "Faraway places With Strange Sounding Names" tune, I loved as a child.)

Notice how many times silence is mentioned in this chapter?

Ironically, the opium drug smuggler handles her gently & tells her, "the world is not as big as we think." Amys wish (naivete') was to urge him to leave for Bangkok, telling him he "had to start somewhere" putting miles between him and his family.

I ponderered Amy's question for some time when I 1st read this chapter. Did no stitches make a cut more or less likely to leave a scar? I would be interested in your comments here, as this question cut me to the quick.

October 27, 1999 - 07:11 pm
Betty - My use of the word “strangulation” was meant to suggest the smothering (strangulation perhaps too violent a word….) of all impulses that are not directed for the sole purpose of keeping a family together and provided with everything they need to thrive. Meant to suggest a kind of sacrifice of one’s own desires if they seem to conflict with the requirements of the family. Meant to suggest that the very breath of life can’t be breathed for itself, but only I unison with the unit…

But no, I wasn’t universalizing, at least I didn’t really mean to. The thought came to me directly from the Marchewka family experience – at least the impression I was left with. From Rose to Helen to Ginger it seemed there was a certain degradation of life-force, of vibrancy. Only to be renewed finally by Amy. Well – maybe I WAS universalizing – tentatively. You had said: “Rose was working to save her family; Amy was saving herself.” My question s would be: What was happening to ROSE as she was saving her family? Is the family already ‘saved’ by the time we get to Amy? And why has it become necessary for Amy to save herself? Did Rose need saving except that she had no time to save other than her family?

Again, something you said stops me. I see it and it really IS true: “We have a respect for each other that is directly related to general changes in women’s self concepts.” I have seen this in some mothers and daughters that I know closely.

Aren’t Ginger’s alcoholism and bad parenting manifestations of something else? It’s the something else that I wonder about…

P.S. Betty – You’re the exception that proves the rule!!

Andrea - I know I’ve got a terrific scar on my index finger – no stitches. Taklaw touched his scar and then Amy’s. “’We are like brother now, yes?’ he said.” Both scars received when they had both run away from their family destinies to find themselves.

October 30, 1999 - 04:34 pm
Jeryn the lurker speaks! I finished this book today after playing catchup for weeks. I just wanted everyone, particularly Leslie, to know how very much I enjoyed the discussion--even though I was reading behind. I'm thinking hmmmmmm not such a bad idea! MY reading of the book was thus enhanced by all YOUR comments that I had already read!

And for Leslie... your book is just charming! I enjoyed it quite a lot more than I at first thought I would. Mothers and daughters; a subject that can become fraught with meaning for each of us who have them.

Again, thanks to all of you for such an enjoyable experience. I feel guilty for not contributing but I've been busy and never had time to catch up till today.

Andrea Flannery
October 31, 1999 - 01:42 pm
We are delighted to have you, even if you have been lurking in the shadows. I KNOW of two others who have done just that. They are a little too shy to initiate any conversation. I'm certain that any comments or contributions are greatly appreciated by our other readers as well. That's the beauty of this group. There is NO right or wrong-- only lively interaction and opinions.

You remarked that mothers and daughters is a subject that can become fraught with meaning for those of us-----

What, then, did you think of the statement when Amy exclaimed to Ginger? "You've always been nicest to people you don't know?" and then

Only a daughter would know to say such a thing and when..

October 31, 1999 - 04:24 pm
How else to end but Amy coming home again on the death of her mother to bake and weave the braids, the threads of her family together? Leaving a slice of four-girl cake on the grave of her mother. And her own little girl beginning to search for her own reality.

The feeling I’m left with on finishing this book is the obvious love and compassion with which this book was written. That kind of personal feeling usually doesn’t come through – and it isn’t necessarily part of the reading experience. But when you get it it’s a treasure. Thanks for the book, Leslie…and thanks for joining us. Your looking in and joining us here has added so much to the pleasure of this book. We’ll be watching for your next. Till then.


October 31, 1999 - 06:14 pm
"Only a daughter would know to say such a thing and when..."

Only a daugher... or a mother, knows the other well enough to know what will hurt and when it will hurt most? SOME daughters, SOME mothers... My interpretation. I had sort of love-hate relationships with BOTH my mother AND, differently, my daughter--both now dead. And that's all I want to say about that.

Andrea Flannery
November 1, 1999 - 01:47 pm
I understand, truly, I do! Ours scars are our ribbons of triumph!!!

We must all rejoice in just getting through.

Ginger has asked------- "How far away must you go before you forget?" answer--- YOU DONT God bless you all, mothers and daughters. I hope that this book has been a catharsis for some souls like myself, who felt the emotions but lacked the words. Thank you Leslie for bringing them to the fore- front, as difficult as it was.


betty gregory
November 2, 1999 - 01:04 am
(formerly readerdoc)

Leslie, I was thinking about why this book feels so unique to me. There are non-fiction books whose scholarship carefully grounds the descriptions of re