November 28 Christmastime 1945 – the final book in the Christmastime series
Hi Linda – first of all, thank you for hosting this wonderful giveaway of the complete Christmastime series. And to all the readers who have read my books over the years and left reviews and sent me notes and feedback – thank you!
I chose to answer a question I often get asked by my readers: Are any of the Christmastime characters or scenes based on people I know or true events?
For the most part, the answer is no. However, my parents were of the WWII generation so I grew up with stories from that time and I did use several details from real people and places – especially for the plot that takes place in the Midwest.
The most significant detail I used for the series came from my mom. Now and then she’d tell a wistful story about an incident that happened when she was in high school. She and a friend were on the town square when two buses of soldiers pulled up. She always used the same words to describe that scene: “I had never seen such sad-looking men.” She and her friend waved at them and the men were instantly transformed – sitting up, smiling, and waving back – until an older woman snapped at them. “Those are German prisoners!” In shock, they stared at the foreigners, who slumped back into misery, and drove away. That was the birth of the Friedrich/Ursula story. The research for that plot revealed a fascinating history of German POWs in the US, and in smaller numbers, Italian and Japanese prisoners.
Other than that scene, I combined details here and there for certain characters, as with the character of the old farm-hand on Kate’s farm, Ed Barnaby. Growing up, we had an old salt-of-the-earth neighbor named Ed. In the evenings he sat in his backyard and played his harmonica. He had been a farmer as a young man and later in life worked at the dairy in town. He was kind and generous, soft-spoken and hardworking. Back then the town was full of such old-timers, many of them with accents from the “old country” – Slavs, Italians, Irish, Poles. I remember my own grandmother speaking Slovenian with elderly friends.
Also, there were two Mrs. Kuntzmans in my childhood. One was our babysitter, the other our piano teacher who lived down the street. Many years later, my mom had a neighbor who was the most amazing baker. She’d walk over with pies, chicken dumpling soup, bread pudding – everything made from scratch. And her husband helped her by peeling apples and chopping nuts. So I fused some of those traits onto the fictional Mrs. Kuntzman.
Other bits of information made their way into the story in various characters. I have an uncle, in his 90s now, extremely well-read and well-traveled, a true fountain of knowledge with an extraordinary memory – the slightest prod sends information spilling out of him, as it does with the owner of The Red String Curio Store. For example, my uncle remembers when and where he read each of Anthony Trollope’s novels – on Guam and Tehran where he was teaching, on the Trans-Siberian Railway (the second trip). For the character of Tiny, I took extensive notes from my uncle’s memories of the Catholic orphanage where he and the youngest of the ten children were raised after their mother died. (They were not put up for adoption, but were cared for and educated there nine months of the year while their father and older brothers worked the farm). Many of the details and names of the nuns came from his stories and those of my mom. My uncle later had a friend who had been completely on his own since the age of 14 – a street-wise boy who had made something of himself. That spirit – determined and uncomplaining – went into the character of Tiny.
In the epilogue, I used another odd detail from my uncle’s life. After the war, he worked in the copper mines in Butte, Montana, where he met a German barber who had been a POW in the US during the war. I wove that detail in the POW plot.
So, though Christmastime is a work of fiction, I drew heavily from my memories, the stories of my parents and uncle, and details of neighbors and townspeople.
Thank you again, and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season!