Monday, July 27, 2015

A Father's Stories

Dad's Hidden Box...Stories of Love and War

Fathers and daughters have long been a topic of interest in almost every genre of literature. Fictional as well as non-fictional relationships between these family members have charted many a course.

Writer Wendy VanHatten has jumped into these often very-deep literary waters with her latest book, Dad's Hidden Box … Stories of Love and War.

In this 128 page personal memoir –available in both paperback and Kindle format - she explores the stories she heard as a child from her World War II father. When he shared those experiences, she recounts in the book’s preface, he also shared his personal treasure trove of war memorabilia.

To his war tales she adds her own insights. There were inconsistencies and, in some cases, more than she could understand as a child who found his retellings exciting and adventurous.

But that treasure trove – which she inherited - contained much more than beloved World War II items. It also included family secrets that gave VanHatten more insights than she had expected into who her father really was.

We sat down recently to discuss the book. Here is a part of our conversation:

Q: Why did you decided to write about your father’s hidden box?

A: As a child and then as a teenager, it was always a special time when Dad brought the box out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was reliving some moments and cherishing others. When I found the box again during a move, I looked through it more thoroughly and cataloged Dad’s items. During that time, I found out something else. That prompted a book…

Q: Was it difficult to ‘relive’ and then write about those storytelling days with him?

A: Some of them for him…yes. Some of his stories and memories were not good ones. He didn’t tell us the bad ones until we were older. And, I’m positive he didn’t share everything with us. As I became older, I noticed gaps in his stories. I imagine those were too painful or too bad for him to recall. As for me, I could almost see Dad approving of me writing this. It was therapeutic in some ways for me. It was also difficult remembering exact stories. Perhaps that’s okay.

Q: Can you briefly describe your relationship with your father. Did it change after writing the book?

A: Dad was special to me. I enjoyed being around him. He was the one who introduced me to traveling, and I get my love of traveling and travel writing from him. Nothing about him or the way I remember him changed after writing the book. I always thought of him as a hero…war or not. I still do, even after he passed away.

Q:  Can you give us a hint about one of the secrets you uncovered?

A: Life changing situations happen all the time. I thought I knew pretty much all there was to know about Dad and World War II…except for the ugliness he didn’t want to share.

Q: What tips do you have for other writers who want to write about family stories?

A: When family members talk about history, events, relatives, or whatever it is…take notes, record their stories, and ask questions. One thing I wish I would have done with Dad, is to record his stories word for word.

Research. If there is an event or a place a family member mentions, research it. Then, ask questions of that family member. You may prompt another memory and gain more information for your story.

VanHatten’s other books include Champagne Lies, Vineyard Secrets, Dark Legacy, and the Max and Myron series for children. Editor of Prime Time Living Magazine, she is also on the Board of Directors of Bay Area Travel Writer organization. She is also a professional copy editor.

Readers can find all of her books at Amazon and on her website.


Monday, July 20, 2015


The Mythical Russian Picnic Blanket

Folktales can be told about almost anything, including objects, items, and ideas. Take this story about a legendary bit of cloth, for example. It is fantastical and wonderfully filled with promise. But one must know what to say and how to treat this special item or else…

The Russian magical blanket - Skatert-Samobranka - is a picnic cloth that performs miracles. With the utterance of a few special words it can be filled with food and drinks. This is good news for one who is very hungry or very eager to eat and drink.

Perhaps one of the best known versions of this story is “Who is Happy in Russia?” written by Nikolai Nekrasov.

In it there are seven Russian peasants who travel together all over the country. When they met people who live in rural areas they ask them if they are leading happy lives.

One time a small bird seeks help from the travelers to save her tiny chick. In return she promises to show them a white blanket that is enchanted. Supposedly it can provide them instantly with food and vodka if they very gently and softly request it to do so.

Once rolled back up the blanket can conveniently also make the food crumbs, plates and cups disappear.

There are, of course, geographic versions. In some instances it provides only the food items that have been requested and still in others it is more like a carpet.

However, in all cases courtesy and respect are also required from those who call upon the blanket. Or else, as some renditions suggest, the food crumbs will stain the blanket and spilled salt will forever make the food almost too salty to eat.

Also, these tales are imbued with a warning about the need to take care of this very special item. Blankets that develop rips and tears cease to offer up their magic.

Related Articles:

Photo: Illustration for N.A. Nekrasov's tale.

Monday, July 13, 2015

American Folk Heroine

Susan Brownell Anthony Fought for Women

Susan B. Anthony was an American social reformer who is known for her active role in women’s rights movement. This American feminist, born into a Quaker household (February 15, 1820- March 13, 1906) fought for the eradication of slavery and implementation of social equality.

In her social activities Susan B. Anthony founded the New York Women’s State Temperance in the year 1852. In 1863, she founded the Women’s Loyal National League and collected 400,000 signatures against slavery. She fought for equal rights for women as well as African-Americans and established the American Equal Rights Association. Her credit also include being publisher of the newspaper, “The Revolution” which hailed her position on women’s rights.

Ironically she was arrested in 1872 for her campaign to secure voting rights for women. She was convicted at the end of a trial in her hometown of Rochester and even though she refused to pay the fine imposed by the court, the authorities did not take any action.

Here are only a few of her better-known efforts:

The Anthony Amendment

Susan B. Anthony and her life-long friend and fellow suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton presented an amendment to the American Congress in 1920 that provided women with the right to vote.

International Council for Women

As founder of the Council she undertook extensive travels to support women’s rights movement in the US and abroad, delivering at 100 speeches in a year.

Married Women’s Property Act

Her first time at the National Women’s Conventions was in 1850. It was held New York and she became one of the secretaries. Through it she launched a statewide campaign to seek more property rights for women who are married. In the year 1860, the amended Married Women’s Property Act was approved by the legislature. It provided married women the right for separate property and the right to enter into contracts and become joint guardian of their children.

Anti-slavery campaign

She opposed the gag rule that prohibited petitions against slavery in the US House of Representatives. As part of her campaign, at the age of 16, she collected petitions against gag rule. By1851, she had organized the anti-slavery convention in Rochester, New York.

This American folk heroine was known for her courage even in the face of personal threat. Prior to Civil War opposition to her movement rotten eggs, knives and pistols were thrown at her in the Syracuse meeting place.

She was tireless in her efforts and deep in her vision. Committed to what she perceived justice to be she made her mark on behalf of others.

Related Articles:
ElizabethCady Stanton