So often when I write, I think of Jim’s mother, Helen Tanner Giff, whose friends called her Tootsie. I used her in my book TOOTSIE TANNER, WHY DON’T YOU TALK? What fun that was to write, to portray that wonderful, unassuming woman as a criminal!
But truly, as I write, I think of her as the underpinning of my protagonists. I want them to have something of her warmth, or her incredible ability to make others happy. There were so many stories about her, her sad childhood which I truly want to write about one of these days, but funny stories, too. She caused a minor explosion in a World War Two factory by mistake; she took in ironing during the Depression—and burned the clothes; she put nail polish on without her glasses so her nails were striped.
I bought her a bedspread for her wedding anniversary when I
was first married to Jim. I wanted to give her something beautiful and the bedspread was the most beautiful I’d ever seen; it was white with loops of raised embroidery and ruffled on the bottom. It gave me great satisfaction to see it on her bed when we went to Brooklyn every Wednesday.
On a terrible August day six years later, she died, and afterward my father-in-law gave me the bedspread. I was happy to have it; how lovely it would look on my bed.
But then came the terrible realization: it was almost impossible to iron. To get the point of the iron in between the embroidery loops was torturous; the ironed part that hung over the board wrinkled in two seconds. When I spread it out on the bed it looked like an old woman with pleated face.
I sat on that miserable bedspread and cried for my mother-in-law; I cried because she who couldn’t iron, who hated to iron, had somehow managed to feed my dreams of its beauty for all those years. I rolled up the bedspread, put it up in the attic, where it stays to this day. But it accomplished its purpose: given in love, taken care of in love, it forged a bond between two women.