It’s a great pleasure to welcome Rose Anderson, one of the authors of the World Romance Authors group and a contributor to their delightful new Christmas anthology, Holiday Magic.
Rose has dropped by to give us the background to her own story, The Angel of the Westside. Her family history makes an absolutely fascinating read. Thanks for dropping in, Rose!
Thank you for having me today, Helena! I’m happy to share the story behind my holiday tale — The Angel of the Westside.
I’m often asked where my stories come from. That answer is hard to pin down. I suppose writing a novel is just the natural progression of story collecting. I’ve been collecting stories of all shapes and sizes from fairytales to facts my entire life. I especially love when older folks share their memories with me. I could literally sit for hours and listen to elders reminisce about their lives and the world they grew up in. With my active imagination and background in history, it’s easy to fill in the blanks. Each memory shared allows me to see their life and times unfold right before my eyes. I simply love it.
Like many of my generation, I grew up listening to my elders share stories. Harkening back to the days when the hearth was the center of all activity, the only place suitable for such discourse was the kitchen table. There adults would gather over ritual items of grownup conversation. In my house in the early 1960’s, these items consisted of a chromed percolator and coffee cups and full ashtrays whose smoky apparitions swirled to the ceiling.
When aunts, uncles, and their friends got together at our house, they played pinochle and poker and laughed and discussed everything from politics to the day to day business of their lives. They also shared personal or secondhand stories. I’d be on the floor amid the jungle of adult legs quietly drawing pictures and soaking up details like a little sponge. I have no recollection of ever being shooed away.
As mentioned in the Afterword in the Holiday Magic anthology, The Angel of the West Side is a blending of fact and fancy that comes from both sides of my family. In it I’ve taken actual stories belonging to my husband’s family and mine and given them new life through my heroine Ruthie Henderson and all the people in her fictional world. Because I cherish the stories I’ve collected, the words flew from my memory to my fingertips. Filled with people and places I knew personally and tales and adventures I knew of, The Angel of the West Side, was a joy for me to write. My oh my how the words did fly!
I’d like to share a few very real tidbits gleaned from our family stories. My father was born in 1913 and my mother in 1923. Both grew up in poverty and lived through the Great Depression. If you talk to anyone who lived during that rough time, you’ll always see the matter of fact of it lighting their eyes. That is, the poverty was so pervasive that it just was. I suppose it’s the same everywhere people share a great event. I’d imagine the oldest Brits alive remember the Blitz and the shortages of those times and have a similar matter of factness. It just was.
Our parents and grandparents were all products of their environment and the life and times in which they lived. From my father I gained a deeper wisdom for the hows and whys of the world. His words taught by example and through them his moral compass became my own. You’ll read his exact words to me when Ruthie describes the gleaners and when Uncle Teddy tells Ruthie of how her immigrant grandparents struggled so she could have a better life.
From my mother I learned compassion. Her stories are sparse when compared to my father’s, but her words form the rudder with which I steer my boat through life. Her kindness became my own. In many ways, Ruthie’s actions and deeds and many of the things Ruthie does for others are paths my mother actually walked. One of my favorite true stories comes from my mother as a young teen. Working in a diner, she often shared her lunch with a ragged old man who only ever had enough money for coffee. Since this a truth from my mother’s life, I let fictional Ruthie also take pity and share her lunch with a ragged old man. I won’t go into details here, my mother’s unbelievable story is a fairytale for another day, but suffice to say both men, real and fictional, reacted strongly to the unsolicited kindness shown them, and both were not at all what they appeared to be. Like Ruthie, my mother was only one person, but she knew she could still do a little to make another’s life better. Whether it was doing end of life care for cancer patients or setting up a charitable foundation for the disabled and the elderly, this was my mother’s modus operandi until the day she died.
Throughout The Angel of the West Side readers will discover little facts of poverty and making do as they were relayed to me. Some come from my husband’s uncle who, as a little boy of six, remembered scrounging in the grocery store refuse to search for the tissues the oranges and lemons came wrapped in. These would be used in the bathroom. My mother remembered stuffing those tissues into the toes of her hand-me-down shoes that were two sizes too big. The places in Chicago in 1933 are real and most of the people I’ve written about actually lived. Their names and circumstance were lightly tweaked in the storytelling.
From my husband’s side of the family, the details aren’t as rich for me because I didn’t personally soak them up as a child. However, the facts themselves are juicy and impressive. My husband’s grandfather, born in the 1870s, fathered children late in life. After working with the Salvation Army in Missouri, he moved to Chicago and formed the Samaritan Army. Like the Salvation Army, the Samaritan Army did charity work and grew in size until there were chapters in 48 states. In Chicago and elsewhere, they fed and clothed the poor through the Great Depression and into the 1950s. The General Williams portrayed in the story was my grandfather-in-law. His name was Edward.
In Edward’s Samaritan Army ministry, his wife Rose worked tirelessly at his side to bring aid and comfort to the poor. Because of her compassion and tender heart, she was given this title by those who knew her— the Angel of the West Side.
So often as adults do we wish we had another hour to spend with a loved one who has passed away just so we could ask a few questions or hear a favorite story again in their own words. Why do we not make time while there’s still time to make? I think it’s because we get tied up in the business of living. I encourage one and all not to wait. Use this holiday season to spend time with family and friends. Gatherings are a perfect opportunity to share stories and history needs chroniclers. Take it from me. The youngest among you will appreciate it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the behind the scenes peek into this author’s mind. From my family to yours, have a blessed season.
About The Author
Known for crafting characters that stay with you long after the last page has turned, Rose Anderson is an award-winning author and dilettante who loves great conversation and delights in discovering interesting things to weave into stories. Rose also writes across genres under the pen name Madeline Archer. She lives with her family and small menagerie amid oak groves and prairie in the rolling glacial hills of the upper Midwest.
Find Rose’s (18+) and Madeline’s (PG) books under both names in ebook and paperback wherever love stories are sold.
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How interesting to hear your family’s history, Rose. Your namesake sounds a wonderful woman. I’m really looking forward to reading your story in the Holiday Magic anthology.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Rose’s introduction to The Angel of the Westside. If you have any comments or questions at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!