Sunday, October 12, 2014

Liz Flaherty - Christine, James Drury, and Me

Today we're joined at the Pink Heart Society by Harlequin Heartwarming author Liz Flaherty, who's talking about love, loss and sisters...

Her name was Christine Ann and she died of diphtheria when she was three, nine years before I was born. In the few pictures of her that remain, she has straight white blonde hair and sturdy legs in long cotton stockings. “I always thought she would have been big when she grew up,” my mother said. My father never talked about her. My other sister, Nancy, who was two years older than Christine, still grieves.

I was the youngest in my family. There were three brothers between my sisters and me. I was a girly girl on a farm, and I was lonely. So I thought a lot about Christine. I was convinced she would have liked me. She would have wanted to play house with me and talk about Little Women and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She’d have been a willing participant in dress-up, swinging high enough to touch that branch up there, and playing with kittens in the hay mow in the barn.

I used to pretend, when I was unhappy, that she had not died. She was not only my sister, but my imaginary friend.

For years after her death, Mom would write notes to her in her baby book. “You would be nine today…what a big girl…we miss you so much.” I used to cry over the baby book, for the sister I never knew, for Nancy who’d lost the sister she really loved, for Mom and Dad, who surely would have liked me better if they hadn’t lost her. I cried for myself, too, because I never felt I measured up to the invisible daughter-sister bar.

Years after the last time I read my mother’s notes to Christine in her baby book, someone wrote an article in RWR about wanting the heroine in books she read to be her sister. This was years before I was published, before I’d even finished the first dreadful manuscript. I don’t remember the article well enough to quote it, nor do I know who wrote it, but I knew then what kind of women would populate my stories.

They would be sisters. Even if they were only children, they would have best friends they loved like sisters. They would be flawed, often pretty but probably not beautiful. Some would be heavy, some skinny. None of them would have particularly good hair unless they had broad hips to offset it. They wouldn’t dress especially well, excel at very many things, or cry prettily. They would be neither brave nor stupid. When they sang, it would be out of tune, but they would sing anyway.


I am meandering in this post, for which I apologize, but Christine’s birthday would have been yesterday and she is on my mind a lot. I’ve only lately realized how much her brief life and too-early death had to do with me being a romance writer.

Because her story was the first one I ever made up.

She not only swung with me and read with me and played with me in the quiet of the barn, but in my imagination, I saw her as an adult whose bright blue eyes never faded, whose blonde hair never darkened. The twelve years between us would have been like nothing if she’d lived. She’d have married a man who looked like James Drury. He would have liked it if Christine’s little sister spent vacations and long weekends with them. They lived, oh, yes, happily ever after.

I’ve aged, but in my mind she has not. The tenderness, angst, and sweetness of those imaginings are as clear to me today as they were when I was a little girl missing the sister I’d never known. I still miss her, but I think I was wrong. I think I knew her after all. Happy birthday, Christine.

Liz Flaherty’s latest book is Back to McGuffey’s, a Harlequin Heartwarming release. 

Could Kate Rafael's day get any worse? First she lost her job, then her house burned down and now her ex is back in town. Apparently, Ben McGuffey's taking a break from being a big-city doctor to help at his family's tavern and reassess the choices he's made for his career.

Ben ends up giving Kate a hand…then giving her kisses…and finally, a second chance. But when a local teenager shows them both a glimpse of what it means to be a family, Ben wonders if having kids in small-town Vermont would clash with his ambitions. Or can he truly come home again…to Kate? 


You can visit her website, where she’s always behind, or friend her on FacebookShe’ll be glad to know you!

16 comments:

  1. what a beautiful tribute to your sister, Liz!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It must have been difficult, at times, to grow up in that shadow. I'm glad you made Christine your friend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we all wondered what would have been different if she'd lived. I'm glad, too, that she was my friend.

      Delete
  3. What a poignant story, Liz. I have tears in my eyes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did when I wrote it, too, and then more when my sister Nancy left me a message on FB. I don't think our losses actually define us, but they certainly do leave empty places behind.

      Delete
  4. Replies
    1. Thanks, Margie. It was the first time I'd ever written about her.

      Delete
  5. My goodness, Liz, way to reach my heart today. What an inspiration. Bet you can hardly wait to meet her in heaven. My mother's birthday is tomorrow, she's been gone since I was 29. She would have loved what you wrote as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When my mom died, when I was 32, one of my 1st thoughts was that she would see Christine again and that if Christine had been lonely, she wouldn't be anymore.

      Delete
  6. My children didn't know one of their grandparents and I think they think in these terms, too. They love the three they know and imagine they really missed out on something amazing from not knowing one of them, and they are right. Nothing can be done to change a death in the family but the relationship, in some form, is always there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My grandfather died when I was two and I felt some of that "missing out" with him, too. I never thought of that--that the relationship was still there. Thanks for coming by, Cathy!

      Delete
  7. How incredibly touching. Those we love may be gone, but they live on in each of us.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Very poignant indeed, Liz. What seems most amazing to me is your attitude -- you made a friend of what could easily have been a bitter shadow to live under. Your thoughts about her, and your imagined interactions remind me of Native American spirit guides. Christine's influence on your life, and on your writing, whether real or imagined, was definitely positive. She lives in all of you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Valley. I still think of her a lot. I love when my sister talks about her--which isn't often--it makes her more real to me.

      Delete