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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Memories Make Stories by Sarah J. McNeal

My greatest asset as a writer is my memories. It is from my memories of my grandparents and their conversations about their lives that I was able to build a foundation for my historical stories. From them and my parents I learned a wealth of knowledge about how a household was run without modern conveniences, what they did to earn a living in those difficult economic  times. I also learned what they did for entertainment in a time before anything with a screen existed and even radios and telephones were a rarity. Hard to even imagine, isn’t it?

My Paternal Grandparents, Matilda & William McNeal

My grandfather McNeal was a post Civil War baby, born in 1867. He had a well with a hand pump beside the kitchen porch. He bought a little red school house with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. He paid for it outright, no mortgage. A coal burning potbellied stove sat in the living room and heated the whole house. In the beginning, it had no electricity or plumbing. By the time I came along, he had a sink with running water and electric lights. I don’t remember him having an electric stove. He had an outhouse. Because his eyesight became bad in his elder years, he had a rope from the house to the outhouse. My grandfather and grandmother were both scholars with certifications for teaching, but my grandfather earned the greater portion on his income from painting houses. He had no horse or automobile, so he walked everywhere, in every kind of weather, even bitter winters in Numidia, Pennsylvania. My grandmother did not work outside of home in order to raise their three sons and take care of the household. She, however fought for women’s suffrage and was definitely her own person from all accounts. I never had a chance to meet her. She and my two uncles had all died before I was born. He died when I was just six years old, but I remember him and that little house vividly. I wrote my time travel story, THE VIOLIN, based on these memories and what memories my father shared with me about his years growing up and about his brothers and parents.

The Man in the Cover is my Uncle John McNeal for whom THE VIOLIN was written

Can the heart live inside a violin case? Can a message reach across time?

Genevieve Beaumont is haunted by dreams of a drowning man she is helpless to save. When she buys a violin and discovers news clippings and pictures of its owner who died from downing inside the case, she realizes he is the man in her dreams.

She travels to the little town where he died 90 years before to investigate who he was and how he came to drown that day. Little does she know how her own life will be tangled in the mystery…until she steps through the threshold of time to 1927.

She heard him take in a slow breath before he spoke to her in a more relaxed, quiet tone. "I beg your pardon, miss, I didn't mean to curse. What's your name?" The younger man’s voice soothed her as he knelt beside the couch where she lay. He wrung out a cloth in the bowl of water beside his knee, folded it, and applied it to Genevieve's brow.

"My name is Genevieve Beaumont. I was just standing at the window and now…I'm here." She lifted a shaky hand to her brow. "My head is pounding."

"You bumped your head when you fainted. Is that a French name?"  He lifted a quizzical brow and smiled.

She lifted her eyes and got a good, close-up look at him then. Her heart almost stopped beating in her chest. She sucked in a deep breath. What was happening to her? How could any of this be possible? The man holding the cool cloth to her head was the man in the pictures she found in the violin case!

She would not have guessed he had auburn hair, or that his eyes were such a vivid, bottle green. He wore a collarless, khaki shirt with the sleeves rolled up and suspenders instead of a belt held up his tan, canvas trousers. Oh, but he was handsome—so much more than his pictures ever allowed. She didn't have time to admire the young man's good looks because her mind swirled round and round with the unfathomable implications of her situation.

Buy Link:   AMAZON

My earliest memories of my maternal grandmother are from the time when she lived in an old Victorian house on a farm. She had a big green coal burning stove that heated the kitchen, which was huge, and their hot water from a tank on the side. The bedrooms upstairs had fancy iron grates in the floors that could be opened or closed to heat the rooms above stairs. I also recall all the chores my grandmother performed cooking on that stove, cleaning, washing clothes and hanging them on the line, ironing with an iron she heated on the stove, and looking after the chickens and the baby chicks. She was busy all day long, yet she enjoyed sewing, quilting with her friends, knitting, and crocheting—and she considered all that fun. She also went to visit her friends on Sundays which was a treat because they traded goods with one another, the same the women on the frontier did. Visiting was a pleasure, a comfort, and a news exchange.
I used much of what my grandmother did in several stories including “A Christmas Visitor” in the new Christmas anthology, SWEET TEXAS CHRISTMAS. My only regret is I didn’t ask my grandparents more. There is so much more I wish I knew.

 SWEET TEXAS CHRISTMAS is an anthology of sweet historical western romances that take place in the state of Texas written by veteran western romance writers: Stacey Coverstone, Sarah J. McNeal, Cheryl Pierson, and Marie Piper.
(my contribution) A Christmas Visitor
Prairie Rose Publications
Releases November 2, 2017

He left her…Now he’s back…But not for long…

Sterling Thoroughgood was Matilda Barton’s first and only love, but he left her three years ago to seek his fortune in Wyoming. And now he’s come back with a puzzle box as a gift with a secret inside. But as far as Matilda’s concerned, it’s three years too late.

Is love lost forever or does the mysterious puzzle box hold the key to happiness?


“Don’t you even think about stepping up on this porch, Sterling Alexander Thoroughgood, or I’ll shoot a hole in you big enough for a team of horses to jump through.” The woman wearing a faded blue calico dress aimed the shotgun straight at his heart…and sometimes his liver since she wasn’t holding the shotgun all that steady.

Sterling raised his hands in the air. His bare hands were practically numb from the cold. He glanced up at the slate gray sky. Snow’s comin’. Then he grinned at the woman holding the shotgun. “Merry Christmas to you, too, Matilda.”

She dipped the shotgun for just a moment, but raised it again as if on a second thought. “What do you want here after being gone for three years? Did you break some hearts up in Wyoming? Maybe you have some fathers and brothers gunning for you and you thought you’d come running back here to hide.”

Well, there it was. He’d hurt her when he left and she wasn’t about to let him forget it.

Buy Link:  Sweet Texas Christmas

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author who writes diverse stories filled with heart. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press and Sundown Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. It is amazing the progress that has been made since our grandparents' time. I'm amazed how things have changed since I married the first time when I saw a picture of a microwave and the advertised promise that they expected them to be available to the general public within a few year. Thank you for sharing your memories about your ancestors.

    1. Even since my time, Robyn, I was raised without the internet, computers or even calculators. Milk, butter, and eggs were delivered to our door. We didn't have interstate highways in my early childhood. I remember people being afraid of microwaves. LOL I couldn't live without one now.
      Many of today's advances came about because of the space program--like Velcro.
      Thank you so much for coming by and commenting.

  2. What a wealth of info you have from your family, Sarah. What a wonderful gift.

    1. Kristy, it is with much gratitude that my family shared so much of their stories with me. I wish I had listened more.
      I'm so glad you came by to comment.

  3. The stories my grandparents told show up often in my stories, too, Sarah. I've even slipped by paternal grandparents into one story--at least by name. My maternal grandparents will get their turn, I'm sure.

    1. Tracy, aren't we the luckiest people to be able to tell our stories and include our ancestors? We are also privileged to be given such a gift. I feel honored to be able to tell their stories.
      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog.

  4. Oh, yes, Sarah. Those stories told by our grandparents and those memories we have of being with them. My head is full of the stuff, too. I wrote Wish for the Moon based on my memories of my grandparents house and dirt farm. Max is pattered after my Papa. The blind man is patterned after my blind uncle who lived with my grandparents. It's the "book of my heart", and although it's never been a big seller, it got wonderful reviews and comments, enough for me to know others...readers...had memories, too. You have the gift of using those memories to great advantage. See? No one can write a similar story...because yours came from your memories.
    Great post.

    1. Celia, I know that you hold your memories of your family dear and you tell their stories within your fictional tales. I also like when you post stories from your childhood on your Facebook Page. I always enjoy reading about your family.
      Thank you so much for coming and for your consistent support. It means so much to me.

  5. I remember sitting down with the elders in my community when I was growing up, listening to their stories. Later I did the same thing with my mother. So many stories they had, and like you, it ends up in my work. Great post and wonderful memories. Doris

    1. Thank you, Doris. Did your grandparents visit with their friends a lot? I always liked listening to my maternal grandmother and her friends sharing stories. It sounds like you experienced that kind of gathering, too. I like that you call them "the elders". It gives them respect and honor.
      I am so happy you came and shared your thoughts.

  6. Oh Sarah, I can so relate. My maternal grandmother came over from England and had married a Scotsman. My paternal grandparents came over from Italy. I have so many fond memories, yet I too regret that I didn't pick their brains and find out so much more than the bits and pieces I know. But the years that I worked in homecare as a Public Health Nurse, I attended an inservice once (geared for knowing your patients better)and they suggested we ask the old timers we visited about their life way back when. You can't believe the stories they had. I learned so much about times gone by, but mostly I learned and so enjoyed those people so much more. They weren't just my patients but true valued friends. So I not only relie on family memories and info but those of all the many people I cared for throughout the years. I too remember the metal milk box at my parents back door, that we were the first family on our block that had a TV and got six stations, or the taffy pulls and walking through town with everyones' dog on the loose. Oh the good ol' days. And what memories we have. Loved your blog today as always and thanks so much for sharing such sweet memories. I so enjoyed THE VIOLIN and Sweet Texas Christmas is a must for everyone to read. I didn't want it to end.

    1. Bev, nurses are lucky because patients trust us with their stories. I have used bits and pieces from their stories in my fiction, but I've never been able to bring myself to actually write the stories about the patients or the things that happened during my nursing career. I don't really know why I can't bring myself to do it. Maybe some day...
      THE VIOLIN was written straight from my heart. I wish Pop could have lived long enough to have read it.
      I appreciate your very kind words. You know how much a writer appreciates it when someone likes their work. It's better than money; better than diamonds. Thank you!

  7. What precious memories, and now with your stories, what a gift to us all!

  8. Yes, Jacquie, these memories are precious. You have some wonderful stories to tell from your present life as well as from your past. You are so lucky to have the life you live.
    Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate it.

  9. Sarah, I was fortunate to hear stories from my paternal grandmother and my maternal grandfather about their lives when they were growing up. I've been prompting my mom (b. 1933) to retell me stories of her childhood. Although my dad passed away almost five years ago, I have a recording of him telling childhood stories when his siblings gathered a few years ago for a funeral. Until you mentioned it, I'd forgotten about floor grates in the upstairs rooms to let the heat in. We had those in the house I lived in when I was in first grade. Thanks for the memories. *hugs*

    I enjoyed your excerpt from the new Christmas anthology. Made me smile.

    1. Kaye, how wonderful to have a recording of your father's voice.
      I remember lying on the floor and peering down through the grate that led down to the kitchen and eavesdropped on the adults talking. There were certainly advantages for those grates. LOL
      When I lived in Texas (my husband was in the service in Killeen back in 1970), I used to correspond with my parents using reel-to-reel tapes. They were using my little battery operated recorder and they would use it when the battery was low which slowed the recorder. I tried to play them years later and the recorder just would not cooperate. Still, I got to hear their voices over the years. It should have made me happy, but my joy was mixed with heavy sadness. I still have the reels even though I have nothing to play them on.
      You're wise to have your mom tell you her stories. They won't be forgotten in your heart and neither will she. It's such a blessing to be a writer. Stories are never lost on us. We keep that flame burning brightly.
      Thank you so much for coming by and sharing some of your family history.