Pam Hanson and her mother, Barbara Andrews, are the authors of The Valentine Visitor, from the Secrets of the Blue Hill Library series.
To her grandchildren, my mom (and writing partner) is “Grandma Barbara” or “Daisy” (as in “Driving Miss,” because she was the one who had the patience to let both my sons chauffeur her when they were teen drivers), but most of the time she’s “Grandma Andrews.”
I had my own Grandma Andrews, my father’s mom, who grew up as one of 13 Emhoff children on a fruit farm along Lake Michigan. Later, as a widow with four daughters and one son, she worked as the head cook at a local hospital.
Grandma Andrews’ youngest sister, Great Aunt Carrie, lived just up the street. Although Carrie never had children of her own, she was a doting aunt to many nieces and nephews, greats included–just like Anne Gibson’s late Aunt Edie in the Secrets of the Blue Hill Library series.
Although Aunt Carrie’s attempts to teach me how to quilt and make raspberry jam never quite took, I can make melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies if I follow her recipe closely. She also taught me how to transform ordinary Bisquick into light and buttery shortcake–as long as I don’t let it bake too long!
Aunt Carrie was the family caretaker. When my Grandma Andrews was battling the cancer that eventually claimed her, it was my great aunt who kept the constant stream of visitors fed, both physically and spiritually.
When my mother and I were writing The Valentine Visitor, about Anne discovering that a mysterious stranger is coming to Blue Hill expecting a reunion with her late Aunt Edie, we thought of Aunt Carrie and how she loved to plan family reunions.
Every summer, Aunt Carrie would organize the Emhoff family reunion. Even though gatherings that large were bound to involve dissension of some kind, my Aunt Carrie’s strong faith in God prevailed. She knew that by the time everyone seated at the picnic tables said grace, all family differences would be set aside while hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad and strawberry shortcake were enjoyed by all.
And she was right.
On the wall in my kitchen is a picture of a tree with a little saying beneath: “Our branches might grow out in different directions, but our roots come from the same place.”
In our family, it was Aunt Carrie who most nurtured those roots. She fed them with her unfailing faith in the Lord, and with her unfaltering love for her family. And, once a year, with her shortcake.
Photo Caption: Great Aunt Carrie Emhoff, the author and a family friend at Hanson's high school graduation in 1978.