I often joke that marrying into my husband’s family was the best decision I ever made for my writing career.
But don’t think that that hasn’t been painful.
The reason is this: the Makechnies are
hyper-critical master wordsmiths.
You make one misstep and The Professor and his posse will pounce like a snake on a mouse and swallow you whole.
The biggest disagreements between my dear husband, and me, is when I ask him to “quickly look something over.” What I’m really looking for is, “Looks great, honey. Brilliant, in fact!”
I’m still waiting for that utterance.
It took me a long time to accept the fact that proofreading my work is not something we, as a couple, can share.
And yet, I still test the waters occasionally. He now begins by asking, “Do you want me to edit this or just tell you I like it?”
Except he just can’t do that. And my sensitive feelers cannot handle it.
The Professor comes by the super-critical eye honestly. Both parents are superb readers, writers, and storytellers. As a child, The Professor remembers his mother, Heather, a precise grammarian, becoming incensed over poor sentence structure.
Grandma Heather has even taught my children well. When she asks a question like, “Who wants to go with Grandma to the beach?” Not one child in this house answers, “ME!!!!” Oh no. The correct answer is, “I do!” (not “Me want to go to the beach!”) You see the difference? Believe me, after almost twenty years in this family I know the difference.
All of my children have sat at Grandma’s feet as she taught with her stories and love of language. She dedicated her entire life to raising good children, and she loved her grandchildren with her whole heart. I marveled at the way she was able to reach into the soul of each child and fill them so completely.
Last summer Grandma Heather gathered the grandchildren by the ocean, pointing out to sea, at the Isles of Shoal off the coast of New Hampshire, telling stories of our ancestors. The woman could hold the attention of even the most squirrely child.
Here Grandma Heather used her words to comfort my boy, as he watched his sister sail away on a boat called Ocean Classroom.
When I started this blog, Heather was delighted! Mostly because her grandchildren were prominently featured. She laughed and commented at the pictures of baby poop and lipstick smears. But she also liked and encouraged this new hobby I was obsessing over: writing. Over time, I found I had procured an editor.
I would sometimes receive emails like this : “Wonderful! I could not be more proud!”
Other times: “This is not ready to publish. Go back and do some editing.”
Perhaps my favorite: “If you write the word YUM one more time I will throw myself out the window.”
I resisted using the word YUM for at least eight months.
Writers are often told to, “Imagine your perfect reader. Don’t worry about writing for the world. Write for your one person.” I have many perfect readers in mind when I write, but provided with such blunt and persistent feedback, Heather was always on my mind before I hit “Publish.” Would she think it was funny? Would my imperfect sentences drive her mad?
I’ve worked and reworked sentence structures and subject-verb agreement with Heather in mind, on consistent tenses, on pronoun agreement, and just the write blend of somber and humor.
Heather played the critic for me: an essential role for any writer. Oh, we sensitive writers need many things from many people. We need the constant and consistent praisers, but we also need the critical eye. Be wary if your critique group only loves your work – they’re not doing their job. You need someone to knock you down a few times if you hope to survive.
Heather’s praise was often glowing, but her criticism could sting. My skin has grown tougher. She was reading and I was learning.
A week ago today I sat in a church pew as Heather Hope Makechnie was laid to rest. Her death was a shock and has left us all bereft. It is words I am having a hard time coming up with. I hear her in my head, but I miss her voice.
I have turned to the words she wrote to me. Last summer:
How I miss my Cope, Nelson, Brynne, and Paige.
I hear the echoes of their voices in the house. (Tennyson does, too.)
I see their books and clothes and toys. I see the empty swing and slide. I watch the carrots and sunflowers grow toward the sun. But they are not here, and there is a tinny sound in the echoes. FORTUNATELY they are deeply seated in my heart, and the eternal love-light glows.
I pray that you are SEEING, HEARING, TASTING, TOUCHING everything around you.
I know you will come home with many memories, but I predict that the most powerful and lasting memory you will have is of each other.
I have not felt like writing anything at all. The void feels so big and vast I just want to lie down.
Avoidance came in the form of eating way too many brownies, spending too much money at Target, running miles, and cleaning the refrigerator (yes, avoidance takes extreme forms.) And yet, as always, I was drawn back to the computer. To make an attempt at words.
She was more than our storyteller, she was our family’s heart. And though she will not comment, email, or stop by for a visit to discuss the latest blog post, I like to think she’s still keeping tabs. I like to think she’s still my perfect reader – and making sure I haven’t resorted to using the word, “yum.”
Heather’s last comment on this blog was this: “OH, my heart! so much to love all in one place!”
Indeed. So much love.