It's a boring, hardscrabble life for three sisters growing up on a Michigan farm during the throes of the Great Depression. But when young Nellie, digging for pirate treasure, discovers the tiny hand of a dead baby, rumors begin to fly. Narrated by Nellie and her two older sisters, the story follows the girls as they encounter a patchwork of threatening circumstances and decide to solve the mystery.
When I woke up this morning the first thing I thought of was that baby. What a dark, scary place for a baby to be buried. So alone, away from everyone. Where were its parents? Babies need to be held and cuddled and kept warm. Even dead babies need to be buried in the churchyard with purty flowers, not off in the cold, dark backwoods.
I keep thinking ’bout the Preston’s baby girl, such a sweet baby. I held her once when Mrs. Preston was sitting beside me on the davenport. The baby kept sleeping, then blew a little bubble and later I could feel her little fart that warn’t stinky at all. All the time she jist kept sleeping. When she finally woke up and fussed, Mrs. Preston picked her up and jiggled her and talked baby talk to her so she quit fussing. That’s how babies are posta be treated.
But thinking ’bout the Prestons made me sad, too. They lost their farm and had to move away to Mrs. Preston’s parents’ place in Indiana. Ma said we might never see them again. Ma and Mrs. Preston both cried when we said goodbye. Pa and Mr. Preston shook hands and Pa bit his lip. I’d only seen him do that once before, at my grandpa’s funeral.
PARTY, PARTY, PARTY
My book launch party for THREADS: A Depression Era Tale was at the end of January, 2020. The pandemic was right around the corner, but no one knew it, so I had a traditional, non-virtual party. The holidays were behind us and there was plenty of time for planning. I had talked to a book marketing expert and she gave me good advice: the party is about celebrating the fact that the book’s published, so goal is to enjoy yourself, not sell books. I took her advice and the party was successful well beyond my dreams.
First, I did have plenty of copies of my book for sale at a discounted rate and I did sign them. But that was only a minor bit of the party. A couple of friends of mine were selling them at the back of the room, so I was free to go around and greet people as they arrived. I also took copies of other books I’d written and to my surprise, quite a few of those sold, too.
Because THREADS is set in the rural 1930’s, specifically 1934, the theme was easy to implement. I found a handmade blue print flour-sack dress online and found some patched denim overalls for my husband; we would be wearing the uniforms of farmers and housewives during the era.
I set a date and time, a Sunday afternoon, which I thought would work best for my friends. While we have a large house, I decided to use our HOA Clubhouse because parking is so much easier there. Also, people you don’t know well are always more willing to go to a more public place like a bookstore, clubhouse, or library than a private house.
The invitation was a simple flier I’d made with bright colored spools of thread on it. Truthfully, I’m not much of an artist but I found some free clip art that worked perfectly. I gave out the invitations a couple of weeks before the event.
My book club is composed of my best friends and biggest fans. I got lucky in so many ways—so many people were volunteering to help, that the book club became my planning committee. One member who is artistically talented in so many ways that I’m not, put together a whole plan for decorations. I got yellow table cloths to highlight the colors of the book cover which is gold, brown, and green. I also bought flowers and balloons with those colors. My artist friend used large spools of thread as centerpieces, and then she took many bookmarks for THREADS that have the cover art and created a tree with the bookmarks tied on with yellow ribbons. My description doesn’t do it justice; it was a creative masterpiece, and our room was so festive.
I wanted people who might not know each other to be able to interact in a friendly way, so I created some handouts for each table. One had a list of events and facts from 1934. Another was a list of foods common in the depression, including fried gopher and squirrel. There was another handout with a molasses cookie recipe. I didn’t make these handouts into a game, although I could have. But it worked anyway. People were talking about Babe Ruth, John Dillinger, Eleanor Roosevelt, and stories their grandparents told them about the depression. We even had a couple of people who were alive in 1934, who added their stories.
Refreshments: I included many homemade cookies that were depression-era favorites: sugar cookies, molasses cookies (same recipe as above), peanut butter cookies, and Toll House (chocolate chip). My friends helped me with these also. Sugar sandwiches are mentioned a couple of times in the book, so I made tiny finger sandwiches of thin-sliced white bread buttered and sprinkled with sugar. A friend had the tray and passed them out, explaining the significance. I also included fruit, cheese, and Mediterranean trays to round out the refreshments.
In my invitation I’d indicated I’d be doing a SHORT reading at a certain time. That insured that most people had arrived by then. I read two short passages from the book, five minutes for each one, choosing scenes I knew would bring laughter. Then I asked for questions. I was bowled over by how many questions people had. Because I have an academic background (University of Michigan) I don’t have trouble with public speaking or questions, and it became a lively exchange. After that I signed books and ended up with a raffle with three different prizes, a combination of books and gift certificates from a local independent bookstore. Also I gave away the flowers and balloons, so several people left with items in their hands and smiles on their faces.
Would I have done anything different now that some months have passed? I might have added some music from the thirties. That would have been fun as people were arriving, getting refreshments, and chatting with other people. Other than that, I think we got it right.
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Charlotte Whitney grew up in Michigan and spent much of her career at the University of Michigan directing internship and living-learning programs. She started out writing non-fiction while at the University and switched to romance with I DREAM IN WHITE. A passion for history inspired her to write THREADS A Depression Era Tale chronicling the stories of three sisters on a farm during the throes of the Great Depression. She lives in Arizona, where she loves hiking, bicycling, swimming, and practicing yoga.
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