What makes a person extraordinary? What constitutes an extraordinary life? In some cases I guess, just doing interesting things. Bungee jumping. Traveling to remote places, like the South American jungle. Playing the calliope. Learning an obscure language – such as Tolkien’s Elvish Quenya – just for the heck of it. Those things can be extraordinary in that they are simply not ordinary. But beyond just doing fascinating things, a person can be extraordinary by exhibiting courage and endurance. The person who is truly extraordinary is one who is resolute and does what is right, one who is selfless. She is unwavering when faced with struggle and uncertainty. The genuinely extraordinary person might lack opportunities to travel or climb mountains or learn languages of fictional characters; but she will always do the best she can with what she has, and she’ll never stop trying to improve her own life and that of her family.
I can remember one such lady. I knew her for only a few short years in my childhood, but even that little bit of time was enough to realize what a treasure she was. My great-grandmother, Lucille Sides Gadd, was certainly an extraordinary lady. I knew her for too short a time to do her memory justice in writing. But her daughter – my great-aunt – Johnnie G. Love has honored her memory in fiction with her first novel, The Saga of Lucy McGregor.
When Mama told me Aunt Johnnie was publishing a book, I was excited to read it. I have always admired writers and their work, and deep down, I’ve always wanted to write a book. So to see a family member publishing, well, it was exciting. I immediately jumped over to Amazon.com and ordered it. I read it right away, and was thrilled. I couldn’t make it to the book signing at Reed’s, but Mama took my copy of The Saga of Lucy McGregor with her for Aunt Johnnie to sign. I proudly display it on my coffee table next to my copy of Green Waves, a collection of stories about my father’s side of the family, written by another great-aunt, Aunt Amy Cheatwood Barham.
The Saga of Lucy McGregor tells the story of the difficult life of the title character. Lucy is forced to grow up at a young age after her mother dies in childbirth. In the blink of an eye, she is faced with being motherless, quitting school, taking care of young children, and tending a household, all at the age of nine. She goes on to grow up and marry a man who treats her badly; Lucy’s remaining family do what they can to free her, but to no avail. Lucy goes on to have children, who are mistreated as well, and learn quickly what a monster their father could be. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that Lucy McGregor is one of those extraordinary people, courageous and steadfast, just like her real-life counterpart, my great-grandmother Lucille Gadd.
Aunt Johnnie told me that she’d always wanted to write, but hardly found time until retirement. And she began writing Lucy McGregor because, as she said, “I wanted to write something that would honor my mother, who has been an inspiration to me all my life. And her memory has gotten me through some really hard times. The book… is fiction but holds a lot of truths about the life my mother endured.” Some of those truths were that my great-grandmother did in fact have to quit school at age nine and take care of her siblings after her mother’s death, the later marriage to an abusive husband, and finally her caring for twelve of her own children, then helping care for grandchildren as well.
I’ve already told you, reader, what I think about extraordinary people. But now I ask, what makes an extraordinary story? What is extraordinary literature? And my answer is that it touches people’s lives and hearts. What makes a story endure is its ability to reach out and grab readers, capture their emotions, and remain with them after the experience of reading is over. And The Saga of Lucy McGregor does this. Readers hope for Lucy; we pray along with her Granny Alva that she will be all right; we want to rid her of the terrible Junior; we weep with her. Lucy touches our hearts. “I have had ladies come up to me at my book signings, people I have never seen before, and cry as they tell me what the book had meant to them or someone they knew,” said the author of her experiences with some of her readers. And I perfectly understand that reaction. Aunt Johnnie also says that Lucy McGregor “…is an inspiring story of a woman’s courage and resilience,” and it is one I’ll never forget. I feel as if I have not only read a good story, but I feel as if, even through fiction, I now know my Great-grandma Lucille a little better than I did before.
Pages: 278 Pages FOA Pages: 31,952