The holiday season for me is all about home, friends and family. I love decorating my house with items my family and I have collected throughout our travels. The big family dinners and parties with friends make the season. Growing up, I felt a little cheated out of the Hallmark Christmas because my dad was in the military and, more often than not, our holiday consisted of my family of five and whatever pets might be living with us. Don’t get me wrong, I loved “growing up military” but I always felt sad those years—which were most of them—when we couldn’t get together and celebrate with extended family.
This is probably why I can relate to Jenna Huntley, my main character in Holiday at Magnolia Bay. Jenna is a military brat herself, a woman looking for a place to call “home.” She finds it in the small coastal town just south of Charleston, South Carolina. Magnolia Bay is the one place that’s been a constant in her life, the summer vacation destination she and her family visited every year while Jenna was growing up. Now a marine biologist, she works at the town’s Sea Turtle Rescue Center.
Just to make Jenna’s life a little more interesting, I threw in a love interest who’s actually a Navy SEAL. Jenna has sworn off the military life—which means all military men—but the sexy Lieutenant Commander is very potent. Of course she’s attracted to the one guy who she’s vowed to stay away from. Yeah, I’m evil that way.
Drew’s not interested in family, though. In fact, he’s pretty much isolated himself from relationships with everyone in his life because he fears that if something happens to him, there will be collateral damage. He’s set on being alone the rest of his life. Or so he thinks.
But I couldn’t leave their HEA to fate—or sea turtles, as the case may be—someone had to do a little meddling. I chose an octogenarian spinster for this. The character of Evie Song is named after a fan named Evie who also happens to be a very lively senior citizen herself. I try to name a minor character in each of my books after someone I know but Evie needed to have a bigger role. I’ve never met Evie, but she treats me like she she’s known me all of my life. She sends lovely fan letters and hand sells my books to everyone she meets. If anyone deserves to be immortalized as a character in one of my books, it’s Evie.
You see, Evie, and the friends I’ve collected along my life’s journey, are as much my family as the people I’m actually related to. All those holidays spent on military bases without family? We celebrated with a tribe of friends around us instead. And when we finally did get to celebrate with our relatives we enjoyed those times and savored the memories.
I hope you enjoy Drew and Jenna’s story. As a military brat myself, I love sharing with readers the complexity of life in the military, whether it’s serving in the armed forces or loving someone who’s served. Times are a little crazy right now in our world and I ask that you keep those who serve and their loved ones waiting at home in your hearts.
Grab a copy to curl up with this holiday season!
Growing up a military brat, I always lamented my lack of “roots”. I often dreamed of being Opie Taylor, living in idyllic Mayberry or George Bailey, suffering through life in Bedford Falls. Connections, shared memories of living in one place all my life, surrounded by family and neighbors who were just like family, I yearned for all of it.
As an adult, I realize the experiences I gained from my nomadic upbringing prepared me well for the real world and I wouldn’t now trade my youth for anything. Yeah, I know, with age comes wisdom. Yet, I still always wondered: what if?
Last weekend, my husband and I dragged our two kids (and the one extra child we’d taken to the beach with us) to the 47th Annual Lane family reunion in picturesque Marion, South Carolina. My maternal grandfather, Paul Lane was one of nine children born in the early 1900s to Sampson and Roma Lane. While my grandfather left home to make his fortune in that other country known as New York City, many of his siblings stayed put and raised their families within miles of the Old Ebenezer Methodist Church—a congregation that dates back to 1731—where the reunion was held.
I’d only been to one other Lane family reunion and that was as a young girl my daughter’s age. Needless to say, it took some courage to walk into a room full of strangers. I was waiting for my feelings of “rootlessness” to overwhelm me.
Only that feeling never came.
Instead, I was embraced by a room full of people I’d only met once or twice before in my lifetime—and even then it was decades ago. It was as if I’d been there all along, a part of the sprawling family tree—now practically a forest—of Lane’s who celebrated my accomplishments and hugged my children as if they’d seen them only last week. I wasn’t the long-lost Yankee cousin. They reminded me I was a South Carolinian by birth—a quirk of serendipity that had my father stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. when I was born.
We gathered in the church annex for pot luck and socializing and I was reminded that families are the bedrock that holds this country together. The reunion was opened with a rousing chorus of America the Beautiful followed by Amazing Grace and a devotional prayer. Then lots of good food. All of it homemade.
After lunch (or dinner as it’s referred to in the true South) my cousin, Cathy, took my family on a tour of the small family cemetery nestled behind the single room, original church a few miles away. It was built in 1856 and added to the National Register in 1973. (The congregation met in a log cabin for the first hundred and twenty-five years.)
So I had the family history after all; the connections and the roots I’d been wishing for all along. I’m proud to be a part of such an historic family that documents and celebrates its heritage.
Does your family gather for reunions? What special things do you do at those reunions?