Monday, August 15, 2011

How Do You Say Love?

A Blue Pitcher (but not Margaret's)


Last week at the meeting of the life story writing group, we heard a story Margaret had written about her mother as a child. Margaret engaged all our senses in her story about a country breakfast that included milk her mother, Ann, collected straight from a cow and into her little blue pitcher. In the story, Margaret wrote that her mother is no longer with her, but her mother's little blue pitcher is.

After hearing the story read, there was much for us to admire about it; but then Sue said something that really got to the point of the story and to the point of what the rest of us writers can learn from it.

Sue said, "This story isn't about the little blue pitcher; it's about love -- Margaret's love for her mother."

The pitcher story showed us the love without Margaret ever having to write the word "love." We experienced the love in the story in a way that would not have been possible if Margaret had simply written, "I loved my mother. She was loving and kind and would do anything for me."

My mother-in-law, Phoebe, also had a pitcher that had belonged to her mother. She had told me how sad she was when her mother died when Phoebe was only fourteen. I was sympathetic for her, but it was not until the day she handed me the pitcher, which I had seen on a kitchen shelf for years, and asked if I would keep it for my daughter, her granddaughter. When she told me about her mother using the pitcher and it being the only thing she had of her mother's, then I was able to see Phoebe as a young motherless girl and truly feel her sadness. Phoebe's story was about grief.

If you want to write about an abstract subject such as love, patriotism, faithfulness, or grief, find a concrete hook to hang it on. On the other hand, if you have some small event or artifact you want to write about, find the universal theme. Ask yourself, What is the story really about?


Write about an item that belongs or belonged to a loved one. What greater theme can that story illustrate? For example, I wrote a story about a shirt my daughter wore in middle school. After she no longer wore it, I began wearing it and wore it until it fell into shreds last year. The story is about how a mother-daughter relationship develops over the years. It is not a unique theme, but the story of the shirt carries and illustrates the theme. When I sat down to write, I did not have that all figured out. I just let my thoughts wander and wrote about the shirt for ten minutes. Later I re-wrote (and re-wrote and re-wrote) the story until it worked. Just as you can do with the story of the item you choose to write about. 

NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip Pie from
NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip PieAccording to recipe notes, the sweet, creamy richness of a brown sugar base makes this chocolate chip pie a perfect foil for chopped nuts and whipped or ice cream. Serve with strong coffee or tea. Sounds yummy-ly delicious, doesn't it? But -- just wait til you read how easy it is to make! Equal parts sugar, chocolate chips, and nuts. And a heap o' buttah and eggs. Oh my!

1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell *
2 large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup (6 oz.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
1 cup chopped nuts
Sweetened whipped cream or ice cream (optional)

PREHEAT oven to 325° F.
BEAT eggs in large mixer bowl on high speed until foamy. Beat in flour, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Beat in butter. Stir in morsels and nuts. Spoon into pie shell.
BAKE for 55 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between edge and center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm with whipped cream, if desired.

Pitcher photos by Carol Newman. Recipe photo from

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