I think the general feel of the book, Take Me to the Willow, resonates with me because it’s familiar. What I mean to say is that I can relate to the Wright family in that I grew up in a home where there was a tremendous amount of love and laughter, but there was also distress and heartache. I’m sure in that respect, this is home to you too, in many ways.
I come from honest, hard-working, good people. My parents, as well as both sets of grandparents were those kinds of people. Growing up, my folks were very “no-nonsense”, and they wanted their children to feel loved while helping them to become independent and successful. My parents were also really great at focusing on things that mattered. We grew up with a sense of perspective about the world and an understanding of priority. I’ve always appreciated that about them. When I started writing about the Wrights and the Dixons, I found myself seeing resemblances between these influential people in my life and the characters about whom I was writing. Although the story in the book is not my story, I did feel a pull to highlight much of what I’ve learned over the years to identify as good and right. The main themes are ones that move me in my own life… themes of love, loss, injustice, forgiveness, suffering, growth, healing, resignation and resolution. These are things I connect with, the things most of us connect with.
My grandfather, Lloyd Hamilton, was a farmer, and he gave everything he had to making that work for his family. But raising seven children on a farmer’s income was difficult, so he would leave his family during the week to sell insurance and then come home to work the farm on the weekends. He did this for years. After my grandfather passed away, I found myself reading his memoirs and just being captivated by some of the stories. It was not a glamourous life, but one that centered on family and working hard and being decent. I read these stories, and as I did, I started thinking about the contrast between his world then and the world I live in today. It made me think about odd things like reality TV and fast-paced, bigger is better, wanting the constant spotlight lifestyles, and it occurred to me just how far we had come from this down to earth, principled and disciplined way of life. It’s a lifestyle that deserves so much applause yet gets little to none. So as I read about my grandfather’s life, I was reminded of the feeling I used to have while driving through Idaho where we would spend a few days every summer for our family reunions. It was the absolute highlight of the year for all of us! We spent two days driving there in the family station wagon with seven kids and two days driving home, and had three days there if we were lucky. As we would drive through Idaho, I always felt this overwhelmingly “homey” feeling. There was something so enticing to me about the freshly plowed crops and the livestock out in the fields. It left me with a feeling of being surrounded by goodness, and it felt wholesome and honest.
Benjamin Wright is a Lloyd Hamilton type of man. He’s the sort of man you feel fortunate to be connected to and loved by. He’s not the warm and fuzzy type, but has greater depth than most. He knows who he is and allows principle to direct his course. He lives to take care of and protect those whom he loves, even though most of the people he loves will never hear him say it. He doesn’t have any interest in spending time on things that don’t matter and spends quite a bit of time on things that do. I feel an affection for Ben. He’s strong for everyone else and there are many times that leave you wondering about his own heartache. Ben shares emotionally of himself with Lily. It is private, and it is a sacred space for him. She sees a side of Ben that no other person has seen nor will ever see. She knows that, and she protects it for both of them.