My grandmother, Eva Walters, is one of my characters in Under the Almond Trees. My husband’s grandmother, (Carmen) Dolores Rodrigues, is the main character in The Aloha Spirit Family was important to both of them. This is how I imagine an interview with them might have gone.
Me: Grandma Eva, Grandma Dolores, I’d like to find out a little more about you. My first grandson is ten months old, and he needs to know how wonderful his great-great grandmothers were!
Eva: A son! Congratulations to the happy parents.
Dolores: A new baby is always special. I’m so happy for you.
Me: All right, let’s get started. How would you describe your childhood?
Eva: When I was very young, my father was a cattle rancher in Cholame (pronounced Sha-LOAM), near San Luis Obispo, California. When I was about ten, though, the house burned down so my brother, my parents and I moved to Inverness, California, where my father became a superintendent for some dairy farms. I loved roaming the countryside taking pictures of everything from wildflowers to sunsets over Tomales Bay, and I loved reading in the orchards.
Dolores: I was born in Makaweli (pronounced Ma Ka WAY lee), on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. I don’t remember my mother at all because she died when I was very young. My father, brother and I moved to Honolulu, where I grew up. I had to work hard for the family I stayed with when my father and brother went to the mainland. I never really had any play time to myself. I loved music, though. Still do.
Me: So you each had one brother? Tell me about him.
Eva: My brother Carl was younger than I, and quite the pest. He was the one to carry on the VanValkenburgh family name. He never had any children, though, so that branch of the family ended with him. I had a son, though, to carry on my husband’s family name. Legacy is important.
Dolores: My older brother moved to California with my father when I was young. I didn’t know him at all growing up. When I was an adult, we reconnected, but by then he was married to a shrew of a woman who hated me. I was content with my daughters.
Me: How much schooling have you had? Did you enjoy school?
Eva: My mother was a teacher like her sister. Aunt Emily hated teaching, but my mother loved it. She taught Carl and I at home. I didn’t go to public school until I was older. I always loved reading. Mother said I always had my nose in a book.
Dolores: I went to school through sixth grade, like most kids did then. I had to help at home and school just got in the way. I was never good at school, and I was always jealous of Alberto, who often cut school to surf at Waikiki.
Me: Where did you learn most of your skills and other abilities?
Eva: I taught myself how to take photographs, although my Aunt Emily bought my first camera and encouraged me. I was never much of a housekeeper, much to my mother’s dismay. She said I was too much of a dreamer.
Dolores: My house is always spotless! I learned everything I know from my hanai mother, the woman my father left me with when he went to the mainland. I didn’t appreciate what she taught me until I was married with a family of my own. At the time, I thought she was just mean.
Me: When did you have your first kiss, and with who?
Eva: Real kiss? Not in a dream? That would be with my Teddy, after the Great War, when I met him for the first time after writing to him for years. Not at our first meeting, of course, but soon after that.
Dolores: Oh, it was a beautiful day at Hanauma Bay. Manolo dragged me into the surf where he’d been swimming with his brothers. I screamed not to get my hair wet and he just pulled me close and kissed me. It was so romantic.
Me: What is one important idea you would like to pass on to my grandson?
Eva: Family is of utmost importance. Knowing my ancestors and their stories inspired me to live my best life. I hope he honors the legacy.
Dolores: Yes, family. They will support you through your struggles and celebrate your victories. I’d like my great-great-grandson to be surrounded by family love.
Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).