Some mornings I rise with inspired realization of life’s synchronicity. Today is one of those days.
For twenty years I lived in a farmhouse, built in the 1840's. It’s set on a property of 13 acres dotted with outbuildings and a two-story barn, all of which compliment the sprawling white house set atop a hill in the rural town of Eden, NY.
I was drawn to this home from the moment I entered its welcoming country kitchen and moved through its three floors, ultimately exiting onto a magical wrap-around porch.
I was also intrigued by the home's owners, Clem and Mary Crowe. Together they were parents to ten children. Individually, each was accomplished ---Clem as a Notre Dame football star under renown coach, Knute Rockne and later as a professional coach for The Buffalo Bills and The Baltimore Colts----Mary as a graduate from Purdue University and a respected community activist that earned her the honor of NYS Mother of the Year.
Seventeen years after the Crowe’s guided me on my first tour of their farmhouse, I was finally able to purchase it and make it my own. Despite all the naysayers who warned me of the workload of an oversized house and acres of land, I had no doubts that I was living my dream.
As I settled in to my new surroundings people who knew the house better than I began sharing its story through anonymous letters, late night phone calls and neighborly chats. The written and oral histories fueled my curiosity and led me to independent research about my home and those who had lived there before me. And that is how "Crown Hill A Novel of Love, Life and The Afterlife came to life.
Five years later, I wrote my second book of historical fiction, Beauty & Grace. While it took two years of research to complete this novel, it took more than time to craft the book's fifteen characters that readers meet along the dank Wood Haven Asylum hallways.
Not only was I crafting personalities, I was making choices of illnesses (physical and mental), nationalities, family histories, physical characteristics and….the most intriguing element of each character…..their names.
My creative process was always the same. First I would decide why the character had been committed. Then I determined their nationality, imagined their families and detailed their appearance.
When all defining details were in place, I would google names based on the character’s gender, nationality and era in which they were born. It was like giving birth to each one of them and, like every mother, there were days when I agonized over christening a character with just the right name.
However, there was one name that transferred from mind to manuscript, as if pre-programmed from my writer’s treasure trove of imaginings.
Maeve is such a classic Irish name and the character I’d created was just that. Mother to a brood of four, Maeve’s life was defined by her devotion to family, faith and home. It was also that devotion that caused the kind women to be institutionalized with a diagnosis of depression and grief.
As I crafted Maeve’s story and we got to know each other I felt a growing attachment to this sweet woman. She was special and as I wrote of her circumstances--- locked away and never again to see her children---- I could feel my heart breaking.
At the same time, I wanted better for Maeve….she deserved better. So, as the storyline evolved, I gave Maeve strength and courage, not only to help herself, but to help others locked away with her.
And as she evolved, so did her need for a different name. Something to more fully reflect this invigorated depth of her being. And again, as if pre-programmed, the name Maeve Mulherin Dempsey came to my mind.
As I repeated it over and over, I could feel the power of centuries of Irish women who faced unbearable hardships, yet still carried on in the name of family and faith. I could hear Maeve proudly speaking her name---the name of her mam’s family as well as her da’s. And I knew it was right.
Last month I traveled to Denver on my Beauty & Grace Journey. While there I enjoyed the honor of speaking to three generations of Mary and Clem Crowe’s descendants----child, grandchildren and great grandchild.
The presentation lasted five hours, yet seemed like minutes as we shared stories of “our” Eden farmhouse on the hill as well as in-depth conversation about the state of mental health care and immigration during the era of Beauty & Grace and today.
It was during our Beauty & Grace discussion that one of the Crowe grandchildren asked me about the character of Maeve. As I launched into an explanation of how I created her, the grandchild politely interrupted with the question, “No, I meant about her name. Why did you use Mulherin as her middle name?”
When I replied that it came from inspiration, the granddaughter smiled and nodded as she explained, “My grandmother, Mary Crowe, that was her maiden name.”
So today, I share these images of Mary Mulherin Crowe...in acknowledgment of the inspiring synchronicity of my life and the blessings of being connected to so many remarkable people in this world.
And perhaps even beyond.