Backstory for my historical novel
Contributor
Written by
Delaine Zody
November 2012
Contributor
Written by
Delaine Zody
November 2012

It was a gray metal file box, sitting at the back of one of the memorial cabinets in the church library. None of us who had been working on the 130-year church history project had taken the time to look into it. The box was labeled--Allied Arts, 1940-1991, but due to time constrains on the committee doing the sorting, researching, writing, and production of a written report, as well as planning a celebration, no one had bothered with a box that belonged to a long-gone women’s group.

 

My husband, Terry, and I had come late to the anniversary project. I didn’t even know that it was the 130th anniversary of First Baptist Church, where we have attended all 37 years of our married life, until I saw a request for some information about the church’s history in our local paper. The lady in charge of the work, Betty, had been trying to track down a small piece of the city’s history through a newspaper column that answered such questions. Although I did not know her, I called Betty when I saw this and offered what I knew of the church history. We exchanged information over the next few weeks and then she called one day and asked if Terry and I would help sort the photos for the written project since we had been around for so long and knew people.

 

“Sure, we’d be happy to. I also have background in design and layout so I could help with the final book.”

 

She gladly accepted the offer and we got busy. As the anniversary day, March 18, drew near, the pace intensified. This work had been good for me as I was struggling to find a worthwhile project since returning from a pilgrimage to San Francisco for 15 months. It had been my dream, after retiring from 21 years of teaching, to live in San Francisco and work for a nonprofit there. We had found a wonderful studio apartment and I had volunteered at a few organizations, but no one wanted to hire a retired school teacher. The already high rent on the studio was raised even higher, and we knew it was time to return to our house in Fresno. I was adrift with what to do now with my life. It seemed that no one wanted my skills. Every day I prayed, “Lord, please show me what you would have me do.” Then I started working on the history project. It was a perfect fit for me.

 

Although I was very busy scanning photos and laying out pages for the report that would turn out to be 235 pages long, I still had need for more photos and so each week I went digging through stacks and stacks of old photos. That’s when I came upon the gray metal file box. Pushed all the way to the back of one of the large cabinets built especially to store the church’s valuable historical documents, it had been neglected for a long time. Over 20 years.  Thinking there might be some photos in it, I pulled it out and popped open the cover. I have since said it was like opening Pandora’s Box.

 

Here was the entire history of a women’s group, begun in 1940 by six women and ending in 1991, with a membership of 50 at the peak. The group had celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1990 and that was pretty much its last big hurrah. The members had become elderly, feeble, and death had taken its toll on the numbers. There were some new members along the way, but the monthly meetings and protocol had worn thin. The group was disbanding. Their whole life story was in this box. But no pictures I could use for the report so I put it back on the shelf.

 

That box nagged at me all week. Or, rather, God nagged at me.

 

“Go back and get the box. Read through the books of minutes. Look at the program books. Get to know these women,” I could hear God saying.

 

So, I did. As I started reading, I was captivated by the women and their stories told through the minutes of their meetings. I did some online research about the decades in which they lived. I started a Pinterest board with pictures and articles I discovered. A story began to percolate in my brain. I wanted to write a historical novel, using the six women who started Allied Arts. I mentioned this all to Betty and she enthusiastically encouraged me to start writing. So, I did.

 

The rest, as they say, is history. After the church’s 130-year celebration was over and the written report was safely printed and stored in one of those memorial cabinets, I spent my days writing. God had given me a task and he was urging me on, each day, giving me ideas as to how to tell this tale of six women and the loyalty and friendship of the Allied Arts Girls. Although they became old ladies, they always called themselves GIRLS.

 

What tone would I take when writing about the Allied Arts Girls? How would I convey their lives on paper? I wanted the reader to know and care about the lives of these women. How they made their way in their town, community, and their circle of friends. What were the connections? How did those women in the ‘40s handle struggles, marriage, household duties, friendship? It turned out, that the friendship piece became the biggest part. No matter what happened, the women remained loyal and faithful in their friendships. They did not want to become obsolete, but instead to be leaving good works and good words in their wake.

 

I wanted to tell their story, although fictionalized, with dignity and respect. Their heritage should be honored. These women were there for one another. They were caring friends who watched out for each other, coming along side to help those who needed a friend. Their fifty years of friendship taught me to look around at those women in my vicinity and to be friendly.

 

I really had no idea how the story would end until one day, when I was doing yard work, I could hear God’s voice spinning a story with an uplifting ending. I like happy endings, and although it had saddened me to know that all these women were dead, I knew I wanted to end on an upbeat note. This would do it.

 

Why had that box sat there all those years? God had preserved the Allied Arts Girls’  story, and now I believe he wanted me to tell it. A few of my friends have read the story and enjoyed it and asked if I was going to get it published. That was never my goal. I just wanted to write the story as God prompted me to do. 

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