Blue Plate Special

Jane Starner shot into my life like a comet.  I happened to sit beside her at a Chattanooga Writers Guild (CWG) workshop a few years ago, and we began talking about writing and an array of other topics. I soon learned that she has many gifts and that she spends her time doing interesting, soulful activities.

 Jane Starner with her beautiful cobalt blue plate.  Her story begins on page 69.

Jane Starner with her beautiful cobalt blue plate.  Her story begins on page 69.

She is a retired English and drama teacher with a following—a fan club, of sorts—of former students who adore her. She's carved whimsical carousel animals at a Chattanooga carving school. She travels abroad to interesting destinations. She's volunteered at the Hunter Museum of Art. She completed a memoir titled, My Indiana Childhood, for her family. She writes impressive children's books (one of my favorites is about a mystical heron).  She writes delightful poetry that makes me want to write poetry, too. She creates bold, colorful art. She's even met John Irving, author of A Prayer for Owen Meany and other bestselling novels. I could go on, but you get the idea.

During the workshop, Jane shared with me that she regularly attended the CWG's Memoir Writers Group read and critique meetings. I joined the Memoir Writers Group, too, and had the pleasure of listening to Jane read many of her stories aloud. She's a phenomenal storyteller and writer, and still, she is an even better friend.

Jane was one of the first people to contribute a story to Project Keepsake. She encouraged me for months to keep collecting stories. And when my search for a publisher finally ended last summer, Jane was among the first of friends and family members to call and congratulate me.

Jane's story, "Blue Plate Special," begins on page sixty-nine. I've always loved her story, just as I love the woman who penned it. Enjoy this excerpt from Jane's story.

In our home, birthdays were never a huge event. No clowns. No pony rides. No parties with crepe paper streamers and balloons. No matching paper tablecloths and napkins. No upright piano—not even an out-of-tune one with yellowed keys. Instead, on our birthdays, the blue plate appeared, holding a homemade, perhaps lopsided, cake with icing and candles, a rarity during the war years when sugar was rationed. I licked the icing from the face of the blue woman before washing the plate in the sink and replacing it in the hutch cupboard.

We never questioned the identity of the stern woman on the plate, but she stared out at us, surrounded by three circles embossed on the blue. Her name, “Frances E. Willard,” was barely legible below the dates “1839-1939.” I wondered about this unsmiling woman with hair pulled into a bun. Connie said that Willard was once president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and was active in the woman’s suffrage movement. She was also president of a women’s college in Chicago and the first dean of women when Northwestern University admitted women.

Grandmother received the set of plates in gratitude for her work in the Indiana chapter of the WCTU and in the suffrage movement. At that time, activists believed if women were allowed to vote, prohibition could become law.

Perplexed, I mused on how little we know of others—even relatives. Grandmother was a plain woman who wore dark clothes, cotton hose, sensible shoes, and no makeup. For church, she added a lace collar and a simple brooch. When cooking, she pinned a calico apron to her bosom. I remember her gigantic fern kept on a stand near the southern windows lined with velvety African violets in shades of pink and purple.
— Jane Starner