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American Red Cross

Inspiration

Inspiration

I've come to learn that writing a book is both exhilarating and exhausting. It's fraught with highs and lows; one moment sure it will be the next big blockbuster of the century, after that not sure if even my grandkids will find it interesting—and they love me.

Before I attended the Wisconsin Writers Association conference in October of 2015, I had a conversation with my oldest granddaughter Paige, who is now twenty-one. We were discussing 9/11 and how it affected her when she was very young. In a high school psychology class, they discussed people jumping out of the World Trade Center buildings rather than facing their death trapped and unable to escape the burning buildings.

During our discussion, I realized that my ten grandchildren don't know the extent of my journey with the American Red Cross. Some day in school, they might learn of what happened on 9/11, at hurricane Katrina, and during hurricane Sandy. It was this conversation that would be the impetus to bring the possibility of writing a book about my volunteering to the forefront of my mind.

I'm not special, disaster volunteers number in the hundreds of thousands. There are many who have been to more single family fires than I; and, many to more national disasters than me. It kinda gets in our blood and we thrive on the adrenaline rush of being called to disasters. And, we want to help. We're trained to help. I just happened to find a few moments to write in my journal every day.

I'm writing this book for my grandchildren. All of them know that I've volunteered with the Red Cross. Several marched in Fourth of July parades with me as we'd walk in front of our disaster van carrying the United States flag, the Red Cross flag, and a Red Cross banner. Others sat on the curb watching me march past. Even our youngest granddaughter at the age of four is fascinated by my framed poster of Minnie Mouse. Minnie is wearing a dress with a Red Cross on it while she hugs a little girl whose house was destroyed by a tornado.

They know of my volunteering with the Red Cross, but they don't know the extent of my involvement. Will they care? I think they might. I've decided I need to share my story with them. Because no one knows it but me.

While travelling with my husband, I was in the habit of keeping a travel journal. Just bits and pieces about where we went, what we saw, and what restaurants we visited. When I traveled to disaster locations with the Red Cross I decided to keep a daily journal. I'd send the journals back home to my family so they'd know what I was doing. Well, not just my family. I'd send it to distant relatives, all my co-workers, and many colleagues in my profession along with near and far friends. I thought they might be interested. And, they were.

In fall of 2015, when I attended the fall Wisconsin Writers Conference, I was inspired and encouraged to finally dust off the copies of the daily journals I kept and do something with them. The time has finally arrived.

So, I began. I wrote and wrote. I wrote the full history of how I started with the Red Cross, what training I needed, and about my pager going off in the middle of the night to help families as I volunteered on the Disaster Action Team in Milwaukee.

Thoughts filled my head. I'd jump up in the middle of the night to jot things down. The thing to do when writing a book, at least a memoir like mine, is to just keep writing. I kept writing until I wrote everything I remembered about how my volunteering began. Then I started reviewing my journals from 9/11. I reviewed every day of my 9/11 journey. Fifteen years later it's still impossible for me to revisit my 9/11 journals without coming to tears. I updated it into a readable format correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Then I sent it to my friend Elaine, for her to read. And, I sent it to the Moraine Writer's group I had discovered through the writer's conference I attended.

- Debbie

Next blog...
What Elaine and the writer's group thought of the beginning of my book.

The Accidental Author

The Accidental Author

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a published author...yet.

I became an author by accident. 

Writing annual procedure manuals for fifteen years would hardly qualify me for the job, no matter how well written. I guess it really started on Anna Maria Island in Florida where I was inspired to become a poet. As I watched the waves keep coming, coming, coming.

Years later I tagged along with a good friend to a fall writer's conference in Wisconsin. Now, she's a REAL writer. She is actually an award winning author. I guess you'd call her a humor essayist. She sits in her breezeway and writes about her life experiences, her sons, and meetings on the street with non English speaking strangers as she tries to help them.

At the writer's conference people would ask me what type of writing I do, "What's my genre?" Huh? We'll I know what a genre is. I'd say I'm not really a writer. But I have done a little bit of poetry. Then, I'd meekly add that I did keep a journal while I was deployed by the Red Cross after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and other disasters. Their eyebrows would rise as they'd ask "you were there?" Well, yes, I was.

I had a very busy full-time career in the financial aid profession. There truly is no slow time of year. When being called by the Red Cross, they want you to stay at the disaster location for three weeks. It's not worth the time and expense for them to send someone for a shorter period of time. Because it was so hard for me to take three weeks off of work I had to be selective with which disasters I'd respond to. Of course The Big Three were 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy. If there is any time in financial aid that is less busy than others, it's the fall. The current students are already enrolled and the new financial aid season doesn't begin until after January 1st. Coincidental or not, I was able to respond to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina in fall. By the time Hurricane Sandy arrived I was retired and could respond at any time.

Who couldn't help but respond. We were all stunned on 9/11. We watched in frustration at the slow arrival of assistance in New Orleans after Katrina. And we watched in amazement after Hurricane Sandy as the roller coaster disintegrated before our eyes and fires spread unchecked. Because the media showed nothing but these events for weeks, the drama tore at our hearts. We watched helpless as we sat in our homes unable to do anything but watch and maybe donate some money. 

I was fortunate. I was trained and ready to help. I could really do something. I didn't just have to watch. So I went. I took three weeks' vacation after each of these Big Three disasters to travel to where the events happened.

And then I kept a journal. I sent them home to tell the behind the scenes story. Not what you saw on the news. But, the journey of someone who delivered a glimmer of hope—one family at a time. As I sent these journals to people I know, some would say to me "you should write a book." You have an ability to tell a good story. I'd shrug and reply, "Maybe someday."

The journey of my, as yet, unpublished book possibly titled "A Gift Of Hope - Journals Of a Disaster Volunteer" will be shared in my blog as I progress with my writing.

Please join me as I traverse this unknown journey.

- Debbie