Three Women Who Shaped Me: A Teacher, An Officer’s Wife and A Plucky, German Grandma
August 14, 2022. My non-fiction book titled “Jigsaw and Jane: Thirteen Years of Murder and Mayhem with Badge Number One,” which chronicles my thirteen-year crime-solving journey with Detective John “Jigsaw” St. John, targets many audiences – middle-class men, readers of memoir, mystery, teens and law enforcement. But the primary market is women.
Which brings me to this question: What are the likely experiences and interests of women who will read my book? Do they enjoy traveling? Do they have kids? Do they belong to clubs? Are they active (or even interested) in politics and social media?
I almost always found a connection in my favorite books between the author and me. Maybe we connected through vividly written scenes and experiences. Or maybe through artfully chosen words or revelations that pulled me into the story like – I’ve felt that. I believe that. I think that’s true, or it’s utter garbage. But it’s interesting. The author’s reality became my reality.
Which made me appreciate three women who helped me find my voice: My mother, Katherine Gaffney. My mother-in-law: Adria Howatt. And my husband’s grandmother: Lena Wucherer.
Each of these women faced hardship, adversity, and challenges with grit and determination. They created a life that had meaning and purpose. They taught me lessons I could not have learned any other way than by observing them, listening to them, and being part of their lives.
Introducing Kay, Adria and Lena.
Kay Gaffney: When I asked my mom what she considered the “all-is-lost-moment” in her, she leaned back and said, “The day I filed suit for divorce after twenty-three years of marriage. I had no idea what Henry and I had or what we owned. I wound up with a house with a mortgage, five-hundred dollars, and two hundred dollars a month to raise three children. I had to swallow my pride, take in renters and babysit for the friends I used to party with. Add to that, it was my senior year in college, so I had big tuition bills. I spent eight dollars a week on food, and sometimes I was so tired I couldn’t eat.” She graduated with a Masters in Education.
Adria Howatt: Adria and I seemed to be from two different worlds at the beginning of our relationship. For the entirety of her married life, she was the support for her ambitious Marine Corps husband, who rose through the ranks to become Colonel at thirty-nine. Adria raised their four children and was “Mother Hen” to officers’ wives as they settled into new quarters and new lives. The Howatt’s moved from base to base, quarters to quarters over twenty times, and if that isn’t enough to make anyone’s head spin, imagine what it must have been like sending a husband into war: the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945 (Saipan, Iwo-Jima, Tinian), China, 1949, Korea, 1964, then Viet Nam, 1969. Adria – the Anchor. She taught me how to mix being Number Two with style and graciousness, but when the “going got tough,” she met it with fierce ferocity.
Lena Wucherer: My memories of Adria’s mother, Lena Wuchrer, are of a warm-hearted, tough-as-nails, short, stocky German woman, orphaned at age twelve and raised by a loving family as their domestic servant. Lena met a newly immigrated German baker with the same last name, married him, and they opened The Golden-Brown Bakery in San Francisco. Lena managed the staff, the payroll, and the bakery. Willhelm baked delicious breads, rolls, cakes, pastries, coffee cakes. She taught me discipline, generosity, and how to stare adversity in the face.