Greet the holidays with a feel-good novel about a Christmas long ago
By Patra Taylor
Softbound pp. 278
(Palmetto Publishing, North Charleston, 2023)
Sipping a cup of hot cocoa in front of a blazing fireplace offers a perfect setting to escape into One Christmas, the first novel by author, Patra Taylor. The book takes readers on a journey back to the 1930s at the height of the decade-long Great Depression, deemed the harshest economic adversity in America’s history.
Like most families in the fictitious town of Jeffries, Ind., young Annie Ghere and her family struggle to make ends meet. In the weeks leading up to the Christmas of 1933, a shocking revelation threatens to tear her family apart. Haunted by the stories of the people living in the poorhouse at the edge of town, Annie wonders what will become of her family. On the verge of losing all hope, a simple act of kindness changes everything for the girl and her family.
Rich in period details, Patra considers her dearly departed mother, Lou Dell Taylor, her collaborator. “Throughout my youth, my mother often told me stories about her life growing up in Frankfort, Ind.,” states the author. “She was such a natural storyteller. People who are familiar with Frankfort will feel right at home reading this book, thanks to her.”
The author grew up in Lima, Ohio, 150 miles due east of her mother’s hometown. Fortunately for her, a railroader traveled that route frequently, and on one of his many layovers in Frankfort, met her mother. “My sisters and I used to roll our eyes when our father decided to re-tell the story of how they met … under a table at The Cave, a notorious local beer joint frequented by him and his railroader buddies. What did my father say they were doing under that table? I’m saving that story for another book.”
Patra, along with her husband, Stephen Bucher, and their toddler, moved to the Charleston area in 1985. “We have never regretted our decision to live in the South Carolina Lowcountry,” she continues. “After all, this magnificent place has nurtured the creative spirits of many artists and writers through the centuries. I feel so fortunate to be one of the many who has had the opportunity to live here, rear our three sons here, and hone my writing skills here. Yet, my roots remain in the rich black soil that stretches across northcentral Indiana into Ohio. Even though I’ve lived the majority of my life in the Lowcountry, my creative process of building fictional stories around fictional characters and places always circles back around to where I was born and grew up.
“The bones of my plotlines are made up out of whole cloth,” continues Patra. “With the voice of my mother whispering in my ear, it’s not surprising that those bones are laden with truth. I love keeping my readers wondering what is actually true and what is pure fiction.”
When asked to reveal something in her book that’s true, she laughs. “The story of blue-eyed Jesus is absolutely true at its core. My mother’s aunt painted it on sandpaper during the Depression. I have my great-aunt’s portrait of Jesus to prove it. It’s one of my treasures.”
During a recent Sunday service at the French Protestant Church of Charleston, Pastor Philip Bryant encouraged his congregants never to give up on their dreams. His sermon struck a chord with Patra. “I’ve wanted to write novels since I was a child,” she says. “I may be over 60 years of age, but I finally did it. I wrote a novel that I’m proud of. What I think is even more remarkable is that my friend, Gaye Sanders Fisher, painted the cover image for me when she was 88 years old. She’s a remarkable watercolorist and a remarkable woman who has always strived to live her dreams. She’s an example to us all!”
One Christmas is set during the holiday season, but it is a story of hope for all seasons. The first novel in her Sister Series, Patra plans to release its prequel, Edge of Summer, in the spring of 2023.