Chris Cruises on flickr

Once Upon a Time: How A Lot of Stories begin

Once upon a time, I went on a cruise to Alaska with my mother and sister and got an idea for a book.

We stepped off the ship in Ketchikan and onto a row of exactly 17 jewelry stores. Who takes a cruise to Alaska to buy jewelry? My mother apparently. My frugal, shops at Walmart, saved for retirement, buys almost-expired pork chops mother. Which is probably how she can afford her jewelry habit.

The jeweler, a man in his twenties named Ali who spoke with a faint Middle Eastern accent, made a point of telling us he was local, showed us his hands, calloused from fishing, to prove it, and offered me a Diet Dr. Pepper while he reeled in his latest catch.

I sipped my pop, chatted with my sister, and watched my mom drop a semester of state-college tuition on a ring. As they worked out the details of getting her ring sized, I noticed a lovely chocolate diamond, which reminded me of the beading on an antique flapper dress I saw in a museum.

“Mom, this would look beautiful on you.”

She agreed. She oohed and awwed. Then she bought it.

I felt like I should talk her out of it, but it was lovely. And it might be mine someday.

Eleven jewelry stores down, around the corner to the left, was a place that sold totem poles. My mother has always wanted a totem pole. Who knew? She spent forever in there trying to negotiate a price. My sister and I grew bored and meandered through the surrounding shops. When our mother finally surfaced, she said something I will never forget. “I couldn’t get her below five grand, so I walked.”

Um, okay then.

Our next stop was a quilt shop. Okay, really it was a public restroom (all that Diet Dr. Pepper), which just happened to be next to a quilt shop. My mother quilts. Everything was on clearance. A handwritten sign in the window explained why. For Sale. Not just the calico and fat quarters. The whole shop. My sister and I joked that if we turned our backs on her, she’d buy it.

Then it came to me.

What would happen if you walked off a cruise ship and stayed? Bought the quilt shop, moved your life? Could someone just do that?

Unfortunately for my mother and sister, Ketchikan was our first port-of-call. I spent the next six days building Siskatuk, Alaska out loud. The first of my imaginary friends joined me there. A woman. With nothing to lose. Walked off a cruise ship and stayed. She was a simple, black-line drawing. The details would come later.

“Just don’t name her Diana,” was my mother, Diana’s, only request.

Well, of course not. Diana is the woman who owns The Guilty Quilter on the south end of Front Street. She has a wicked jewelry collection and a daughter with an overactive imagination.

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