Four generations of local women recently collaborated to produce Remembering Lela & Charlie, a new book made up of typewritten memories provided by 85-year-old Mable Elizabeth Gates. The book takes the reader back in time to rural Mississippi and is filled with stories that range from the tragic (Gates' first pregnancy resulting in a still-birth, the death of her closest friend) to joyous (the birth of seven healthy children, special family gatherings and Gates' love of baking and sewing).
Lela Rast Hartsaw, Mable’s great-niece, co-wrote, designed and self-published the book with the help of her mother, Brenda Dowdy Bell. Lela’s daughter, Emily Hope Hartsaw, also contributed. A student at the Manatee School for the Arts, she provided illustrations for this book. We recently sat down with Lela Rast Hartsaw to ask about her experience working on the book and what she hopes readers will learn from her family history.
How did this book project initially begin?
When my great aunt gave it to me I was in college and I thought, "I’m a smart college student. I’ll edit this and it will be beautiful. Someone will want to turn it into a movie; it’s so interesting." At the time, people didn’t own computers and I was working for an ad agency where I had a computer at my desk. So, after hours I would work on it. I would take what my great aunt had written and corrected the spelling, fluffed the language and elaborated where it needed to be. I just tried to polish it. Then I left that job, and all I had left was a disk with what work I had done on it and no computer to do anything with it. So it got stuck away with the manuscript and life unfolded. I met my husband, we moved to Florida, we had children, etc. And every once in a while I would think about it.
What made you decide to publish this book and how was that process for you?
After taking the plunge and writing my first book, The Adventures of Abigail Rose-Ida Patten’s Antebellum Doll, and self-publishing, I finally realized that I know how to do this. Sitting down to edit it again, I became really flustered. I’m not a really good editor. The writing comes easy for me, but it’s the editing that’s hard. Finally, I said that if this is ever going to get done, it just needs to get put out there. The way my great-aunt wrote it is that way she wrote it. It’s real.
How did you get your daughter to contribute to the book?
It was my idea for her to contribute to the book, because she’s an illustrator. She and I sat down and picked from every five or six pages, something that she could illustrate to help bring the story together.
Does this story deal with one personal experience or does it cover more?
It covers a span of years. It starts with the end of World War I and it ends around 1970. There is still a little bit more that my great aunt wrote, but it’s more day-to-day experiences.
How did your mother contribute to the production of this book?
My mother lives in Memphis, so we’ve been working on this long-distance. My mother sent me all of the family pictures, which are in the back of the book.
What was your initial goal when producing the book?
My goal was just to put it into a decent format so that my great aunt and her remaining sister and all of the descendants could have a copy of it. If someone buys it from Amazon, great, that’s even more fun. But the idea was just to save it in a format that they could enjoy.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
Everybody has a story in them. Everybody has something they can either teach or something they can tell. And what better way to do it than with publishing a book.