Penelope Ayers is a memoir about the year I spent getting to know my mother-in-law, a beautiful, gracious, lonely New Orleanian who discovered one February morning that she had cancer. When she reached out for help, three generations of her fractured, colorful family responded, and in so doing, we all experienced grace and healing.
I never intended to write this book. But sometimes she showed up in my dreams, sitting cross-legged on her four-poster bed, and she would look at me and smile. Those were the moments when I wanted to capture it all-the memories, the story of sweetness and sorrow.
So I finally decided to sort through my journals from the previous year. And as I typed those reflections, the story of Penny’s sickness and her healing, and of my own, started to take shape. And eventually the people mentioned in those journals began to talk, and then I wrote down the parts of the story that I hadn’t captured before, and what had been a series of disjointed thoughts became a narrative.
At first, I thought it was the story of Penny’s life, a story of New Orleans and the South, of a wealthy Southern family, of a lonely woman who learned to be loved. But eventually I realized that it was about my life too. “A love story,” my mother said, when she read it. It was about Peter and me figuring out what it meant to be married, to become our own family, learning how to love each other better.
Looking back on it, writing this book wasn’t just my attempt to put memories on paper. Writing this book was my testimony to what happened in me as I came to love Penny, my testimony to the ways we all changed, as she taught us to look for grace in all sorts of unexpected places.