Remembering Delaware Fondly

‘When you finally go back to your old home, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood.’–Sam Ewing

calm body of water near rocks and trees during day
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

When we first learned we’d be moving from North Carolina to Oregon back in 2013 for MarshFox’s job, we planned our trek across America to accommodate stops to see all our friends and family. With him being gone so much during the peak of the Middle East campaigns, and I’m talking years not months, trips to our childhood homes had been few and far between. Add on the fact we knew being 5000 miles away from one family and close to 3000 away from the other once we were relocated, trips might be infrequent.

I think most of my Facebook followers at that time knew about my plan to “hit the shelves across America” on my little trip and make sure my book, titled then The Executive Officer’s Wife, was in as many book stores and on as many library shelves as possible before I hit the Oregon state line with plans to blanket Oregon and Washington when I was settled a bit. (Bear in mind, this was a few years prior to my sabbatical from the publishing world). Upon talking to a few librarians, I soon discovered my Delaneys of Delware series was more than welcome to join The Executive Officer’s Wife on four shelves, the first being in my husband’s hometown of Seaford, Delaware. The Delaneys of Delaware books are set in Seaford and the surrounding area, some key landmarks in the books being mentioned by name, others serving as inspiration for settings and backdrops. So, it was with great enthusiasm the library staff said yes to the books being sent as soon as I could get them there.

The one mar on this fantastic first stop along the road across country? The library my husband had described to me and was so excited to revisit doesn’t exist anymore. Apparently, while we marched around the globe, time marched on at home and there is a nice new library in its stead built across the street from the Ross Mansion, once home to Governor William Henry Harrison Ross, one of the most popular governors in Delaware history. He was at one point smuggled out of the country with a federal warrant on his head. (That’s another story for another day.) The grounds of the mansion are beautiful and the historical significance is both entertaining and educational. You can find out more about Ross Mansion here.

While Ross Mansion is a fascinating topic, I sort of wandered away from today’s blog subject. Now we’re back…the library. It was disheartening for my husband to realize the Seaford of his childhood is fading away and a new Seaford is stepping in where it once stood. Thus, the quote from Sam Ewing above. Homes change but our memories of those childhood places don’t. The things we see and do and smell and experience? Those all remain the same.

It was while pondering the enormity of that thought I realized that as a writer I have the power to preserve those things and have in fact done so in the Delaneys of Delaware series. I’ve captured pieces of Sussex County and kept them as MarshFox remembers them and as I remember being introduced to them some twenty plus years ago when we took our very first road trip together.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the secrets from the Delaneys of Delaware series over the course of the next few weeks beginning with the first book, A Slower, Lower Love.

When I first thought to write a story about slower, lower Delaware and set it against Seaford and the surrounding area, it was a stand-alone idea. I thought to write the one book and move on because at that point in my career I was a stand-alone writer and had all of one title under my belt.

A Slower Lower Love is the story of Cait O’Kelley and Bryce Delaney both from pretty large families of Irish descent who settled in the Seaford area three and four generations ago respectively. People ask me constantly who are the Delaneys and O’Kelleys in real life. Truth be told, they are no one and everyone. Each member of the Delaney or O’Kelley family embodies someone or the qualities of someone I have met in my travels through Delware and often times are conglomerations of people. Are the families based on real families? Again, they aren’t true to life any particular clan from Seaford but instead figments of my imagination based in fact and loosely mimicking people I’ve met. However, places and things…I did take some places literally and some liberally.

One of the places Cait and Bryce end up late one night is a non-descript diner on the Atlantic highway running from Bethany to Rehoboth. While the diner itself is a completely imagined place as no such diner exists on this road, I based the idea of the diner on a small mom and pop place which used to stand in Seaford some years ago and at which my husband’s grandfather took us to breakfast every single time we visited. Dillards was where I sadly learned that not everyone knew what biscuits and gravy were (who knew that could be a regional cuisine!?) and I was instead offered chipped beef on toast or scrapple and eggs, take my choice. Ummm…chipped beef? Scrapple? What the Sam Hill was scrapple?

As it turns out, scrapple is probably every single left-over piece of pork possible squished up, processed and turned into what I lovingly refer to as Delaware Spam still to this day. By the by, it is delicious, just so you know. After its brazen introduction to my palate, it’s something I crave often. I was never able to locate it in the greater Portland area. I was never able to fatback, either. In fact, the butcher looked at me like I’d sprouted a horn on my forehead when I inquired as to where they kept it in the local grocer. I was appalled at the notion they’d never heard of it. I digress.

You’ll notice the Delaneys and O’Kelleys and their friends are caught eating scrapple often. Now you know why and you also know a bit about that diner on the highway. Dillards was the inspiration and a place I took liberties in recreating as a non-descript diner on a dark highway where Cait and Bryce’s relationship takes a turn for the worst…

Halfway between Bethany and Rehoboth, the bumble bee yellow of neon flickered and broke the envelope of black, beckoning them, and Bryce hoped to hell it was a quiet night at the diner. He’d spent his fair share of time on the beat in the once iconic grille which was now basically nothing more than a run-down place for addicts, prostitutes, and bar flies to collect after everything else was closed and they needed a place to work it off through plenty of coffee and greasy bacon and eggs. While he knew he should have discouraged Cait and turned her down on her late-night breakfast request, a couple of things kept him from saying no. He was so hungry he could have eaten a shoe sole and, just like eight years ago, he couldn’t tell Cait no for love nor money. Then of course, there was the little fact that while he hoped like hell the diner was quiet, it wouldn’t hurt to inadvertently check on some of his contacts and make sure they were still alive and kicking.

While he gulped down a cup of coffee so stiff he could have stood a spoon in it, he watched Cait happily munching on a big stack of pancakes all the while looking at him like she could see straight into his head and read the names of his snitches circling in his head. It didn’t help he was having a hard time containing his fidgets and every time the door squeaked as it opened, he looked up immediately to see if he recognized the face coming through it. 

Swallowing, Cait put her fork down and reached for her Coke. “Are you alright?  We didn’t have to come here you know.  If you’d said no, I’d have been okay with that.”

“No, I’m fine. I think I’m just still tired. We haven’t exactly broken any sleep records this week,” he teased, tearing his biscuit in half and taking a bite of the top.

“Well, maybe tomorrow we should practice sleeping in,” she said over a laugh.

 The bell rang on the door and he looked up again, recognition running deep. Bryce shifted in his seat and turned in toward Cait, but not before a tall red head wearing a short denim skirt and a pink t-shirt with H-O-T emblazoned on the chest walked over with her cheap high heels clicking on the tile.  She placed one hand on the back of his chair and tapped her grossly long red nails on the hard, white plastic of the surface, leaning in between them. This wasn’t at all the contact Bryce was hoping to find.

The Delaneys of Delaware has a tentative release date and as soon as it firms up, I’ll be passing that information along.

Next post, we’ll talk board walk fries with vinegar, pizza, and gelato…

Yum, yum!

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