• My Inspiration, The Poppy Lady

    I first met the Poppy Lady in the attic of my home in Pennsylvania. I remember the day perfectly. Wedged between boxes of winter curtains and bulky sweaters and coats I sat listening to the steady drum of rain hitting the roof above my head.

    I was ten-years-old, and my teacher had asked everyone to bring an item from home to share during Show and Tell. We were studying the effect war had on our country and other nations, and the items we brought in had to be war related.

    My Dad and uncles had fought in World War II. Family members of my classmates had fought in that war and the Korean War as well. Finding a war memory would not be a problem.

    As I searched carefully through my Dad’s box of World War II memorabilia I tried to imagine what war was like. I looked at weathered photos, medals, dog tags, and discharge papers. And I tried on gifts Dad had sent to my Mom when he was stationed in the Philippines. A white, swirly skirt made from silk parachute material. A pretty necklace of cream-colored cowrie shells with hints of yellow.

  • My Inspiration, The Poppy Lady


    But I found the perfect Show and Tell item at the very bottom of the box. A postcard with a red poppy pinned to one corner. It was addressed to my Mom and signed, “Pat’s Poppy Lady.” My classmates and teacher would recognize the poppy immediately. On Memorial Day we all wore red poppies as we lined the streets waving small American flags and cheering when our family members and neighbors in uniform marched by.

    I was curious. Who was this Poppy Lady? And why had she written to my Mom?

    With postcard in hand I found my Dad and asked for an explanation. I was surprised by his reaction. His eyes filled with tears and his voice wavered as he spoke about Moina Michael and her kindness to him and his soldier buddies during the war.

    I wanted to find out more. Why had Moina been so kind? And where was she now? But it was the early 1960s, and Internet research was a long way off.

    It wasn’t until fifty years later that I met Moina again. I began writing for children, and my Dad asked if I would tell her story. It made him sad that people had forgotten his Poppy Lady and all she had done for soldiers and their families. I promised I would write Moina’s story, and from the first draft my Dad watched over my writing.

  • My Inspiration, The Poppy Lady


    I sent my story to Carolyn Yoder, the editor of Calkins Creek Books. Carolyn knew about the red poppies, and seemed interested in Moina, but she encouraged me to dig deep and unearth everything there was to know about my Dad’s Poppy Lady.

    But each time I presented Carolyn with new facts she asked for more…and more…and even more. She encouraged me to interview experts. People who knew about Moina. And that led me to Georgia and Moina’s great-nieces, Elinor and Lucia.

    From phone conversations and emails I knew I had their support, but meeting Elinor and Lucia in person was especially nice. When I told my Dad how Moina’s great-nieces had welcomed me into their hearts and homes he wasn’t a bit surprised.

    “That type of kindness passes from one generation to the next,” he simply said.

    Once I signed the contract for my book my Dad said he wanted to talk something over. Our conversation went something like this:

    Dad: Will you make money when your book is published?
    Me: If people like it and buy it. Then yes, that should happen.
    Dad: What will you do with that money?
    Me: I really hadn’t thought about it.
    Dad: But you won't keep it. Right?
    Me: I don’t understand what you mean.
    Dad: The poppy was Moina’s idea, but she didn’t keep the money she raised. She gave it all to the soldiers and their families.

    Which made perfect sense to me. And that’s why my portion of the book’s proceeds will support the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple®, which benefits children of the U.S. military.

    This book is a dream come true…for my Dad and me. I hope you enjoy reading it!

    After a long and special life, my Dad passed away on December 1, 2013. He was ninety-nine years old. We had such great times together working on The Poppy Lady. I'm so glad we were able to share the published book.

    In memory of my Dad, my friends at Boyds Mills Press and my writing retreat buddies gave me a gift of Poppy Lady books to help further Moina’s story. This beautiful bookplate, designed by art director, Tim Gillner, will go inside each cover.

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