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May 10, 2010

Sandra Dallas: Her Mother, Harriet Dallas, Was a Literary Stage Mother

Posted by Anonymous

My mother, Harriett Dallas, was the literary equivalent of a stage mother. She dragged her friends to my signings, pulled my books from bookstore shelves and placed them face out for better visibility, and she often interrupted my conversations with others on politics or business or whatever to ask, “Sandra, what’s your next book about?” She was my most loyal fan. 

dallas-sandra_150x110a.jpgBut more important than that, Mom was an inspiration. There is little question that the strength and integrity in the characters in my novels come from my mother, along with her story. When I was young, Mother often talked about the summer of 1933 when, newly married, she and Dad lived with his parents on a farm in Harveyville, Kansas. That was the Great Depression, and money was scarce. One day a neighbor said he had a day’s work in the fields and he’d pay a dollar for it. Dad and his brother flipped a coin to see who’d get the job. Dad won, and he worked so hard that he finished up by noon and made just 50 cents. In our family, 1933 was known as the 50-cent summer. That story was the inspiration for my novel THE PERSIAN PICKLE CLUB.

Mom’s legacy to books and reading go well beyond a daughter who is an author, however. When she was 13, my older sister, Donna, died of polio. That was in 1948. She’d been visiting our grandparents in Illinois, and Mom and Dad flew back there to be with her, arriving only minutes before she died. Accompanying my sister’s body on the train home to Denver, Mom searched for a way to memorialize Donna and decided to establish a library in her honor at our church, Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church. 

Mom wasn’t a librarian. In fact, she’d never gone to college. But she taught herself librarianship. She started the library with my sister’s books, many of them Nancy Drew mysteries. At first, the books were donated by people cleaning out their houses. Then Mom got the idea of asking for donations in memory of loved ones who’d died. In fact, she insisted the library not be named for my sister but be called only the Memorial Library. The library today stocks hundreds, maybe thousands, of books, from children’s books to political and religious tomes, novels, travel books, and even a few picture books.  And of course, it has all of my novels. This week, I’m going to stop by with a copy of WHITER THAN SNOW. Under Mom’s direction, the library was self-supporting through donations and memorial gifts, and just days before she died in 2001, Mom was honored by the Association of Church and Synagogue Libraries for developing techniques picked up by other religious libraries.

Although she was 88 when she died, Mother was as active as she’d always been in the library, selecting books, ordering and cataloguing them, making sure they were returned. The last conversation she had before she died was with a member of her committee about the future of the library. She was so closely identified with the Memorial Library that at her funeral at Montview, my brother, Michael, began his eulogy with, “If any of you have overdue books….

Sandra Dallas is the author of WHITER THAN SNOW and several other novels.