There’s a bit of Ireland running through the Southern Son saga, a little Claddaugh ring that Mattie Holliday inherits from her Grandmother Anne O’Carew Fitzgerald, and that she gives to John Henry as a symbol of their affection. It first appears in Book One, Inheritance, and comes back again and again through the three books and into the Postscript at the end. Can’t tell you how or why or where without ruining the story for you, but it’s more than a plot device: it’s a physical symbol of spiritual things and of the emotional story that winds through the adventure of Doc Holliday’s life. You’ll see it as part of the logo on the cover of all three books.
That little Claddaugh ring has become an important symbol in my writing life as well, as my husband gave me my own Irish ring after it first appeared in the book, and then my mother continued the tradition over the years by sending me gifts that featured the gold Irish ring. I have necklaces and earrings, a shiny door knocker, wall plaques and kitchen linens and birthday cards. The image of the Irish ring became an ongoing reminder that she believed in me and the story I had to tell.
My mother was my first and best research assistant, traveling with me as I traveled around the country on the trail of Doc Holliday. She taught me how to use microfilm readers and how to read census records, how to notate newspaper references and what bibliographic information was important to record. When I couldn’t find the books I needed in the local libraries in Georgia, she borrowed them from the Los Angeles Public Library and mailed them to me so I could photocopy them and keep the information on file, then she paid the fines when they were returned late. She kept me calm as we drove through twisting mountain passes in Colorado and as we crossed paths with rattlesnakes in New Mexico. She pointed out the still-evident wagon wheel tracks along the Santa Fe Trail and walked the dirt streets of Tombstone, Arizona. She uncovered untold stories of Doc Holliday in St. Louis and explored Vapor Caves in Glenwood Springs.
She was a woman who loved family history even when it was someone else’s and had a keen memory for dates and people and places. She would often surprise me by calling to say she’d found some interesting bit of information on some obscure character I’d almost forgotten was in the book. But she never forgot and always believed that I would finish what often seemed an unfinishable project, a story that was part Gone With the Wind and part Lonesome Dove and swept from the Old South to the last days of the Wild West. When she passed away in January of 2009 after Southern Son was done but before it had found a publisher, those Claddaugh ring gifts became special memories to me, reminders that my mother loved me and believed in what I was doing. Which is why the first book in the saga, Inheritance, is dedicated to her:
Beth Wanlass Peirson
From whom I inherited a love of reading, research,
and traveling into the past.
It’s also why the Premiere Party for Southern Son was held on May 10, 2013, nearly a month before the official launch at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta on the first of June. May 10th was my mother’s birthday, and the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum where the party was held was a suitable and sentimental venue, as it was my parent’s visit to Georgia and a request to see something historic in Fayette County that had started the Holliday House museum in the first place and inspired the three books of Southern Son that came from it.
That evening in early May was a lovely time and place for a party, a warm twilight after a week of cool rain, with a Southern supper set in a big wedding tent on the back lawn of the Holliday House. There was antique music playing, period dancing, costumed tour guides leading guests through the Holliday House, and a book signing of the just-released Inheritance. It all turned out just as I hoped it would and was, as much as any party can ever be, perfect.
But the most perfect part of the evening was something unplanned by me and completely unexpected, as well: a gift from Judy Bramlett, former owner of the Holliday House and a lover of all things Southern. As the dinner was about to be served she took me aside to have me open a little box. “I bought this for you in New Orleans,” she said. “I don’t know why, but it just seemed like you should have it.”
I thanked her for her thoughtfulness and opened the box…
And saw inside something that took my breath away: a little Irish Claddaugh ring, like the ones my mother had sent me through the years. Judy hadn’t yet read Inheritance and didn’t know about the Irish ring in the story or it’s symbolism in my own life. She just felt inspired to buy it for me and present it to me on that night. I think it was my mother’s way of saying that she was proud of me.
May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back. And may God be with you ‘till we meet again!