A Guest Post by Jackie Minniti
I’m a firm believer that nothing important happens by chance. This belief has been validated many times as I’ve traveled through the six decades of my life, but never more than a serendipitous experience that shed a new light on an old story.
My dad was a WWII veteran who passed on to his reward six months short of his hundredth birthday. The day after D-Day, he was a handsome young army sergeant arriving in Rennes, France with the 127th General Hospital. During his tour of duty, his heart was stolen by a little French girl named Jacqueline. For some reason that was never clear, she took a liking to my father and began following him to the hospital in the morning and waiting for him at the hospital gate when his shift ended. The tale of their friendship was the only war story Dad was willing to share, often with misty eyes, and it eventually became part of our family lore. He never tired of retelling the tale of how I got my name.
When I retired from 25-years of teaching and started my second “career” as a writer, Dad began urging me to put the story on paper. I explained that, while the family loved his narrative, it would not interest the average reader. Besides, while there might be enough material for a short story, there certainly wasn’t enough to fill a book. But the seed had been planted, and Jacqueline took up residence in my mind – a character in search of a story. I found myself drawn to the faded pictures in my dad’s old photo album where a little girl with dark curly hair smiled back at me. What was it that drew her to my father? Where was she now? Did she ever think about the girl in America who became her namesake?
As I’ve said, I’m not a believer in coincidences, but a chance encounter with a stranger set into motion the chain of events that gave me the answers I was seeking. At my son’s wedding reception, an unfamiliar man approached me. “I have to talk to you,” he said, motioning me to a table where my dad sat. “Your father says you’re a writer. He’s been telling me the most amazing story. You’ve got to write a book about it.”
I smiled politely and started to explain why it couldn’t be done, how the story wouldn’t appeal to the average reader, but he stopped me. “I have a daughter in sixth grade,” he said. “She doesn’t know anything about World War II. She’d love to read a story like this, and it could help her learn history.”
And there it was – the “Eureka!” moment. A cartoon lightbulb went on over my head. Why hadn’t it ever occurred to me to write this as a book for younger readers, especially after I’d spent so many years teaching reading in middle school? When Jacqueline met my father, she was the same age as the kids I’d taught. She’d be a perfect character in a story written for them. And there was so much they could learn from her. I could do this!
My research took me deep into the history of the Second World War. I was amazed at how little I, only one generation removed from these events, really knew about the bravery, selflessness, and sacrifice that characterized the veterans of the Greatest Generation. My admiration grew until I felt compelled to make this era come alive for young readers. As I began writing, Jacqueline was soon joined by her brave mother, a mischievous Jewish boy and his family, a stylish young French woman, a grumpy nun, and a one-eyed cat. The story unfolded before my eyes, and as the characters took on lives of their own, it was sometimes difficult for my written words to keep up with them. They showed me the importance of faith, family, friendship, and the resilience of the human spirit.
For as long as I can remember, I’d dreamed of becoming a published author. When I finally typed “The End,” I knew that this was the book that would make it happen. Sure enough, the manuscript was picked up by Anaiah Press, and I was rewarded with the proudest moment of my life – putting that book in my father’s hands. And the most ironic thing of all is the way “average readers” have embraced the story. I guess this goes to show that, if you never lose faith in the possibility of miracles, even your wildest dreams can come true.
Jackie Minniti was born and raised in the heart of New Jersey where she spent 25 years as a classroom teacher and was an education writer for the Courier Post. After retiring from teaching, she moved to Florida and turned to writing full-time. She is currently a columnist for The Island Reporter in St. Petersburg. Her first novel, Project June Bug, the story of a young teacher’s efforts to help a student with ADHD, won several awards, including Premier Book Awards “Book of the Year.” A number of her stories have been included in Chicken Soup for the Soul collections.
Jackie lives on Treasure Island with her husband and two rather noisy macaws, but she frequently travels back to New Jersey to visit her three children and six grandkids.
When ten-year-old Jacqueline Falna hears her mother’s scream, she is unaware that the axis of her world is about to tilt. Her father’s plane has been shot down by German fighters. In the midst of poverty, food shortages, air raids, and the grinding hardship of daily life under Nazi rule, she forms an unlikely alliance with David Bergier, a twelve-year-old Jewish neighbor who poses as her cousin after his family is “relocated” by the Nazis. When Rennes is liberated, Jacqueline meets an American soldier and becomes convinced that he has been sent to reunite her with her father.
Based on a true story, “Jacqueline” is a tale of family, faith, unusual friendships, and the resiliency of the human spirit set against the backdrop of occupied Rennes in 1944. With the drama of fiction and the authenticity of personal history, “Jacqueline” is both a story about family and a family’s story.