In the upcoming novel, The Blue Lute, the main setting is Manhattan, New York City, more specifically, The St. Jean Hotel. I had a bit of trouble coming up with a catchy name for this little place, mainly because I had based it on another hotel that already existed, and I was stuck on that name. I tried The Cecilia (the patron saint of musicians), The Cruxton (from another building in NY but it sounded like something from a vampire novel) and several other versions of names, nothing felt right. That is until I thought to my own family. The one name I had yet to use was my grandfather’s St. Jean. I had been trying to find a way to use his name in one of my stories, but I wanted it to be something important and not just a quick insert-name-here kind of thing. I was so glad when the idea of using his name as the place where Brandon and Lilly first meet and the story of The Blue Lute unravels, came through.
Armand St. Jean joined our family in 1964 and later became one of the best grandfathers a girl could ever have. He would take me out on errands (or “eryns” as I called them) any Saturday morning I was in Foxboro, Massachusetts with him. We’d go to the bank and the library and then to a donut shop where he would have a coffee and read the paper and I would get a powdered jelly donut.
Reading was must with Grandpa. From as early as four years old, I remember sitting on his lap in his black leather recliner and green hanging light over head, listening to him read story after story to me. The Golden books were his favorite and soon became my sisters and my favorites, too. He’d read and munch on dry roasted peanuts, careful not to feed us too many before dinner and if we were lucky we’d even get him to sing the four note tune of Dragnet to us in his perfect, low baritone voice Dum dee dum dum. We’d make him sing it over and over until he’d finally quit and tell us to wait for the next time or else it wouldn’t be special anymore. We’d wait, but still try to imitate him, never getting as low as he could.
It wasn’t until I was writing Beneath the Wall that I wondered what role Grandpa had in World War II. I knew he was in the Army but didn’t know his story. I had always followed after my mother’s father who I’ve featured on my blog a few times as the WWII hero. Papa, Robert Browning, was in the Army Airforce and was shot down and captured by the Germans. A heavy duty dramatic war story that overshadowed many of the other family members’ experiences, including Grandpa’s.
But Grandpa was considered part of the war, too. He was in the Army in France, I believe, toward the end of the war. His unit carried the artillery from base to base and they had just been called up to battle when, on the way, they received a transmission telling them to retreat because the war was over. German had surrendered. Grandpa was sent home shortly after, unscathed.
Today, Grandpa spends his days at my Grammy’s side. She remembers very little these days, but Grandpa keeps her company no matter what. They’ve been married for almost 50 years and he still kisses her like a debonaire old gentleman of the silver screen. My Grandpa is the best!!