Ociee Nash is Sure to Become a Classic
An Interview with Milam McGraw Propst
by Joyce Dixon
Milam McGraw Propst is likely to join the ranks of Lucy Maud Montgomery and Laura Ingalls Wilder with her creation of a spirited young girl who loses her mother and leaves her home in Mississippi to live with her maiden aunt in North Carolina. Ociee stays strong and faces each change in her life as a new adventure. The novels take place at the beginning of the twentieth century and are a charming journey of that period.
Milam McGraw Propst's has written three novels. Her first novel, A Flower Blooms on Charlotte Street, was awarded the Parent's Choice Award, and she was named Georgia Author of the Year for First Novel in 2000. She is a freelance writer with numerous articles published in Georgia Journal, Caring Magazine, Birmingham Magazine, and the Birmingham News.
Though your Ociee novels are marketed as adult historical fiction, they have the potential to become classics for young girls in the company of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) and Lucy Maud Montgomery (Anne of Avonlea). Like Wilder and Montgomery, you pulled personalities and events from your family history. Who was Ociee in your family?
Thank you for the fine compliment. Ociee Nash was my grandmother. I originally wrote A Flower Blooms on Charlotte Street as a children's book. My publisher, Mercer University Press, opted to market it for "all ages" so I happily made a couple of changes to make it interesting for adults as well. Couldn't be more pleased with the results.
Did you draw from family letters, journals, pictures and oral history?
My grandmother did tell me that after her mother's death, she was sent to Asheville to live with the maiden aunt, but for the most part this is a book of fiction.
Do you have more books coming in the series?
Ociee on Her Own is the second book and, at this point, I believe it to be the last because it answers the questions readers have asked me at booksignings. I truly wrote the sequel to please two people, Terry Kay and my high school English teacher, both of whom commented, "Ociee must go back to Mississippi!"
Ociee is a motherless girl dealing with the loss of her role model and confidant. What would you like motherless girls to take from the novels? How does Ociee empower them?
Ociee learns to draw support and affection from other people, from her father, from her aunt, as well as from Elizabeth Murphy's mother and from Mr. Lynch. I like to think that Ociee, like so many children, sets an example of being strong and resilient. Ociee, as a hero, is meant to give other grieving girls and boys the courage to go on with their lives even in the face of loss and in other traumatic situations.
Her journey is a travelogue through the South at the turn of the century (1900). It is a time when gypsies traveled in wagons, distant travel was done by rail, and the Vanderbilt’s were building the Biltmore Estate. What did you enjoy most about the research of the period?
I really enjoyed putting myself in Ociee's shoes and feeling as she must have felt. At one point, I stood in the train terminal in Asheville and could almost sense her by my side. Occasionally when I was working intensely, my husband Jamey would come into the study and ask, "Am I talking with my wife, OR with Ociee Nash?"
A major event in A Flower Blooms on Charlotte Street is when the Murphy home is on fire. Ociee’s best friend Elizabeth Murphy is fine, but she has to move away while the house is rebuilt. She has to deal with loss again, but knows that her friend will return. They communicate with hand-written letters, something that has almost disappeared in today’s world of e-mail. How is letter writing a lost art?
Actually I think we ARE beginning to write again and this is thanks to e-mail. This kind of instant communication appeals to people in our entirely too fast paced world. I love it as would my grandmother! Until she died at age 95, we often wrote letters to each other. Ociee was a secretary until age 80 (she refused to retire!) AND I think she would have enjoyed e-mailing!
In Ociee on Her Own, she visits her mother’s grave before returning to Asheville. This is an especially tender scene with her brother Ben. Both talk to their mother about what has happened since her death. How is this scene healing?
I felt it was important to allow both the children to express their emotions, especially Ben who was particularly angry about the family's situation. Perhaps, during that period of time (in the early 1900's), their reactions would have been frowned upon. But that said, I wrote how things might have been . . . that is, in a perfect world. It was written with the hope that Ociee and Ben were truly able to let out some of the sadness that must have burdened them.
You use bird symbolism to describe the family. The mother is described as a wren, and in a poignant moment at the graveside a wren flies away. What does a wren symbolize?
I used the wren as the presence of Ociee and Ben's mother, perhaps as an angel of sorts. I felt the little wren was freed to fly away once she could witness her children's letting go. What is the phrase, "we give our children roots, then we give them wings"? In this story, the children are giving their mother her wings, or at least, their permission to use them.
Your novels have been made into an independent film. What was that experience like?
© 2003, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved