Nameless Headstone Leads to Novel
Your LIFE your STYLE with Monetta Harr
TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 2016 • THE EXPONENT • PAGE B3
It was anger, a deep sense of injustice, that prompted Laurie LaZebnik to write her third book, “Minnie’s Potatoes” from her great grandmother Minnie’s perspective.
“I was at the cemetery and I found this big family stone with all these men’s names on it and all it said for Minnie was ‘mother.’ I thought, didn’t she deserve a name?” said LaZebnik, 71, of Clark Lake. “There were only two other stones in the entire cemetery that didn’t have names; one said ‘father,’ the other ‘mother’ next to a child’s stone.”
“Did she do something wrong that her name wasn’t on the stone?” said LaZebnik, her eyes tearing out of frustration. “I decided right then that not only does she need a name but that she had to have her story told.” “Minnie’s Potatoes” is a historical romance novel that traces Minnie from Poland to Standish, north of Bay City near the Saginaw Bay, where lumbering brought hundreds of Europeans looking for work in the late 1800’s.
“I wanted the characters to start one way and end another. Minnie started as a naive little girl and ended as a wise woman,” LaZebnik said of her great grandmother.
This interest in her roots was triggered when LaZebnik’s parents died “and I had so many questions I had never asked.” She spent months researching cemeteries, libraries and attics about her family and lumberjacking. But when (her great-grandfather) died, leaving his widow with 10 children to feed, they became bootleggers – making and selling booze during Prohibition from potatoes, a trick Minnie learned in Poland. One of LaZebnik’s uncles was shot in the back, two were run off the road by Detroit gangs, the uncles seriously injured, the booze stolen.
Learning more about her family, said LaZebnik, answers questions like “why I like to garden, why I like to work so hard. It is in my genes.” The two-year research and writing project is “an educated guess as to what really happened and who my family is. I can’t prove I’m completely right but I have a hunch I’m right based on considerable research.”
Writing is something LaZebnik, who has a degree in education from Central Michigan University, discovered years ago when she took a writing class at Jackson Community College taught by Ann Green, now retired. LaZebnik calls it “the best class in my life. It wasn’t so much what Ann said but what she didn’t say. She gave such good constructive criticism, she was so encouraging, and when the class ended, she invited me to join her writers group.”
LaZebnik credits the Columbia Women Writers with helping her and she helping them. “We trust each other. They have become some of my closest friends.” She writes about things she knows – or wants to know about.
Her first book, “Strongheart,” is based on Herbie, her Old English sheepdog. Her second, “The Atomic Sailor,” was prompted by conversations at the Brooklyn Big Boy. Once a week LaZebnik took an elderly neighbor to breakfast there and the woman’s friend was a wealth of military stories. She took notes and asked her writer’s group what to do and they encouraged her to write a book.
Especially with her newest book, LaZebnik said “I learned family is really important. All families have good and bad guys in them but they’re still family. And now I know where I fit in, I found my place in history.”