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Dragonflies, Mom, and Grit: An Essay

Indianapolis native and author Nan Reinhardt shares how she learned to push past her fears and live boldly.
A photo of a woman smiling with a bookshelf behind her

I’m into dragonflies—no, I don’t collect dragonfly paraphernalia or have dragonflies all over my house, I just like dragonflies. It’s because of my mother. She gave me my first dragonfly (a pendant on a silver chain) when my son was born 42 years ago with the caveat that I couldn’t put it on until I was prepared to live a bold life. What the hell did she mean by “live a bold life?”

 
 
 
 
 
 

Back then, my life was fine the way it was, peaceful, quiet, full of the joys of new parenthood, good friends, and a caring spouse. I certainly had no intention of following her path—moving 2,000 miles away without a dime, far from home and family, turning my life upside down, and starting over on the West Coast. And worse, when she brought me the necklace, she was in the midst of a cross-country RV trip—sort of “Travels with Charley” without the French poodle and Steinbeck’s way with words. Did she honestly think I was going to leave my new baby and Husband and start wandering around the country like a damn gypsy? I put the pendant away, buried in the bottom of my jewelry case.

A photo of a woman at a book signing
Nan Reinhardt at a book signing

It wasn’t until long after she died that I finally began to see what Mom meant about being bold, and I truly believe it was the emotional chaos of menopause that helped me understand. I was, and often still am, a restless mess of a woman, needing something and having no idea what it is, wanting change and yet not knowing why or how. Feeling like I was missing out, but having no idea on what. My son was grown-up and out of the nest, Husband was winding down his career as an engineer and looking forward to retirement, and I was … well, I was … twitchy, needing more. So, I started writing again, tucking stories and ideas away in notebooks. I swam to find relief from the restlessness, I buried myself in editing work, I cried a lot … and I discovered something significant.

Mom was right, I wasn’t bold. But I realized she didn’t expect me to do what she did—she simply wanted me to be bold enough to figure out who Nan was, to dig deep inside and find Nan’s dreams. I loved being a wife and mother, but for years, I’d wanted to write, to publish a novel. For years, I’d wanted to travel, to see new places and experience new things. Nobody was stopping me from doing those things; I’d chosen to stay close to home, always afraid to step away from the safe and secure nest I’d created. I didn’t believe I could do anything at all on my own—I’d run a household, raised a great kid, started a fairly successful editing business, and yet, I had no faith in grown-up Nan.

But one Thursday morning just before I turned fifty-five, after a long, cleansing cry, I dug in my jewelry case for the velvet box that held Mom’s dragonfly. With a deep breath (and an eye roll for Mom, who I’m sure was looking down and saying, “’bout fuckin’ time, kid!”), I clasped it around my neck. The silver pendant was cool against my skin as I got online, picked a B&B in Michigan, made a reservation for one, and headed north on a research trip for my novel, “Once More From the Top.” It was the first time I’d driven more than 90 miles all by myself. I spent five days in that B&B on the shore of Lake Michigan, channeling my mother, discovering Nan, and releasing at least some of the fears I’d lived with for so long. It was a time for discovering my grit … to show some gumption.

A photo of a woman in glasses on a computer
Nan Reinhardt writing

I’ve had Mom’s dragonfly around my neck ever since and in the ensuing years, I’ve written thirteen novels and have two more in progress. I’ve acquired a publisher, built up my editing business, and traveled by myself easily—I even went to Washington, D.C. all alone, and mastered the Metro! And I’ve fulfilled a dream I’ve had since I was a little girl—I traveled to Paris and Ireland with my son and daughter-in-law. I’ve made friends with other writers and draw strength from my close friendship with fellow author, Liz Flaherty, with whom I travel regularly. We find lovely places for writing retreats and spend several days processing, talking, sharing ideas, and writing. Years ago, I couldn’t have imagined such adventures. Those take gumption … grit.

Yeah, Husband sometimes looks a little like a deer caught in headlights, but I think he kinda gets a kick out of his bolder, more grown-up wife. At least, he’s not complaining. He enjoys seeing me dig into a new story and he listens and offers advice and kind words. He likes this Nan, the one with enough gumption to set her own path, to write the novels that have been in her heart for so long, to go out and meet readers and promote books, to take on new editing gigs with confidence, and yes … grit.

A old black and white photo of a woman
Nan Reinhardt’s mother

She never got to see me wear her gift, but whenever I see a dragonfly, I know it’s Mom, flying by to say, “Hey, there’s my bold girl! You finally got it!” And I always smile and think, “Well, maybe not exactly what you had in mind, but I’m on my way! Thanks, Mom.”

Nan Reinhardt is a USA Today–bestselling author of sweet romantic fiction for Tule Publishing. Her day job is working as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader, however, writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. Nan has published ten novels, including her seasoned romance series, “The Women of Willow Bay,” stories that feature heroines over forty.

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