The Secrets She Carried, Barbara DavisI’m often asked where the idea for The Secrets She Carried came from. My favorite answer, and one that always gets a bit of a cockeyed look, is that it literally came out of the ground. I then have to explain, of course, that I was sitting in the car one afternoon, waiting for my husband to come out of a store, when I happened to notice a single grave standing alongside of the road at the edge of a vacant, overgrown field.

Now, these kinds of graves aren’t a rarity in North Carolina. In fact, they’re all over the place. You see them alone or in small groups, beside a road or in the middle of a cornfield, or even, as in Greenville, North Carolina, smack dab in the middle of the mall parking lot, because back-in-the-day, it was perfectly acceptable to just bury grandma on the old homestead, or out behind the little country church. But now, many of those homesteads and churches are gone, leaving the dead behind, their graves lonely stone questions marks dotting the landscape.

Being born in New Jersey, and growing up in Florida, where you didn’t see these kinds of things, I was naturally intrigued. So there I was, sitting in the car, thoughts churning. Who was buried beneath that particular stone, and why? Did anyone ever visit? Were there family member still looking for that person, wondering what had happened to Great Aunt Lucy, or whoever? But more poignant than the who or the why, was my curiosity about the kinds of stories that might be buried there as well, stories that would be lost forever. And just like that, Adele Laveau, one of the main characters in Secrets, was born, fully formed with a present and a past, like a movie playing in my head.

But as I begin writing her story, and gradually unraveling her secrets, a theme I hadn’t planned on gradually began to emerge. It had to do with the way the strength of our families so often runs in the blood of its women. The tangible things, names and land and fortunes, are traditionally passed down through the male line, but the true legacy of a family—its stories and memories and traditions—live on in the choices and actions of its women, echoing down through the generations, subtly shaping the lives of those they left behind.

As I grow older, I find this to be especially true in my own family. Perhaps, because as I wrote The Secrets She Carried my own female ancestors were never far from my thoughts, along with the realization that when these strong and beautiful, women left this world, they took so much that is precious with them; answers to questions I’d always meant to ask but never quite got around to, the names and dates and places behind all the yellowing photos in the attic, the curious bits of memorabilia pressed into scrapbooks—of holidays and birthdays and vacations—the ordinary, everyday things that add up to who my family is today.

Yes, those women took a lot with them, but what they left behind is absolutely priceless, a legacy of love and strength and endurance, an example for those who remain, for my mother, and for me. Time is short, and so very precious, and someday slips through the fingers far too soon. So my advice to all—but to women especially—is to make the time to ask the questions and to listen to the stories, because though you might not realize it yet, they are your stories too, and down the road your life will be richer for knowing them.