Author Talk: Courtney Miller Santo’s Personal Connection
My own great-grandmother, Winifred Rodgers White, will turn 104 this month. For the last two decades, she’s made her home in a small town in Northern California that is known for its olive groves. Although Anna is not Winnie, and Kidron is not Corning, the two are very much the heart of this book.
The idea that women, with all their secrets and inner lives, are tangled up with the generations that came before them arrived in my mind in the early months of my daughter’s life. Her birth marked the entrance of the fifth generation in my matriarchal line and what I did most in the hours of rocking and feeding and holding my newborn was to wonder about the stories my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother kept to themselves. Before my daughter was six months, we all gathered in Corning to mark the occasion of the fifth generation being born with a photograph. That picture is one of my most treasured possessions --- one that I kept in my line of vision as I wrote this book. On that visit, we ate lunch at the Olive Pit, a place that I modeled Callie’s The Pit on. And I began to think about the olive groves surrounding the town of Kidron and how the trees had been there as long as my great-grandmother.
This past summer as I was finishing the book, I returned to Corning as part of a cross-country trip from Memphis to Oregon. I was overjoyed to be able to sit in the same room and listen to my now eight-year-old daughter have a discussion with her great-great grandmother. The town itself has changed in the way that we all change as we age. There are relics of its past --- the movie theater that Winnie’s parents owned was under renovation and is set to be used as a community center for the town. There is a new olive oil company on the outskirts of town --- Lucero --- that was started in the owner’s garage (he used two engine blocks to press his first batches of oil) and caters to exactly the same people I envisioned buying Callie’s oil.
And now in my own kitchen sits a small olive tree.