Lights In the Windows


Tineanmen Square, China

Driving homeward at dusk last night, I watched lights flicker on in windows of the houses we passed. Those pale rectangles of light made me wonder—not for the first time—who lived in those houses and what stories they could tell.

Stories are with me always… the true  stories of family and friends that I have heard through the years, the ones I make up to amuse the grandchildren, the ones I research and write. Stories are everywhere and none fascinate me more than the ones I will never hear.

Have you sat on a beach or walked in the street or lingered at a store in the mall and heard a snatch of conversation that floated by? A half sentence that caught your ear and made you wonder how it was finished? Those bits and pieces of talk are often the bag and baggage of a writer, and I find myself playing with the words and picturing the story. Yes, the cat was up a tree for five days and nights, and …? So the screen door to the porch was slashed when….? And what do I think happened when she came home and found…? Oh, indeed, there are stories waiting to be told.

Sometimes, the stories involve not just unfinished sentences but people we meet for just a little while before the river of life flows on and we drift apart.  The beautiful elderly woman who watched American troops liberate Paris; the small, calm gentleman who explained, while we were sailing along the Yangtze River, that he had long ago been one of the protesters at China’s Tiananmen Square—their lives and mine intersected for just a little while, but I remember them and wonder how they are.

A long time ago, my eighth grade English teacher told me that I had a frightening imagination, and perhaps this is true. But, consider—everyone has memories and stories that will be inevitably lost if they are not told. And such rich stories they could be! I remember buying an old quilt once and learning—quite by chance—that the long-ago quilter was a poor farm wife who had seven children and who used scraps from her sewing basket to piece seven large quilts so that all  could stay warm during the bleak winters. I  also fondly recall a formidable old lady who whispered to me that, when she was young, she wrote a bright red dress and danced the hoochy-koochy on the table. There is also the story of my Uncle Harry and the old beggar.

Long ago,” my uncle once told me, “my company was almost ready to collapse. We had no business and no ready money. We were,” he added, “existing on what you might call the smell of an oil rag. But that was when the beggar came to the office…”

My uncle’s secretary wanted to send the ragged man away, but Harry would not allow this. “He looked old and weak and hungry, so I gave him cash for food, and he thanked me and handed me a rather dirty print of the gods of fortune. He said it would bring me luck. And if you can believe it…” a dramatic pause… “the next day Mr. K. walked into the office.”

Mr. K. was to become my uncle’s  financial backer and patron, his lifelong friend. The beggar’s print? I remember it well, for it was framed and hung behind Harry’s desk for years. I don’t know what happened to it, but that really doesn’t matter because I have the story.

We need to remember our stories. We need to record and tell them so that they can be like those lights glowing in the windows of houses we pass in the night.

At your knee I heard

Things that made me laugh or sigh…

Yes, I remember.


About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: My blog is here: Or friend me on Facebook!

13 responses »

  1. Beautifully written, Maureen. I think my love for hearing my father reading stories to me as a child is part of why I am a writer today. And I wanted the name of my book to be “Everyone has a Story” but my editor won out with “Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8.” IT was a better title, but mine was true too!

  2. Maureen,
    You are indeed the teller of stories.
    Beautiful images,
    Beautiful economic language, and great writing.
    I’m so glad that our lives have an intersect.
    Thank you for this stimulating post.
    Ah for those snippets of conversation, just this last Friday I was at a retirement home where I heard, “My baby was born while I was in a Polish prison.”
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Maureen, I’ll print out your beautiful post for those mornings (like today) when discouragement is a temptation. Thanks!

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