Our assignment for the third post of our Blog Hop is to write a character sketch of “My Hero.” If I were to write about my real life hero, it would be my dad, who modeled for me a life well-lived. However, I’ve chosen to stay with the writing theme, so I will introduce to you one of my favorite story characters, who plays an active role in my fourth historical novel, Other Side of the River. (Character sketch template from Scrivener.)
Character Name: Tante Manya
Role in Story: Manya is the great aunt of my main character, Luise. She is my pacing character in this story, allowing for a break in tension when it’s needed. She is known by Luise and her father, Abram, as Tante Manya.
Occupation: Manya is an elderly woman who lives alone but helps out in her nephew’s home when needed.
Physical Description & Personality: This is how Luise thinks of Tante Manya: “She was old, Tante Manya, had been old as long as Luise could remember. Papa said she had been old when he was a boy, but when his own mother passed away, her sister Manya had become a second mother to him, and he loved her fiercely and forever. To Luise, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. The kerchief tied beneath her chin cradled a toothless smile between weathered-apple cheeks, and framed frost-blue eyes that sparkled with wit and warmth.”
Habits/Mannerisms: Tante Manya moves slowly because of her age and arthritis, but her mind is quick. She picks up on the finer nuances between the people around her, and although she speaks her mind, she does so in love. An example of her directness is found here: “Luise sighed and kept her eyes closed. ‘Tante Manya, I don’t wish to talk of it now.’ / ‘Of course you don’t. Move over so I can sit down. I am too old to stand here while you feel sorry for yourself.’ ”
Background: Manya’s father died young, so she and her mother (and a sister) developed a deep love and understanding for each other as they carried on together. However, when Manya’s mother decided to remarry, Manya was angry with her. Almost for spite, she also married, although she and her husband loved each other very much. After a six-month marriage, her husband was killed in an accident and she was left to mourn. She refused comfort until her stepfather brought her home again, and he and her mother nursed her back to physical and emotional health. When her sister died leaving a young son, Abram, Manya took him in as her own. He would eventually marry and become the father of Luise. (Some of Manya’s backstory comes out in Volume 4 of Other Side of the River.)
Internal Conflicts: Manya faces many internal conflicts, including well-hidden fears of the swiftly changing political situation. At her age, she knows she cannot bear too many physical challenges, yet she chooses to be thankful for what she has and to trust God with her fears. In her wisdom, she has learned to be less judgmental and more accepting of other people, so she allows them to be who they are. Manya puts the good of others before herself, thus making sacrifices that reflect a deep love of her family and commitment to God.
External Conflicts: As she ages, Manya feels her body giving out on her. Her arthritic hands can no longer knead and shape bread, she cannot carry babies or withstand physical strain as she once did. However, she does what she can, mostly giving moral and spiritual support to her family and friends, and often easing an otherwise tense situation with wry humor. Considering the situations she has faced and continues to face in her life, she has proven to be very resilient. She needs this resilience to withstand the extreme circumstances in which she finds herself in the story set in Soviet Russia circa 1930.
Notes: Shortly after beginning The Other Side of the River, I came across a photo in my denominational magazine of an elderly woman standing under a cherry tree. Her clothing consists of a grey and white flowered skirt, a purple sweater, a blue apron, black stockings covered by heavy grey socks, men’s slippers and a white kerchief tied beneath her chin. She is leaning on a crooked walking stick, her hands large and work-worn, but the smile on her face captured me from the first moment I saw her. The woman in the picture, whom I named Tante Manya, became my picture of the character in my novel. I believe the woman is from Molochansk, Ukraine, from the title of the accompanying article, “The Last Mennonite Widow of Molochansk.” (Mennonite Brethren Herald, July 2004.)