Passing on family traditions
By Anthony Welch
Retired teacher and principal Becky Van Vleet wanted to memorialize the tradition of passing down a family heirloom. As she wrote down its history, the story led her down a new career path as a children’s book author.
The traveling skirt
Omadeen Stuckey, a childhood friend of Van Vleet’s mother, gifted a hand-sewn, plaid skirt to her back in 1948. Since then, the little skirt—fit for a 2-year-old—has been worn by Van Vleet and her three sisters, their daughters and now even their granddaughters. As part of the tradition, professional photos were taken of each child wearing the skirt, which has continued on even after Van Vleet’s mother passed.
Van Vleet and her husband have four daughters and eight grandchildren. Initially, she considered writing a memoir about the history of the plaid skirt, hoping to share something that her family would enjoy.
“I wanted to write something about that family tradition and preserve the memory,” she said.
But as she started writing about the intergenerational skirt, the story expanded. She contacted an editor, who suggested she turn it into a children’s book.
By the summer of 2019, Van Vleet published her first children’s book based on the little skirt titled, “Talitha, the Traveling Skirt.” It won second place in the general category at the 2020 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.
“I’ve learned a lot. I had no idea what all went on in the publishing industry, so I feel like I branched out with my own personal learning,” Van Vleet said. “It reminded me that I’m a lifelong learner.”
She didn’t stop there. This past September, Van Vleet published her second book, “Harvey, the Traveling Harmonica,” also inspired by a true family story.
The book honors Van Vleet’s father, who she said, “played tunes on his harmonica sweeter than candy!”
Her third children’s book continues the traveling series and is due out in 2021.
“I have really enjoyed getting the books in my own hands and reading them to my grandchildren. I’ve enjoyed hearing about others purchasing them for their children and getting some good feedback,” Van Vleet said.
Educator turned author
Van Vleet taught for 15 years before serving as principal for The Classical Academy’s Cottage School Program in Colorado Springs, where she worked for another nine years.
“When I was teaching, I was really into promoting reading,” Van Vleet said. “I feel like that’s important for children today to read good quality books.”
She encouraged parents to read to children at home, to take them to the library and to have family reading time every day. She sees her writing as an extension of that passion, and taking up this new endeavor in her 60s has infused Van Vleet with both enthusiasm and excitement.
“My own love of reading and being able to write these books has been very joyful for me,” Van Vleet said.
Currently, Van Vleet is expanding her writing horizons beyond children’s books. She has already completed a rough draft of a young adult novel based on her father, Walter Troyan.
Troyan served in the Navy on the USS Denver during World War II. As part of her research, she’s read all the ship’s deck logs and other Navy accounts from the war. Van Vleet’s best resource for the book, however, has been listening to recordings she made of her father recalling his time in the Navy. The two-hour cassette recording was made back in 1991, long before Van Vleet had any writing aspirations.
“He had a good mind and a good memory, so I asked him to sit down with me and tell me all his stories and recollections from being on USS Denver. It was a gold mine for his personal stories, his close calls with death and how he quit high school because he wanted to serve his country,” Van Vleet said.
She started research for the book in 2019. The stay-at-home orders for COVID-19 helped her dig into her research even further, and she hopes to publish the book in 2021.
“My goal with this book is for the reader to come away with an appreciation of patriotism, and the sacrifices of the young teenagers who dropped out of high school to fight in a war for their country,” Van Vleet explained.
Writing has provided another hobby for her to enjoy during retirement, along with gardening, oil painting, hiking and biking. In addition to her book and novel writing, Van Vleet posts regular blogs on her website www.beckyvanvleet.com.
She encourages others to likewise try something they’ve never done before, no matter their age. Especially if it’s something they’ve also wanted to do.
“No matter what your age, it’s never too late,” Van Vleet said. “If you want to try something new and you’re in your older years, I’d encourage people to take that step and make their dream come true.”