You’ve been gnomed!

I don’t know how it started. At some point, I began gnoming family members who came for a visit. I’d hide a cheerful gal or chubby fella in my guest’s suitcase, cooler, or purse, and include a note: You’ve been gnomed!

Of course, what goes around comes around, and before long, they were gnoming me back—like this trio my brother and sister-in-law recently hid in my gardens:

Or the one my son painted for me as a Mother’s Day surprise:

Or how about this “Ohm Gnome” from my sister:

My dad gnomed me with a guard for my back door:

Even my grandkids got into the action with this one:

And because every garden needs something blue, I gnomed myself with a Smurf-like fella:

Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I gnome my family members, and why they gnome me back. Is it just good, clean fun—a ping-pong of pranks at play? Or is there something deeper going on here? I suspect it’s a bit of both.

As a writer, I’ve learned that great ideas for plots and characters often spring from an encounter with reality. Family traditions are a great example. They offer rich material that can intensify the emotional tug in a story. A writer simply needs to look past the what, and focus on the why the tradition is happening.

For example, why does a grandmother spend three days making sage and cornbread stuffing for her family every Thanksgiving?  Is it because everybody loves it? Not necessarily. There are always plenty of leftovers. The what—the cornbread stuffing—is not the richest ingredient in this scenario (although, my brothers would argue with me on this point). Instead, it’s the why behind this tedious effort that touches the heart. When the grandmother cooks her special meals, she’s expressing her love for her family through her fingertips. It’s one of the ways her mother showed love and the mother before her.

And this: Why does a son take his mom fishing every Mother’s Day? Is it to catch fish (the what)? They rarely catch a thing. Why he takes his mom fishing is the important element here. This is their moment, a special day that no one else can interrupt or steal from him. Oh, sure, a writer can evoke tenderness when she describes how the son hooks the minnow for his mom and shows her how to cast the line. But the real warmth of this river scene comes when he leans forward and says, “Remember the time…” The conversation that follows could be hilarious, poignant, or a multitude of other adjectives the writer can use to bring to life the precious relationship between a son and his mother.

And what about my gnoming tradition? Why do I continue to secretly send these creatures across the country, hidden in bags of dirty clothes, half-eaten cracker boxes, and tucked inside a shoe? The obvious reason is because practical jokes are embedded in my family’s DNA. But I believe my gnoming habit goes much deeper. Most of my family members live far away, and I miss them terribly. But through this volley of cute and quirky characters, I’ve cast a net of memories around my loved ones. We share something unique—our own family lore. And it all started with a simple surprise: the hale and hearty gnome.