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Writer profiles mother in 'Chicken Soup'


January 04, 2012 | 08:06 AM
LYONS — Do not ask Barbara Ann Burris to whip up some chicken soup while she's writing for "Chicken Soup for the Soul."

Burris, whose home is on the border of Lyons and Wheatland townships, now has two short items published in the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series of inspirational books.

"Writing is very relaxing," said Burris in a recent interview. "I also found it's not compatible with cooking."

Burris said she decided to do some writing while waiting for dinner to cook. She set the cooking timer and then left the kitchen for her bedroom where she writes. She wrote right through the cooking timer.

Her nose alerted her to something being very wrong.

Burris said she went out to the kitchen, and found her meal had pretty much burned away and the cooking pot was melting.

"I melted a one and a quarter quart pan," she said.

Fortunately, there was no damage to the stove, she added.

Barbara and Bruce Burris live on a house they built on a corner lot of Neumann Lane and Cranberry Road.

Burris is retired from the village of Deerfield, Ill., where she did clerical work and scheduled building inspections. Her husband, Bruce, is a civil engineer, and worked as municipal engineer for the city of North Chicago, Ill. He's also retired.

The house, which the Burrises designed, is wooden beamed with high ceilings, centered on a large fireplace. The house is surrounded by gardens and landscaping the Burrises did themselves.

Burris says that about eight lineal feet of her yard is in the town of Lyons. However, the rest of the Burris property is in the town of Wheatland, Kenosha County. So, she considers herself a resident of both Lyons and Wheatland, she said.

She got interested in creative writing about three years ago after taking an online course through the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

She writes about real events, small slices of life that impacted on her and her family.

She was not a complete stranger to writing.

"I wrote things at work. I wrote bar coding manuals," Burris said.

But bar code manuals are different from short stories. She sold her first piece to "Living the Country Life Magazine," entitled "Neighbors from Heaven," about help they received from their neighbors while building their house.

Burris said she then came across the Chicken Soup for the Soul website, where Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing LLC seeks submissions on specific topics for its series of books.

Burris said she submitted a story called "Mending Hearts" about a dog who appeared during a summer rainstorm. That story appeared in "Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul."

Burris said she does most of her work on a laptop, because it gives her mobility.

She said she sends her work via e-mail to her editor. The editor sends corrected work back by e-mail for review.

Her latest story appears in "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love."

"Everything I Would Need to Know," is about Burris' mother who owned a delicatessen in Mount Morris, Ill., and, later, Crystal Lake.

Burris said her mother was a talented artist and had a scholarship to an art institute. But it was during the Great Depression and she was her family's only source of support. The scholarship went unused.

Burris said her mother was unconventional for her time.

She was not a stay-at-home mom. Burris said she would come home from school to a dinner made by her grandmother or her older sister. And she resented her mother's absence.

Not a big fan of school, Burris said, she played hooky. But her mother decided that if she wasn't going to school, she would have to accompany her to work.

Burris said she learned all about the catering business from the inside out.

She remembers getting up before dawn and working in the bakery, dipping donuts still hot from grease into frosting. She went home with hands that were red and scorched by grease.

Mother never made it to art school, but the daughter did. Burris said she attended McHenry County (Ill.) Community College for an art degree.

On the living room walls are watercolors, some done by Burris. One is a painting of flowers, each one different, each one detailed. The flowers are on a white background, as if the composition were incomplete.

It was meant to be a Mother's Day gift, Burris said, but her mother passed away before the gift could be delivered.

Burris said her mother provided her with an interest in art through example and gave her an education through experience.

She said she learned at a young age what it took to create a business, and value a job done well.

"I think anyone who is raised in a family business gets that," she said.

The story is less than four pages long, but by the end of it, the reader comes away understanding a woman shaped by hard work and a deferred dreams, and a daughter seeking to connect with her mother.

"The way to her was to become a part of her world," Burris said.

But Burris' story does not reveal one important detail.

What was her mother's name?

"Her name was Ina," Burris said with a smile.

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