Enjoy GRAND Magazine

for grandparents & those who love them

Debut author Holly LaBarbera uses her work in grief counseling and coaching abusive family dynamics to craft her first story, All I Know (Buckberg Mountain Books, Jun 11, 2024), of a young woman’s journey through a rocky childhood and how the events of her formative years impact the decisions she makes as an adult.

Thank You Grandma

My grandma was one of my favorite people. I never lived near her, so I didn’t see her every day, yet I think that made her even more special to me. She was the only grandparent I really knew, and she was an inspiring figure in my life.

Grandma was from Indiana, and her dad was a farmer. When we would go visit in the summers, my mom loved staying on her grandpa’s farm, but I was not a fan of the smells and the bugs. I preferred to stay with my grandma in town, enjoying the air conditioned house and walking to the park and the pool, baking cookies and making applesauce with her. Grandma understood because she didn’t love the farm either. She liked being in town with her grandparents too, and even more often escaped the farm with a book when she was growing up. Books mattered to my grandma.

After her death, my mom found drafts of Grandma’s attempts at writing her life story, and these are her words about her mother and reading. “We were read to every evening before bedtime, a practice I, then my girls have continued. It seems so necessary for me to be able to read every day and to stretch my mind on something new frequently.”

Grandma taught my mom, and then me, to love reading. I remember curling up in Grandma’s guest room reading Ride the Wind, my first bodice-ripping romance, when I was probably twelve or thirteen years old. I think my Aunt Pam gave me that book, so the reading ripples included her as well. In later years, my grandma and I would discuss the Clan of the Cave Bear series and James Michener historical fiction tomes and all kinds of other books. One of the saddest things for Grandma as she aged was that she was eventually almost blind. Not being able to read was a huge loss. I bought her many books on tape, but they were no substitute.

Grandma and I were also pen pals for most of my life, starting when I was in elementary school and up until she died in 2010. After her death, my mom sent me letters she found that Grandma had kept for decades, letters in which I told her about the boy I had a crush on in middle school and friend drama in high school and all kinds of things I don’t remember writing to her about. I’m sure she couldn’t have cared less about those boys and friends, but I do know she cared about me, cared about knowing me and what was on my mind. I didn’t start writing down stories, didn’t consider myself a writer, until after Grandma died, but she was the person who read the greatest number of the words I wrote up until then. She encouraged me to write by writing back, and I do believe all of those correspondence were priming the pump for All I Know and my other works in progress.

Another fundamental way my grandma impacted me goes far beyond writing. She was an inspiration to me in terms of being a woman. Grandma did not have an easy life, yet she was strong and determined and never gave up. She went to business school when she graduated high school and was a working mom when that wasn’t common. She was a widow twice, the second time losing her self-proclaimed best friend, but that didn’t defeat her. In fact, she became even more of an independent, free-spirited force of nature. She moved to Arizona on her own because she wanted to live there. She traveled around the world, including to Egypt and a safari in Africa, on tours but by herself. I remember being simultaneously horrified and exhilarated when she wrote to tell me that she was topless on a beach in the Seychelles at the age of sixty or seventy something. When she was a daughter and wife and mother, my grandma did what needed to be done, and when she was older, she did whatever the hell she wanted. I loved that about her, and hope I emulate her in those ways.

My grandma taught me to love reading and writing, which influenced me to eventually becoming a writer. She also taught me to think for myself and believe in myself and do whatever crazy things I wanted to try doing…including publishing my first novel at the age of fifty-six. Thank you, Grandma!


Holly LaBarbera received her MA in counseling psychology from Santa Clara University, where she currently teaches as an adjunct professor. She also runs her own psychotherapy practice. All I Know is her debut novel. She was born in Hawaii, grew up in New York, and currently lives outside of San Francisco, California.

Holly LaBarbera received her MA in counseling psychology from Santa Clara University, where she currently teaches as an adjunct professor. She also runs her own psychotherapy practice

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