The year was 1978.
Gail Grenier Sweet was taking care of her children, 2 months and 2 years, when her younger brother, David, called with the news.
"You need to come home," he said. "Now."
Her parents and younger brother had died in a car accident. And at 27-years-old, she said, she learned a lesson she in some ways had always known.
"It's how I was raised to find enjoyment in all things," she said. "Those losses really drove home the truth of the importance of enjoying life because the people you love really can be gone tomorrow."
These beliefs found a home in her heart and stayed there until recently. When she turned 60, that's when the Menomonee Falls resident says she really "started cooking."
"The loss taught me not to dwell in death, but to live," Sweet said. She found solace in the written word, an expression of things past, present and ultimately the future.
The result is "Dessert First: Glimpses of Wisconsin Life." From mice wearing clothes to disagreements with fruit flies, the collection of short stories, poems and photos chronicle Wisconsin life as Sweet knows it.
After 21 years of teaching creative writing, she said, she knew the time was right to put all of the desserts life has dealt her together into what has become "Dessert First."
"I was looking for a common theme among the stories, and it came to me," she said. "It's an enjoyment of life these stories have in common. That is dessert in my opinion, because just as there are many delicious kinds of desserts, there are a lot of different things you can do to enjoy life."
Profits from the book benefit the HOPE Network, a local charity for single mothers she founded in 1982. Since then, she has served as executive director and president of the board, and stays involved as a volunteer.
"When I read the stories, so many of them resonated with stories from my own life," said friend and fellow HOPE Network volunteer Beth Boeck. "That is good storytelling — when your words spark the telling of stories by others."
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: "Dessert First" May Day book launch
WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, May 1
WHERE: Ally's Bistro, W13350 Lund Lane
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