By Dorothea Benton Frank and
Victoria Benton Frank
Illustrated by Renée Andriani
By GWEN OREL
This Mother’s Day was different for Victoria Frank Peluso.
It was the first without her mother, Dorothea Benton Frank, the bestselling author (“Sullivan’s Island,” “Queen Bee”).
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Dorothea Benton Frank died after an eight-week battle with a cancer called myelodysplastic syndrome on Labor Day 2019. (She also wrote the column “Dot’s Desk” for Montclair Local.) She was just 67.
On the other hand, Victoria, who writes under the name Victoria Benton Frank, was kept
busy on Mother’s Day nursing her baby, Dorothea (born a few months after the death of Dorothea Benton Frank), potty-training her toddler, Teddy, and finding the positives in the holiday.
“This Mother’s Day I feel very empowered. I feel my Mom with me, urging me to go on and be grateful for my children. It’s what moms do. We put aside our own sadness and raise good babies,” she said.
One of the positives is the release, by Harper Collins, of the children’s book she wrote with her mother, “Teddy Spaghetti.”
Just last June, mother and daughter toured together. And the publisher had plans for another mother-daughter book tour, this time to promote both Dorothea Benton Frank’s 21st book and the children’s book.
Her mother started the 21st book, “Reunion Beach,” set at a high school reunion, Victoria said, but hadn’t finished it. “Maybe one day I’ll pick it up … but that’s just me dreaming,” she added.
Victoria, a 2004 MHS graduate, now lives in South Carolina, where her mother hails from, and where her novels are set.
Being a writer is a relatively new path for Victoria, who had worked as a professional chef and cooking instructor for a company called Charleston Cooks. Food was important to mother and daughter, and Dorothea Benton Frank wrote about it often (see “Dot’s Desk” columns “Hallmark Movies Are Making Me Fat;” “Happy New Year Fruitcake”).
The inspiration for “Teddy Spaghetti” came a few years ago, when Victoria was recovering from the C-section that delivered her son.
“I said, Mom, I’m going crazy. I’m home and I can’t work,” Victoria said. “She said, ‘Why don’t we write a story together?’ I said okay. I call my son ‘Teddy Spaghetti’ because he’s Italian.” The women thought it was a great book title.
The book tells the story of a little boy who loves spaghetti, and is nervous about his first day of school. His parents give him spaghetti to take for lunch. While most of the children are impressed, one bully gives him the nickname “Teddy Spaghetti.” But even the bully becomes a friend when offered a bite.
“We cast my son’s personality,” Victoria said. “He doesn’t care what other people think. He’s shocked when people are negative. He turns it into a positive, because he would rather be smiling.”
Like the Teddy of the story, her son has his style quirks. When book Teddy doesn’t want to go to school, he says “My blood pressure is through the roof.”
“It’s a nod to parents whose kids say precocious things,” Victoria said with a laugh. “We came up with the story because we thought about what was important to us to teach children. We wrote a book about being yourself, sharing your culture and the things you love with other people. Bullying is every mom’s fear. You don’t want to think about kids being bullied.”
The book puts out a positive message: Not only does the bully become friends with Teddy Spaghetti, but Teddy decides he likes the name.
The children’s book came together in only about two weeks, over many cups of coffee,
Victoria said. While it was the first official collaboration between mother and daughter, the two had helped one another before.
Victoria is working on a novel, and her mother helped her with it. And Dorothea would call up her daughter and read a passage and say, “What do you think of this?”
“We were not just mother and daughter. We were sisters and best friends, and co-workers. She would start a sentence and I would finish it. When I was going on the book tour with her Harper Collins said, ‘Are you sure? It’s two weeks, every day. Maybe it’s a bad idea.’
“We had so much fun! They were paying us to do this, and it was the greatest thing that ever happened,” Victoria said.
The book tour ended, her mother came to Teddy’s birthday party on June 20. Six days later she found out she was sick. On Labor Day, she died.
Victoria spent the summer in the ICU, away from her husband in South Carolina. The first time baby Dorothea kicked, Victoria was in the hospital.
“I got to say, ‘I’m naming her after you.’ I got to say goodbye,” Victoria said.
If her mother were here this Mother’s Day, Victoria would say, “How dare you leave me?”
But also, she’d say, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Over and over. As much as I miss her, and it is a robbery, and my son is still obsessed with her, I’m still very grateful. She made me strong, and sassy and funny.
“Anything you can say that’s good about me, she put it in me.”