Three sisters have written a children’s story together while miles apart.
Traci Gehrlein Peters of Seymour said the last time she and her sisters were together was in the glass cathedral in Arkansas on March 15 for the wedding of her niece.
“The following day, March 16, the nation went on a COVID-19 lockdown,” Peters said. “We all scurried back to our homes. We comforted each other through phone calls, Facebook and snail mail.”
Shortly after the pandemic lockdown, the sisters hatched an idea to write a children’s story about COVID-19.
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“I suggested we use the art form of collage, as it represents how our world was in falling into pieces but how we would could unite to make a beautiful picture,” Peters said.
Her oldest sister, Carrie Gehrlein Pointek, lives in Florida, and her other sister, Krissy Gehrlein Muthler, is in Pennsylvania.
The sisters subscribed to Mary Jane’s Farm magazine, so they chose it to make their colorful collages from the magazine pages.
Peters shared their collages and journey with Mary Jane’s Farm magazine.
“Their editor encouraged me to compose a 500-word essay and send it to them for their consideration,” she said.
It’s published in a letter form along with two pictures in the magazine on Page 9 of the December/January issue.
Pointek, 62, wrote the story, then Peters, 56, and Muthler, 57, added to it. Individually, each sister was responsible for an agreed upon number of collage pages.
Peters said they worked independently for weeks, and when they were finished, each page was mailed to her. She then compiled the 13-page book and bound it, using a Japanese method.
Although the three sisters were miles apart, they created and connected through the artwork and story.
“For us, creating was a process, and its result led us to a closer bond,” Peters said. “We have no intentions to publish our book. The process was used as a means to comfort our hearts, busy our frightened minds and nourish our deepening souls. There is only one original set of artwork and story. Carrie and I have several copies for our family and dear friends. Krissy has the original set.”
Peters, her sisters and one brother, Marty Gehrlein, were raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. Their parents, Larry and Joyce Gehrlein, are deceased.
Peters has been married to her husband, Jeff, for 37 years. He is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and works at United Parcel Service as a meteorologist. The couple have three adult children, Jared Peters, Kyle Peters and Carolyn Etheredge.
Peters is a homemaker and retired early childhood educator.
She said their daughter, son-in-law and grandson live in Columbus, and they wanted to live near them but still be close enough for Jeff to work and commute to UPS in Louisville, Kentucky, so they moved to Seymour.
Pointek said their father had a winter home in Florida, and she loved it so much that when she was 25, she packed up a suitcase and a boombox and flew to Cocoa Beach and lived there for 36 years.
She was a restaurant owner and chef, owned a plumbing service and supply store, was a certified master plumbing contractor and is now retired.
She is a widow and has two children, Teaka and Shelley.
Muthler lives in Avis, Pennsylvania. She went to college to become a medical secretary and also worked at a local school as a teacher’s aide and then was employed at an oil company. She retired when she became a grandmother.
Muthler has been married to her husband, Craig, for 35 years. They met after they became neighbors and now have two daughters, Brittney Hope and Chelsea Dawn.
Pointek said it was Peters’ idea to do the book.
“It was her sly idea to keep us from being bored and give us a way to keep our minds busy during the initial phase of COVID,” Pointek said.
Pointek said she used to write poetry when she was younger.
“I offered to write the story when Traci suggested the book. Besides, they seem to always defer to me when speaking or writing at or about family events,” she said. “One of my sisters mentioned the pink moon, so I formed the story around this, COVID, us, our recent time together and our hopes for the future.”
She wrote the story and shared it through text messaging.
“There was some back and forth on wording, and we agreed on a draft,” Pointek said. “I assigned which sentences went with what pages of the book. We decided among ourselves which pages we’d take to illustrate with the collages.”
Peters came up with collage idea, and Muthler came up with the three sister forms for the illustrations. Each time a page was finished, it was shared via group text. They Zoom called in the middle of the process, too.
Pointek said the finished product was sent to Peters, who did all of the hard work copying, laminating, artistic editing and binding.
“I believe 90% of the book was collages created from magazines and colored paper glued to card stock paper,” Pointek said. “Some ink and markers were used in the original artwork drawings made by Krissy and Traci.”
She said writing and creating the book together brought them closer together.
“It also brought comfort during these uncertain times. It also gave us a chance to start serious conversations we’ve probably always wanted to have, which also included silly face mask picture texts and laughs,” she said. “I love my sisters and brother to the moon and back.”
COVID-19 drove Muthler to find things she enjoyed, and that included watercolor and drawing. In the book, she drew the three sisters that displayed each of their gifts.
“I also did my part in the collages. That was my first time doing this form of art, and I found it very therapeutic,” she said.
Muthler said each sister did their own page to depict what they did while things were shut down due to the pandemic to help bless and encourage others.
“I personally did watercolor cards with a portion of Philippians Chapter 4 on it to encourage others and included those verses in our book,” she said. “I also have a niece who is an editor for a local newspaper who I sent all of our pages to, and she proofread them for us. That was pretty cool.”
Muthler said it was a bonding experience with her sisters, as they have lived far apart for most of their lives. There is such a deep love between them and brother, she said.
“I think it was important to show that we all have a part to play in encouraging and caring for one another, especially during rough times,” she said. “We are all in this together, and we do not need to be afraid.”