The story begins with separate stories of two women raised in different generations, under different circumstances, and in different cultures. The wife of a Latvian doctor, Milda is accustomed to a life of privilege, until WWII forces her to flee to Germany and eventually the United States. In Milwaukee, Jean grows up in an impoverished family, the seventh of eight children. Their life-threads cross and become inextricably braided together when Milda’s son meets and marries Jean.

Jean’s story is that of author Constance Stepe, 76, of East Peoria. Milda’s story is derived both from Stepe’s mother-in-law’s recollections of life in Latvia and Germany before and during WWII and firsthand accounts from her husband and research partner, Joe. Joe Stepe was 6 years old when his mother fled Latvia with him and his brother because her husband, serving as a Soviet Army doctor in Belarus, had been transported to Siberia as a political dissident. A similar fate threatened the family.

“We used to live in Dundaga Castle, near Riga,” Joe said. “When we were in Germany, which was accepting Latvian refugees, we went from one displaced persons camp to another.”

On reaching the United States, Joe’s family found a sponsor who transported them to a farm in Minnesota.

“My mother and I both spoke Latvian and Russian,” he said. “And we spoke fluent German from living in Germany for seven years. But it was all English here, and we didn’t speak any. But we knew we needed to speak English in this country, so we got to work. I learned English in six months, and my mother learned it about the same amount of time.”

The Stepes ultimately settled in Wisconsin, where Joe met his future wife and the future chronicler of his family’s story. The relationship with her mother-in-law, Stepe remembers, was not always a sunny one, and she relates tensions between them in “Acceptance.”

“Milda did not like me,” she said. “I had red hair, I wasn’t Latvian, I was not as well educated as she’d have liked, and I was Catholic. I really had a hard time getting her to accept me.”

Ultimately, the two women overcame their differences in class and culture and became friends. The acceptance Constance wanted from Milda was a sufficiently important theme that it became the book’s title. Both Constance and Joe, however, wish they had settled on a different title.

“We wanted to call it ‘Nu ja. Ta ir,’ which is the Latvian equivalent of ‘it is what it is,” said Joe. “Latvia’s been occupied by so many different countries, and had so many different people telling them what to do that we have learned to play the hand we’re dealt. ‘Nu ja. Ta ir,’ was the most commonly used expression in the Latvian language. But if we’d named the book that, nobody would have known what it meant.”

“When we got our book on Amazon, we found about 10 other books on there named “Acceptance,” Stepe said. “And it seems like half of them were written by Constance something.”

Stepe had worked for six years as a reporter for the Peoria Times Enterprise, and had written short stories for a local publication called “Downstate Story.” Her inspiration to write a book on her own experiences and those of her husband’s family came about three years ago.

“A friend from when I was girl called me and said, ‘let’s get together,’” she said. “I hadn’t seen her since grade school. We got together in Milwaukee and stopped by the house I’d lived in there. When I saw that, I could picture my mom and dad sitting on the porch. Then, the Fondulac District Library had an event in November of that year for Novel Month. I attended that and just decided ‘I’m going to write a book.’”

Three years of visiting Milwaukee and Latvia, collecting passports, passenger manifests, legal documents, medical records, military records and photographs later, “Acceptance” was completed and self-published through CreateSpace. The book was released in September and is available on the online shopping site Amazon for $16.95.

“I would encourage people to read my book because they might understand refugees better,” said Stepe. “My father used to complain about how they came over and took American jobs, and that’s not true. And when immigrants hang onto some of their customs from their old countries, it doesn’t mean they’re not happy to be in America, as some people seem to think. Of course, they’re happy to be here, but they’re not going to discard their roots. You have to go back to your roots to know who you are.

Taken in that context, it is possible to interpret Stepe’s completion of a novel, after decades of writing short stories and newspaper articles, as a voyage of self-discovery. She explored her own beginnings and those of her husband for insight on how they arrived in their present circumstances.