Wednesday, September 27, 2017

An unfinished life...an unfinished story



September draws to a close this week and so does StoryADay for September 2017. Did I write a story every day? No. Did I write any stories at all? Yes. Did I carefully save all the prompts for future reference? You bet! (See September 25 blog about story sources)
I came up with an idea of my own when one daily prompt didn’t rattle my cage. Months ago, doing some genealogical research in a file of old death certificates, I found a heartbreaking tale waiting to be told: during the Depression, the mayor of a town jumped to his death from the sixth floor of a bank building. The notation ‘suicide’ cited ill health and financial reverses. He left behind a 19-year-old daughter.
It seemed to me there had to be more to the few lines explanation for ‘cause of death’ on the official certificate. In essence, it was an unfinished story because the man’s life was unfinished. So, too, is my fictional story. There’s no title…and no ending. So take a few minutes to read and tell me how you would tie up the loose ends of this tragic tale.

We’d weathered the worst of the Depression, or so I thought. It was just Papa and me since my mother died in ’22 when I was four, and the house was ours free and clear. Papa had sold the car and walked or took the streetcar to town to his office, and I could walk to school in ten minutes.
His law practice didn’t lack for clients, just those who could pay him in a timely manner if at all. But we managed. I did the cooking and cleaning after we had to let Mrs. Varney go, but I didn’t mind. Papa often bemoaned the fact I spent so much time engaged at home, but most of my friends were up to their necks in the quicksand of economic hard times, too. We made our good times when we could.
Then last year Papa decided he had enough time on his hands to run for mayor and won hands down. Our small town didn’t take much running, but he enjoyed organizing on-the-cheap holiday celebrations, handing out ribbons at sports events, and presiding over social functions at civic organizations.
That last morning I made oatmeal as usual and sprinkled cinnamon sugar on top the way he liked. “You going to the ball game after school?” he asked when I brought his coffee to the table. We had to play during daylight because the school couldn’t afford to light the field.
“With only eleven of us in the pep squad, I’d leave a hole if I didn’t,” I replied.
“Eleven? Who dropped out?”
“Ellen Waters’ family moved to Canton. Her father got a job in a factory there.”
“That’s good.”
“They were pretty hard up. She didn’t want to leave right at the beginning of the year, but they had to go.”
“Well, of course, they did.”
“What are you going to do today?”
“I have an appointment with a new client.” He unfolded his napkin a little belatedly and spread it in his lap. I noticed the lapels on his suit appeared more threadbare.
“A paying one, I hope.”
“I hope so, too. He’s not from around here, but his family owned some land south of town. He’s trying to get a clear title to it.”
“What’s the problem?”
“I’m not sure, to tell you the truth. He wasn’t very clear on the phone yesterday.”
“Well, you’ll be able to straighten things out for him.”
“It doesn’t sound too complicated.”
I walked out on the porch with him as usual and kissed his cheek. “Good luck.”
“Thank you, darlin’. I’ll come over to the school for some of the game if there’s time.”
“Okay, I’ll look for you.”
He patted me and strode down the walk, his shoulders squared, and his head held high. He didn’t look or act like a man planning to jump out of a seventh story window at the bank--but that’s what they told me he did.
~~~~~
I’d known the police chief ever since I could remember. He was a deacon in our church, and his wife had been my Sunday School teacher for a couple of years when I was younger. So when they both showed up together in front of the stands where the pep squad sat and beckoned me down, a knot of dread formed in the pit of my stomach.
For some reason, probably because I didn’t believe what Chief Goins said, I didn’t cry. “No,” I said, “you’re wrong. He didn’t do that. He planned to meet with a new client, and then he was coming out for the rest of the game.”
Mrs. Goins put her arm around my shoulders. “I’m so sorry, Charlotte.”
I pushed her away. “No, you’re wrong. You’re just wrong.” By this time the whole pep squad had stopped cheering and stood there looking at me in silence. “You’re wrong,” I repeated. “Wrong.”
“Come on home with us, honey,” Chief Goins said, taking my arm. I tried to shake him off, but he held me fast.
~~~~~
Papa had been in the ground by Mamma for four days before I accepted he was gone forever. Then I cried. And then I got angry. No matter what anyone said, my father hadn’t taken the elevator from the third to the seventh floor of the City National Bank where he kept an office, opened a window at the end of the corridor on the front, and hurled himself to the sidewalk below, narrowly missing a few passing pedestrians.
I stayed mad for the rest of the school year. Since I was seventeen and due to graduate in the spring, no one argued with me when I insisted I was going to live at home. Mr. Farmer at the bank said Papa’s account had enough money to pay the bills and buy groceries if I was careful. “But you’ll need to think about selling the house this summer before the taxes come due.”
 I didn’t tell him selling the house was the last thing I planned to think about. I went back to school the next week. My friends didn’t ask any questions, just stayed close to me. But I knew there were whispers about how my father died, and I didn’t want to hear them.
My teachers told me I didn’t have to make up the work I’d missed, but I got the lessons from them anyway. Then I went to Papa’s office--Chief Goins had returned the keys found in Papa’s pocket--and started emptying his desk.
As I put things into the brown paper shopping bags I’d brought along, I noticed his appointment book wasn’t among them. It wasn’t in any of the drawers either. Or among the folders in the battered metal filing cabinet.
“Charlotte.”
The voice breaking the silence startled me. “Oh, Mr. Parker, it’s you.” Owen Parker, one of the two other attorneys in town, had been a close friend of my father--the one he trusted most.
“Do you need any help?”
“I’m just cleaning out Papa’s things. You don’t happen to know where his appointment book would be, do you?”
“It should be on his desk.”
“It’s not.”
He came the rest of the way into the small office. “He never too it out of the office. Not that we had too many clients these days, but it was a permanent record of who came and went. His older books should be in the bottom drawer.”
They were all there dating back to to 1920 when he hung out his shingle, but the one for 1935 wasn’t among them. “He had an appointment with a new client,” I said. “Do you know who it was?”
“Not the name, but Walter mentioned he was from out of town.”
“He was trying to get a clear title to some family land south of town.”
“That’s right.”
“Did you see Papa…that day?” I choked a little.
“No, I didn’t. I was filing some petitions with the court that morning, and when I came back, I noticed the light was off in his office, so I figured he’d finished for the day and gone to play mayor somewhere. He really enjoyed that, you know.”
“I know. Mr. Parker, what about all these files? What about Papa’s clients?”
“I know you want to get out from under the rent in this office, so I can have the file cabinet moved across the hall to mine and notify people to come pick up what’s theirs. Lord knows, I have plenty of time.”
“That would be nice of you.”
“I expect a lot of those files belong to people who’ve passed on. I’ll burn those after six months or so.”
“Thank you.”
“Mr. Parker, Papa didn’t commit suicide.”
He looked away from me.
“He was pleased about the new client, and he said he’d see me at the ball game if he was finished here. Nothing was different about him that morning or any other time. You knew him. You knew what he was like.”
“Charlotte, honey, I’m not sure we ever really know another person.”
“I knew Papa.”
“Well.”
“The seventh floor isn’t occupied, is it?”
“Not for a while.”
“And the elevator operator would’ve wondered why he was going up there, wouldn’t he?”
“I guess so.”
“I know a lot of people have taken their own lives these last few years, but that’s happened mostly in the big cities. Papa talked to me about it once. He said nothing was ever so bad that a man had to just give up.”
“He was an optimist, that’s for sure.”
I piled the old appointment books in a paper bag and placed my mother’s framed picture on top. “He loved her a lot, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did. She was a lovely person. If he hadn’t had you when she died, I’m not sure he’d have been the person he is…was...”
“He still had me, and he’d never have just one off and left me like this.”
I heard his breath leave him in a long, sad sigh. “I’m just so sorry, Charlotte. He was a good man. A good friend.”
“And a good father. He didn’t jump out that window on his own. I don’t know why everybody is willing to let things go.”
Owen Parker helped me carry the bags to the elevator and out back where I’d borrowed a neighbor boy’s wagon to haul them home. “You know you can come to me if you ever need anything, don’t you?”
I nodded. “I need to find that appointment book.”
“Maybe it’s at home.”
“I’m going to look.”
He hesitated as if he were going to say something, but then he nodded and left me alone in the empty office.




Sunday, September 24, 2017

The best source of stories is...

Short and sweet:  there’s no one best source, but here are some I depend on:


  • Old family stories
  • Old family pictures
  • Family heirlooms
  • Obituaries
  • Overheard snippets of conversation
  • Magazine/newspaper pictures/articles
  • Newspaper ads (the personal column)
  • Observations in airports
  • Old buildings
  • Old houses
  • Past traditions and customs not seen much any more
  • “Ghost” stories
  • Travel brochures
  • Travel experiences
  • Songs (but be careful not to use anything beyond titles unless they’re in the public domain!)
  • Events in history (notably WW II, the Depression)
  • Reminiscences about old towns (especially my hometown “back in the day”)
  • My own memories
  • Story starters (e.g. StoryADay)
  • Causes I espouse
  • Injustices I want to expose
  • Mysterious events
  • Tombstone symbols, inscriptions, dates, names (related: Find-a-Grave)
  • Genealogical research (birth, marriage, death certificates)


If you take this list and sit down with pen and paper (or keyboard) and write a few words about each idea, you’ll probably find you have enough ideas to keep you busy for the next five years!

Let me know which ones you’ve used, and add any more you’ve found useful. C’mon--share!





Friday, September 22, 2017

The Writing Journey: Different Roads



Since entering the wild, wacky world of writing and publishing (both traditionally and independently), the one thing I’ve learned is that everyone has his own opinion on just about everything. That blanket statement includes me--yes, I’m opinionated! However, I’m also selective.

I started out 

like everyone just wanting to be published--online, in print, whatever. With some success under my belt, I found I’d scratched my itch. In other words, I wasn’t writing for publication anymore, just for my own personal satisfaction.

Then I found…

And that’s where I parted ways with many writing groups, both physical and online. A few reasons being, they are too often
·        crowded with egos
·        self-serving
·        unsupportive of newbies who need the most support of all
·        focused on their own vision of writing and writers
·        cliquish
·        horn tooters
A few conferences, a few group book signing events, a few physical club meetings…let’s just say a little bit goes a long way!

A positive spin…

Now--lest I come off as totally negative--I’ve also found in person and online
·        support
·        good advice (not do-it-this-way-or-else)
·        honest folks who are not interested in being the star attraction, only who they are
·        writers who are willing to share their own early experiences with newbies
·        people who can laugh at themselves and therefore with others
·        writers who see themselves as part of the pack rather than the leader of same

I don’t know where you are in your writing journey or where you envision your final destination. I’d like to suggest that, for me anyway, the final destination became finding out who I am, what I want,  being able to take satisfaction in my personal successes, and laugh/learn from my failures.


What is your final destination as a writer? How will you know you’ve reached it?


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Selling Success





The list of those writers who tell other writers how to succeed (by this I mean, how to sell books) is endless. Over the years I’ve been able to put together a list of names I find credible (not to say others aren’t) and genuinely helpful. Subscribing to their advice and counsel is free, and you may or may not want to buy their books which take things a step farther. Here are some (not all, mind you, and in no particular order) worth looking at. Who knows? You may find a fit!


Social Media Examiner (Michael Stelzner)






These links don’t even represent the tip of the iceberg, but let’s face it--the number of websites, blogs, and newsletters out there can sabotage your research from the beginning. Over the years I’ve found these particular “writers for writers” to speak clearly to be most of the time.

If you have a particular favorite “guru”, please share!




Sunday, September 17, 2017

Enroll now...

A (writing) friend of mine turned me on to Fiction University, an online subscription (free) which lands in my email box between once and three times a day. I save all the articles to a folder until I have time to read them.

To begin with…

The first article received on January 5th this year focused on a master plan for those who choose the path of indie publishing. In plain language, the authors discuss
·        Coming to terms with individual goals
·        The where of selling
·        The when of releasing (including specific tips for getting the word out in a timely manner)
·        Setting the price of our babies (and the rationale behind same)

Continuing in the same vein…

The following month, a second article following up on and expanding the master plan came across my desk. It includes information on
·        How our goals affect our marketing strategies
·        Prioritizing our readers
·        Retaining our readers
·        Long-term planning

Other topics of interest…

Scanning the titles in the saved folder, I find a wide range of topics including
·        Character development
·        Conflict development
·        Revision tips
·        Story starters
·        Dealing with writing stress, rejection, etc.
In short, there’s something for everyone here without the necessity of reading an entire book on a single subject.


Take a five-minute tour of Fiction University: Taking Your Writing to the Next Level. Without a doubt, these short, simple, easy-to-follow tips and tutorials will find their way into your online writing library.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

What kind of (writing) information are you looking for? A cautionary tale


Research or best guess?

How much research do you do for stories and books you write? Enough to be credible, I hope! Today, with the internet, there’s no excuse for anachronisms in your period writing or inaccurate descriptions of settings or even false characteristics of the types of people who inhabit your creative endeavors. Or is there?

The internet, your friend…or foe?

So you’re writing about a World War II romance…a dashing Air Force pilot and his true love, a beleaguered English rose caught in the middle of the London Blitz.
Think again. During WW II, there was no separate United States Air Force--only the United States Army Air Force. Flying in the military began during the first world war, but it was still in its infancy in the second.
Think twice. What we refer to as the “blitz” lasted 8 months and 5 days, from September 7, 1940, until May 11, 1941. The United States didn’t even get into the war until December 7, 1941.

Know what you’re looking for

Be careful. Check more than one source to “vet” names and dates. Sloppy stuff abounds on the internet! The more research you do, the better feel you’ll get for credible sources. Going to specific websites on the subject matter (e.g. Army Air Forces Historical Association) will garner more information you can count on than generic entries.
Don’t discount the personal interview. If you’re writing about police procedures, talk to a cop! The public relations department of any police department would probably be glad for the chance to give you the facts. Find bloggers in niche areas who get their information straight from the source (e.g. Fiona Quinn’s ThrillWriting Blog.
Visit historical societies, libraries, hospitals, banks, law firms…you get the idea. Yes, yes, you’re allowed to take a little “literary license”, but don’t push the envelope!

Think. Research. Consider. Write. Think again.

Happy writing!




Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A peek inside The Writer

The Writer Magazine…inside and out

Currently, I only subscribe to one writing magazine: The Writer. I had let my subscription drop for several years when I felt I was getting the “same old, same old”, but a good deal which landed in my inbox encouraged me to try again.


The basics

First, check out their website for tons of information. If it grabs you enough to click “subscribe”, you need read no further here. Currently they’re advertising “hot summer savings” in the form of a year’s subscription for $19.00 (U.S.) Also, it’s offered in digital form if you’re not into turning pages in a magazine.

A quick look inside

The October issue has already arrived (!). Besides 6 feature stories, you’ll find the following in every issue:
·        From the Editor
·        Take Note (This month a unique take on writing by a freelancer and short story writer)
·        Markets (This month, 5 pages of niche markets complete with contact info)
·        Classified advertising (Natch! What keeps print alive?)
·        How I Write (A concise one-page interview with an author)
In addition, there are the departments:
·        Writing Essentials (This month, suggestions on getting rid of useless be verbs)
·        Freelance Success (first-person experiences)
·        Literary Spotlight (a literary magazine profile)
·        Conference Insider (writing conference profile)
Previous editions of the magazine have features from other “departments” such as “Class Action” (MFAs, etc.) and “Breakthrough” (ideas, suggestions on some aspect of writing such as plot, marketing, etc.)

Summing up

I usually find a couple of great workable ideas I can incorporate into my writing life. The “Writing Essentials” lessons on getting rid of useless be verbs is already changing my sentence structure in a good way. I used be verbs sparingly anyway, but I’m cutting most of the ones I still use!
And, don’t forget to visit them online for information you won’t want to miss!

Disclaimer:

I’m not pushing anyone to subscribe to anything, just sharing!





Monday, September 11, 2017

If you write...

If you write, you might want to read…

As with any vocation or hobby, magazines catering to those involved in such abound. Researching this blog, I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for: a comprehensive list of magazines for writers about the craft of writing. Three, which are still found on the shelves in the periodicals department of book stores and to which one can subscribe are:

·        The Writer
·        Writer’s Digest
·        Poets and Writers

Currently, though I’ve subscribed all of them in the past, I only have The Writer delivered to my home mailbox. I’ll talk more about why on Wednesday.

Learning from other writers…

The old advice, “If you want to write, you should read,” may have sparked the compilation of the Top 50 Literary Magazines. If you have in mind learning from other published writers in the world of non-fiction or literary fiction, you might want to glance over the names at this site. Who knows? Someday you might have a byline in one of them!

Why read about writing at all?

Writers cite many reasons for delving into the contents of writing-related magazines. While many articles aren’t really “of interest” to me, I try to at least skim through for any stray ideas. I’m curious about the writing habits of other writers--what works for them and what doesn’t. I like ideas for “writing retreats”, even if the venues are financially unattainable for me. I’m always hopeful for a writing conference which is worth the time and money for an older, non-ambitious writer like me--a place to meet other writers, to listen to speakers with  new ideas, and to just listen to the buzz around me.

Special issues offer insights…

Often magazines for writers put out once-a-year specials touting must-visit websites. I like these, too, and usually make the purchase (while bewailing the price).

The downside

There are just so many topics to cover about writing for writers. “New” usually refers to a new spin on an old chestnut. However, it’s often worthwhile to snatch these chestnuts from the fire and open them up. Sometimes they’re meaty with delicious ideas not dwelt on previously.

Before you subscribe…

Spend some time browsing in your nearest bookstore. Thumb through the current writing magazines. Maybe splurge and buy one so you can study it at home at your leisure. Or, visit your local library and ask if they subscribe to any of these magazines. Reading on the cheap isn’t to be dismissed. If an issue is particularly good, you can always buy it later.


Wednesday I’ll be dissecting The Writer, so come prepared to take notes!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Remembering better days

An invitation

A text from my daughter-in-law tells me my middle granddaughter “would love it” if I would show up in her second-grade classroom on Friday for Grandparents Day. Obviously, I will, because I love doing what makes her happy.

A memory

I remember second grade like it was yesterday! So naturally I thought of the class picture we had made, probably after returning from the Christmas holidays in 1952, because we all had our dolls. The boys weren’t ashamed to bring their teddy bears either! Those really were the good old days when we were taught to embrace our childhood instead of question our gender!

A search

Anyway, after some major digging around, I found the picture as well as my report card on which the teacher wrote I was “well adjusted and making progress”. Hmmmmm. I think Aubrey will enjoy having me bring with with me. Last year in Hanna’s fourth-grade class, I was invited to share a memory of my own fourth-grade experience.

A few final thoughts

Hint:  I’m on the end at the right.

Miss Pearl Leifeste's Second Grade
Lamar Elementary School
San Angelo, Texas
1952


Also, I well remember our “art” lesson creating snowman pictures with chalk on black construction paper. Cheap, fun, creative, unlike the huge projects children undertake today.

The door of the “cloakroom” is on the left. That was the long dark room stretching almost the length of the classroom where we hung our coats and lunchboxes--and also spent time repenting of our small sins such as talking too much. I suppose it wasn’t really a “small” thing then, but in light of today’s schools, it didn’t get us suspended or expelled if we used the wrong pronoun or “offended” someone.

P.S. Yes, I remember the name of every single child in the class!





Wednesday, September 6, 2017

When I was born...




Once again I’ve opted to join StoryADay for a marathon of short-story writing. Yes, yes, I know I said no more writing until I’d organized forty-plus years’ worth of genealogical research, but…

This is such an easy way to add stories to my file of freebies and submission possibilities. No one is coming after me if I don’t write thirty stories in September! No one will ever know. I won’t get my hand slapped with the words, “No more prompts for you until you’ve caught up!” No, the story prompts will appear like magic via email every week! Then I’m free to do with them what I like.

Did I mention participation is free also?

The event happens twice a year, and for me, it’s a shot in the arm (or elsewhere if you like), spurring me to dash off what will be, with some editing, a short read to share on my website or even right here at The Word Place. In fact, I’m going to do just that right now!





Day 1 prompt:  When I was born…

I peered around the half-digested newspaper at my youngest grandson who sat hunched over his bony knees on the floor beside my chair.
“So what was the world like when you were a kid?” Steve’s freckles appeared to be bouncing around on his earnest face as if they sought higher ground in his shock of burnt-orange hair. I’d had the same hair, though not quite as many freckles.
“What was it like?”
“That’s the question, Grandpa.” He gave me that disarming smile he’d known for eight and a half years could elicit the right answers from almost anyone, especially me.
I lowered the newspaper to my lap. “What was it like?”
He opened his mouth to say something but nodded instead.
“When I was born, we were smack-dab in the middle of a war. World War II. My father had gotten a twenty-four hour pass to see me in the hospital before he shipped out the next day.”
“Where to?”
“He wound up in England as part of the invasion force. D-Day.”
“What was D-Day?”
“Don’t they teach you anything in school any more?” The newspaper slid from my lap. “I swear, what’s wrong with schools these days?”
“Geography,” he said clearly. “We’re learning geography, Grandpa. The continents and oceans and…”
“He’s only in third grade, Dad.” My son’s voice drifted across the room from his favorite chair. He didn’t put down the comic section he’d appropriated before giving me the rest of the paper.
“Oh. Well, when are they going to teach you a little history?”
Steve shrugged. “I don’t know, but you could give me a head start, couldn’t you?”
I gave him a brief explanation of the Normandy invasion.
“And your dad was there?”
“First wave on Omaha Beach, the bloodiest of them all.”
“Wow.”
I sat back in my chair. “He didn’t make it back.”
“I’m sorry, Grandpa.”
“Yeah, me, too, Stevie boy.”
“Do you remember being in third grade?”
“Sure do. Little one-room country school about two miles from my grandparents’ farm. Used to get rides on Poppy’s tractor when he was plowing that direction. In bad weather, he’d take me in his pickup truck. But he died that year, so my grandmother sold the farm, and we all moved to town.”
“This town?”
“Crows. That’s up in the eastern part of the state. The school was a little bigger. One room for each grade.”
“And the war was over, huh?”
“Ended when I was two, but then the Cold War started.” I explained that before he could ask. “We spent a lot of time scrambling under our desks and covering our heads with our arms. Air raid drills,” we called them. “But they were useless. Being under our desks wouldn’t have saved us from an atomic bomb.”
“Were you scared?”
“I don’t remember being scared. It was just what we did.”
“Oh. What did you watch on television?”
“We listened to the radio. The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Big Jon and Sparky, Eddy Arnold, The Shadow, Gangbusters, Amos and Andy, My Little Margie. We didn’t get a TV until I was in junior high school.”
“Sounds boring.”
“Anything but. We played outside after school until dark and all day in the summers. Rode our bicycles--with no helmets, by the way. Mom didn’t even know where I was, just around, but I knew I best be home in time for supper or else.”
“So I guess you didn’t have video games either.”
“Nope. Didn’t need them. Too much else to do.”
“Did the movies have talking in them?”
“Just how old do you think I am, anyway?” I glared at him.
He grinned. “Just checking.”
“Uh-huh.”
“It was a good time to grow up in Stevie boy. People weren’t in such a hurry, and they were nicer to each other.”
“Come to think of it, things were still pretty good when I was growing up.” My son Stephen folded the comic section and laid it aside. “Pretty good.” He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. “We’ve lost something we’ll never get back, you know.”
“What’s that?” Stevie scooted closer to his father.
“A sense of who we are.”
“I know who I am.”
“Who are you without your tv, your video games, and your computer time?”
Stevie’s mouth puckered. “What d’you mean, Daddy?”
“I mean, who’s Stevie? What do you like outside of electronic stuff? What do you think? What do you hope for?”
“A Chromebook for Christmas?”
Stephen shook his head. “Wrong answer.”
“How about snow?” I suggested. “You could build a snowman.”
“That’s kid stuff.”
“You’re a kid,” I reminded him. “You’re not even nine yet.”
“Will be in two months.”
“I knew who I was,” I said, closing my eyes and letting my mind drift back over time. “I was the boy who’s dad died in the war. Only one in my class even though a lot of my classmate’s father’s had seen action. I was the boy who talked to his dad at night after I went to bed. Told him about my day. Told him I wished he could’ve seen me hit that homerun on the playground or win the Friday spelling bee. Told him how I wanted to go fishing with my friend and his father, but they didn’t ask me.”
“I didn’t know that,” Stephen said, his words almost inaudible.
“No reason you should.”
“You never missed anything I did,” he said. “And that’s why, isn’t it?”
“I guess so.”
The silence in the room, chilly at first, slowly draped the three of us like a warm blanket. “Why don’t we go fishing on Saturday?” Stephen suggested. “Like that idea, Stevie?”
“Can we take the boat out?”
Stephen shook his head. “No, not this time. We’re going to pack up our gear and a picnic basket and drive to the river. We’ll fish from the bank like I learned to do.”
“Okay, I guess.”
“You in, Dad?”
“You bet.”
“You never taught me to clean a fish.”
“Well, I could do it faster, and your mother didn’t like a mess in her kitchen.”
Stephen picked up the comics again. “She sure didn’t.”
“So I guess I’m going to find out what it was like when you were a kid, Grandpa?”
“How do you mean?”
“Fishing.”
“More than that, Stevie.”
“More?”
“Maybe you’ll catch a fish, or maybe you’ll just have time to think about who you are. Either way, you’ll bringing something back.”
His mouth twisted, then straightened. “Okay, Grandpa. Whatever.”
“Not whatever, Stevie. Something. Something important. Okay?”
His freckles sought the high ground again. “Gotcha.”
I reached over and tousled his hair which didn’t need the extra. Then I picked up the sports section again and began to read.




Sunday, September 3, 2017

Preserving the family one face at a time

A tub of old photographs

Yesterday the search heated up for my second grade class picture (1951-52) so I could share it with my middle granddaughter (otherwise known as the Wee Bear Cub) who is also in second grade and has invited me to her classroom for Grandparents Day on Friday.
Two heavy tubs of keepsakes later, the picture popped up in an album on the top shelf of one bedroom closet with a bonus find--my second grade report card! (Come back on Friday for that story!)
Meanwhile, I had already dragged in one tub of partially-sorted and identified old pictures and determined to finish the job of die. Several hours later, I wondered which option might be best! Then I did the unthinkable--the pictures I didn’t recognize a face or a place, I tossed. Others, which I knew were taken in and around my mother’s hometown, I put in a manila envelope to mail to its local museum. I donated a number of items there many years ago and hope they’ll be able to sort through this offering with some success.

The never-ending task

Now, on the card table set up in my study (and taking up too much room!), I have another box of pictures to finish going through and placing in the proper family name file. Tomorrow. Maybe the day after. But I have no choice. No on else is left who can do the job.
Being the youngest grandchild on one side of the family and the only surviving grandchild on the other, I acquired the family history in many forms, including enough pictures to create a mild avalanche on the road to old age! Fortunately, I loved hearing the family stories and looking at the pictures before they were mine, so the job is doable.


Here is a wonderfully historic picture taken on August 8, 1896, the occasion of my great-grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary. I know this because my grandfather’s handwriting across the bottom preserves the moment. But I can identify only four people in this family gathering on the back veranda (porch) of the great-grandparents’ home in Liberty Hill (Williamson County) Texas to which they moved soon after the Civil War.
Second from left (standing) is my grandfather, the son of their oldest son who died when his only son was five months old. In this picture, Grandpa is a few weeks shy of his twenty-third birthday.
The couple sitting at the middle of the table beside the cake (fourth and fifth from left) are my great-grandparents. If you think they look like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, you may be right. She didn’t have to change her last name when she married! I’m close to proving her parentage and thus her exact blood relationship to her husband.
The sad, bent old woman at the end of the table is Grandpa’s maternal grandmother who raised him after his mother’s death orphaned him at the age of eight. The story goes that the two great-grandmothers were “schoolgirls together in South Carolina before their respective families migrated to Alabama where they married within a few years of each other--and their oldest offspring married each other.

Not yet the end of the story

And the story goes on from there, right down to the little girl who quite literally grew up at her grandfather’s knee, writing down names and places on now-yellowed pieces of notebook paper and begging to hear this or that story just one more time.

Grandpa would expect me to preserve what’s been handed down to OR dumped on me--and I intend to do it, one photo at a time.