coming Into FocusRead Now
Pud’s mother died two months after he did, in June 1967 at age 81. Her health, both physical and mental, had been failing, so the family tried to keep from her the fact that her youngest son had died unexpectedly. Whether we were successful or not, we’ll never know.
Because I had lived in Baltimore until my father died, I never really knew my grandmother. I’m sure I was around her as a young child, but I have no recollection of having a conversation with her. I don’t remember her voice, her mannerisms, her interests.
I do recall how surprised I was not too long ago when my cousin Mac described sitting with our grandmother and listening to baseball games on the radio. Evidently she was an avid fan. I had no idea. I don’t think I had ever really thought of her as a person with hobbies or passions or opinions. She was simply my grandmother, an abstract that I had shown little curiosity about fleshing out.
Last week another cousin, Vince, sent us a copy of a note our grandmother had written to him in 1953. With just a few phrases, she came alive for me for the first time.
It starts out, “Dear Vincy, Awfully sorry you didn’t get to come down Sunday. You must take your medicine real good and hustle yourself down before it gets too cold to play out.”
She continues, “Mac has gone nuts over baseball and football. As cold as it was Sunday, he had his daddy out back playing ball with him. The little black pig has a room in the barn now right next door to the big pig. Kenneth’s big white rabbit is living in a coop nailed to the wall in the coal house. All fixed up for winter.
“Mac had a jaw tooth filled yesterday. Didn’t whoop and holler nary a bit. Love, Mamoo”
In that brief note, I learned how she spoke, what and whom she cared about, and what events preoccupied her thoughts, as well as a bit about the world she inhabited.
As I hunker down to finish the novel about my maternal grandfather—a man who remained a mystery to everyone in my family until recent research unearthed the outlines of his remarkable life—I recognize even more urgently the importance of perfecting each character’s voice. A few words, an idiomatic usage, a turn-of-phrase paints a better portrait of the individual than countless overdone descriptions. What a character chooses to say, and how he mutters it, reveals his values, his circumstances, his background, and how he views himself and others in his world.
Trying to bring my long-gone ancestors to life is a daunting undertaking. I make decisions daily about their language and their actions that may in no way reflect the reality of who they were. That is why I am writing fiction.
But, this week, I learned a great deal from reading one brief note casually penned by another ancestor. Not only did I learn about her, but I learned how to be a better writer.
1/6/2019 07:46:23 pm
Based on her smile alone, she looks like a grand ol' gal. Reminds of my own maternal grandmother, who she resembles slightly.
1/6/2019 07:58:48 pm
I wholeheartedly deny that I "whooped or hollered" at doctors or dentists as a child with the possible exception of every such person in the practice of such medicine in Lawrenceburg in the 40's and 50'. My grandmother ,known to me only as Mom, was caring and kind person with a wicked sense of humor who never raised her voice in my presence. She loved her family unconditionally in the way that her generation of grandmothers were able th make their families the absolute center of their existence. I loved the time I spent with this gentle person.
1/6/2019 09:20:53 pm
It really is a shame that you missed out on her amazing oatmeal cookies that were always waiting for us grandkids in a jar in her kitchen when we came for Sunday dinners. (Which was almost every week during the warmer months) The smells and sights of her house still linger along with the chicken coop, the barn, and many memories.
1/7/2019 01:07:22 pm
I shared some of these very same sentiments with family over the holidays. I never knew either of my grandfathers (I was only a few months old when my grandfather Hanks passed away) and I feel like there even ‘missing’ decades of history with my parents. There are diaries my grandmother Hanks kept I hope to get my hands on someday soon but learning details of my mothers’ family will be tough. All those great aunts and uncles out there that I may never know much about or have the chance to share with my kids and their kids... I enjoy your blog. I like how you think because it makes ME think 😊
1/7/2019 02:50:30 pm
Thanks for her picture, I did not have one, she didn't like her picture taken(just like me), the blog brings back such good memories, like Bob, every time I have oatmeal cookies I think of "Mom", you missed out on so much, sure miss those times with her.
1/12/2019 07:51:17 am
Sorry this comment is so late. Many memories after reading your blog and the other comments. One of the most vivid was waking up in Gram's house to the wonderful aroma of her cinnamon toast, best I've had in my life. It was as if she knew when our sleep was over. After a slide down the bannister, we were in the kitchen for a great breakfast. Then there was my sweet grandmother, taking a chicken from the henhouse and decapitating it with an ax followed by the "running around like a chicken with its head cut off". City boy had never seen such a thing. This was followed by the best fried chicken dinner you can imagine, There are so many more. Great to stop and rember
1/12/2019 08:30:22 am
Thanks to all my cousins who have shared their memories. My natural cynicism may have led me to doubt those heart-warming fictional tales of grandma in the kitchen, or grandma doling out unconditional love, but if I hadn't been born too late or lived too far away it sounds like I, too, could have enjoyed a few of those moments. I will sear your memories in my brain as if they were my own. Thank you.
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