Just when I think I’ve heard all the family
stories—many times—another is remembered and told. That its truth was
revealed years after the event is matter of concern, for authenticity is
certain to have been colored by my mother’s imagination and my own.
My mother always loved to read. Her voice
echoes that of many great authors—which I hardly notice—and many
super-market romances as well, which I do. She describes people she has
met or only observed from across the waiting room at the doctor’s
office. Her words paint a picture down to the last detail like a
paragraph carefully wrought.
is as thick as a mane,” she says. She details a woman’s beauty from the
shape of her eyelids to the way the tilt of her nose changes as she
ages. And when she tells a story she repeats it back in dialogue, even
when it happened years ago -- as if her mind were a tape recorder and
has stored every nuance. She is a walking, talking example of the “new”
This book is made from my own
memories and the harkenings of others. I liken the process of recording
them to a child who listens to adult conversation with nuances that she
doesn’t quite understand so she must fill out the meaning with her own
experiences. It is a bit like a child who tries to stand upright after
twirling herself into oblivion; the pictures blend into a blur like a
pinwheel and then—with time -- reassemble themselves in the living
I admit that sometimes I stop listening
because I’ve heard so many times the story about how Gram Lucretia set
the table with sterling or because the language of the tale being told
is so Homerian that I am tempted to snooze. The “rosey-fingered dawns”
become boring when repeated too many times, no matter how poetic they
may have been in the original.
Then there is the affect of mood. The mood
I was in when I heard it or when I was writing it can color it as surely
as a box of Crayolas, bright or faded.
I must not forget the deliberate. There are
certain exigencies required to mold a tale into something, you, my
reader, will want to read. So I might change the order of an event or
the color of a dress to fit the need of the story. The writing of it
might require me to imagine another’s point of view in order to capture
the story’s full truth.
I often wonder, am I writing fact or
fiction? Is any truth more true that the way the writer sees it? In some
sense, isn’t a writer’s truth more truthful than fact?
It is very
convenient that we have that new term creative nonfiction, but it
is only a new term for a very ancient practice. I am determined to
dispense with fact-driven guilt and tell these stories as I remember
them or as I remember their being told to me. There really is no other