I finished writing over 50,000 words this month to earn my second NaNo badge on 750 Words, a site I have used for daily writing since June 2012 (and love.) November is National Novel Writers’ Month and so the last two years I’ve taken on the challenge of writing 50K words and attempting to work on a fictionalized story about my Gramma Christie’s life.
Last year I wrote a Prologue and a few sketches. I also did a lot of research on her second husband, Laurence Christie. When I started we knew very little about him except that he had come from the Shetland Islands, shared the same boarding house with my grandmother’s first husband, worked in the commercial real estate sector (pre- and post-depression), married my grandmother in his 50s, and died seven years later of a bleeding gastric ulcer.
I found his family in Cunningsburgh, Shetland, learning that his older brother suffered from bipolar disorder but was a talented musician, writer, and stone carver. Laurence emigrated to Chicago in 1907, where he worked hard enabling him to send money home to help his family and also likely helped a sister-in-law and nephew come to the States. He met Bob Marshall by 1910, when they shared the same boarding house (and were entered on the US Census on consecutive lines.) Robert Marshall died tragically in 1925, hit by a train as he was commuting to the family’s new summer home in Cedar Lake, Indiana. My grandmother was expecting my father at the time. Thirteen years later, Laurence married my grandmother.
I have enjoyed being in contact with Pat Christie, a native Shetlander and family historian. Her husband is the grandson of the son that stayed on the croft and took care of his and Laurence’s aging parents. She has sent me pictures and letters and answered a lot of my questions. We’ve shared our genealogical discoveries and information.
This November I tried hard to understand the times and context of their lives and wrote a lot of what I call sketches. I would take an event that I knew had occurred and write about it from that person’s imaginary perspective, adding details to the story that I thought were reasonable: what it must have been like for fourteen year old Laurence the night his older brother was taken away to an asylum; my grandmother’s thoughts when two men knocked on the door of her summer cottage to tell her that Robert had been killed by a train; Laurence’s thoughts on his long wait to marry; and so on.
I’ve been pretty focused on stories. I’ve journaled for years but when you stop writing the facts or even feelings about what happened, when you start telling stories, something different happens. I’ve found it really fun.
Recently I read a memoir (Global Mom Melissa Dalton-Bradford.) After sharing her story, she wrote:
“The story we’re writing with our brief lives can never be told in its entirety, neither its length nor its fragility nor its density. By that I mean that we’re all born into the middle of a perpetual narrative, and our simple strand of personal story does not begin when our life does. In view of that, whenever we leave this place–be it at eighteen or eighty–we are always, inevitably leaving in the middle of the story. That singular tale is woven in multiples of others, so our leaving will be in the middle of others’ tales. Our stories go on. We go on. We are always in the middle of the Great, Infinite Story” (pg 292.)
Working on my grandmother’s story while battling cancer and dealing with my parents’ declining health, has made me very aware of the interconnectedness of our stories. At the same time, my son and daughters are in the midst of their stories of disability; miscarriage and new life; travel, romance and wedding plans. There was no great parentheses around any portion of this last year, no time when our stories didn’t affect others’ stories.*
I best remember by grandmother in her early 90s, bed-bound and unable to see well enough to read anymore, telling me that God was good to keep her hearing intact. Earlier in her life, she chided two of my cousins for their assessment of the “tragedy” of her earlier life saying “There are no tragedies in life.” My grandmother wasn’t in denial: she simply believed that God was sovereign and that He was good. Today my Dad prays “God, You are good, You are kind. Thank you.” And then he tells me that “God is in control,” even when he struggles to believe it.
I am in the middle of so many stories and I’ll bet you are too. Let’s share our stories and keep reminding one another that God is good, that it is–in the end–God’s great infinite story that we all get to share.
* I googled affect vs effect, but I’m still not sure if I used the right one. What do you think? I also know that I don’t technically spell “Gramma” correctly, but it’s the way I’ve always spelled it and I have emotional connections to my spelling, so I will continue. Just saying.