Saturday, April 7, 2012

Want to be my guinea pigs?

As some of you know (if you've looked at my Twitter profile), I'm a wannabe writer who never writes.

Now I've had some ideas in my head that I've been playing around with for awhile and I even wrote some of it down awhile ago, but then I kind of abandoned it because I couldn't quite decide where I wanted to go with it.

But yesterday my nephew asked me about our family history. He's 24 years old and he's decided he wants to know what kind of people he comes from. Having done a ton of genealogy research about 15 years or so ago, I can give him lots of names and dates and things like that, but what he really wants is stories. He wants to know if anyone in our lineage was cool.

Now I don't know all that many stories about about generations long gone, because our family just didn't document things like that, but I was lucky enough to have had a couple of really good talks with my Grandmother while she was still alive (she passed away almost 25 years ago now), and I was close to my mother and probably know more about her than any of my siblings. 

So I sat down and wrote out short versions of a couple of stories regarding my parents and my grandparents that I have been playing around with using (extremely) loose versions of to make into something bigger - like as part of a novel.

I'm going to post these stories here, and I'd like you all to do me a very big favor and tell me if you find any of them worthy of building a bigger story around. (All names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Here goes.

Story #1. Although their moms had been friends for a while Bernadette and Ray never really met until she was sixteen years old and he was twenty. He had enlisted in the army in order to avoid being drafted and because he wanted to fight in the Korean war. This was in mid-1950s. Anyway he came home on leave and she was in the next town over hanging out with one of her girlfriends and they met and had a whirlwind courtship. She was in love with him, but she also wanted nothing more than to get away from her tiny country town and her home. She was the third of nine kids. Her older brother was in the military and was somewhere in Europe. Her older sister had gotten married and started a family of her own. Bernadette was the oldest child living at home and that meant she had much of the responsibility for taking care of her six younger brothers and sisters and helping her mom around the house. Her dad was a verbally abusive alcoholic. She hated it at home. So when Ray proposed she was thrilled to get away from her home life, and to be grown-up, and to start an exciting new life of her own. It didn't take much to convince her parents to let her get married even though she was only sixteen. They were worried that if she didn't she'd get pregnant out of wedlock so they agreed. Ray was stationed in Colorado at the time.

So he scheduled another leave to come home to marry her. They decided to get married in Ohio because at that time Michigan had a three day waiting period to get married after you applied for the marriage license and you had to get a blood test too before you could apply, so it would take longer. Ohio didn't. So Ray and Bernadette and their moms drove to Ohio so they could get married. But they didn't bring Bernadette's birth certificate because they didn't realize they would need it. That was a wasted trip. So they went back to Michigan and tried again the next day. They got married on August 6th, 1956. Bernadette had just had her seventeenth birthday the week before.

Ray went back to Colorado to tell the Army he was now a married man and to make arrangements for her to come join him. The Army sent Bernadette a check for a few hundred dollars. It was meant for her to use to set up house for her and Ray, but she didn't realize that. She'd never seen so much money and she went on a spending spree and bought a new wardrobe of clothes. She had next to nothing left when she got to Colorado. Ray was furious. Not a great way to start out their marriage. She still had her senior year of high school to get through so she enrolled at the local high school in Colorado, but after going for a few weeks she quit. She didn't feel like she belonged there, being a married woman and all, and she couldn't relate to the other kids. So she and Ray discussed it and she was to get a job.

In order to get a job, she needed a Social Security Card. In order to get a Social Security Card she had to go to the Social Security Office downtown and apply for one. Bernadette was quite shy and she lacked self-confidence. She walked into town to the Social Security Office, but she was so nervous she couldn't make herself go in. So she walked around the block. Still couldn't make herself go in, so she walked around the block again. And again. And again. She did this every day for over a week before she finally managed to force herself to go in and apply for her Social Security Card. The day she did was a real triumph for her.

This shy, timid young girl grew up. She and Ray split up when she was in her 30s and at the age of 43, after raising four kids as a waitress, and working as a bus driver and a convenience store clerk she decided what she wanted to do with her life. She wanted to be a nurse. So at 43 years old she got her GED and she enrolled in nursing school. She went to nursing school full-time and worked at a convenience store full-time for two years. Imagine being 43 years old and going to school eight hours every day only to come home and go to work eight hours every night. Little sleep, no time for anything but school and work for two whole years. But she was determined and she did it. She became a qualified nurse and she loved it.

I think that says a lot about the person she was when she was a kid, and the person she became as she grew up. I miss her so much.

Story #2.  Ok, now for another story - also involving Bernadette and Ray, but this time including Ray's mother, my Gramma Rene. (Gramma Rene was how she always signed cards and letters from her - I know it's not how most people spell Grandma, but it's how she did it.)

Ray's dad was also an alcoholic, but instead of being verbally abusive, he was physically abusive. His name was Clifton. Ray was the oldest of five kids. As you know he joined the military. After he left the military he and Bernadette and baby Terrence went back to his hometown and were staying with his family for awhile while they looked for a place of their own. One night while staying there Clifton and Rene got in an argument. This happened a lot. He was drunk as usual, and this time his rage was intense. He didn't care that Ray and Bernadette and baby Terrence were there to witness his rage. He didn't care that his own three small children were there. (Ray's other brother had already left home). He was pissed at Rene and he didn't care about anything else. He was going to kill that bitch!

That was all he could think about. He grabbed a huge knife and started chasing her through the house. He fully intended to kill her. But Ray wasn't going to let that happen. He had a gun. While Clifton was chasing Rene around the house Ray got his gun. And he used it. He shot his father. He didn't kill him. He shot his hand and Clifton dropped the knife. Screaming and cursing and crying. The scene was so ugly and horrible for all concerned. And that was the day that Gramma Rene left Clifton and she divorced him. Divorce was unheard of in those days. There was a lot of stigma attached to it. It took a great deal of courage for her to do that. And she spent the rest of her life supporting herself and her kids as a bartender. Ray never had any relationship with his father after that. Ray was always close to his mother and very protective of her. They were even roommates on a couple of different occasions when they were both single (he in his 40s, she in her 60s). Not in a creepy way though. He was no mama's boy. He just loved his mother and thought she got a raw deal out of life. Her one desire in life - the one thing on her bucket list even before people had bucket lists - was that she wanted a diamond ring. Ray bought his mom a diamond ring for her birthday one year when she was in her 70s.

3. And last story for today - this one is about Ethel, Bernadette's mom.

Ethel got pregnant when she was seventeen years old. I don't know who her babies father was or why they didn't get married, just that they didn't. She didn't want her family to know she was pregnant so she ran away from home. She wound up at a boarding house somewhere and she gave birth to a baby boy. This baby boy she named John Thomas. She called him Thomas. One day when Thomas was only a few weeks old Ethel's mom, Nora showed up at the boarding house where she was staying. Ethel and Thomas were upstairs in Ethels' room when the landlady told her her mother was there and wanted to see her. Ethel went into a panic. She didn't want her mom to know about Thomas, so she asked her landlady if she would stay upstairs with Thomas while Ethel went downstairs to meet with Nora. Her landlady agreed and Ethel headed down the stairs. She greeted her mother in the living room and they had a very stilted conversation for a few minutes. Then the baby started crying and the sound carried down the stairs. Ethel tried to ignore it but her mother didn't. Her mother kept asking questions about the crying infant and Ethel tried to blow them off, but Ethel got more and more nervous and upset with each wail.

Finally, Nora said "Ethel, I know that is your baby up there. You might as well go and get him." Ethel protested for a few minutes more, but finally admitted it and ran upstairs to tend to Thomas. Once she had soothed him she brought him back downstairs to her mother. Nora looked at the baby and she asked how old he was. Ethel told her a few weeks and then Nora did something that Ethel hated her for for the rest of her life. You see, Nora had recently had a baby herself. And what she did was this. She made Ethel a proposal. She said she wanted to take Thomas home with her. She wanted to pass Thomas and her newborn daughter Vernie off as twins. She would raise them together. Ethel was livid. This was HER baby, even if she was an unwed mother at a time when such a thing was an abomination. She was never going to let her mother take her baby. And she didn't.

Ok readers, so let me know what you think. Would you want to read a novel based on any of these stories?


  1. Wow - this is very powerful stuff. I think any of these tales would make a great basis for a book but I particularly thought #1 was good simply for how much Bernadette has to grow and change and how different she is at 43 to how she was at 17!

    Good luck!

  2. Thanks Donna - I value your input quite highly. :)

  3. These are all highly charged emotional situations. For some reason the third one really struck me but I'm not sure if it is enough to build a complete novel around - maybe a short story?

    It is great that you can find inspiration in some of your family stories. I hope you are able to grow one of these small sparks into something bigger.

    1. Thanks for your input Angela. They say to write what you know, right? I appreciate your support.

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