A childhood recollection, passed along by L. E. Taylor
WE ALL HAVE STORIES. There are many reasons for telling them, some selfish, some generous. The same goes for not telling, for not remembering.
In 2012, I created a series of workshops for mature people to help them discover their own versions of the writer’s craft. It would be an oasis where they could tap into the truth of their past and enjoy the pleasures of family storytelling.
But the joy has a price.
A couple of years ago, the first students arrived in Session One of Workshop three. As always, I gave the group a six-minute drill. They would write stream-of-consciousness, and then read aloud what they’d written. When it came Catherine’s turn, she balked, read haltingly, and wept. She had tried to write about what was most on her mind, the searing pain of her husband Bill’s retreat into dementia. Overwhelmed by raw anguish, Catherine had been able to scratch out just two simple sentences, then she slid the sheet of paper to me to read aloud. It was not a story. But it was true. Everyone was moved. Without knowing it, Catherine had given us a poem.
Last Thursday, after two years of courageous writing about her wonderful up and down life with Bill, Catherine arrived in class with a gift – an anecdote from childhood that she’d been unable to complete since those first sessions. It had bloomed from that two-line poem about Bill, into a true story from deep within her…
In the Woods at Grandma’s House
Draft 3 – October 15, 2015
I am running and crying, so scared. If they catch me I will get beaten. I’m five years old and I’m getting tired. I have to reach those woods before they catch me. I play in the woods alone all the time and I know where to hide. It’s late and getting dark. I’ve never been here in the dark. I am in the woods now and they quit chasing me and they went home. I feel safe from those people that hate me so much. I know why they are so mad at me. I shouldn’t have pulled that chair from under Aunt Betty as she was sitting down for dinner. I guess because she is going to have a baby real soon; made the fall to the floor worse. I did it because I hate her. I don’t like living at my grandmother’s house. I wish my mother would let me live with her.
If my daddy were here, he wouldn’t let my grandfather beat me with that leather razor strap. I wish my dad didn’t die when I was three years old. He is my secret dad now. I talk to him when I am scared and lonely. Sometimes I think he’s the only one that loves me. I don’t know why Aunt Betty had to lie about him. She said he was “a no good drunk”. That’s why I pulled the chair out from under her. I wanted to hurt her like she hurt me.
I’m sitting here, leaning on a big hickory tree, I am still mad but I am scared because it is dark now. The sounds are different in these woods at night. I just saw the lamps go out and the house get dark. I will wait until they are asleep before I go home. Maybe I can sneak in and get in bed with my little brother and tomorrow they won’t remember the bad thing I did.
Catherine, age 5
THIS VIGNETTE IS TRUE. In the course of courageously writing many lively and charming stories, Catherine had kept this harsh memory of childhood abandonment and abuse as a visceral challenge that she had to master. It took seventy-five-year-old Catherine three drafts, using different techniques learned with practice, to write it well.
Last week, after seventy years, it was ready for you to read. She broke several of my rules – number one: Avoid starting every story with “I”.
I forgive her.