Where Stories Come From 1: Pa

The idea for my soon-to-be-published novel germinated a long, long time ago during a visit to my maternal grandpa, who we called “Pa.” Since my Nanny’s death that July, I’d been trying to check in on him more. Every time I visited, my Pa would begin to reminisce about Nanny, about how much he loved and missed her, and he’d begin to cry– something I had never seen before. It was difficult to know what to say, especially since I was dealing with my own grief over losing her. It was unsettling to see her blue-gray easy chair sitting there in the living room, empty; I kept expecting her to wander in and say, in her throaty, husky voice, “Well, hello, there, Hon. How’s Becky doing?”

One day when I dropped by, I somehow got Pa started on telling me a story about a notorious local woman who he remembered seeing when he was younger—a former carnie who stomped around town wearing men’s clothing and swearing at the sheriff. He talked and talked, getting tickled as he relayed the story, delighting me with the tale so much that I went home and ordered a seven-page booklet from a local author about the woman’s life. That spark of interest and research would eventually become the basis for my upcoming novel. Looking back on it, the more important part of that day was that my Pa had not even mentioned my Nanny, let alone cried, the entire visit.

What a gift that afternoon was.

The next time I went to my Pa’s house, I immediately shared the booklet I had read with him. That started him telling me another story about the day he saw a rough, mean fellow shoot four men in cold blood on the porch of a bar as my Pa, a child then, stood around the corner and watched. I was again instantly entranced. My Pa had an amazing memory for details — he could recall names and dates and how each person he knew was connected (“kin”) to everyone else. He was a good storyteller, too — very linear in his recounting so everything made orderly sense. He talked for an hour and needed very little input from me, and I was sorry when I had to leave to pick my kids up from school. As I hugged my Pa goodbye, I shouted in his ear (he was a mite deaf), “I’ll be back soon — and I want some more stories.”

He grinned, that sweet-as-honey, big bear of a man who always dressed only in denim overalls, the same outfit we’d bury him in a year later, and shuffled his feet a little. “Waall, Beck,” he said, “I don’t know . . . but I do have some stories to tell, I guess.”

pa in overalls

He surely did. And I’m so grateful—as someone who’s chosen to become a story-teller herself, it’s quite a legacy he left me.


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