Happy Sunday afternoon to everyone!! It’s more than a little grey and rainy outside here today, which I actually like once in a while. (unfortunately, we have them seemingly every 3 days or so.) When the rainy day falls on a Sunday, though, it feels like an extra dose of creativity dropped on my doorstep.
So, grab a comfy spot and a cup of coffee or tea, and join me for a stroll down memory lane with today’s guest author. Today, instead of an interview, I’ll be sharing a story by author Faith Ann Colburn, who writes about the importance of family, the value of simple things, and growing up in the Midwest. Having grown up in large cities and never having set foot in most of the states that occupy the central part of the country, I certainly know that country life is not the life for me, but I get a certain appreciation of simplicity and nostalgia reading Faith’s work.
Faith has penned a novel called “Threshold: A Memoir”, which is a collection of short stories about one American family’s journey through weathering the good, the bad, and the downright ugly—and ultimately surviving the journey. Her book transports readers not only into the world of prairie life, but discusses issues that are ultimately human, revealing, and universal. It is available through a simple visit to Amazon, and is a mere $2.99 if you’re a Kindle owner, so there’s really no reason not to add it to your reading list!
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Memory: Catch Me If You Can
My great-grandmother Frank (yes that was her name) died when I was fourteen. She’d seen the prairie when it was still mostly grasslands and wandering bands of Otoe displaced from their homes. She remembered starving Indians staring at her through the windows as she kneaded bread, which she always gave to them. She remembered making do with simple stuff like a tree limb to harrow the fields. (She was the one behind the horse.) And that’s all I know of Grandma Frank’s rich experience of a life very different from my own, even though it was very close to the place where I grew up. She was just old and I was young and dumb and I didn’t realize she knew things that would ever matter to me. I never listened.
But I remember standing on Grandma’s front step where I could see the shadow of some buildings. “That’s Mount Clare,” Grandma Hazel said. “It’s a mirage.”
I’d seen mirages in the movies, where people wandered on the desert, dying of thirst. So that seemed dramatic enough to remember. What I saw was a reflection of the town on the clouds. Conditions had to be just right to see it and I think I only saw it once more. But the explanation of those distant buildings, five-to-ten miles away, represent the first story I remember my grandmother telling me. Fortunately, she lived fifty years after I was born, so she told me lots more stories.
Have you ever spent an hour or two with someone who talks faster than you can listen? Usually, those folks are trying to sell you something. Or maybe they’re not comfortable with themselves and silence frightens them. Well, Grandma never talked very fast, but I listened very slo-o-o-owly. In fact, by the time I really heard, it was almost too late. My grandmother had passed her ninety-eighth birthday.
Grandma’s stories were always mixed up with some activity, most often outdoors. The problem was that, since they were so mixed up with ordinary work, it took me many years to realize they were special. We worked on a farm; she was busy and so was everybody else. But I don’t think she could help herself. She had to tell those stories . . . and whenever I checked her, I found them to be true.
So finally, belatedly, it dawned on me that I had an unbelievable, rich archive of my very own family. I had access to a woman who could talk to me in exquisite detail of seven generations. And in those seven generations she could describe every conceivable kind of hardship and how my family, people whose DNA I carry, have struggled with those hardships and survived and, in almost all cases, thrived.
We were sorting through old photos, identifying people and writing names on the backs when it occurred to me to record her stories. I asked if she’d mind repeating her stories so I could tape them. She agreed. We made an appointment every Wednesday afternoon at two p.m. I brought my tape recorder and we sat in her living room, both facing the street so we wouldn’t miss anything, and talked. I recorded a ninety-minute tape cassette each Wednesday until I had thirty hours of our voices describing, in Technicolor detail, one extraordinarily ordinary family. I worked with that material, and a lot more I found in archives and county histories and other people’s memories, including my own, for more than eighteen years. I published my memoir, Threshold: A Memoir, at the end of 2012, fifteen years after Grandma died.
It seems kind of selfish now to have mined that woman’s memory as I did, but I think Grandma was hungry for an excuse to get some attention my sister and I were too busy and worn out with jobs and kids to give. It must have provided a nice break for her. All the other afternoons, she went to the local nursing home to “take care of the old folks.” One of those old folks was her daughter. Nina had ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease. The only time I ever say my Grandmother shed a tear, she’d just come from the home, just exhausted. She leaned on a little claw-foot table in her living room and tried to gather herself back up. “It’s just hard,” she said, “to watch her die an inch at a time.” With her usual stoicism, she refused the dramatic moment, wiped one tiny tear from the corner of her eye and asked if I wanted some grapes before we got started.
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As a post script, I might add that, while logic would indicate interviewing the oldest generation first, sometimes that plan may come back to bite you. As I was interviewing Grandma, my mother became incoherent as a result of Alzheimer’s. So it’s back to the county histories and maybe a jazz museum or two to tease out a big city family, a cousin of Henry Ford, a big band singer and severe mental illness. I call my novel-in-progress, based on my mother’s and dad’s lives, Gravy, because the odds against most of the good stuff are astronomical.
To contact Faith:
* Website: http://faithanncolburn.com
* Blog: http://faithanncolburn.wordpress.com
* Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/colburnfa
* Twitter: http://twitter.com/colburnfa
* Threshold: A Memoir on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Threshold-A-Memoir-ebook/dp/B009ZIJPV8
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Thank you so very much to Faith for being my guest here this Sunday, and of course I’ll be back next week with another author, discussing what you should be reading and why, and hopefully inspiring you into completing that creative feat of your own!
If you spend the next day or so with “Threshold: A Memoir”, vicariously living the Nebraskan life, certainly nobody will hold your absence against you.