Fifteen kids were born into my dad’s family. Two died as infants. I can’t imagine having that many children and certainly don’t know why any woman would want to, but to each her own.
Not all dad’s siblings lived in our hometown, but those that did congregated at my grandparent’s house every Sunday for fried chicken, peas and corn bread, mashed potatoes, churned butter and egg custard pies—among other things. My grandma was a wonderful cook. After dinner, all the kids--no matter their age--hurried outside, yanked plums off my grandma's bush and chunked them at each other. We had fun, and there wasn't a squealer in the bunch if one of us got hurt. Looking back, I wonder what the adults talked about inside? Did they argue? Laugh with each other? There's no one to ask.My cousin Sallie and I liked to play cowboy and wild horse. Of course, I was the cowboy and galloped behind her, circling the huge cedar tree north of the house, trying my best to rope her with my imaginary rope. For some reason, I was always Jesse James. Probably because my dad was named Jesse and my uncle was James. I was fond of singing, ‘put ‘em together and they’re Jesse James.’ Silly, huh? Every now and then, that little ditty pops into my head.
I loved these get-togethers, and being with all my cousins. Sometimes the family would meet a few miles away at a roadside park and spread our food on concrete tables and benches.To the left is my grandparents' wedding picture. Weren't they beautiful? Papaw (as I called him) would lift me high in the air every time I saw him. He seemed so tall. And in church, the pastor would call on him to pray and he'd kneel on one knee, beside the pew and bow his head. I love that memory.
Life as I knew it ended when my grandfather died in 1956. My mother called my school and told them to have the bus driver drop me off at my grandparent’s house. I remember seeing a wreath on the door and I knew . . . he'd been sick.
Everything changed. Looking back, I wonder if Grandpa demanded his family congregate on Sundays after church. Did they really want to? Was he the Jock Ewing of our family? The glue? Once he was gone, we fell apart. We dribbled into my grandma's house sporadically.My grandmother’s death 21 years later ended us. Completely.
I wrote a story about my dad’s family, all those wonderful quirky people that had turned on each other like wild animals. The story went through a number of titles—Grandma’s Revenge, The Day Grandma Died, All in the Family—and won an honorable mention at my very first writers’ conference in San Antonio, Texas. The story never sold but yearned to become a novel. It never did, though every now and then I grab a pencil and paper and try to plot my family’s tale.Are you wondering where my E-words come in? Well, sadly or maybe gladly, I’ve elaborated, embellished, expounded, enlarged, expanded my story so much and so often, that I really don’t remember what’s true and what isn’t?
When you write a life story, how much do you exaggerate?