Saturday, November 13, 2010

Goodbye, Bobby Tucker, Whoever You Are

I had another entry ready to go until I read Peter’s story of how he used a poignant incident from his past as a plot element in his latest book. He fell in love at six years old and got his heart broken. And if you don’t think a six year old can truly fall in love, you don’t have a very good memory.

Our entire lives can turn on a single happening, a trauma or joy, or even the smallest thing, like praise for a picture you drew as a child, or an unkind or thoughtless word from someone you admired. Sometimes your life is forever overshadowed by an incident you can’t even remember.

A few weeks ago, my brother noted that on that particular day, he had finally lived longer than our father. Our father’s sudden death 43 years ago cast a pall over our family that lasts to this day. My brother grew up under its shadow. He was eighteen months old at the time.

All the books in my series are full of scenes and characters that I drew from my own life, Dr. Freud might say that I’m trying to come to terms with things in my past that affected me deeply. We all have something in our lives that we’ll never be able to make sense of, so all we can do is acknowledge it, bring it out in the open, look at it. Let it be. Writing about it is an excellent way to do that.

In my first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, I tell the tale of Bobby Tucker. In my fictional little world, Bobby Tucker is Alafair’s little son, who died tragically in an incident that still haunts Alafair years later.

The real “Bobby” was my husband Don’s sister, Lorena Fay. In about 1938, during the depression, Don’s parents and siblings were living in Montrose, Colorado, where his father had gone for work. Lorena Fay, known to her family as Honey, was the youngest of the children at the time, just a toddler. The place in which the parents lived was heated by a pot bellied stove, which is started with coal oil (like kerosene). The starter was kept in a jar behind the stove, and the baby somehow managed to get back there, pick up the jar and drink from it. Her mother picked her up in a panic and ran toward town in her bare feet with the baby in her arms, trying to reach the doctor, but she didn’t make it in time, and Honey died. Her mother never quite got over it. Even now Don’s siblings can be moved to tears when they talk about it.

I included this story in Buzzard because it was so heart-wrenchingly real and not particularly unusual for the time. Babies’ lives were pretty precarious until quite recently. In fact, all lives are pretty precarious, as I learned to my sorrow at a young age. All I can do is acknowledge it.


Hannah Dennison said...

Donis - what a tragic tale and one I know my mother can relate to. Born in 1929 and the youngest of 8, she lost two of her siblings to Diphtheria within six weeks of each other. Your post has put my petty gripes into perspective.

Donis Casey said...

Nobody gets out of here unscathed, Hannah. I think all you can do is hope the scathing stays at a manageable level

hannah Dennison said...

So true, Donis. Your story really touched my heart.