Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I got inspired to take what I learned while trying to find how a cousin and I were related to tell a story. As the world seems to be inching closer to yet another world war, I saw what my children were thinking and feeling and what my neighbors were doing in their day-to-day lives. We are all doing our best to survive, just as they did before the other world wars.
My maternal grandmother, Cora, was three years old when she was orphaned. Her father died after a fall at the brick factory where he was working, and her mother died of cancer a few months later. She and her siblings ended up being taken in by their aunt and her husband. She was six years old when the war started in Europe, and she was eight when the United States joined the war.
Unfortunately, I can’t ask her about her life during that turbulent time, because she died in 1999. She was only 66. She had led a very hard life and had made both good and bad choices throughout her life, as one does.
The truth of it is, I hated her. I was sad because my mother was sad, but my mother had not kept secrets about what had been done to her and her half-siblings as she grew up. When I became a mother myself, I hated Grandma Cora even more for the choices she had made.
It was only when I began trying to figure out how I was related to my cousin Destinie that I began to really piece together the tragedy that was Cora’s life. She was born into poverty and spent her entire life trying to survive as best she could. According to my mother, Cora’s aunt treated her and her children like they were demon spawn, so I can only imagine how cruel her life with that woman must have been. I figure that Rose only took her and her siblings in out of a sense of duty to her dead brother rather any sense of love or compassion for the orphaned children.
Her husband John was different, though. According to my mother, John was a kind person who enjoyed spending time with Cora and my mom and her younger half-siblings. She also told me that Cora spent a lot of time with John, even dressing like a boy and using the nickname that John had given her, Toby. That’s probably how she got her own mechanical knowhow, and it may have been what drew her to her first husband, a mechanic named John. (That John was not a good man, but that’s a another story for another time.)
As I learned more about Grandma Cora, I began to hate her less, until I didn’t hate her at all. I still hated the bad choices she had made, choices that had hurt her children and herself, but I understood why she made those choices. She was born into poverty, orphaned as a toddler, and basically stuck in survival mode her entire life.
So, her life inspired a story. There isn’t a lot about people growing up in poverty in rural northeastern Missouri in the 20th century (or in any century, for that matter), but my research and my knowledge of the choices Cora made as she grew up and became a mother and a grandmother have inspired me to write a fictional account using elements of her own life and her own choices.
Will it be complete by the end of November? Nope. Will it ever be published? Maybe. We’ll see what kind of story emerges from my mind and if it’s worth sharing with the world. The voices of the poor have been unheard for a very long time, but that’s starting to change as access to communication media continues to grow. Stories are starting to be told, and voices are starting to be heard. It is my hope that we can all build a better, more compassionate world from the telling of the stories of those the world once chose to ignore.
We are here.
We have always been here.