Maybe it doesn’t matter

I haven’t been blogging lately because I’ve been editing a story I started way back in 1998.  I have no idea how many times I’ve edited this particular story but after years and the countless renditions, there are only a few sections I can reread without finding a word or a phrase that stops me in my tracks with it’s banality. Any sensible person would have given up and moved on to puzzles they know the answers to but not me.The story is based on the contentious relationship between my grandmother and my Auntie Dottie who had more in common than they would ever have admitted during their lifetimes.  Both were on their own emotionally from an early age; both were not shy about giving their opinions, and both were far braver and willing to take risks than the men they married. 

They spent the majority of their lives in a small town that, on the surface, is postcard perfect New England.  However veer off Main Street and the stray dogs scrounging for food will tell the story of a town that strains to stay true to the qualities once so important in small town America:  respectability, civic duty, and charity. The decline began after WWII when the mills and factories supporting the town began closing. Many of the young men who went off to war, didn’t return.  They moved to larger cities where their GI benefits went further.  The situation worsened when increasing crime and corruption rates in nearby Springfield Massachusetts made the hills surrounding the town appealing for commuters. The resulting increase in property values forced families who’d been squatting peacefully in the woods down into town and on welfare. You can probably guess the rest. 

My grandmother was born in the town during its years of prosperity but her parents were fresh off the boat.  In fact, they probably jumped off the boat. Letters from relatives in Sweden suggest that Great Gramps was in trouble with the Swedish military. Since he was a milliner by trade, maybe the Swedish army didn’t like his hats.  Who knows?  Great Gramps was a man of few words and none of them Swedish.  When his wife died young leaving him with a teenage daughter, he promptly boarded the girl at a “teaching” hospital in Springfield where she would learn a trade and not be a burden on him.  Years later she would return to the town with her husband and daughter to take care of him and there she would stay the rest of her life.

Dottie showed up on my grandmother’s doorstep in the early 1950s, married to her soft-hearted son and pregnant. She hid her painful past with a laugh that could trigger a tsunami and lived life in fast gear as if knowing she would die young. Any money she and my uncle earned was immediately spent on gaudy, flashy items which were far out of the arena of necessary.  In my grandmother’s time the things Dottie became legendary for would have gotten a woman shunned and ostracized. But the town was changing. 

I spent the summers of my youth in the twilight of my grandmother’s world and the emergent reality of my aunt’s.  I’m not sure if it’s the story of a relationship or the story of a town.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Do you ever keep returning to a story again and again knowing you may never get it right?

36 thoughts on “Maybe it doesn’t matter

  1. You know this one: nothing matters, which is to say nothing really matters and insofar as this story goes, it’s the latter for you…cause that is who you are and that’s why I like you. You wear history like a coat. Thanks. Duke

  2. I think the stories that nag us the most are the ones that need to be told. This is an intriguing story. I can see how it would be difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out. I live about 12 miles south of Springfield, so much of this is easy to relate to.

  3. I can see why you keep coming back to it, Jan, it’s a gripping tale with ups and downs, love and contention, simplicity and raucousness. Add to it the intimacy of ancestry, and it could be a stumper. Usually, when I have a stumper, I do one of two things: I either leave it and come back to it, which you’ve already tried; or I realize that I’m close to breaking through and I just keep hammering away until I figure it out. Best wishes, my friend–

  4. You’ve told just enough of this story to make it intriguing.

    This is more than just a story – it’s a piece of your family history. It’s intensely personal to you and I suspect that’s why you’re struggling with it. It will never be good enough for you.

    • Thanks Joanne – I think I have to accept that the two characters are just that. Characters. The story may have been inspired by their conflicts but I’ll never be able to recreate them. Writers are not gods. We’re just people.

  5. Oh, yes. However, I’ve learned when it’s time to let go. It was difficult, but once it comes back from my editor, everything seemed to come together. That’s what I’ve found, anyway. I won’t sing you that song from ‘Frozen.’ 😁

  6. As an accomplished blogger and writer though, what can you do but follow your instincts about this? It can be really hard to write about family, even ancient family. I love the image of your grandparents swimming for it.

      • I’m pretty tactile, I guess. By the way, YES. I can deeply identify with returning to a story that just can’t seem to be told. Mayb these untellable stories are still too much in the process of evolving? Once you write it, that version is done. But what if that’s not the story you want to tell?

  7. Keep at it, JT. You’ll find the right way to tell the story.
    I’m doing final edits to one that I began in 2014… Not enough time to write, a lot of stop and start… so I have to be extra watchful with the edits.

    Maybe there’s a part of the tale that can be extracted and used in a different but still satisfying way (to the storyteller)…
    Back when, friends wanted me to write a “Desperate Housewives” type book. Trouble was, I din’t like any of those characters. Who wants to spend precious non-work hours in their head with “people” they don’t like? I gave it up after a chapter. However, several years later, I extracted those neighbor-friend characters, made them into people I liked, and wrote “Atonement, Tennessee.” Just throwing that idea out there.
    Happy writing. Hugs.

    • Thanks Teagan. An interesting suggestion. I’ve learnt you cannot write what friends think you should. Friends love us because of the roles we play in their lives. Beyond that, most really don’t want to know. Anyway – Atonement Tennessee is a great title. And hugs back at you!

  8. I find that many small conversations with people in real life hang in the back of my mind as if I need to write about them on my blog, but I cannot figure out how to write about them so they stay in the back of my mind. Kind of drives me nutty, worrying about what to do about these ideas that won’t manifest. My point is… I get what you’re saying here.

    • It takes time for some ideas to manifest themselves as something resembling a story which is very frustrating! You just have to have faith that eventually they will.

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