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?