Monday, September 26, 2011

Family is Fodder for our Stories

I had four brothers. Each one had a major impact on my life. I’ve written about them in  memoir and in my poetry. As poet and teacher Scott Owens said, if we make a list of all of our family members, we can use them as fodder for our writing and we will never run out of subjects.

Hal Council
Last weekend our family gathered to honor and celebrate the life of my brother Hal who died suddenly and unexpectedly in August. His grandson, Sam, delivered a moving and eloquent eulogy. He summed up special moments with the man he called Da, his grandfather. He had labored over the words he had written in his effort to speak not only his feelings but those of his mother, his aunt and his cousin. He made us laugh and also brought tears to our eyes

I probably won’t remember much of the service, but this young man’s words will stay with me for a long time. I know Hal would have been pleased to know that his children and grandchildren loved him, admired him and remembered the many happy times they had enjoyed with him. I was happy his eulogy was not all about his career, although he was a very successful business man. We heard instead of how he played with his grandchildren, spoiled them, and encouraged them to reach high for their goals. He lent a helping hand to others in the community who were in need and was appreciated by all who knew him.

I can write a number of stories about Hal. One of his most loveable traits was how he turned fiascos into hilarious adventures. He and his pretty wife, Yvonne, Barry and I went to the Georgia – Florida football game (the world's largest cocktail party) one year. Not known for his punctuality, Hal waited too late to get reservations at a decent hotel. We ended up in a moldy, smelly place called the Floridan across from the bus station.

To get to our rooms on the third floor, we had to take the elevator which must have been installed 100 years before. A small woman with iron-gray hair and deep lines etched in her brown face perched on a stool by the controls. Like everyone in Jacksonville that day, she was drunk as a skunk. Pulling a lever, she did her best to line up the door of the elevator with the opening on the third floor. We lurched up and then dropped like a rock. We lurched up again and dropped again. Over and over, she struggled to get the floor of the elevator even with the floor we were to step out on.

Hal teased the wizened little woman saying, “You know how to drive this thing?”

She cut her eyes up at him and said, “I get you there. Just hold on.”  She pulled on the lever and we zoomed up a few feet. She pulled again and we dropped a foot at the time.
I, being the worrier of the group, feared the ancient relic, its operator and all of us, were about to drop to the bottom of the building.

Hal said, “You might need a drink. You got anything to drink?”

She pulled a half-empty whiskey bottle from her pocket and held it up for him to see. We laughed at the smug expression on her face. Hal began to badger her to give him a drink, but she couldn’t be talked out of a drop of her liquor.

Hal and Barry found the entire scenario humurous and especially the old woman. They kept her talking with their banter but she finally managed to line up the spaces enough we could get off.

That was how our  wild weekend started. A football game weekend we talked about for years. The bad weather, the crowds and any inconvenience we had did not bother Hal. When he told about it later, he had his listeners wishing they had been with us at the Floridan trying to sleep with the bus station neon light blinking off and on in our windows and bus destinations and departures resounding throughout the night.

Hal said he never felt stressed in his life – not until his wife became seriously ill. He stayed with her day and night at the hospital and in rehab while she recovered from hip surgery. He came home that Sunday morning to change clothes and go back. While putting on his shoes, he collapsed with a heart attack.

I have other stories about my life with my brother, Hal. Do you have family members who could become characters in your stories?  Could you write a poem about them?


Abbie Taylor said...

I've already written poems about family members, especially my brother Andy because when he was a kid, he managed to get himself into trouble from time to time. When he was in high school, he was suspended for a couple of days for mooning out of a school bus. At the time, we didn't think it was funny, but now, we laugh at the way my father reacted.

Although Dad talked about mooning out of a car while being driven down Main Street, he was livid when Andy did it out of a school bus while at a speech meet in another city. "Stay in your room, and whenever I see you, you'd better have a book in your hand," he yelled. "If you want to do something useful, chop wood." The sins of the father are okay, but what about the sins of the son?

Glenda Beall said...

Sounds like Andy was a precocious kid. We do have a different perspective on things as we grow older so I understand your dad, but he should never had told about his own escapades. Once the kids know their parent's past, they feel perfectly safe.
Thanks for commenting, Abbie.