"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Everybody Has a Story

We all have a story, but does it take someone else to see it? This weekend my husband and I were at our summer ranch beginning the labor-intensive job of repairing fences after the winter snows have done their usual damage. It's a job that has to be done before we can turn the cattle out to graze for the next six months. It's a job that will see us well into summer before we can say we're done for the year.

My grandfather homesteaded the ranch in 1915. While I work hammering staples and clipping wire in the silence of this back country, I have plenty of time to think about him, and of those who came before him and those who came after him. I know their stories, or at least what little bit has been passed down. None of my ancestors kept journals or wrote diaries that I'm aware of. Maybe it was all they could do just to survive. And maybe, like the rest of us, they might have thought there was nothing spectacular enough about their lives to put to paper.

Being a writer and a lover of history, I've written what I know of some of them. I have a sense of obligation to do this so their stories won't be forgotten. I suppose a person needs a curious mind to take on the job of compiling family history, but I've discovered that the more I learn about a person, the more questions I ask. It's a little like plotting a novel or solving a mystery.

I am quite fascinated by my great-grandmother, Margaret, who, at the age of 29 and single, left England and sailed to the United States by herself. No other members of her family came with her. From there she traveled by train to Utah where she was met by my great-grandfather. Apparently this marriage was pre-arranged for they wed shortly afterward. He was twenty-five years her senior and together they had five children, one who died in infancy. When my great-grandfather died, she took her children and moved from Utah to homestead in Idaho. None of the children were married, but they were at least old enough to help her. My grandfather was about 18 at the time. Clearly an independent woman, my great-grandmother did not remarry, and seven years before she died at the age of 66, she received her Certificate of Naturalization.

Life wasn't easy in the 1800s, and homesteading 160 acres without a husband definitely wasn't. At least she had two strong sons and two daughters to help her, and, I suspect, some good neighbors. But little wonder she didn't write about her life. She was too busy living it. Her story is an interesting one, but I wish she would have told even a small portion of it in her own words. So many questions arise about why she made the choices she did--she certainly wasn't afraid to uproot herself and start a new life in a strange land. She did it twice, a true pioneer. But I doubt she thought of herself that way.

At least our great-grandchildren won't have any trouble documenting our lives. Every move we make nowadays is followed by a paper trail and thousands of photographs. Our ancestors will be able to google our names and everything we did in our lifetime will be there. Everything. Even this blog and the silly little comments we've put on Facebook and Twitter will be archived somewhere in cyberspace.

Yes, we all have a story. What will yours be? Will it take someone else to see it? Someone else to write it?


B.J. Anderson said...

I love this post. Fantastic. :)

Avril said...

Your blogs are great.They are full of such practical and useful advice about writing - great advice about structuring the novel- and about the everyday concerns of the writer. They are also full of place and stories which I absolutley love.