It wasn't the moment they laid them in the ground, but soon after that I realized that I hadn't asked them everything I needed to know. If asked, I could tell you the names of his parents and maybe their parents. I could rattle off the names of her siblings, his rank upon his release from the army after WWII, the name of the restaurant she owned, the continents he'd traveled to, and that she once wielded an iron skillet as a weapon. There's a box of pictures of some girls and postcards postmarked from overseas and a funny story about shrapnel in his ass.
But that's not my grandfather's story, nor my grandmother's. And everyone has one, whether they choose to tell it or not. Whether they tell you the real one or not. Whether they tell or keep the best parts to themselves. Whether they tell or don't tell the pivotal moments that made them who they are, whenever that is.
In my childish rush to hurry up and get grown, I forgot that my grandparents were people too; with stories that the grown me would wish to know more fully. Facts are one thing, a necessary thing, but the heart of any story is the messy parts that aren't easy to talk about, not just because it most likely includes some pain, but because it also includes the vulnerability of having loved and been loved; the part that make us thank the Good Lord that we were given this life, this story, to begin with, despite the pain.
I love stories. Freaking love em. I eat my three meals a day but without a daily dose of story, I am starving. From the time I cracked my first novel, I knew that I could subsist off of a good story. Hell, even a bad story is better than no story.
Maybe it's because for so many years, I didn't see my dad but twice a year and had only his near-daily phone calls that were always filled with stories, vivid accounts of his day-to-day life on the farm that were so fascinating, keeping my sister and me laughing, trying and failing miserably to retell them to our friends. For so many years, all dad could give us were his stories.
When the Good Lord handed me down a childhood destined for a telephone relationship with my dad, I'm grateful he made him a storyteller.
Dad can have a room full of people hanging on his every word, and deliver a punch line perfectly. His every word a brush stroke painting an invisible piece of art, coming to life in your mind as though you'd lived it. Anytime anything juicy, funny, or downright disturbing happened and dad was had been there to witness it firsthand, the demand would be, "Let Dave tell it!"
I've never possessed such sorcery. Instead, my only hope was to write a story well. Because nobody could tell em like dad.
His stories, his story, he brought to life and made them as real to me as my own memories. And as I got older, he let me glimpse some of the messier parts, the heart of his story.
I knew that should my children ever desire to know their mother before I became her, that I would be the one to tell that story. And tell it fully, that my children might understand the person behind the words, behind the life.
And while I'm afflicted as every writer to being too emotionally attached to my written word, I am not proud of this story. But it is mine. I have no desire to reach back into the past and rearrange the characters and their fates, as this is the only story I'll ever have.
And should my children ever wish to know it, here it is.