Sunday, January 14, 2007

My roots are in red clay

While we were at my family home in Alabama for Thanksgiving, my husband and I went to see my father's grave, since it was the first time we'd been home since my mother had the tombstone put up.

Dad died of complications of lung cancer in 2005. I miss him, and I hope I have even a tiny fraction of his intelligence, his lifelong curiosity about the world, his compassion, and his integrity. I want to dedicate the first book I sell to his memory, and I'll always regret that I didn't become published while he lived. I would have liked to have given him an autographed copy of a book with my name on the cover.

He's buried in the cemetery of the church we attended when I was little, a church founded circa 1820 when that part of Alabama was settled, and that my ancestors had attended since the first Stones moved into the area from South Carolina in the 1840's. As a child I used to chase fireflies through that cemetery--only I called them lightning bugs then--after Sunday evening services and Wednesday night prayer meetings. I didn't appreciate then just how much history, my history, was there.

At Thanksgiving Dylan and I spent nearly two hours walking from grave to grave as I did my best to remember as much family and community history as I could. Dylan had his camera, and some of the pictures he took are here. At a guess, I'm probably some kind of kin to at least half the people buried there. It's a rural area, with a handful of large families who intermarried.

It was moving to walk through my own history, all those ancestors and cousins of mine asleep in the central Alabama red clay. Veterans of the Civil War and both world wars, so many tiny graves of little children from well into the 20th century, broken remnants of 19th century tombstones leaving only a few tantalizing clues about the lives and deaths they mark.

There are stories there that need to be told. I hope someday my muse will show me the way to tell them.


Margaret Muir said...

Hi Susan,
I saw your post on the Historical Novel Society group postings and came to check out your blog.
I too am currently writing a Trafalgar era adventure story and have been doing a lot of background reading into that era and the events which took place.
And you may have noticed from an earlier posting I am considering publishing (if it gets there) under a male pseudonym.
Suprisingly I noted from your blog a few more common features in our interests.
My first novel was inspired by the bioluminescent organisms which shine in the sea.
Same sort of thing as a firefly but underwater.
And my second novel's story is resolved after a wander through an old graveyard cheking out the epitaphs.
All the best with your writing,
Marg Muir (Perth, Australia)

Tess said...

This is something I'm working on doing as well - writing my family history. Unfortunately, walking the places of my dad's childhood won't be easy as it's now in the Ukraine and difficult to access - you're lucky you can tread in your ancestors' footsteps more easily :-) Good luck!!

Susan Wilbanks said...

Margaret--thanks for your post! I looked at your blog, and it seems like we share an interest in tall ships, too, though I'm an Aubrey/Maturin fan who couldn't get into the Hornblower books! So far all my stories have been land-based, though, and I'm also a Sharpe fan.

Tess--I just wished I'd paid more attention to family stories when I was a child. I live on the opposite side of the country now, and the generation who lived through the Depression and can themselves remember 19th century stories from their grandparents won't be around forever.

Tess said...

Maybe the next time you're back home you can tape a conversation with them :-) A friend of mine published her family's story and spent a lot of time talking with her uncle: