Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Family History on Every Page

When I announced to my children that my book about Uncle Curtis was finally done, I made the claim that there was family history on every page. As I got to thinking about it, I realized that, since this is a work of fiction, that might not necessarily be so.

I decided to test it out. Picking up a copy of Counting the Cost, I opened it at random to pages 100 and 101. Page 100 is the end of Chapter Fifteen, and the Benham brothers have just concluded a dance by getting into a sprawling, brawling fist fight, the kind you see in western movies.

Well, that's family history for two reasons:

1. My mother used to tell me stories of the dances they'd go to and how they'd dance 'til the wee hours of the morning--four o'clock or so, and how it would usually end in a fist fight and her brothers would always be involved.

2. One time, when my brother Ron and I were thirteen and twelve, we went to a Fourth of July picnic hosted by the contractor for the job our dad was working on. He worked for the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Bureau people were invited guests. This was in Alaska, several years before statehood. Alaska has always been a rough-edged, frontier-ish place, but it was even moreso then. The contractor laid on the food lavishly, and there was all the pop and ice cream a child could eat. There was also plenty of beer for the contractor's crew. An altercation broke out during the after-dinner softball game, and, just like in the movies, it quickly became a general brawl. My brother and I stood on top of a pickup cab and watched in terrified fascination as punches were thrown indiscriminately. I realized then that my mother wasn't exaggerating when she spoke of the end-of-the-dance fights.

Page 101 was the beginning of Chapter Sixteen, and it starts with a mini-history lesson about undulant fever. Now, I've never had undulant fever, but the reason I know about it is because for a lot of years we had a family cow. I read up on the disease and what it does to cows and what it does to humans and worried a lot until I was able to make sure that our cow had been vaccinated against the disease. So, does this page qualify for family history? I think it does.
I'll try again on another day.


yves said...

I am just passing through, on my way to looking for people to exchange about reactions to the novel "The kite runner". Have you read it? I have, and wandered if you'd like to give me your views on it!

Chas Hathaway said...


This blog is PHENOMENAL! Can I just tell you how cool it is to find a blog that talks about writing your family history creatively? So refreshing!
I love to write, and I love family history - especially the people, their stories, etc.

I have been working on memoirs of my own life for a number of years now, and I've wanted to write a family history, but somehow the idea of taking on that big of a project has been a bit intimidating to me.

But the suggestions and ideas you offer give me motivation to just do it! There's so many great things to write from my family history - it will still take some time to decide how to format it, but I really think I want to do it now.


- Chas