To be a writer amidst a family of scholars and healers, soldiers and tradesmen all with such vastly different and infinitely interesting tales is both a blessing and a burden. I was never one to actively seek out a trade, a career that would ever provide me with the unending satisfaction of my family members. I was no carpenter despite my attempted apprenticeship with my grandfather. Sure, I can patch this and that and jury rig with the best of them, but I will never be the sort of craftsman he was. The life of a soldier and a cop, the ability to save lives and protect the innocent is my father’s calling and I defy any man or woman living or dead to ever argue that. One of the greatest lawmen of his time, I have never had it in me to be so self sacrificing despite the fine example of manhood that I had. My mother the scholar, the businesswoman, who can manage a laboratory for a multinational corporation and manage a family as well with such finesse and grace that it looks so easy. I laugh when I think of how poorly I juggled my own life and education and how I wish, some times, that I had done it exactly the way she tried to tell me. My sister, another brilliant scholar who will one day be a doctor of psychology, who will heal wounded minds and hearts.
And what, amid this eclectic mix of career and trade do they have in common other than the blood in their veins? Music. Each a musician. My grandfather and sister with the guitar, my father with a trombone and tuba and my mother at the piano, all have the love of music and the soul of musicians inside them.
Then there was me. I smirk and chuckle to myself as I think of my feeble skill on the “French Harp” as my granny calls my harmonica. I think of how easily I ran from the guitar and banjo and piano and flute, how quickly I gave in because I was not immediately inclined to those instruments, to that rhythm that has to flow through your veins and out into the world around you. No, I’m no musician either.
So, here I am, tonight, hands pecking away at the keys of one computer as I use a second to copy over old tapes where, for twenty-some-odd years my grandfather recorded himself at the guitar, picking and singing to see how he could make his music better all in the hopes of preserving a piece of his memory for no other reason than my own selfish desire to hold on. See, writers are vain, selfish, lazy creatures and at the heart of their passion lies a puzzle. Poorly paraphrased George Orwell but it’s no less true. To be a writer is to day dream, to drift off aimless into one’s mind to find something worth writing. I spent a long time seeking out my own adventures, my own stories, only to feel disheartened when they paled in comparison to those of my kin. And why? Because you write what you know. I can’t tell you a story about an artic explorer and a talking penguin as I have never been to the poles nor been a flightless bird. But I can tell you about the life of a man born in the midst of The Great Depression, who served during the Second World War and who raised a family with the girl of his dreams for sixty-three years. I can tell you about a couple of kids who met at a wedding before the man joined the Air Force and went over seas, of his proposal to his beautiful red haired love in an Anglican churchyard where Shakespeare was buried. I can tell you about a little girl who grew up dealing with the raw emotion that comes when I child almost loses her father in a moment of violence and anger as he serves his community and how overcoming that pain helped her find a soldier of her own to love, to start a family with; how it led her to a calling of healing and peace.
I sat down tonight with my own fictions, intent to write and finish some ghoulish tale about monsters and the men who battle them all the while ignoring that I am a man who has his own monsters to fight inside his heart and head. I sat down with the intent of putting dark day dreams into a penny dreadful to try and sell to further a fledgling call to write that has truly only begun despite fifteen years behind a pen. Instead, I heard a voice that is beyond description, a warming, and familiar voice call my name. Inside my head I heard him say “Danny boy,” and point me towards these old cassettes lying on my bed. In the static pops and echoed whirs of gears turning the spools in the cassettes, in the background distortion and occasionally distant voices I found something more precious than gold.
As a child, there was no place more warm or safe than in my grandfather’s den, his foot propped up on the coffee table as he picked a few songs, sang a little off key and told me stories about his life and his childhood. The interaction of my parents, my aunts and uncles and every visitor who came through the door as a stranger and left as another part of an every increasing family made my life more blessed and my calling more certain. Always a collector of books and movies and music, I was a little librarian cataloging everything I encountered in journals and notebooks and loose sheets of paper from this legal pad or that napkin. Things that would have no consequence, no baring on any other life became mythos, legend that only planted a seed in my mind until the time was right for it to flourish and sprout with ideas and stories all it’s own.
I realized tonight, sitting down and reflecting on a great man I had lost and on the progeny of his that continues to do great and astounding things that I will never build my own home with my own hands, never be called a hero as they pin a medal to my chest. There may never be degrees and scholarly letters on my wall, no titles of authority and revere to be added to my name. And why should I ever want or need those things. In this garden of greatness I am a caretaker, a story teller who will forever chronicle and preserve the great deeds and wisdom of an inconceivably gifted group of people. My stories, fiction or not, will always have an air of truth, a worldliness that can only come from a lifetime of experiences shared and memories experienced by the author.
In these tapes tonight I found more gold than any buried treasure could ever reveal.
Thank you, granddad.