Nancie and I are both alumni of the When Words Count Retreat book publishing program. We’ve so far only connected via e-mail and phone, but the shared experience at WWCR and having the same publisher is a powerful bond. Welcome to How Wise Then, Nancie.
Getting It Right
The cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke says, “It’s not about being right. It’s about getting it right.”
Kathryn knew The Mayflower Chronicles required extensive research to ensure the inclusion of everyone’s facts and voices, including the Pokanoket people the Pilgrims confronted upon their arrival in Plymouth. On the other hand, I thought I would write a funny little book about moving in with my father when I was in my early sixties and he—a retired U.S. Army full colonel–was in his eighties.
My real-life and social media friends and followers thought my posts about life with Dad were great. They thought my father and I were hysterical together. They posted about how we were a model adult child/parent combo. Sometimes, they told me my stories made them cry. “You should write a book,” they said. “I wish I could have that kind of relationship with my father,” they told me.
The Incomplete Truth
Based on what they read on my pages, they were right. I wrote humorous, poignant, and sensitive snippets. I programmed tasty and easy to swallow bites on my social media feeds. They only saw what I wanted them to read because I controlled the narrative. I was truthful. But I did not provide all the facts.
I avoided some topics like why I moved in with my Dad, how he knew I needed to before I did, and what it took to realize the shape I was in before making changes.
Before I make it sound like my memoir will reveal deep, dark secrets, let me be transparent. My father was not The Great Santini. My family was ordinary in some contexts and extraordinary in others. Like all families, we had our joys and dysfunctions. But as a military brat, I grew up spending only about fifty percent of my childhood with my Dad around. Then I lived away as adult children tend to do for over 40 years. So why, when I moved back in with him, was I surprised that we did not know one another as well as I had assumed?
Getting To Know You – Again
Once I moved in with Dad, we started to have tea each afternoon. He began to tell me about his childhood. We shared our memories of the times and places we lived together. We talked about what it was like when he was not with us and stationed far away.
I realized that I did not know as much about him as I thought. He seemed genuinely surprised by many of the things I told him. It took some time before I realized that the personal narrative that I had constructed to explain my life was inaccurate because I did not have all the facts. My story needed some verification.
When an author creates fictional characters, she creates their stories, personalities, triumphs, and traumas. But she must consider each of them within the entire cast of characters she composes. The people in my memoir are not fictional. They have lives, emotions, dreams, and disappointments. There was so much I did not know despite assuming I did. I began to doubt my own story.
When I confronted the character from the personal narrative I had internalized on my memoir’s pages, she startled me. Some days I was ashamed. Some days I wanted to be gentler, more compassionate. There were times I laughed at her. And there were times I was proud and amazed that she was still standing. The distance the words on a page must travel to one’s mind and heart allows time to process and distill the truth.
I finished Tea with Dad, sure that I had told the entire story and had all my facts straight. But as fate would have it, I was wrong. As I share in the book, Dad let me know that a family story about my great uncle was not true.
“Uncle Al was not a polygamist. That’s ridiculous,” Dad said. “He had three wives, but not at the same time.”
Last month Uncle Al’s granddaughters, Erin and Eileen, met us for the first time on Zoom. As they compared notes, Dad cleared the air (just in case they were worried, which they were not) by correcting the rumors about Uncle Al.
“He only had three wives,” he told them.
“Oh, there was a fourth one,” our cousin Erin replied. She was so unphased. She went on to let us know that they had documents—the announcement of the annulment of the third marriage and then her grandmother’s divorce papers dated after the annulment announcement.
“There’s a fourth?” Dad asked, surprised. “She slipped in before…”
“My book is wrong!” I gasped.
“A fourth.” Dad was stunned. He shook his head.
“My book is wrong!” I repeated. No one paid any attention to me.
Get It Right – Again
I have decided to view this philosophically. Erin and Eileen provided us with information we did not know. This meant a lot to my father as he was so fond of Uncle Al and his young cousin Jacqueline. There is documentation. We will edit the family story though it is too late for my book.
I did the best I could to get my book right based on the information available to me when I wrote it. History as we know it changes as new evidence appears. As someone else said, “If you don’t get it right the first time, keep trying until you do.”
Tea with Dad is being published by Green Writers Press and is for release April 27, 2021. It is available for pre-order now at Amazon/Laird Young. Nancie lives in Maryland where she writes and continues getting to know her Dad better.