As a teenager my grandfather ran away from his boyhood home in Tennessee. We never knew why, why he ran away and never went back. He rode the rails to the Texas panhandle and married and died across the line in northwest Oklahoma. There were many things about my grandfather that were never talked about. There were many gaps that I filled in with my imagination. Little by little those things came to light, that his drinking might’ve been a problem and that he gambled.
I based my short story “Grandpa’s Wager” on him. Yes, indeed, he bet the family farm on Truman during a presidential election that by the time people went to bed Dewey had been given the victory: I learned that from a cousin as my father lay on his death bed. The event hadn’t made it into family lore. Amazing. Now I want to know more: not only the family I knew, but also their secrets, the human side that went to their graves with them.
As an adult, while my Great Uncle Lem was still alive and lived there, I would drive through the small town of Gage. I had to look around, see the old farm at the end of a dusty lane, see my great grandmother’s white framed two story house at the intersection of Main and the highway, and see the house in town where my grandparents lived out their last years. In other words, I tried to get the lay of the land. These places are still important to me now, as I assess the assets I have as a writer.
My great grandfather Wright was an early pioneer. He worked at many trades…I used his machine shop and his great skill as a machinist in a one-act play of mine call ONE DEAD INDIAN (produced by The Dallas Theater Center). To give you some idea about this guy here’s a list of what my great grandfather did for a living starting with his family, who owned and operated a sawmill on the present site of the town of Gage. He built east and west drift fences for large cattle companies to keep cattle from going too far south into Indian territory; he drove freight from Dodge City to Lipscomb County Texas; he raised cattle and engaged in farming; he built the first cotton gin and light plant in town; he converted the old gin into a grain elevator and feed mill; and he ran a hardware store, a gas station, a pool hall (“recreation room”) and an ice-cream parlor. And he did a lot of that with a missing arm. But he didn’t do all of this alone: no secret here. He was a married man. I remember my great grandmother, but my great grandfather died of a heart attack shortly before I was born. She got a big kick out of my exaggeration (it was her huge oak tree that I said I could cut down with a lawn mower I had in Texas.) And as I write this blog it occurs to me that there is enough material here for me to write a saga. But none of this gets into the nitty-gritty substance that is essential for a writer. Detail, detail, and more detail. Personal detail. And that’s what I’m looking for.