Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Pause in the Hunt

I haven’t been researching my grandfather as aggressively I should.  I know that some of the people who hold memories of him are frail, their memories as well as their very lives may not be around for very much longer.  Yet, I hesitate.  I wait.  I delay.  Talking tonight, going on and on like my conversation was a piece of magical realism…I came to something.  Thank you, Cheryl Cooley.

I’m afraid.  The truth has not been my friend in the past.  Some people in the non-fiction writing world say that you shouldn’t write about people in your family who are still alive if what you have to write is bad.  I guess it’s insensitive because, if they’re not writers, then they can’t really defend themselves in the same medium.  Also, my version of truth may be a far cry from theirs. 

But here’s the problem. Every time I try to write about my grandfather with this glossy-eyed hope, I feel like I’m faking.  I feel as though I’m cheating him and myself.  I feel as though I’m running from the truth, the inevitable letdown that is most certainly right around the corner.  I don’t know how to write about Booker Wright without also writing about family members who are still living. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for long then you know that I have issues with my family.  My interest in my grandfather is not purely academic.  I desperately need to believe that someone in my ancestry had deep character.    

Actually, that’s not fair.  There are two realities at work here.  Last year I spent several hours interviewing my dad about his life and I learned that he was in chronic pain every day of my childhood.  He was fearful that if he told the team doctor (he played pro football) that he would get benched.  He endured that pain so that he could provide for us.  Unfortunately, the pain seeped into the way he parented us and the way he lived. 

I’m a mom.  Everyday I have to reconcile the mom I want to be with the mom that I actually am.  One day my kids may grow up to feel just as hurt and just as lost as I felt for so many years.  My family is not full of villains.  For whatever reason, I’m designed internally to value relationships deeply.  I just came from people who didn’t feel the same way when I was little. 

My parents were young when they had me and their values reflected their youth.  Why am I going into all of this?  I guess I want to be honest about the anxiety I feel about really searching for Booker Wright’s story.  But I don’t want to vilify my family.  They’re not so bad.  Parenting is complicated.  It’s not as if when kids come into the picture every other problem fades away so that parents can focus solely on being good parents.  Now that I’m a mom, I get that. 

Mack “Booker” Wright gives me hope.  If I’m honest with myself, I don’t want to find out the truth unless it’s even better than the stories.  But is that ever the case? 

I have no hope that Booker’s story won’t end up being a painful and ugly one.  But here goes, I don’t want to have regrets.  That’s my only motivator.  I need to say that I did it, even if doing it crushed the only person in my lineage who really gave me hope.  I need to keep searching out the truth because I know that if I hit 40 or 50 or 60 and I haven’t tried to write the greatest story that ever flopped onto my radar, I will regret it.