The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Way it Sort of Was

by Craig Terlson

Memory is important to me as a writer. When I sift through the catacombs of my brain, I often land on childhood, teenagehood, and early adulthood memories. It is fascinating to put these events through a writer's filter – but before I put on my tweed smoking jacket and get all pretentious, I need to remind myself this is what my grandfather, George, did all the time in his storytelling. He's the guy on the far left in the above photo.

It wasn't so much that he altered the facts when he told stories, he just sort of smooshed the good bits from a few different tales together, and bound them up with his delightful personality. My uncle used to say George never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

As a kid, I took the stories of him, on a hill in France, arm and arm with Churchill, staring down Hitler and his gang, as gospel. In other stories about WWII, I imagined him in some French café drinking out of that glass bottomed beer mug (so you could always see who was coming in the door), with men in berets and red-lipped ladies smoking long cigarettes. I never heard the dark stories, the ones he didn't share openly, except in hushed tones when the grandkids were not around.

I had heard how George's regiment was destined for the Dieppe Raid. A few days before the raid, he was injured, possibly by a grenade – but I had started to doubt these stories. As I grew older, I began to realize a lot of the stories were most likely fabrications. In my cynical years, it bugged me that he had to embellish so much.

But as I comb through my own memories, I see how events from my past do get smooshed together, in really interesting ways. Distant memories saddle up next to things from a few weeks ago and they create their own sort of memory, and ultimately, their own story. The tale doesn't lack in truth; it actually creates a new form of it.

Newer writers will sometimes proclaim, "But that’s not how it happened!" When someone asks me if a story of mine is true. I say, "Of course." Or, if I am feeling more honest, "No, but that's the way it should have happened."

On a side note, a few years back I was scanning the internet and googled my long since dead grandfather. I couldn't believe it when I came across a WWII veteran's journal that mentioned my grandfather. I confirmed it by emailing the vet, who said, "For sure, I knew George, which grandkid are you?"
The story on his site was how George had been admitted to the infirmary and had missed the Dieppe raid (an omission that may have saved his life).

I'm starting to wonder about the Churchill story now.


Blogger Patricia said...

Thank you for sharing your memories of George with us. I would have loved to meet him, the best part of this story is that you are carrying on with his storytelling.

The hardest thing for me to do as a writer is to steeeeetch the memory, thanks for reminding me Craig.

I love the picture...xox

Mon Jun 12, 01:29:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

and the title is great...

Mon Jun 12, 03:47:00 am GMT-4  
Anonymous Anna McDougall said...

Great topic, Craig. I'm discovering this new truth often these days. You are very fortunate to have had those stories told to you.

Mon Jun 12, 11:24:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

Family stories, tall tales, myths, anecdotes: they're the real stuff, aren't they? Great piece, Craig.

Alfredo Vea said about his first novel, which one assumes is autobiographical: "The flesh of the book is fiction; the bones are real." Always liked that line.

Mon Jun 19, 12:48:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

What a great line - I need to remember that.

Mon Jun 19, 04:31:00 pm GMT-4  

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