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Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Storyteller's Granddaughter


Kimberly Brock’s writing has appeared in anthologies and magazines. After studying literature and theater, she earned a degree in education. She lives north of Atlanta where she is a wife and mother of three. Visit her website at kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog. You can also find her Author page on Facebook at Kimberly Brock, or tweet her @kimberlydbrock. She is currently at work on her next novel.
My education in story really began with my grandfather, Papa.
He was a storyteller, a hayfield evangelist who spent a lot of time on a tractor, full of homegrown anecdotes, which my family and the community at large, heard a million times over. He was known for these stories, which he cultivated for years, and if you were lucky enough to run into him at Shoney’s or at the Kroger or even if you happened to be an unsuspecting telemarketer, you had plenty of chances to learn one version or another by heart. He would launch into these allegories at any given moment and although we often rolled our eyes or checked our watches, it was a striking revelation and a blessing to me when, at his memorial service, I heard bits of his well-worn phrases floating through the crowd.
He had a voice. He had something to say about how he saw the world. Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong, prejudiced or naïve or fanciful or judgmental. But he knew a secret about story and I learned it by watching the power in his parables. Few days have passed in all the years since his death when his words don’t come back to me, either in my own thoughts or from the recollections of others, even from those who never met him, but still somehow inherited the words. They were a foundation for how to think about the world and our place in it, the basis for all our stories, I think. If there’s anything that influences my life and shapes my writing, guiding the themes I choose to explore, this is it, what we all remember; his masterpiece, in a way. This is what he would say:
Have you ever wondered where your breath comes from? You can’t bargain for it, you can’t survive without it, and even when you don’t need that breath anymore, there’ll still be breaths left to take and somebody else left to take them. Now what do you think about that?
And I have been thinking about that, for about forty years.
Our breath is a wonder. We have no inkling of where it comes from. It is unfathomable. Beyond us. A continuous miracle. As a writer, I value that kind of vast wonder at the world. To tell the stories I’ve been given, I know it’s necessary to leave my mind open to possibility. How wide can I cast my net? How high can I fly? How low can I fall? How dark and strange can the way become and what feats of daring will it take to find my way home?
Breath is terrifyingly out of our control. As much as we rely on it for survival, we can’t bend it to our will or do without it. Story is like that. We need it to make sense of our lives. And to remind us that sometimes life doesn’t make sense. We need it to reveal truth. And to teach us that sometimes truth is not so easily defined. You can’t bargain with your breath, just as you can’t rush whatever it is that you are learning from the experience of discovering a story. It requires courage to continue and faith that the next breath or word will come, and the next and the next, until it’s done.
Because one day, it will be done. Our stories will be told one way or another. They’ll stand on their own and we’ll realize how lucky we’ve been to have done the hard work, and that we really need to get started on the next one. Because more than anything, a story teaches us that we have something to offer of our experience to this world and that the reach of our stories will inevitably extend beyond our own lives. We tell them for ourselves, but also for those who will take hold of them for future understanding, strength, joy and comfort. 
From my Papa’s stories, I learned about the world, about loss and resentment and forgiveness and redemption. But above all, I learned the lessons of breath: wonder, faith and perpetuity. I learn these every time his voice comes to me, clear and certain, with a bit of humor or wisdom or an enduring hope. I am convinced that when I cease to need these breaths, I’ll leave something behind stronger than a ghost or a regret, because I’m the granddaughter of a storyteller. And this is the story I will tell, what I believe I know:
A breath holds eternity. And this is where a story exists, where a storyteller must live, in the space in between.
Now, what do you think of that?
Can the river heal her?
Roslyn Byrne is twenty-four years old, broken in body, heart and soul. Her career as a professional ballet dancer ended with a car wreck and a miscarriage, leaving her lost and grieving. She needs a new path, but she doesn't have the least idea how or where to start. With some shoving from her very Southern mama, she immures herself for the summer on
Manny's Island, Georgia, one of the Sea Isles, to recover.

There Roslyn finds a ten-year-old girl, Damascus, who brings alligators, pumpkins and hoodoo into her sorry life.

Roslyn rents a house from Damascus's family, the Trezevants, a strange bunch. One of the cousins, Nonnie, who works in the family's market, sees things Roslyn is pretty sure she shouldn't, and knows things regular people don't. Between the Trezevant secrets and Damascus's blatant snooping and meddling, Roslyn finds herself caught in a mysterious stew of the past and present, the music of the river, the dead and the dying who haunt the riverbank, and a passion for living her new life.

5 comments:

sally apokedak said...

Lovely article...AND...the book sounds like it's very good, too. Thanks!

I never knew any of my grandparents--the last one died three months before I was born. What a rich gift God give in family. I will cherish the family members I DO have a little more today. Because they all have stories, too.

Ane Mulligan said...

I didn't really know my grandparents. My grandmother died when I was 5, and my dad's father when I was 9. He lived in a rest home back in ND, so I saw him from a distance only once, shortly before he died at 92.

I'm so envious of that rich heritage!

Michael Ehret said...

I was blessed to know ALL of my grandparents and two of my great-grandparents. I miss them all to this day. They loved me in ways no one else did ... or ever could. I long to be a grandparent like that. I hope to be one some day.

This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Christina Lorenzen said...

Absolutely loved this post! I even love the title 'The Storyteller's Granddaughter'! What a lovely tribute to your grandfather! I too can remember bits of wisdom from three of my grandparents, the fourth having went to be with the Lord when I was very young. My favorite words in this post - his 'masterpiece'. Lovely!

Becky Doughty said...

Just finished reading your book, Kimberly, and I'm already recommending it. Haunting.

Thank you for sharing your gifts with us.