April 18, 2010

Thinking About the Past

April 18, 2010

When I wrote Glass Hearts, I revisited World War I Hungary and imagined my mother's family through the eyes of my aunt. I really loved escaping to that world, and wallowing around in the chapters, I felt alive during that distant time. I did tons of research (pre-Google) and read stacks of books in order to transport myself there. It was a magical experience.

My father was born in Cleveland and lived here in Ohio all his life, even though his mother immigrated to the US from what's now Belarus early in the last century. He was a young child when the 1918 outbreak of influenza struck. Here's what happened. Both he and his father got so sick they had to be hospitalized. His father died, but my father lived.

I've never been able to get my mind around what that must have felt like. I wrote a poem about it once, though:


From the Italian for influences, meaning
gripped by an ethereal astrological fluid with
the power to direct the course of contagious
disease. As in 1918, when my grandfather and
father, both ill and under the influence
of the quintessence, the fifth element or ether,
entered the hospital, where my grandfather died
but my father survived to become a father
to his own brother and sister, later to my sisters
and me. His essence outlasted the sick bed
from which he staggered, a boy of four,
weak and alone but, as luck would have it,
very much alive.

I'm sure these meager words don't even begin to skate over the surface of such a terrible loss and the entire life spent fathering other people that followed.

I bring this whole incident up--and I'm sure it was a common story for the time--because I've often thought of writing about it, not just a few lines but an entire book. I like working on historical fiction, leaving the here and now and going elsewhere. I like building whole worlds out of the fragments of information left behind by the people who actually lived there.

So, I'll put this idea back into my "What's Next" folder, which is these days virtual rather than physical, and see what develops. Maybe my father's story will just sit there forever and never get told, or maybe one morning, I'll wake up with a compelling first sentence that drives me headlong into a new book. It's too soon to know. I guess I'll just have to wait for the sun to rise and fall a bunch of times in order to find out for sure.

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