"She was a filthy woman," Dad said, describing my great grandmother Ada.
It left an image in my mind of toilet bowls with yellow rings and urine stains on the rim. So she was a lazy woman, I supposed, but what a terrible legacy to leave behind. Would leaving my home dirty and dying suddenly (as Ada had) have a similar effect on my ancestors? As I sat there watching my dad ponder the past, I thought about the seedy bathrooms at old gas stations I'd sometimes been forced to use over the years, the kind that stunk before you even opened the door and had all the tell-tale signs of e-coli or worse.
Dad smiled. "She was a concert pianist once."
What? More probing uncovered that Ada also had taught piano in her home. So there it was. Ada loved, lived, and breathed music, a far better and kinder depiction than the "filthy" woman Dad had first described. But the more I thought about it, Dad's words had been an honest reflection, a little boy's memory.
Dad had been raised in Lawton, Oklahoma in what must have been a well to do home. Dad remembered the family had a black mammy, which would have been sometime after 1926. When I first learned about the mammy, my understanding of mammies was on the level of what I'd seen in the movie Gone With the Wind. I'd grown to believe it was a deep south practice during the Civil War period. But apparently not. Dad's father was an army officer and his mother an officer's wife. They had the money and photos of them as a young couple revealed a glamorous lifestyle.
A few months later, Dad passed away and I inherited a box of heirlooms, some of which belonged to Ada. Imagine my delight when I then discovered that Ada had had a writer's heart. She wrote on scraps of paper, on the margins of her bible, sheets of notebook paper, in the piano book where she had recorded her students, and on various other keepsakes, all documenting what she believed to be important. A goldmine.
I learned that Ada was born in Illinois to a mother (Margaret) of striking beauty, something Ada was not in photos. She was rather plain but had a strong, confident face. The family moved to Oklahoma when Ada's attorney father, Montraville McCammat Duncan, "made the run" in Kingfisher, OK for land during Oklahoma's famous land rush in 1889. There Montraville served an "unfinished" term as Kingfisher's first mayor.
Ada married James at age 22. "A home wedding," she wrote. "The first in Kingfisher" and "a band serenaded us." But sadly, the joy of that day was lost with the death of two infants: a girl on their first wedding anniversary and a boy the year of the "Snyder Cyclone." My grandfather, their only living child, was born eight years later. The family eventually settled in Lawton, OK.
James died at age 59, possibly of TB (he had spent time in a sanitarium prior to his death), but his ailment was never fully disclosed. Tuberculosis was the Aids of that generation. The newspaper wrote that James had been a well known local pioneer, businessman, and member of the Masonic Lodge, but this was of little aid to Ada. As a widow at 51 her financial position plummeted overnight. Her apartments grew "smaller and smaller," she wrote, and she was forced to move in with her son and wife (my grandparents, the glamorous couple with the mammy). Unhappy with this arrangement, as Ada made known in her notes, it's likely she bickered some with my grandmother.
At some point, Ada had come to know the imprisoned Apache chief, Geronimo, someone my grandfather later recalled visiting as a four-year-old boy in the Lawton prison. My family has the beaded belt that Geronimo gave my grandfather as a gift, proof of one visit in particular, but we can only speculate on the relationship between Ada, my grandfather and Geronimo. My grandfather further claimed to have been the only non Indian to attend Geronimo's funeral. Tall tale? Feel free to comment!
|Geronimo's belt, a gift to my grandfather 1903-1904|
(shown in 3 sections). P. H. are my grandfather's initials.
If I were to write about Ada today as a fictional character and the people in her life, I could take her story in several directions, which might be fun to do, but her real story is just as fascinating to me.
When you write fictional characters, how true to life are your characters? Do they start out as someone you know or have read about, and evolve from there, or are they strictly an invention of your mind?
Curious how that works for you.
The Insecure Writers Support Group meets online every first Wednesday of the month. Founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh, IWSG was created to support and encourage all writers in every phase of their work, from writing to marketing. Click here to join, and for information, writing tips, and more.
January's awesome co-hosts today are L.G. Keltner, Denise Covey, Sheri Larsen, J.Q. Rose, Chemist Ken, and Michelle Wallace!
Congratulations IWSG Winners of the Anthology Contest!!
The Mirror People by Crystal Collier
Ground Zero by Michael Abayomi
The Seventeen by Hart Johnson
Rainers by Sandra Cox
EVER-TON by Yolanda Renee
WIN by Sylvia Ney
Haunted by Melanie Schultz
Folds in Life and Death by Cherie Reich
Scrying the Plane by Tamara Narayan
Felix Was Here by L.G. Keltner - Winner overall!
(L.G. will be published in the anthology :)