03 July 2009

"Maw-maw"

Insights and Reflections of a Short Story
Recommend you first read the story, here.

I have just uploaded my third work of fiction this week, and I have to say this is easily my favorite so far. The point-of-view character is Shelly, who recalls the death of her grandmother, known as "Maw-maw." Shelly lives with her mother and younger sister, Callie, and is visited by her Aunt Ruth. The funeral itself is not actually discussed in the short story as it stands now; I think a subsequent draft might explore that but it somehow didn't seem particularly relevant to Shelly's narration. I think we can all look back on some key events in our lives with surprise as we discover how few of the seemingly obvious details have stayed with us, displaced by otherwise trivial observations.

I can distinctly recall having watched Scooby Doo prior to going to a cousin's wedding when I was a child, and I recall playing with my mom's keys during the service but I couldn't tell you anything more about the wedding than that. I know it was at the same church where I was wed, and I can even recall the reception was hosted at my aunt's restaurant. Surely, everyone else in attendance could identify the setting for each event, but who else remembers what they watched on TV prior to leaving for the ceremony?

There is only one male character in this piece, and that is Shelly and Callie's grandfather. Unlike their grandmother, referred to throughout as "Maw-maw," he is always called "my grandfather." Shelly clearly has fond memories of him, but I decided he was a WWII vet and that he was likely somewhat formal; besides, it's clear that he had already passed on, and since Shelly was nine at the time, I suspect her memories of him are less vivid than those of her Maw-maw.

This isn't so much a story about Shelly's grandmother as it is about sisterhood. I think we all find ourselves captivated by the kinds of stories our aunts and uncles tell about our parents; those things that only a sibling thinks is appropriate for one's children to know about their youthful indiscretions. Even amidst the background of something as sad as burying a loved one, those kinds of anecdotes are irresistible for children, and that's part of what I was trying to capture in Shelly's recollections.

Also, this is unmistakably set in the South. For one, I don't think Northerners call their grandmothers things like "Maw-maw." Moreover, Aunt Ruth wears a perfume that reminds her of honeysuckle because she misses it, living away from where she was born and raised. Shelly recalls drinking a lot of sweet tea most other summers, and Callie instigates a lightning bug hunt that is, without a doubt, my favorite scene I have ever written. There is, I hope, a sincere sweetness and innocence to that sequence that I hope takes you there with Shelly.

Where did I get the names? you might ask. Mrs. Ellen Baker ("Maw-maw") literally just came to me as I reached the sentence about what the rest of the world called this woman. I liked the timelessness of the first name, and I liked Baker as a family name. I could see young Private Baker writing love letters to his Ellen back home, and thought they seemed like the kind of people I was trying to write about. From there, it was obvious that these are the kind of people that give their children conservative, simple names. There just wouldn't be a Dakota in the family, certainly not in Shelly's generation. What I like about Shelly as a name is that it's almost certainly a corrupted nickname for Michelle; the kind of thing a nine-year-old would still answer to, but could outgrow at a moment's notice. And, the truth is, I stole Callie right out of Dallas, which crossed my mind as I traveled back in time mentally to the 1980s searching for a name for Shelly's sister. J.R. Ewing's second wife came to mind, and I immediately thought of that character's innocence and I thought that this four-year-old girl could easily have grown up to be a young woman like her.

These writing exercises are exciting for me, because it's been a very long time since I last flexed my creative muscle. I'm thrilled to say that the handwritten original draft of this story went into a tenth wide-ruled page, three more pages than the cigar vignette from last night. And, of course, there's plenty of room for expansion should I go back and insert the actual funeral sequence into this story. I nearly wrote one more paragraph featuring Mama and Aunt Ruth's reaction to Shelly's story-ending decision, but ultimately I decided that by defining it I would cheat you of the opportunity to end it for yourself. It just didn't seem necessary, and I hope you agree.

No comments:

Post a Comment