Carolyn E. Cook
The Story Behind the Story, Part Four
Here’s the background about two stories in my short story volume, Contrary Don’t Have No “i”. Of course, I like all of them, but these are my personal favorites.
My mother passed away in 1999, which left my dad living in the old house by himself. I would drive the 300 miles to visit him as often as I could and since he’s gone now, too, I really cherish memories of those visits. When my mother was alive, I never had lengthy conversations with Dad. She was the big talker. He preferred his few TV shows and his books. But without her presence, he opened up, especially reminiscing about long-ago days. Through those conversations, I actually got to know him.
His youngest childhood years had been spent in Charlotte, North Carolina. He described his friends there, what they’d done for fun, and how he’d often walked through town to various places, all by himself. During his many strolls, he managed to meet a lot of interesting people. He’d been especially fond of three, elderly sisters, all of them spinsters who lived together in the same house where they’d grown up.
He said, “They drove around in a very old Model T. I don’t know how they kept that thing running. They’d wave at people on the sidewalks and call out. In the stores, they’d strike up with just about anyone. When they talked to me, I was astonished at the way they’d interrupt and finish each other’s sentences. They could do that without skipping a beat. Then one of them came down sick and died. The other two followed soon after and the locals were very saddened. They claimed it was the end of an era.”
The notion of three, Old Maid sisters was my story beginning for Greetings from Buster. I put the setting in Maine, mostly because I think it’s an interesting place. Then I had the sisters befriend a lonely, little boy that I named Buster. For one summer, those women presented a world to him of curiosity and imagination, besides dishing a strong dose of eccentricity. It’s a world, I suspect, that Buster remembered for the rest of his life.
The Legend of the Canned Ham came about in an entirely different way, since I lived this story, witnessed every part of it. With only a few embellishments from me, 99% of the tale is true. That 1% of fiction included changing names of characters to protect the guilty.
My mother really did store canned hams in the freezer (why?) and was rather proud of herself for discovering a simple and effective means to thaw them quickly. Or so she thought. What a shock it was, when her great idea created a catastrophe.
Subsequently, this incident became a family legend. Mom never could live it down and I think she eventually decided to just go with it, laugh along with everyone else, whenever the account was told yet again. For me, it provided some fun writing.
This photo of my dad was taken in the mid-1920’s, I think. He could be a type of Buster, although I don’t believe he was particularly lonely, back in that day.
This is Mom, very much a 1950’s to 60’s mother. She was a cookie-baker, Girl Scout leader, dressmaker, Sunday School teacher, kid-chauffeur, jack-of-every-trade. And do-er of the occasional, really crazy thing. (Maybe not so typical in that department.)