Bella was beautiful. Too beautiful for her own good, the people said. She had clear, bright blue eyes framed in an oval face, flawless pale skin and auburn hair which wound in a thick coil at the back of her neck. She was tall, statuesque and charming. Light footed and cheerful, she sang wherever she walked – in my view, her detractors were simply envious!
She could have married any man in town, so it came as a surprise when she took to David McIntosh, the youngest of four boys, from a shabby family living in a shabby house outside town. Mind you, they were very hard workers, but wee Davie would have his days cut out, finding and keeping a home fit for his Bella. There was general sneering behind hands and much gentle mockery when she swore she loved him, and she would prove them all wrong. Very soon there was a babe in arms, and another one on the way. Bella began to miss the parties, and the company of her school friends. They weren’t thinking about babies – not yet!
The unthinkable happened. Bella left Davie and her three small girls. She left a note to say she was sorry, she still loved them all, but she needed to be alone for a while. Well! The gossips had a field day! Each story was an embellishment of the last, until you could have sworn that Bella had abducted by aliens. Meanwhile Davie put on a brave face and brought up his three daughters with the help of his family, while working. He was a slightly built man, and I swear, the strain of it nearly killed him.
About eighteen months later he got a letter from a solicitor saying that Bella wanted half of everything – the house, the bank account. There wasn’t much, but Davie did his best to split into equal shares. He and his girls moved back in with his folks for a while, and he rented out the house. This did not go down well with his mother. There was hell to pay.
Through it all, Davie was bringing up his daughters as best he could, telling them stories and tucking them in at night. He always spoke fondly of their mother, making sure that the children remembered her. He never gave up hope that one day, she would come home. Most folk looked on grimly, whispered “I told you so” to each other, and lent a hand now and then.
One evening – it must have been years later because I mind that the eldest Ellen, had just left the junior school – six o’clock, who should come walking down the street? You would hardly recognise her. She was thin as a rake. Her hair had been cut very badly short and her face was a mess. She struggled to keep standing, but there was no mistaking Bella. Davie was in the kitchen making the supper as one of the daughters answered the door. When “this woman” said she was their mother, the girl shut the door and tried to lock it. “Dad! She says she’s our Mum!” She left her standing on the doorstep.
He told me afterwards, he pushed past the girls and took the woman into the kitchen. He set an extra plate at the table and they all ate supper together. Bella slept on the sofa until after the girls were all at school the next day. She had obviously been living rough. She said she was sorry, she never realised until it was too late, how lucky she was, how much he had loved her. She swore she loved him, wanted nothing more than to stay, but would understand if he didn’t want her back. They talked for ages, until it was agreed that Bella could stay. I don’t think Davie would have let her out of his sight, actually, but he had to be sure that Bella would not leave again. The girls were really upset by the whole thing and thought he was just asking for trouble.
Davie is happy, though. You can see it in the way his face gleams. He has grown about three inches and seems to jog, rather than walk these days. I think they will make it. I hope they do.
May 1, 2014
Fran Macilvey choices, choosing, communication, family, honesty, learning, letting go, Memoir, story, truth, writing Memoir, Path To Publication, The Rights & Wrongs of Writing 12 Comments
Are memoirists selfish? Occasionally, after reading “Trapped: My Life With Cerebral Palsy” a reader may comment with a wistful sigh, that they don’t get to discover much about the other members of my family. Do they gaze quizzically into the middle distance and suppose they are dealing with a narcissist? Self-obsessed at least….the reflection may leave them wondering…
Memoirists don’t even have to claim to be accurate, for goodness’ sake! They can just bring a whole pile of memories to the table, and, so long as they are “what I experienced” they are allowed their own creative licence. No poring over volumes in the dusty halls of academe, no flights to far-flung Istanbul to track down long-lost relatives whom you recognise vaguely, but can scarcely speak to, as they stand before you patting your hand and remembering the way it used to be, before your grandmother left home….
There are indeed many other telling stories wrapped in with a memoir, waiting to be told. But the subject of a memoir has to wade into the past gently, finding a way through which leaves the bulk of other people’s recollections untouched, while benefiting from them enough to provide context, depth and explanations. I have no right to tell the story of anyone else’s life, and so I must leave other people’s life strands almost entire and alone, respecting the privacy of their memories, trials and tribulations and not using or abusing them to gain extra attention.
Deciding what to write about, and what to omit, has become, for me at least, an exercise in honest self-control; and if I aim for that, I will probably not go too far wrong. That is what I have always tried to do, at any rate, so that if anyone has an objection, I can at least be clear that I was doing my best to recount my story in my own way, with no other objective than to finally tell my truth. Not a bad aspiration, actually, for a day’s work.