On a personal note, I wrote the fictional story, BORROWED, after I retired and spent extended time with my older sister and elderly mother. “The Fork and the Cork” is a brief account of how the novel came to be.
“Why don’t you write a novel? You have lots of stories to use now,” she said.
“I’m not a writer. Besides, these stories are not related and there is certainly no ending.”
“You can image. You can make it up. Were you Davy Crockett?” she asked.
“When you were little, you and Kippy would play on the creek, you imagined yourself to be Davey Crockett. Have fun with it,” she said.
After retiring from a career in medical research and education, I looked forward to playing golf, reading, traveling with my wife, and playing with an anticipated grandchild; but first, there were other family matters. My first post-retirement mission was to visit, as often as possible, my elderly mother and widowed sister. My father had passed a few years earlier.
The extended stays with my mother and sister naturally led to reminiscing as we looked at old photographs and recalled stories that had not been considered for decades. The conversation eventually led to a discussion of my father and my parents’ divorce when I was thirteen. The whole thing had been somewhat of the mystery to me. My mother and sister help put things in better perspective by sharing things that were not easy to share even after all of those years. I shared that, at the age of eleven, I realized that my parents’ marriage was failing and my mother was doing everything she could do to save it. But I also shared some of my fond memories from that time: Kippy - the best dog ever; baseball- a passion that stays with me today; exploring the creek- although it was too often to escape the house when my parents argued; a kind and gentle fifth-grade girl- an “enhanced” relationship because we took a ballroom dance class together. I recalled two unrelated events that at the time did not seem trivial: I had learned my father was a “thief” and I hurt my little fifth-grade girlfriend. I confessed that those two events haunted me from time-to-time for the rest of my life.
The Thief. As a World War II forward observer for an artillery company, my father “liberated” a necklace and a set of silverware from a French home in which he had established an observation post. After learning of the theft of the necklace, the company commander ordered my father to return it. Amazingly, he was able to conceal the silverware, which he presented to my mother as a gift when he returned from the war. Any pride I had for my father, the soldier and otherwise normal man, was tarnished by the revelation that he was, for a brief moment, a thief. Because I had doubted the gift meant anything to my mother after the divorce, I decided (when I was in high school) that if I ever gained possession of that silverware set, I would try to return it to the rightful owners; an anticipated adventure that stayed with me until, some forty-five years later, my mother informed me, proudly it seemed, that she had sold the silverware set immediately after the divorce.
The Hurt. Near the end of my fifth-grade school year, my little girlfriend and I had a falling out because, one day, for just one day, I decided that I just wanted to be a boy, not a boyfriend. On that day, as we loaded onto a bus for a class field trip, for unknown reasons, I unilaterally decided not to sit by her; I soon discovered that I broke a relationship rule. Her tears and physical response reminded me of my mother when my parents argued. I could have rectified the situation immediately on the bus, but I did not because I was confused by her anger and tears - and I was scared. Miscalculating again, I pretended it never happened, assuming time would heal it. We did not speak to each for two weeks, until the last day of school, when at the end of the school day, she stood up and announced to the class that she would be leaving town within the week because her father had been transferred to another state. While I remained stunned at my desk, she and the rest of the students hurried out of the classroom, down the hallway, toward the front doors to burst out into a new summer of fun. I eventually came to my senses and chased after her, yelling her name as I shoved my way through my classmates. When I finally caught up to her at the entrance, she stopped and looked at me without expression.
I pleaded. “Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?”
She sighed. “I was going to tell you on the bus.”
She left. It was not a good summer for me. It took years of growing up for me to understand fully her response and her feelings. I deeply regretted never telling her how sorry I was that I did not sit by her on the bus that day.
“Why don’t you write a novel?” my mother asked.
I decided that a fun and challenging task would be to make up a story that would “allow” me, through fictitious characters and events, to return the silverware and apologize to an eleven-year old girl. With the encouragement of my mother, sister, and wife, I wrote a first draft, which contained the “slaying of the demons.” But it lacked an ending because I simply did not know how to end it. My sister read it to my mother, who only then realized how much that silverware set had meant to me, and how disappointed I was she had sold it. On my final visit with her before she died, my ninety-four-year-old mother, stood up, grabbed her walker and proceeded to her bedroom. She returned a few minutes later to give me a serving fork from that set.
“Here,” she said. “I kept this piece to remember your father. It’s yours now.”
As my mother’s words were rewiring my brain, I thought about the eleven-year-old girl. We did not abruptly lose contact after she left. We wrote each other, one or two letters a year; amazingly for five years, until the tenth grade, when natural teenage attractions pulled us away from the past. But through a series of strange occurrences, that girl and I met one more time, a week before we were both to head off to colleges in different states. We had a dinner date, and because I knew the waiter, we had a bottle of wine although we were under age. The date was a little nostalgic, not romantic. Mostly we were excited about college; I don’t remember talking about the bus incident. She and I never saw or communicated with each other again. But the fork and what my mother said about it reminded me of something that girl said as we were about to leave the restaurant. She picked up the bottle cork from the table and looked at me with a smile. “You mind if I keep the cork?” she asked.
I had the ending to my story.