To say the women in my family have influenced my writing and life is obvious. Each one has a unique personality that glows. Each woman in my family is intelligent and somewhat opinionated. If they took a close look at my stories to date, they might say a certain character is like them. They might say, “Oh God, why is she writing this?” Some have distanced themselves from my writing, and that is okay.
For me as an author, it is not about any negative influence or secret revenge from that time my aunt yelled at me by the pool. In the secret pockets of my words where my grandmothers, aunts, and mother spot their influence, those writings came without intention or planning. When I write a short story, the words and its plot simply flow. And, as you may or may not know, I take a long time with my stories. Sometimes it takes me three years to complete one before I consider it ready to submit.
It is because of these women that I’m a good writer. They told the stories, cried tears, and showered me with love. But, there is one who influenced me above the rest. Her influence goes beyond my personal life and writing.
Early this morning, I began reading about the interesting concepts behind language acquisition for my English class, History of Modern English. As I sat there, my grandmother came to mind. Some called her “Tense” and I knew her by her grandmotherly name “DickDick.”
When I was a child, I had a stutter. She bought me a set of Hooked on Phonics tapes. I do not remember them very well, but I do remember she encouraged me to read constantly. She had a pile of old books piled outside the room in which I slept. Some were made of cloth while others were hardback. When she read to me, sometimes she read rhythmically.
My grandmother encouraged my speech and reading. She knew something about the power of words. They were not just meant to be read on the page, but read out loud to someone at some point. Words were not just laundry drying on a line in the sun. Words from the English language were rooted then uprooted to many places throughout the world and spoken in so many dialects, so that the language diversified.
When I sit at my laptop, write or edit, I wonder what would she think of my writing now. She’d probably comment on some of my pretty lines, but probably dislike the awkward and very real hardships about which I write. Power of language in my writing began with her. Before I wrote, I spoke. Before I read, she read to me.
She influenced the way I analyzed and crafted words. When I think of the technicality or rhythm on the rare occasions I write poems, I believe her voice weaves words throughout. In the first lines of Red Loam, a poem published last summer connected to Sons of the Edisto, I believed her spirit moved with its rhythm.
There was nothing but sand and clay when I was born.
When time is done, there’ll be nothing but sand and clay.
Those of us born here come from that same place.
Folk say God scooped up mud and made Adam.
That may be, but it ain’t how Bamberg folk were made.
The rich, poor, Indian, black and white were all formed from the same red loam,
and mixed and molded with the Edisto and Salkehatchie waters.
DickDick was a reader of the classic British literature and some Southern fiction and poetry. She wanted so much to write. In place of it, she read out loud to me. I can picture her still reading to me from a green rocking chair near a fireplace with a porcelain Cinderella, her carriage, and horses on the top.