There's something special about an old letter found in a shoebox or trunk or between the pages of a book, like the letter from my grandmother to Little One Finger Jo. It's not a nickname I ever remember Gram calling me, but the letter was to me, as were several other letters written to One Finger Jo. I assume it was because I was always pointing when I was a baby, right index finger held up for silence or pointing to whoever was in my sight while I laughed or spoke as babies often do. Pay attention. This is important stuff.
I treasure those letters and the letters from my father to me when he was stationed overseas without my mother and me or waiting until we could join him in Germany or Panama or any of a dozen places where we followed him. The letter I treasure most is a letter that in some ways launched my writing career -- my professional writing career. It was a letter from Amelia May Connolly to her children. I originally called the story I wrote about that letter and what it meant to be adopted, Anna's Seeds, and that was my first major publication. It wasn't my first professional publication. That honor went to a story about a photo I treasured of my father writing a bucking bronco, hat flung high and legs clapped tightly to the rearing stallion and how I found that same furious rearing stallion when my new husband and I traveled to Utah when we were on our way to his next base in Utah.
We had stopped just inside the Colorado border at a little spot off I-70, got out, and walked around. I was tired and our son was fractious, so a walk was the only thing I could think of to clear the cobwebs and get out into the fresh air. As I walked down a street toward a tourist trap, there it was, forelegs pawing the air, muscles locked in mid jump, and a line of fathers and brave teens waiting their turn to ride the bucking bronc. I knew my father had worked in a circus and a rodeo at some time in his early years, but I thought he had ridden wild stallions in the ring. Not so. He had ridden a stuffed stallion for a photo op and yet, to some childlike part of me deep inside, my father was still a hero and the wild bucking stallion he had ridden for that creased and dog-eared photograph was the real thing and not the tourist attraction I had found.
Looking back over the years there were many old letters and photographs that have sparked stories and articles and more paper journal posts than I can remember. Each one is capture in print, the emotions and thoughts still raw as I read them now and then. As letters and photographs capture the thoughts of emotions of the moment, so does writing illuminate those frozen bits of life and time, and writing is all I ever really wanted to do, besides read. The letter from my adopted mother's grandmother reminded me that I was a part of a family where writing and words were important and that by my desire to write I was part of a much bigger family, a family as confused and dysfunctional as any nuclear family, a family of writers.
I can trace my origins back through Shakespeare, Michael Montaigne, Jacqueline Susann, Stephen King, and Alexander Dumas, among others. I am one of generations of writers that stretch back to the beginnings of storytelling and the spoken word, and there are more coming as the dream of telling stories and putting life into words is born in a new generation of writers that will create their worlds with words rearranged and reworked and published in new ways we have yet to dream or realize.
Photographs and letters, mementos from the shadows of time and space, spark memories and dreams, create legends and become legend, as long as there are people that care enough to stop and become immerse in a moment held still and taken out of time's endless stream. A photograph became the basis of the cover of my next novel, Among Men, a sequel to Among Women, and the beginning of a series of books drawn from life and photos and letters that begin with me and become something more on the page, rather like the photograph of my father riding a wild stallion. It is the dream that comes from the image and the memories we create and send on leaves of paper into the winds of change and life that become books and stories, the truth of which is not always in question because they become a truth of their own, mementos of dreams.