"...everything in life is writable...if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."..... Sylvia Plath

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Making of a memoir (the process)

Author's notes: This is not in story form yet. I've just collected data and research together here. I've loosely pulled together information for 11 chapters so far. I'm posting some of the information to see if readers and writers think a story of this nature would be interesting. I've already started writing this chapter as a story and will post it as soon as it's complete enough for a first draft. I really don't have a title yet for this chapter. Please bear with me. Thanks to all who are taking a peek. I have a specific system I use for writing larger works and a lot of it involves letting the story emerge on its own.

My Mother and Father Meet and Fall in Love
Info to be used in  Roxie Alfred and Me
a work in progress

My mom, the flapper: 1928
      My parents met in Detroit when my dad was booked into the Webster Hotel as a musician with the band. My mother had a small hair salon on the lower level. She had come up from North Carolina with her family (Roxie, Alfred and my aunt, Florence, whom we always called auntie Flo.) at age seventeen. My aunt was three years older.

     When they arrived in Detroit in 1925, they moved into the Webster Hotel where Roxie had gotten a job as housekeeper and Alfred became the engineer. My grand parents had the good sense to send both of their daughters to trade school, my aunt to secretarial school and my mom to beauty school. When my mom finished beauty school, the people who owned the hotel let Alfred build a nice little beauty shop in a spare room on the lower level. Soon, my mom was in business cutting and styling hair and doing manicures.

     Once he discovered the hair salon on the lower level, Daddy would wander down often to have his nails done and talk to the cute owner. I guess the band was staying in the hotel. The way it turned out, they were there long enough for my parents to fall in love. I don’t know if daddy left town and came back or if he just stayed after meeting my mom. Either way, they ended up getting married. That happened in 1928. Two years later, I was born.

     Prior to meeting my father, my mom dated a member of the Purple Gang. Of course, she didn’t know he was a gangster until he started taking her to places where his cohorts hung out and then made the major mistake of giving her an expensive fur coat with a huge diamond ring in the pocket. When Roxie saw that, she and Alfred forbade mom to ever go out with him again. Roxie was smart and knew a man flaunting that kind of money could only be up to no good. Mom broke up with him immediately. She was only nineteen and, besides you didn’t cross Roxie. No way. No how. I remember mom telling me years later how handsome he was and how nice he was to her. But I kept thinking wow, that’s pretty scary, never mind the handsome and nice part.

My mother: 19 years old
     I can’t imagine my mother with a gangster. She wasn’t the type you would think a gangster would be attracted to. She was very naive and sweet….a darling little girl from the south, with the most adorable face and dimples. She was soft spoken and not particularly flirty, nor did she ever wear overtly sexy clothing. It’s still puzzling to me to this day. Maybe I just have  a stereotypical idea of what a gangster would be attracted to. 

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Roxie Alfred and Me

Author's notes: I'm writing a new memoir; the working title is Roxie Alfred and Me. I've drafted around six chapters so far. What's different about this memoir is the increased amount of research I'm having to do. Besides trying to remember what happened over fifty years ago, to whom it happened and where, I'm having to research information on World Was II, Cherokee Herb Doctors, and Moon-shining, among other things.

I've decided to start posting some of my research, chapters, and notes on this site, so I can check out photos, videos, and text easily and in one place. Today I am researching Moon-shining in North Carolina. I found a video and some pictures. I've posted the excerpt from my mss and detailed what I'm hung up on. This is one of my favorite parts. I remember, though it was so long ago, sitting around the dinner table listening to stories about my infamous family. My sister didn't think I should write about it. Guess it embarrassed her. But I want this memoir to be as close to the real truth as possible. I don't want to leave out the seemy parts.

     Great granddaddy had four sons, who followed in his footsteps, courageous, resourceful, and stalwart. They worked the stills mostly at night, when the rising smoke could not be seen by the revenue officers who roamed the area looking' to shut down "them blasted stills" and with whom they waged war continually. There were also rival gangs who ventured into great granddaddy's territory. Shooting or cutting the throats of livestock was the favorite method of revenge, but when gunning for his rivals the avenger either shot him from ambush or pounced upon him and slit his throat in the same manner he would his cow, horse, or any other animal. I like to think that great granddaddy never engaged in this type of activity.

     One Thanksgiving, when we were all gathered around the dinner table,  after a healthy helping of Pumpkin Pie, papa recited great granddaddy's famous quote. We got to hear it every Christmas and Thanksgiving.

     "As my granddaddy often said, back in them beautiful piney woods, 'God almighty made apples an' peaches and 'ef he didn't want 'em made into brandy by we mountain folk, he'd a kep' the secret of stillin' all to hisself... If a man caint be 'lowed to do as he wants with his own fruit, it's a damned poor country'. " And he believed this with all his heart.

     "I remember so many close calls up there in them back woods," papa said.

     "What kind of close calls?" my father asked.

     "Running from them damned revenue officers."

     "How'd you get away from them." I asked.

     "Well, mostly we just ran all the way to the coast and jumped into the Intracoastal Waterway. They could never catch us that way. They weren't about to jump in after us."

     "Yeah, my daddy was a great swimmer...still is, my mom said.

     "But those waterways were pretty rough, weren't they, papa?" I asked.

     "Papa, weren't you afraid of going to jail?  Bebe said.

     "Honey, we spent half our time swimmin' up and down them North Carolina waterways between the Atlantic and Wilmington. And them back woods? Fortunately, most of that area was pretty well cleaned out after great granddaddy got put in jail. Me and my brothers decided to stick to farming after that."

     "Jail?" I said. "Why was he in jail?"

     "Well, honey, they finally caught up with him. And threw his butt in the slammer for evading the law and not paying his taxes."

     "But how'd he get out? Bebe asked

     "He was very popular with what few neighbors he had, so they got together and came up with enough to pay for his bail. After that, he spent years paying off those back taxes...nearly killed him."

     "Wow," Bebe said. I'm gonna always pay my taxes."

     "Yes, I'm sure you will, honey."  Roxie gave Bebe a big hug and kissed the top of her curly head.

     I was very young when great granddaddy died, but I still remember sitting around the dinner table on Thanksgiving or Christmas and listening to everyone go on about our jaded family. My sister begged me not to scrutinize our genealogy too closely. She was afraid of what I might find. It didn't bother me though, I just keep thinking about what a hard time those early pioneers must have had and how resourceful and strong and courageous they were. Let's not kid ourselves, when it came time for the first ships heading for the new world from England to load up, they just opened up the jails and said "bon voyage"....and that is what America is built on: courage, strength and incredible resourcefulness.

Notes: My proof-reader has pointed out that I stated great-grandaddy was a farmer, Moon-shining in the mountains and my grandfather and uncles would run from the revenue officers and jump into the Intracoastal Waterways at Wilmington. Her questions to me were:

     1. Did they really run that far?
     2. Were they really farming in the mountains?

I think she has a point. I have to work on this and talk to my sister about it. She's the only one living that knows any of the details. And no one left a log or diary or even notes. I have to rely on my memory and hers.

Making Moonshine