This morning–right before leaving for work–I found a story I wrote quite a while ago for Jenny Cornell’s Representation of Science in LIterature class. The story is called House of Two Bears and it is an exaggerated story based on something my Grandfather used to tell me.
The old man was a great story teller. He was very animated with these stories too–at least in my memory. He walked around and imitated voices and threw his arms andweight around as he spoke. He was also a very good liar–he could convince anyone of anything. He convinced me of quite a few things. But when I was a little moco and I used to wear his t-shirts to bed because I had no other clothes there at their house, he used to tell me stories. Kind of like fairy tales. And, of course, he was always the hero and he was always the one making the tough choices. I can picture this in my head. They lived on Routt in those days next to Bessemer School and before bed the old man would tell me his stories and get me drowsy and then he would watch his little black and white television. I remember he had a a poodle named Buttons in those days and the dog slept on the bed with us. I can’t remember so much of that time in my life but I remember those stories. The old man was very much a failed writer–maybe he could have been a writer if he would have gone on to school or if he were allowed to finish school instead of getting to work at such a young age–truck deliveries, peach picking and then carpenter work and then finally the steel mill, which was the last job he ever held in his life. Maybe if he would have gone to school he would’ve been a writer. I do think I am not exaggerating–the men would sit around the picnic table in the back and smoke and play cards and tell stories. War stories and mill stories and also stories from Huerfano County–stories of their youth.
The stories I remember the most were the fables–the stories of him riding a horse across the country and the stories of him finding ghosts andfinding troubles that always had to do with the bottle. The old man was some kind of a drinker too–which is something that kept those stories going. (Sort of like Tortilla Flat meets Big Fish if you’ve read that book or saw Tim Burton’s movie.) He also prefaced every story as happening before the war. That was always important. As if he were a better and more youthful and lively person before the war. The war gave him friends like Millburger and others but the war also gave him bad thoughts or at least I always thought of those stories and his reactions to telling those stories as being very tragic and important to him.
I tried to write down some of these stories: the one where he meets an Indian and they let him live with them–the lessons they taught him. The time he went weeks without real food and drink and had visions–had visions of his first wife and his sister who both died when he was young. And, of course, the drinking stories and the love affairs. And they were more than stories because he had physical evidence. The watch from California and the binoculars from New Mexico–the hat from Arizona–the work gloves from Utah. Every mark on those old physical things were sold as evidence of what had happened–every knick and mark to the leather or to the glass was evidence of the truth of those stories.
Of course, the Grandmother always called him a liar. Told me he was ‘full of it’ and was a liar. Told me he never left Colorado when he was young until the Army and not until he was drafted. But the stories were so convincing and so compelling to me. And I needed those stories too after a while–wanted them before bed and wanted them finished. Wanted to know what happened.
So today I reread “House of Two Bears” and wanted to return. At first I wanted to go back to this thing I was working on about the time I spent in New York State but I think I will work on the Grandfather’s stories next–the stories about being a cowboy and being a drinker as well as the stories about the old man dealing with ghosts.
Lately, I’ve had only two books on my coffee table around me while I write: Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros and the Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner. I’ve also been listening to Los Lobos and Bob Dylan today as I think of the world of the Little Lolo Stories. And I can say these texts have sponsored and infected my writing.
Here’s a line from Caramelo that really got into my head when I first read it on a train with D. I immediately marked the page and go back to it quite often. Cisneros writes:
Because a life contains a multitude of stories and not a single strand explains precisely the who of who one is, we have to examine the complicated loops that allowed Regina to become la Senora Reyes.
No other line I have read in fiction has influenced more than that line. I think because I am trying to do exactly that with Lolo–trying to understand ‘the complicated loops that allowed’ little Lolo from those old home movies and photos to become Lolo from family stories and arguments. Also I think because all these voices from the past and the present–from my reality and the fictive reality–all converge in fiction and the ‘multitude of stories’ and ‘complicated loops’ remind me so much of the complexity of the narrative in Little Lolo Stories. How complicated it is for me to get my head around all of these stories to get them down.
Now, Wallace Stegner gives me the form to ‘borrow’–the scenes and the mix of narration and action. I love the rugged stories and the sensibility the prose from Stegner gives. The sense of journey. I feel Stegner gives me the push to focus on the ‘single strand’.
And Los Lobos gives me the music and the sound of the old neighborhood and maybe even the old folks house on Spruce Street–the Abuelita’s old radio and records.
This last week has been tough. Work and then a Saturday event. The semester has torn me down but today the voices still come after me. As I do laundry I hear the Jefita:
You don’t want a family. You want slaves to work for you.
This afternoon I printed out the 164 pages of the Little Lolo Stories and sat and read through again, noting the places that need tweaking. I’ve been printing out and re-reading and re-envisioning so much of the book I can’t keep up with my thoughts for revision. Anyway, I couldn’t help of thinking about this Monty Python routine: