I don’t think I’ve talked about this before in this setting, but I feel it should be addressed: why did I write this book anyway? Yes, I know, it was a terrific trip worth recording, but there’s more to it than that.
Why do people write? Some are filled with stories just bursting to get out. Some feel poetry expresses their feelings to the utmost. Plays are it for some. Nonfiction accounts requiring deep research some writers find very satisfying.
So where do I fall in this conglomeration? I think there are a lot of reasons. Of course the magic (and grisly details) of our trip is one, but not the main one. Digging deeper, I find that my turning sixty last December was a big jolt to me. I realized I didn’t want to be sixty, nor look as if I were sixty. Sounds vain, doesn’t it? But the huge realization was that I was headed down that slope into the last third (if I’m lucky) of my life. There is a group of us that meet regularly to discuss the question as to what that third of life should mean. Is there a purpose? Several hundred years ago women had their babies, and if they didn’t die in the process (and a lot did; thus, the “wicked stepmother”), their purpose in life was over. Now, with the advances in medicine, people can expect to live well into their eighties.
Then, there is my personal feeling that there are two deaths: one physical and the other, when people forget you. Here is where my feelings about writing are headed. In my bookcase is a large volume about my great-uncle, a rich old guy who owned eighty acres on Hollywood Boulevard; then over there is another much smaller book written by my aunt about living in Vermont. And somewhere (I spent the morning looking for it to no avail) is a journal kept by an ancestor who was at Fort Sumter when the first shots were fired. I wish I could find it, because his description of the sand flying as the palmettos were knocked over, the first corner of the fort being blasted off, and the victorious whoops, hollers and waving arms as the soldiers jumped in glee so evoked the excitement of battle.
Then there was the diary of my Grandmother Ruth (same one) and her trip out west to the dude ranch—an adventurous gal was she. While the diary has been lost to the ages (or else my cousins have it somewhere), I have the photos that tell the story , thanks to my mother jotting the circumstances of each photo on the back: “In at the kill—bobcat shot at Hellmann Ranch—Margaret Foster, R.K.C., Clany [sic] Waites.” And of course there was her six-month Grand Tour diary.
When I worked on my own journal, there was always that half-baked idea that maybe someday another generation would follow in our footsteps. I know my girls were fascinated by bits and pieces of Ruth’s commentary as we traveled along. But it wasn’t until my sixtieth birthday that I realized the true purpose of this book: to leave a piece of me behind that perhaps would keep me alive years hence. My poor Civil War relative; he spent most of the war sick with dysentery; my bombastic great-uncle who grew groves of avocado trees along Hollywood Boulevard; my aunt Marjorie, she so sensitive to the changes of the seasons; Ruth, the athletic, adventurous girl who “rode astride” and shot bobcats.
What will readers remember about me someday? I hope it isn’t just my sense of sarcasm! Maybe my own desire to travel and see the more obscure parts of the world. I can only wonder. But I know that the only way it’s going to happen is through my words.