Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why I Ask "Why?"

These medallions, as my husband's family calls them, are from World War One. They belonged to my mother-in-law's Aunt Jean (born in 1888), who nursed in Boston and joined the Army Nurse Corps for the US. I found them back in 2007 when I was tidying the basement here shortly after moving in. They deserved better treatment than a musty shoebox so I put them in a jeweller's box then into a dresser drawer.
Rooting through that drawer last year, I found the medallions and, writing for the newspaper by then, wondered if there was an interesting story behind them. There was, but not the one I expected.
When I asked my mother-in-law whose medallions they were ("Jean" was her middle name and it's not on the ID tags) and why they were in my husband's possession, she ended up telling me a wonderful, sad, moving story about a tragedy that happened to her when she was 26.
As a writer, there are two stories that are so important to me, it's like they inhabit my heart: one is being present for the death of my father, the other is this story about the baby my mother-in-law lost in 1954.
She has done me the great honour of allowing me to write this story for an important creative non-fiction contest; I am grateful that she trusts me to write it with grace and respect because it is such an insight into a woman's life in rural Nova Scotia in the 1950's.
Even without knowing this story, my mother-in-law, who is 84, is one of the strongest, stubborn, devoted, ladylike women I've ever met, but her story adds a depth to her life and character that I -- only knowing her six years -- need to understand. This story matters so much to me, I want it to matter to others.
As part of my editing process, I read my work-in-progress out loud, usually to my husband. I can't get through this piece without crying, no matter how many times I read it. For my mother-in-law's sake, I hope it does well in the competition. If not, there are other places to submit it. It's more than a story; it's a piece of rural history. Of herstory.

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