My name is Sayre and I am writing a book to which I do not know the ending. Perhaps this isn’t so unusual. I know of several real adult writers who aren’t sure of how a certain story will turn out from its beginnings. But my case is slightly different, being that this book indeed has an ending, however the only person who really knew it died of brain cancer almost seven years ago.
This single enlightened person was my grandfather, Chick McKinney, who was writing his first and only book: a novel that in many ways mirrored his own life. It was essentially a memoir, disguised as fiction. Unfortunately, what now remains of the so-called novel is a collection of handwritten fragments. It’s possible that there’s an ending written somewhere amid the approximately four thousand loose pages that I have stacked in boxes in my room, but so far, I haven’t seen it. In fact, a lot of the middle is a mystery as well—iffy at best.
I came across one page that is labeled by my grandfather as “story line.” The entire contents of the page are the following sentence: Young boy vows to pick up where his dead brother left off and live his life for him but finds that fame and glory is a tough act to follow. Unfortunately, although I’d like to think that all of the answers are still on the pages in the boxes, I know that I’m going to have to look beyond the obvious or the tangible. I hope that my grandfather’s own biography, for one thing, will provide some answers.
Adam, the book’s protagonist, has a good amount in common with my grandfather simply in the fact that they both grew up in small Appalachian towns. My grandfather’s town had a population of a few hundred. In order to go to high school, he moved away to “the big city,” Raleigh, with his older sister. His sister Wilma offered to take in one of her younger siblings after their older brother died, as a way to help their mother, and so she chose Chick.
Below are some photos to give more context to the story of my grandfather’s upbringing:
Chick’s father at work
Chick and his older brother
Chick and three sisters
Although I’m very convinced that my grandfather’s relationship with his own brother played a large role in his construction of the story, I’ve sometimes doubted whether it’s appropriate or even correct to assert that his cultural upbringing also plays a role. It’s probably true that there was an unintentional influence of actual memory in my grandfather’s writing, because of his increasing confusion as to what was true and when it had happened. But a part of me likes that idea even more. Take the following passage, for example. Originally, the protagonist was just a “he,” and I changed it to “Adam” to fit with the book. But it could just as easily have been an actual memory that my grandfather had of himself and his brother. An ambiguous passage like this might not belong in the book, and perhaps I had no right to change anything about it. But at this point, and I hope I’m right, I believe that moments like this will be the best thing about the book.
It was still dark when they turned off the paved highway onto a dirt road. There were a few ramshackle houses perched on the steep banks to the right, and three junk cars sat in a patch of tall weeds in the flat next to a small branch. Further on, the road narrowed, became rocky, and laced with gullies. “You’re going to shake every bolt loose in this old track” said Adam. They crossed over the shallows of Sassafras creek to an old logging road grown up with waist high pine seedlings. The Chevy groaned in low gear up the steep grade.
“You’d better have some g-r-u-b” said Daniel, mimicking the slow drawl of a good ole’ boy he had seen in a western movie. “Yew’ve got a l-o-n-g h-a-r-d day ahead of yew.”
Adam laughed. “I don’t want to take your lunch.”
“Not to worry, my good buddy. We’ve got enough to feed a couple of bears for a week.”
“Well then, I’ll take you up on your offer.”
“There’s a bottle opener in there somewhere.”
Down there’s your birthday present, Daniel said with a chuckle. I told papa that I was going to bring you here when you were old enough, say thirteen.
“I told you I was only eight.”
“Yeah, I keep forgetting that.”
Then, a sudden strike. Adam set his hook the instant he saw the flash in the water. He let the fish run, but guided him gently into his net. It was a nine-inch native brook trout.
“What a beauty,” Daniel said. The fish was a male with a dark back and colored spots on the side. The belly and fin had an orange tint.
“The locals call that speckled trout,” said Daniel.
“They’re really not a trout,” said Adam. “They’re actually char.”
“Mama always said you were a prodigy.”
“Mama also said you were an adventurer and a romantic. But I say you’re a poet.”
“I’ll settle for any of the three.”
What a glorious day that was.
Read more about my project.