On Nellie, Part 1

Picture1Because the Songs of the Jayhawk are a trilogy, I sometimes have to think ahead to the next book as I am plotting. Characters I’m currently writing about, and their children, will bring their experiences from these passages with them into future passages. And those passages are not only not written yet; I really have no idea what they will be about. Most of the time anyway. It strikes me that writing these books, in this respect, is sort of like living them, as well. The past is carried into an always unknown and oftentimes unpredictable future.

In the Second Song, coming 2015, the Dugans and Hawkinses are joined in their Township by many other families. Maria’s mother and sister, her uncle and his family are among them. The quarter-section directly to the north of the Hawkins farm is claimed by a man with a markedly younger wife and their daughter. This daughter is two or three years old, and I know she is going to play a crucial role in the Third Song. Just what that role will be, I’m not quite sure yet.

I do know that the life of this girl is going to be inspired by my understanding of one of my great-great grandparents, my grandfather’s mother’s mother. There are nubs of memories of family stories somewhere within me, but it wasn’t until a few years ago, when an uncle sent this newspaper article from 1886, that I learned she was committed to the Topeka State Mental Hospital that year. The article reports she “started setting small fires to the house,” and later “failed to recognize her husband and mother.” And even more painful is that she would not let them touch her children. So sad. So incredibly sad, and mysterious. What became of her after 1886, I am just not sure.

By the time I learned this, my grandpa was too ill with Alzheimer’s to ask, and in talkiPicture2ng to his sister, I realized that while she did have, and share, some information, it was painful to talk about. In fact, I believe I was insensitive in even raising the issue. These are the best sorts of stories for a writer, but not so much for a family member. A line I am always aware of in my writing, especially when I cross it.

For now, I am following a few leads to try and find what became of her, and in the meantime letting this information, the characters around her, and my own imagination shape and form this young girl in the Second Song.