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Stories My Mother Told Me . . . and the Ones She Never Did Guest Post by Karen Schreck

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
I think a lot about family stories, perhaps because I’m an only child, and now that both of my parents are dead—no longer living, I almost wrote, because the other, more naked statement is still sometimes hard for me to write—I feel like I’m the only one left who can and will carry them.
Sometimes the family stories rattle around in my head, demanding attention all at once, and I don’t know where to focus—I guess that can be the effect of remembering.  But other times, (especially when I follow the advice that great writer and teacher once gave me, which was:  “Write where the pressure is!”) a particular story will rise up above the others and say:  “Pick me.”
That’s what happened with While He Was Away.
I got quite and waited until the pressure revealed itself—and it was a story my mother told me in three simple sentences right before she died when I was fourteen.
Her story went like this.
“I was married before I married your father.  I was very young.  My first husband died in WWII.”
That was it.  That was all she would say. 
She knew she was dying, and she wanted me to know this truth about herself.  For years afterward, no one else said a word about it, and then finally, it was revealed that there was really very little to say—only the classic:  “They were childhood sweethearts, deeply in love; it was like a dream”—and then there were a few pictures that a cousin gave me—my mother, young and beautiful, in love with a young and beautiful boy.
When I started thinking about the other young and beautiful boys and girls who were heading off to Iraq to do battle for all kinds of reasons, I found myself thinking again about my mother, the girl, and her boy, and how in some ways, love in wartime is so different now, and in other ways, it isn’t all.
I wanted to retell the story she told me in three simple sentences, and it turned into a novel., While He Was Away.