I grew up listening to stories. My Granny told tales of the past, her own and the family’s, with the powerful delivery of an Irish seanachie, a storyteller. I eavesdropped with a little girl’s curiosity when I accompanied my other grandmother to her standing Friday afternoon appointments at the beauty shop down the block. My parents read me stories, everything from Little Golden Books by the dozens to fairy tales. Once I could read, I read whatever came my way.
I discovered at an early age that I liked to tell stories too. I made up creative versions of childhood favorites like House and made my companions play a frontier version I dubbed Western Days. By the time I was nine, I scribbled some of my stories and in the fifth grade, I spent a good part of the school year writing a novel in the back of my binder.
Despite my goal, it might never have happened without my Granny. On a winter’s day when I was fourteen, she opened her cedar chest, a rare but always a favorite event. One thing, though, I had not seen.
The paper had yellowed and the ink had faded when my Granny brought forth her Class Prophecy essay, tied together with red ribbon turned a soft pink with age. She had written it when she graduated from eighth grade in 1912, an honor bestowed upon her. I stared at her with surprise because I had no idea she’d ever written anything beyond a letter or a list. After I read it, handling the fragile pages with great care, I turned to her, awed by her raw talent, and asked, “Why didn’t you become a writer?”
“I couldn’t,” she said and the soft words echoed in the quiet bedroom that my father once shared with his oldest brother. They spoke volumes. She couldn’t, because she had too much living to do, too many responsibilities from an early age. During the Great War, later known as World War I, she had been a telephone operator and dated a young soldier. She later married my grandfather and raised three sons. Her sole daughter was born and died on the same June day. My Granny was a working woman when it wasn’t common, first as a telephone operator, then in a hospital laundry. She was widowed twice but she persevered.
Her favorite Scripture came from 2 Timothy 4-7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith and she did.
“I couldn’t,” my Granny said, then added. “But you can and you should.”
An invisible torch passed from her to me on that day. I vowed I would.
And I wrote, from that day forward.
I write because I have stories to tell. I write because my Granny couldn’t but she thought I should. I write because I was taught there is no such word as can’t because you can do anything.
-Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is community editor for The Neosho Daily News and The Aurora Advertiser. She is also a storyteller, novelist and writer.