A few months ago I received an email from my father’s cousin. I’d never met her. In fact, my father hadn’t seen in her many, many years. But she’d found one of my articles online, one I’d written about my great-grandfather firing off the last shot of World War I, and realized we were related.
A few weeks later, my husband and I got to have lunch with this delightful lady, now in her 70s. She has lived a varied and distinguished life, but mostly we talked of family history, told stories we’d both heard, some from very different perspectives.
It has been a great connection just in the sense of family, but Sherry Kafka Wagner and I have more in common than blood. We are both writers. Both historians. Both storytellers. She graciously read the novel fueled by the kernel of our shared grandfather’s history, Wings of a Dream. I appreciated her encouraging words about that book. After meeting her face-to-face, I had a stronger desire to read her one novel, Hannah Jackson, published in 1966. It took me a little while to track it down since it was long out of print, but I finally found it.
I can’t tell you what an incredible thing it was to read this novel. Not only did the characters and story keep me engrossed, but I marveled that both of us used kernels of family history to fuel our fiction and that we both chose to use the first person point of view. Of course, her book was brilliant, as opposed to my adequate story. Several first person POVs, all telling the story of Hannah Jackson from their perspective, but never telling us Hannah’s story from her POV, as the books opens just after her funeral. The reader must decide how they feel about Hannah solely on the basis of others’ views of her. I have always been fascinated by how different people can see and process the same life going on around them so differently. Apparently Sherry has that fascination, too.
It’s been an incredible blessing, this new-found friendship. For while most in our family have the gift of oral storytelling, Sherry and I also use our pens. (Or keyboards!) There is something in that family legacy of fiction that is very special to me.